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JDHS senior wins National Merit Scholarship

Passions for science, theater pave path for future

Posted: May 23, 2011 - 9:53pm  |  Updated: May 27, 2011 - 2:25am
Juneau-Douglas High School senior Megan Behnke has been awarded a National Merit Scholarship. Behnke will use her scholarship to attend St. Olaf College in Minnesota.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Juneau-Douglas High School senior Megan Behnke has been awarded a National Merit Scholarship. Behnke will use her scholarship to attend St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

Megan Behnke’s love of learning has lead her to being a National Merit Scholar and will take her passions of science and theater on the road.

Home schooled through middle school, Behnke developed a love of learning that has followed her through high school.

“I hate doing things halfway,” she said. “I really, really don’t see the point in doing something if I’m not going to delve into it. This goes for reading a book as well. As high school started out, I had not gotten grades before. At the beginning of high school, I didn’t really think about grades. It wasn’t really a factor and I just did well because I loved the learning and I enjoyed learning stuff thoroughly. By the time grades became an issue with college applications and scholarships, doing what I loved to do got me to a point where I was in very good shape.”

As evidence of doing things full force, Behnke is graduating with a 4.0 grade point average, has taken eight honors classes, 4.5 credits of Advanced Placement courses, five science classes and 4.5 math courses. She also was involved in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl group and won five science fair awards.

Behnke also has a strong passion for the arts, particularly theater.

She has been in nine productions over the past six years with Perseverance Theatre and Theatre in the Rough, and is currently a board member for Theatre in the Rough.

Her successes in theater has been rewarding, with a $5,000 Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award and the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council’s Advanced Achievement Award.

“I feel that’s a vote of confidence in me as an artist rather than as a student,” Behnke said. “I feel that’s very encouraging.”

Behnke’s also been active in leadership, serving on student council her freshman and sophomore years, as a student representative for the high school split and as a past intern for Rep. Beth Kertulla.

Behnke received several other scholarships for her academic achievements as well, including the PFLAG Civil Rights Award, Delta Western Scholarship, Sperl-Gamble Memorial Scholarship, and a scholarship from the Masons.

Given the diversity of Behnke’s interests, she had to find a way to include both the realms of science and theater.

“I decided I had to go to a liberal arts college,” she said. “I could see myself happily going to an acting academy or MIT, but I realized my interests were so different. My plan is to major in physics or chemistry and later maybe graduate studies in astrophysics or ocean chemistry. Those two things are most exciting to me right now. Any sort of theoretical science or something to do with the oceans. At the same time, don’t know if I’ll minor in it, or double major, but I want to keep studying theater. I want theater to keep being a part of my life, either on the side, or I decide to one day go to graduate school for theater I will have the skills. My thought right now is to make my living doing science and then act because I love it on the side.”

Behnke will be going to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. She initially looked for colleges near water and mountains, but instead chose an area with a hill, a river and lots of agriculture.

She chose the college for its math and science programs and also because of the philosophy of its theater program.

“It’s very performance based, but it teaches students how to act but also puts that acting in the perspective as a gift,” Behnke said. “That’s how I grew up approaching theater. Everything fell nicely together. As they’re offering me generous scholarships it’s going to be affordable. It’s wonderful that it’s so close to such a huge theater city. That will be a huge benefit.”

She will also be going to London this summer to be a part of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art’s Shakespeare Summer Course.

“I am very excited about it,” she said. “I’m going to give myself time beforehand to explore London, settle into the fact I’m there and it’s totally new and totally different before I settle down to study hard. Last year I did a small course at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. That was with high school students and that was wonderful. This summer I wanted to really expand. I wanted to experience that intensive theater training and this little snippet of it.”

Behnke had applied to that program and one in New York, thinking it would be a remote chance if she got into either one. She received acceptance letters for both and had the surprising task of choosing between them.

Her love of Shakespeare and wanting a more in-depth study of his works, and the fact that one was in London, settled the decision.

Behnke will have a “gap year” next year before she goes to college.

“St. Olaf is great about it,” she said. “I will spend a year working in Juneau, traveling more and acting with Theater in the Rough and maybe other places as well. I’ll appreciate college more and enjoy working harder if I take a year off.”

Behnke also is appreciative of the support she’s received from the community and the school. She said it’s nice that the community she’s grown up in has supported her.

Behnke has advice for up and coming high schoolers.

“Do what you’re passionate about,” she said. “I know it sounds cliché, but seriously do not do things because you think it will look good to colleges. You’re rewarded for doing things you really care about. I’ve been so lucky just being able to do the things I care about.”

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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