She loves french fries, parties and Sidney Sheldon novels.

Erasure is her favorite musical group, math is her No. 1 class, and she dislikes subjects that have to do with politics.

She leads a children's Bible club at Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City and is a volunteer guide at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

And on Tuesday, 18-year-old Mary Kim graduated from Centennial High School. She will go on to Goucher College on a four-year "trustee" scholarship worth $74,000 in tuition, room and board -- one of six students nationwide to receive that college's most lucrative financial package.

About 1,900 Howard County seniors mark the end of their high school careers this week. If past percentages hold, about 80 percent of them will step into another classroom come September.

Most public school students in the county are the offspring of college grads. Mary Kim is no different. Her mother, a homemaker, Young Ja Kim, is college-educated. Her father, Myun-Ki Kim, is a psychiatrist. What is different for Mary is that she is among a handful of county students offered full college scholarships in an era of fiscal belt-tightening.

Scoring 1,330 on her SATs -- 1,600 is a perfect score -- gave her a start. As the spring weeks went by, she went from being among 250 contenders for Goucher's available scholarships to being one of 10 for the "trustee" package.

During a two-day March event at the college, Mary attended banquets and meetings with Goucher officials alongside her counterparts.

"I told my parents when I got home, 'I guess I was just there for fun,' because some of the kids I was up against were such excellent students."

Her competition, Mary says, had been presidents and vice presidents of "four andfive clubs at the same time; athletes; involved in every extra-curricular activity imaginable -- and perfect academically."

Her own record was hardly shabby.

She was first cellist in Centennial's orchestra, National Honor Society treasurer, Homecoming princess and varsity cheerleading squad captain, to name a few. She's been involved inchurch and community activities -- including organizing a string quartet that performs at nursing homes -- for many years. She was on thehonor roll throughout high school, despite holding part-time jobs asa sales clerk.

Young Ja Kim says her youngest child has always been a motivated, good student.

"More important, she's always been agood person. That's what makes her such a good daughter."

Mary, whose older brother and sister are similarly high-achievers, rememberspulling many an all-nighter during her first two years in high school: "I nearly burned myself out."

Her worried parents told her she had to find a healthy balance of work and fun.

Her mother recalls saying: "Yes, you must do your best. And, yes, you must try your hardest. But you have to remember you're still a teen. You have your whole life to be an adult."

Mary took the advice to heart. "I was muchhappier -- and more successful -- after that."

Ambitious, she still spent several hours a night on homework. Late-night hours, she admits, were due to procrastinating on typing essays for college scholarships -- "sometimes the day before the application was due."

She took her parents advice on something else: Trying new things. "What did I have to lose? If you try and succeed, you'll be happy. If you tryand don't succeed, at least you can say you tried. But if you don't try at all, you'll never know whether or not you could have made it. Then you'll want to kick yourself."

So she tried for the full Goucher scholarship.

"I just never dreamed . . ." she says.

Until early May, Mary planned on attending New York University on a $7,000 ayear scholarship; her dreams were of the Big Apple. A letter from the college in Towson changed that.

"But I know I'm going to be veryproud to say I'm a Goucher graduate," the Ellicott City teen says.

Mary suspects that what set her apart from her competitors "was that I want to major in pre-med and economics. I told them that when I graduate, I want to work for the World Health Organization. I'm very interested in working with Third World countries."

The dual major interested Goucher even though nearly half the college's students major in more than one field.

More importantly, it was the mix that guidance counselors stress -- a blending of excellence in the classroom, in activities and in the community -- that captured the school's eye.

Director of Admissions Elise Seraydarian says, "Mary is an incredible young lady. She's an outstanding student with hardly a 'B' on her entire transcript." Mary consistently scored in the top 1 percenton high school standardized tests and was very active in community and student events.

"She's poised, mature, confident," the admissions director said.

Guidance counselor Karen Goins, who recommended Mary for the scholarship, says "she's worked very hard all four yearsat Centennial." Goins describes Mary as "tender and kind; one of thefirst to notice that someone is in pain -- and to help."

"Mary isa good friend," says her friend and fellow cheerleader Michelle Gizinski. "And she's as dedicated to all of her skills and activities as she is to her friendships. She genuinely cares about people, especially her friends."

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