When senior Molly Gaskin first attended Liberty High School, her interest in the FFA, formerly the Future Farmers of America, was tied to her passion for horses. Throughout her four years, her work with the club instilled in her a passion for science.
"The natural sciences are all around us. It's everywhere," Gaskin said. "It's cool to know your surroundings and know important aspects of life that people overlook."
For the past three years, Gaskin has served as an officer with the organization, finishing her high school years as president. In addition to her work with the FFA, Gaskin played violin in the orchestra for all four years, joined the marching band her sophomore year and graduated in the top 5 percent of Liberty High School's Class of 2015, which graduated Thursday at McDaniel College.
Part of participating in the FFA meant taking part in Career Development Events, competitions that judge members on their knowledge and skill sets in a number of agricultural-adjacent topics. The competitions take place at the state level, with winners attending the national FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Throughout her four years, Gaskin was part of teams that competed nationally in horticulture, veterinary sciences and horse judging.
FFA adviser Katy Macleod said the CDEs consist of written tests, problem-solving questions and practicums in which students are asked to display their knowledge in the field.
In the horticultural event, Gaskin said she had to identify different fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and berries from examples of the plants set out in front of the team. She also had to learn about different kinds of pests, from bugs to diseases. Finally her team was asked to judge a class of plant by quality, uniformity and various aesthetic features.
Macleod said she considers Gaskin to be her right-hand student, constantly helping to make sure FFA events go off without a hitch.
"She's definitely a very well-rounded, well-liked student here," Macleod said. "A lot of different teachers are going to miss her. She's just one of those students that stands out; always right there to help."
When the veterinary science team needed an extra member, Gaskin took up the role, even though she had not been prepared for it.
"They said they needed to fill a spot and I had some experience with animals, so I learned veterinary science just for the competition," Gaskin said. "I hadn't planned on competing; it just kind of happened."
In another instance of picking up needed slack, Gaskin filled in for Liberty High's physics olympics team. Together with her classmates, they brought home the school's first physics olympics victory.
In her senior year, she began working in the Liberty greenhouse, managing maintenance and organizing a spring plant sale. She also competed for the Interscholastic Equestrian Association and in the National Ocean Science Bowl's Chesapeake Bay Bowl.
Gaskin's mother, Amy, said her daughter is one of the most self-motivated and driven people she's known.
"She's very confident and very independent," her mother said. "She's always pushing herself to do better and succeed and excel at things. Her dad and I have given her a ton of support, but the drive is all her."
After this summer, Gaskin will attend the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She said she visited a number of schools but as soon as she was on campus at Chapel Hill, she couldn't bring herself to leave. Gaskin hasn't chosen a major, but she plans on continuing her focus on the sciences.
"Science in general is just fascinating," Gaskin said. "I love that there's always new things to learn. It's a wide field with a ton of different interests. I could study forever, and that's really neat."