Plenty of high school graduates aren’t so sure exactly what they want to study as they head to college.
That’s not the case for Mary Albert.
“I love the water and I love animals,” the 2020 Peters Township High School graduate said. “So I kind of just combined the two.”
The upshot is Mary is majoring in marine biology at Millersville University in Lancaster County, and she already has volunteer experience in the field that will look good on her résumé.
So will an honor she recently earned after committing substantial work toward it.
The Congressional Award is given annually to young Americans by members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. This year, Mary is among 478 recipients of the award’s Gold Medal, the most prestigious of three also including Silver and Bronze.
“I didn’t want to waste my time on the lower levels,” she said. “I figured I would just do the whole thing, so it took about four years.”
Starting as an eighth-grader, Mary put in some 200 hours of volunteer work and 200 hours of physical activity, mostly competitive swimming, plus 100 hours of class work outside of school. She completed the master naturalist program at the Good Zoo in Oglebay Park, on the outskirts of Wheeling, W.Va.
Another facet of working toward the Gold Medal involved setting a goal, which in Mary’s case was learning more about marine biology, and helping to fulfill it by embarking on an “expedition.”
Hers was participating in a two-week camp in North Carolina, where she volunteered at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Topsail Beach and earned her open water scuba certification in nearby Wilmington. While diving, she had the opportunity to encounter marine animals, including sharks, in their natural environment.
Her focus on biology earned Mary a STEM Star in addition to her Gold Medal. This year’s ceremony for honorees was held virtually because of COVID-19.
The Senate and House established the bipartisan Congressional Award Foundation in 1979 to recognize initiative, service and achievement in young people. Today, the foundation remains Congress’ only charity.
Young people may register when they turn 13½ years old and must complete their activities by their 24th birthday.