BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Meghan Stevenson has her face paint, her blue-and-white tutu and her first football tickets, which she snagged even though they sold out in just five minutes.
In short, she’s ready to head off to college at Penn State University.
Stevenson, who graduated June 25 from Niskayuna High School, has always been involved in her class. She was secretary for several consecutive years, helped present the senior class gift at graduation, and won an essay contest sponsored by the DAR in December.
Her plans for celebrating her graduation offer a glimpse into her nature: She opted to forego her own party so she wouldn’t miss any of her friends’ celebrations.
“I thought it would be more fun to go to everybody else’s,” she said.
The friendliness that Stevenson radiates tends to come back to her. For example, Niskayuna High School students who are heading to Penn State or are already studying there have helped to put her mind at ease about leaving her family, with whom she is close.
Rea Mittal and Stephen Davenport, both members of the class of 2015, plus three older Niskayuna alumni, will all be there to support Stevenson. The group even arranges a carpool for the five- to six-hour drive between school and home.
Her friends’ support will help Stevenson when the distance between her and family seems wide. Her sister, Johanna, who will attend Niskayuna High School in the fall, has already started to worry about her big sister’s absence; her college orientation conflicted with a summer camp that the two usually attend together. Her brother, Tommy, who will be a high school junior in the fall, and her parents, Allan and Diane, are also close.
Stevenson often reminds herself that the drive isn’t too long.
“It could be farther,” she said, noting that she considered attending Brigham Young University in Utah. The drive from Niskayuna to Provo, where BYU is located, takes about 31 hours, not counting stops and traffic jams.
She didn’t just pick the closer of the two schools to stick by friends and family, though. The deciding factor was more academic. “I chose Penn State because I wanted to get involved in research really early,” Stevenson said.
She attributes her enthusiasm for her new biology major to teacher Patricia Black, with whom Stevenson studied as a freshman and as a junior.
“She made it so fascinating,” Stevenson said.
Even her scientific interests are fueled, in part, by a desire to connect with and improve the lives of others.
“I’ve always liked helping people,” she said. “Knowing what you’re doing in the lab is helping people outside. . . . I like the helping-people aspect.”
Once she’s had her fill of researching, Stevenson hopes to move on to become a licensed physician’s assistant, a goal that will require an additional two to three years of school.
To make room for exciting new opportunities, Stevenson knows she’ll have to give up a thing or two. Music has been an important part of her life in Niskayuna, but at college she’ll scale back. Instead of hours of piano and flute practice, she plans to seek out time to play the piano for fun.
“There’s a piano in each of the commons of the buildings,” she said happily.
Stevenson also said she sings only when she’s alone, but if her cheerful approachability is any indicator, solitude will be a rare occurrence.