Lauren Payne says she wasn’t necessarily trying to earn the title of valedictorian of the 2017 class at Wiregrass Ranch High, but that’s where her hard work and smart choices landed her.
She recently graduated as co-valedictorian, with a weighted GPA of 4.79.
“I chose my classes based on what I thought was going to be interesting,” Lauren says, not with having the toughest schedule in mind. “I took a mix of AP (Advanced Placement) classes and dual enrollment, and they were all good.” She says her favorites — among courses such as AP calculus B/C, government and statistics — were her dual enrollment world literature and AP biology classes. What did she take for fun? “Oceanography and anthropology were like electives,” she says.
“Lauren has a really strong work ethic,” says her mom, Janet. “It is really important for her to try her best and challenge herself.”
Lauren’s natural drive to try her hardest has earned her some pretty impressive credentials. For example, she’s a National Merit Scholarship winner. This makes her eligible for a program called the Benacquisto scholarship, where the State of Florida provides a financial award equal to the cost of attendance at a Florida school, including tuition and fees, on-campus room and board, books, supplies, travel and miscellaneous expenses remaining after using award given by the National Merit Scholar program and the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship program.
Lauren is taking her Benacquisto scholarship to the University of Florida in Gainesville, the school from which her older sister Emily just graduated. Emily was WRH’s salutatorian in 2013.
“I chose UF because I’ve been visiting my older sister there since middle school,” she says, “and I always felt like I belonged.” UF also offered her its Presidential Scholarship, which offers $5,000, $8,000 (gold) and $10,000 (platinum) per year to in-state, high-achieving students.
Her plan is to major in microbiology and cell science and eventually work in the medical field. “It’s exciting to be on my own for the first time,” says Lauren, who has lived in the same house in Meadow Pointe her entire life, attending Sand Pine Elementary and John Long Middle School before WRH.
While she’s following her older sister’s footsteps into college, she also followed her athletically. Lauren watched Emily run cross country in high school, so she started running in middle school. Lauren became part of a team at WRH that won the Sunshine Athletic Conference Eastern Division championship this year.
“I looked up to my sister, so I thought running cross country looked like so much fun,” Lauren says. “Once I started, I really liked the coach and all the girls on the team, so I stuck with it, even though it was a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
She adds, “There are some days for everyone where it’s just a really rough run and it doesn’t feel fun or easy. There’s a point where you have to decide whether I’m going to stick through this. The experience with all the other girls on the team made the hard days worth it.”
In addition to being a scholar and an athlete, Lauren also was active on campus at WRH, as a class Senator all four years, president of Mu Alpha Theta (math honor society), a Ranch ambassador (representing the school at different events such as orientation and open house) and a member of both the National Honor Society and the Science National Honor Society.
“She grew up liking to try a lot of different things, such as dance, swimming, and playing a couple of different instruments,’’ said her mother Janet. In fact, Janet says Lauren still plays violin but had to stop playing in the school’s orchestra.
“Orchestra is a big-time commitment,” Janet said, “Lauren had to make choices. She even did cheerleading for her first two years, but couldn’t keep doing all of those activities, so she had to make decisions about how to best spend her time.”
While Janet is proud of Lauren, she doesn’t seem at all surprised at her success. “Since Lauren was pretty young, she’s always had a curiosity about how things work and has been enthusiastic about school,’’ Janet said. “We’ve had great public schools and great teachers who have nurtured her along the way. Those things came together: good schools, good teachers, she gets a lot of support and she tries hard.”