The Natick Education Foundation has announced the 2023 scholarship recipients, awarded to Natick High School graduates pursuing careers in education. Congratulations to:
- Turner Brunell
- Sydney Cotter
- Anna Huynh
- Shaun McLaughlin
The prestigious award not only defrays college tuition costs by thousands of dollars, but is a real vote of confidence from the recipients’ hometown, a way of saying, “Go out there and do your thing. We’re confident you will make us proud.”
We caught up with some of the graduates, who shared their future plans with us.
Shaun McLaughlin—Roger Williams University
Shaun McLaughlin will attend Roger Williams University in Rhode Island where he will major in math and education, with a goal of becoming a high school math teacher. During a phone interview he told us teaching is something of a family tradition—his dad is a math teacher at Weston High. In addition to his studies, McLaughlin will be a member of the Roger Williams wrestling team, as he was from his freshman year at Natick High School through his senior year, when he captained the varsity squad.
This summer will be devoted to mentoring at a camp in Maine for kids with limb loss. It’s McLaughlin’s way of giving back. Born without the lower part of his right leg, he recalls how meaningful his summer camp experiences were in a place that offered support and plenty of fun. A big-picture thinker, McLaughlin says, “I like helping others solve problems.”
Perceived limits to McLaughlin are something to be shoved aside on the way to opportunity and achievement. Helping others get there—whether inspiring young campers on their path to independence or as a future math teacher helping students analyze a math problem—is life’s next step for this NEF scholarship award-winner.
Turner Brunell—Gonzaga University
Ever since Turner Brunell walked across the stage at Natick High’s graduation ceremony earlier this month, he’s been in celebration mode. We spoke with him by phone as he was finishing up a breakfast with friends. It seemed early to us for a recent grad to be up and about, but Brunell was wide awake. “I can’t sleep in no matter what I do. I’m always up at 6:30am,” he said.
Sounds like keeping teachers’ hours isn’t going to be a problem for the future Gonzaga University student. He plans to major in Special Education at the Spokane, Wash., school, which is a fairly recent development. “This time last year I had no intention of going to college. I was going to join the union as a plumber or maybe an electrician,” he said.
A couple of things turned his thinking to a four-year university. First was his years volunteering at Natick’s Camp Arrowhead, a summer camp for kids and adults with disabilities. Brunell describes his experiences there as “transformative.” But it wasn’t until he volunteered last summer at Lions Camp Pride in New Hampshire, an overnight program for kids with special needs, that things really started to click. He could educate special needs kids every day, as a career. “Lions Pride was really incredible,” Brunell said, “No cell phones, everything outdoors. You’re a volunteer, similar to Arrowhead. I was paired up with a camper with a disability, who was my buddy for the rest of the week.”
Keeping the momentum going, this summer Brunell will continue on at Camp Arrowhead, and will also work as a paraprofessional in the Natick Public Schools. That sounds like plenty, but his boss at Natick Gas Auto Repair, where he worked for four years, says he can come in on Saturdays. “But I’m not sure I want to work six days per week,” he admits.
Brunell experienced a lot of change during his senior year, from pivoting toward college, to a health issue that sent him to the hospital for four days in February. The diagnosis: type 1 diabetes.The prognosis: excellent. Thanks to medications, people with the condition can live full and active lives. No need for Brunell to give up his cherished hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. It’s important to him to acknowledge the people who were supportive during that intense time—family, friends, his teachers, and “so many incredible people.” He offers a special shout-out to the nurses, both in the hospital and at Natick High School.
Brunell has learned early on about experiencing grace, expressing gratitude. On to Gonzaga.
Anna Huynh—Berklee College of Music
Music has been Anna Huynh’s life, lifeline, passion, and dream for as long as she can remember. During a phone interview, she said she feels fortunate that Natick High School’s course offerings and extracurriculars allowed her to pursue her interests. From singing in school musicals, to her studies in AP Music Theory class, to directing, Huynh took every opportunity to make her school experience as music-based as possible.
For a while Huynh wasn’t sure that music would be a part of her professional life, citing uncertainty about jobs and a concern about limited income. Those misgivings fell away once she attended a summer program at Berklee College of Music, where she learned about all the different pathways available for students who wanted to make music a central core of their being, not just a hobby. The Boston school draws students serious about performance, of course, but gives equal encouragement to career paths such as production, music business and management, sound engineering, and education. Once Huynh found out that she could pursue both vocal performance and teaching at the college level, Berklee became what she called “my dream school.”
Until Huynh put herself out there through music, fitting in with her peers wasn’t always easy. “Music was a way to express myself. Because I grew up as a person of color and queer, it was a barrier to connecting with classmates. Vietnamese was my first language, and that was also a barrier in the school system. When I discovered music, it was a way for me to connect with classmates and I’ll forever be grateful for that.”
Finding a role model was cathartic as well. An invitation to perform in an All-State Choir led Huynh to a director who, like her, was also queer and a person of color. “They inspired me so much. I also want to be a source of inspiration, representation, and support for people like me who need it,” she said.
As Huynh’s confidence grew, she began to tackle larger projects. While part of the production team for Natick High School Theatre’s student-run spring musical, 9 to 5, she found yet another outlet that included teaching. She says serving as music director of the show was “really the thing that made me want to become a music teacher.”
This summer Huynh will work before matriculating at Berklee in the fall. Maybe as a barista in a coffee shop. Maybe somewhere else. She’s not sure yet. What is certain is that her next steps will hit the high notes she’s worked toward.
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