Century High School graduate Emma Neiswender wears her nerd status proudly.
“I am a huge science nerd. I always have been,” said the senior, a member of the Class of 2020.
In high school she was a co-president of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy, where she helped plan fundraisers and activities to encourage interest in the sciences, and collected memberships to several honors societies.
The one she was most passionate about was Century’s chapter of the Science National Honor Society, which she helped found in her sophomore year when she realized the school did not have an honors society in that content area. She credited Grace Benson as one of the teachers that helped her ignite a passion for science.
After a few weeks of discussion and “bothering,” as Neiswender described it, she agreed to sign on as the advisor.
Applying for a chapter license became one of Neiswender’s proudest moments of the past four years, she said..
“I didn’t do any other homework and I spent hours just writing our chapter constitution, like every rule, everything. And that’s kind of when it felt real," Neiswender said. "I printed it out the next day, and I was like, 'This is real. We made this. It’s awesome.”
Outside of academics, she found a family in the marching band, where she played the baritone and the marimba.
“I just absolutely love that organization. It is by far the best decision I’ve ever made to join marching band,” she said. Even when it meant spending 12 hours a day outside in the humidity of a Maryland summer for band camp.
But she tells the freshmen who followed her that “an amazing feeling” comes from putting in the work.
“We always give a little talk before our first show,” she said. “And it’s like, ‘This is where all those long hours in August pay off.’ It’s really cool to feel all the work and the sweat and the the effort that you’re putting, in and then see it pay off later.”
Century marching band director Stan Jones said Neiswender is a student leader on and off the field.
“She was a really good cheerleader for everybody and made sure that we were there to lift people up when they needed it. She really just put people in front of herself and is just an overall great kid,” he said.
The bonds with her marching band members are some of the things she’ll miss the most post-grad after the weeks of hard work and the bond they form.
“I will miss those nerds so much. They are my second family without a doubt," she said.
She plans to attend University of Maryland this fall to study science and medicine. How that first semester and year will look is still uncertain. She doesn’t know if she will live on campus or be able to join the university’s marching band.
She has lived in Carroll County since she was a toddler, and said “I’m just excited to see what’s out there in the world..Learn new things and meet new people and have new experiences.”
One of the biggest things she learned in high school was when it’s OK to follow your own path and embrace goals outside the expectations of the classroom. When she started as a freshman she was walking with a cane due to chronic pain in her leg. At that time, she didn’t know if she would ever be able to walk without aid again.
“And now I’ve gotten so much better, which is incredible," Neiswender said. "So I think for me specifically, as a freshman, I would want myself to know that like, as corny as it sounds like it’s gonna get better.”
In the winter of 2018, she talked with a coach who works at a local CrossFit gym about how much she missed being an athlete.
“He’s like, ‘Just come into the gym, give it a shot.’ And it has absolutely changed my life," she said. "I love working out now. It’s such a priority. During the school year, I woke up at 4:45 every morning so I could get to the gym by 530 before school. I don’t understand how I did that. But I did and I loved it.”
That experience helped her learn to prioritize her health and the things she’s passionate about.
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“I think as I’ve grown, I’ve just realized, especially for me in this past year, there’s so many things out there in the world that are important. I found so many passions that I wanted to spend my time on rather than just like, spending all-day-every-day doing nothing but schoolwork," Neiswender said. “I think, for me, I’ve seen a lot of growth in allowing myself to enjoy things that aren’t like, what everyone expects you to do 24-7.”