By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- Grace Morse was given a second chance and after turning her life around, she is this year’s recipient of the Board President’s Award.
The award is given to a graduating Brandon High School senior who has overcome great odds and obstacles to still be successful both in and out of the classroom and Morse was nominated by several BHS staffmembers, prompting Principal Dan Stevens to honor her with the recognition, which also comes with $200 to be used for college education.
“Grace was going down the wrong path early on in her high school career, but with the key help of staff members and friends, she worked hard to turn it around and be successful,” said Stevens. “She started working with students with special needs and in that area, she made a difference both in their lives and her own life.”
Morse, a 17-year-old Auburn Hills resident, lost her mother when she was 3-years-old. She and her siblings were raised by their father, Marty, along with help from an older half-sister. She has attended Brandon schools since kindergarten as a schools of choice student, but struggled her first two years of high school, acknowledging that she didn’t have a good attitude and never wanted to be there. She was a cheerleader and a wrestler for a time as well, but recalls classmates that weren’t very nice and she struggled to find her purpose, made poor choices, and ultimately was caught with marijuana at school in her sophomore year.
“Mr. Dickerson had to deal with me and they wanted to get me out of the district and he saw that I was telling the truth and being honest and I learned from it,” said Morse. “They gave me a second chance. I was really woken up at that point, I could have had something on my record, it could have been horrible.”
With an opportunity to start over, Morse took a new path and joined the Peer-to-Peer program at BHS, mentoring students with special needs, some of whom are on the autism spectrum, working in the school store and cafe alongside them this year during fourth hour everyday, going on field trips, and sometimes staying after school. She attended Homecoming with one of the students, too.
“It was special for her and special for me,” said Morse. “I felt like I was changing their lives while they were changing mine. It’s such a pure relationship, they care about me and I care about them… One girl taught me how to do accounting. They are just different, not less, and they accept you for who you are. They made me enjoy going to school again.”
Morse continued to receive support from staffmembers who went above and beyond, including special education teacher Leah Vagaski, who would call her in the morning to make sure she was up for school.
“In my junior year, I still had a reputation, I was still nit-picked, but I was working to overcome it,” said Morse. “My senior year was the best year, because of my participation in peer-to-peer. I felt comfortable, like I had a place, a reason to be there.”
On her last day of school, there were tears from both Morse and the students in the program with whom she had formed friendships. At one time, she hadn’t wanted to go to school, a place she felt she didn’t belong and was just attending while she waited for her real life to begin. Now she knows she will miss it, even as she looks forward to her future.
Morse talks about lots of plans. She would like to join the Peace Corps. She has applied to Oakland Community College and would like to major in psychology. She also wants to be a paraprofessional in the Brandon School District.
But right now she is just savoring that she will be a Brandon High School graduate this weekend.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” said Morse. “I feel like I’m going to be very free. My low point was the end of my sophomore year, I felt like high school was never gonna end. I feel more mature now. Bless those people that believed in me. Thank you.”
She in particular thanks her father, who she once asked why there were so many bad people in the world and why didn’t they want to help each other instead of compete with each other? He responded by telling his daughter she would encounter such people no matter where she went in life and mustn’t let that stop her from achieving or let it ruin her life. His advice to not allow other people to control her emotions is a lesson that stays with her.
“You’ve gotta kind of set your ego aside and realize, no one is less, no one is more, we are all one,” she said. “You don’t know what someone is going through, just try to make someone’s day better. Be nice.”