For Leeton senior Samantha Ellis it began with the desire to help a grade school friend and that desire along with her commitment to excellence has led her to levels of success that many students dream of achieving.
Friday night, although Ellis will not be there to receive her degrees in person (Leeton will host their Bacculeaurate service that evening), she will graduate from State Fair Community College with an associate of science degree in chemistry and an associate of arts degree in general studies.
This is before Ellis will receive her high school diploma the following day at Leeton’s commencement ceremonies.
“My family jokes that it took three colleges to get me through high school,” Ellis said Wednesday afternoon. “When I graduate Saturday I will have completed 90 hours of college credit from SFCC, UCM (the University of Central Missouri) and MU (The University of Missouri Columbia).
“What’s really funny about all of this is that I won’t be attending any of them when I go to college,” Ellis added. “I have been accepted to the United States Air Force Academy and will start my basic training this summer.”
Ellis has planes to become a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force.
“When I was in second or third grade one of my really good friends, Emily Thurman was a diabetic and I always used to take her to the nurse to get her juice and snack,” Ellis said. “I became interested in medicine and the special foods that she needed and I wanted to take care of her and make sure she was OK.
“I think my interest in medicine came from wanting to help her and learning about what she may need if anything happened,” she added. “I would like to specialize in family medicine and hopefully make calls to people who live in areas where there aren’t a lot of options for care.”
Ellis said she plans to serve in the Air Force for a period of time before leaving the service saying that she would eventually like to return to Leeton.
“I would really like to move back to Leeton someday and give back to the community that raised me,” Ellis said. “This is home and I am very grateful for the support and up-bring that I received here.
Both my family and the school have always motivated me and supported me in so many ways,” she added. “I think the school bent over backwards to help make this possible.”
Ellis’s father, Tad Ellis and mother Stephanie Ellis agreed with their daughter about the help and support not only Leeton but also SFCC and the other universities have given their daughter.
“The willingness of everyone at Leeton to help Samantha and really all their students is unbelievable,” Tad Ellis commented. “It is a credit to the district that they knew there were some limitations in the options they had for upper level courses.
“We are so grateful to them for their willingness to overcome those limitations and help make this possible,” he added. “We know this is a first for the district, to have a student graduate with that number of college credits and it is the first time they have had a student accepted into the Academy, but we are very grateful for the willingness to work with a schedule for Samantha.
Leeton uses a block schedule and so during her junior and senior years Ellis was able to leave the high school after completing one or two classes in the morning.
She would then drive to SFCC for her college courses.
“I started taking some dual credit classes as a sophomore,” Ellis said. “I did it because my sister Jessica did.
“She spent her last two years at the Missouri Academy at Northwest Missouri State in Maryville and so I thought that was something I needed to do to,” Ellis added. “My counselor in high school, Sandra Elwell told me there may be another way and so that’s when my family and I started to look at my options and my mom was tremendous in helping to find a way to schedule everything.”
Although Ellis did take some of her college courses online, the majority were taken at the SFCC Campus in Sedalia.
“I took all of my chemistry classes there because they had labs,” Ellis commented. “Two of my instructors Jack Hayes and Dr. Shayna Burchett were really tremendous inspirations to me.
Dr. Burchett really is amazing because she has some health concerns but she is teaching every day, taking her treatments, raising her children with her husband, and working on her doctorate; I admire her so much.” Ellis added.
Ellis also admires her parents and family a great deal as well.
Both her parents served in the Air Force, as did both her grandfathers.
“My father actually graduated from the Academy so this is almost a tradition in our family,” Ellis said. “I know I am really fortunate because so many others apply to the Academy but they only accept 1,200 in each class.
“Because I grew up in an Air Force family I feel like it is an environment where will I fit in,” she added.
Ellis was accepted to all three institutions she applied, the University of Missouri Kansas City and Kansas were her other choices.
The total value of scholarships she was offered for the next four years is over $500,000 dollars.
Despite her many accomplishments, Ellis is a very unassuming and humble young woman.
“I don’t think that I have done anything special and I try to take it all in stride,” Ellis said. “I told a friend the other day that high school is not meant to be easy.
You have to accept that and let things happen the way they will,” she added. “It is best to keep yourself motivated and don’t procrastinate or let yourself become overwhelmed.”
Ellis had one other piece of advice from her father she felt had served her well throughout life.
“My parents and especially my dad says to succeed you have to, ‘work hard first, then play hard’,” Ellis said. “I think that is good advice for anyone.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484