Though William Morris is just getting ready to step out into the world, he already knows he wants to make a difference in it.
Morris, a senior at Gainesville High School, was named Georgia’s STAR student Monday night at the Professional Association of Georgia Educators STAR Banquet in Atlanta. The recognition earned him a $5,000 scholarship, which he will use to study history and Chinese at Harvard University in the fall.
Morris chose his 10th-grade American literature honors accelerated teacher, Pamela Michelsen, to be his STAR teacher. She was awarded $2,500 cash.
Morris competed against 20 of the state’s best and brightest students at the competition. The event included a full day of interviews with judges before the award ceremony.
Morris said the award came as a total surprise.
“Throughout the ceremony my teacher and I were laughing at how I didn’t have a chance because all the other people were so accomplished,” Morris said. “So it was a huge shock when they announced my name because immediately before that I had kind of given up hope. Then afterward I couldn’t believe it.”
Michelsen said she, too, was worried Morris wouldn’t win because all of the other students were very accomplished and “groomed for Ivy League Colleges.”
“William and I both joked that this was way over our heads,” Michelsen wrote in an email to The Times. “But William is as authentic a human being as I have ever known. He is humble and altruistic. I think that came through in the interview.”
Morris said he intends to join the Peace Corps after graduating from college and ultimately hopes to follow in the footsteps of his father, Hall County Public Defender Bradford Morris.
William Morris said he knows he wants to practice law because of the good he’s seen his father accomplish, though he thinks he may be more interested in international law or working with the State Department.
“He’s definitely showed me what a good lawyer is able to do in the community,” William Morris said. “I’d like to follow in his footsteps.”
Bradford Morris said he’s always tried to raise his three children to become “contributing citizens” and believes they are all working to that end.
“Everything you do in school is preparatory so you can hopefully, at some point, make a contribution to civilization,” Bradford Morris said. “... He’s making some effort to do that I think.”
Though William Morris has worked hard to succeed in school, he credits his success to his family, teachers and community.
William Morris said his life could have very easily taken a turn for the worse after his father was involved in an accident that left him hospitalized for many months.
Instead of falling behind in his classes while his mother Renee Morris, a middle school English teacher, tended to his injured father, his teachers stepped in to help however they could.
Morris said he’s grateful to the teachers at GHS for keeping him on track academically and for recognizing the times when he struggled.
William Morris’ mother and father both praised the school system and GHS for helping their son succeed.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” Renee Morris wrote in an email to The Times. “And Gainesville City Schools is an exceptional village that has prepared William for the world.”