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'I just want to push myself to do the absolute best.' Gainesville's Marisa Woo heading to Stanford with impressive resumé
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Gainesville High's Marisa Woo - photo by Scott Rogers

With her status as valedictorian, STAR student and finalist in the running for the prestigious presidential scholarship, you’d think that Gainesville High School’s Marisa Woo is a title chaser. But, she said, it’s not about the recognition.

“A lot of the things I do, it’s not necessarily because I want to achieve any certain award or milestone,” the 18-year-old said. “It’s more that I just want to push myself to do the absolute best that I can, because I feel like if I’m not, then I’m letting myself down.”

And Woo hasn’t just pushed herself in academics. She serves as president of the school’s Chinese Club, National Honor Society, National Arts Honor Society, Beta Club, Coding Club and Web Design Team; co-president of the President’s Club; founder of the Student Tutoring Service; and vice president of the Key Club, Math Club and Mu Alpha Theta Math Honors Society, among other leadership roles and accolades. In whatever time is leftover, Woo also plays piano — she even traveled to Japan for a competition during her sophomore year.

And the teen said she didn’t even necessarily mean to keep herself so busy.

“I really like to take every opportunity that I see and run with it,” she said. “So when I was a freshman, I signed up for a lot of different clubs, because I wanted to try a lot of different things and meet a lot of different people and go with a lot of my different interests. And I sort of thought that I would sort of drop clubs as I went, but then I became really invested in them.”

Woo said she couldn’t let go of the relationships and she wanted to have a larger role and invest more of herself into the offerings that had brought her so much joy.

She also said being involved in and leading so many different clubs allowed her to create cross-club events and help members co-mingle.

Woo couldn’t quite explain how she balanced it all while maintaining her nearly 4.23 GPA, but at the same time wasn’t surprised that she had. With a chuckle, she said, “the scheduling just sort of works out.”

Class of 2021

Read stories of outstanding seniors across Hall County in our Class of 2021 special section. Pick up a copy of the print publication, which lists names of all the graduating seniors, inside the May 8-9 weekend edition of The Times.

Woo said her sister and her parents have been her biggest cheerleaders throughout her life, supporting her “100%” in anything she strived to do. But she also credited her teachers and friends at the high school with supporting her in many different ways.

“Some of the teachers I’ve had are the most dedicated, kind people, who care so much about their students, not only in learning the material for the course they’re teaching but trying to make sure that what they learn and how they learn it will set them up in the future,” she said, adding that the diversity of backgrounds and experiences in the student body was also a factor in her personal growth.

Woo is bound for Stanford University in the fall and said she’s choosing between majors in political science, a precursor to a law career, computer science or graphic design. Though she’s made up her mind on a school, Woo said she considers herself undecided on her major, noting that as she applied to schools, she chose a different major at each one.

“I kept changing my mind,” she said, laughing.

Woo said she hopes to be able to explore in college just as widely as she did in high school to find out what it is that ignites a passion for her next step.

Just as it did in the lives of many high school students, COVID-19 presented its challenges for Woo.

She said she’s thankful for the adult lessons she learned during the two school years affected by the pandemic, though she wished she didn’t have to learn them this way.

Woo said the virus made communication with peers more difficult and disrupted many of the goals she had for her school clubs, such as volunteer and community events. 

But, she added, it also taught her valuable lessons and forced her to prioritize the most important things in her life.

“Even though I wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with a lot of different people like I normally would, I was able to devote a lot more time to the people who meant the most to me, because in order to maintain those relationships, we’d have to put a lot more effort into it,” she said. “So that made a lot of the relationships I did maintain even stronger.”

And, Woo said, she’s grateful for a year that, while hectic, set her up to be a stronger version of herself.

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Gainesville High's Marisa Woo - photo by Scott Rogers