Madeline Hall -- University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The circus or the university? That was the choice Madeline Hall faced as she finished high school in Washington. From age 8, she had spent summers learning to juggle, ride a unicycle and walk on stilts. For the past two, she had toured New England with a youth circus, working 70 shows in seven weeks as a clown. She had a job offer from Ringling Bros. Or, the daughter of two Environmental Protection Agency employees could pursue her other passion, environmental studies, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "I'm a clown, but I'm not that great at it," she said in explaining her thought process. "I'm not a natural; I'm just big and loud. I have a passion for both, but really, I wanted to make a difference in the world." So Hall will graduate from UMBC on Monday. As a sophomore, she co-wrote a policy brief that persuaded the university's waste management company to start composting. She spent six months in New Zealand, studying at the University of Auckland and working her way around the country as a hand on organic farms. She even got to help rescue three sheep from a limestone cave after an earthquake. She is an alternate for a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship that would take her back to New Zealand to study farmers' participation in carbon-capture sustainability programs. She'll find out any day if she won the scholarship. Though clowning has taken a secondary role in her life, Hall still has fun with it. She can hold a headstand for five minutes, wows fellow party-goers with her splits and claims to have a fool-proof method for teaching drunk classmates to juggle. This year, PBS broadcast a documentary called "Circus Dreams" in which she was a featured character. Fate, she said, might drop her back in New Zealand with the perfect sheep-herding spouse (her mother's worst fear), or, it might send her back to the circus. -- Childs Walker
Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun
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