Kennett High senior Molly Yeager heads to UPenn

It's about having drive

May 07, 2009
Molly's numerous scholarships are less confusing if you consider that she's ranked number eight in her class and received a 21 over 20 on her SATs. She traveled to Poland two summers ago to teach English, and has always had a part-time job throughout the school year. These factors, paired with her strong writing ability, surely helped Molly gain entry into UPenn. And there is another factor, one that she wrote a college essay about: her unusual family situation.

"My family is not at all normal," Molly says without hesitation. "The idea was to raise me as a family unit."

The need for a "unit" arose from the condition that her mother Rachel was in when she gave birth to Molly. Rachel was 17 with a drug problem and Molly's father was unknown. Rachel soon took off for Europe, leaving her infant daughter in the care of her great-aunt Pauline.

"Pauline was in the foreign service before she adopted me," Molly explains in the admiring tone she keeps for her adoptive mother. "She was a single mom, which was totally bold for the time she was born."

When Molly was five, Pauline and her sister, Ann, decided to move from the extended family's home in Camden, N.J., to New Hampshire, where they had spent time as girls. They remembered the area as a great place to grow up, and settled in Bartlett, where Molly began at the Josiah Bartlett School.

"I remember my mom (Pauline) sitting me down when I was in kindergarten," says Molly. "She said 'Eventually you're going to have to go to college. We can't pay for it, so you're going to have to be smart.'"

Ann was a teacher and taught Molly how to read and write before most of the other kids. At school she did a lot of special projects while the other kids caught up.

"Molly always had a keen sense of right and wrong, and she wouldn't just go along with the crowd," says Vicki Varrichione, Guidance Counselor at Bartlett Elementary who has known Molly since her beginnings there. "She is not a kid who has had anything handed to her; she's worked for this every step of the way."

Indeed, Molly has had a lot of personal difficulty to work through. Ann died when she was eight, and as a young teenager Molly regained contact with her birth-mom, Rachel, but it wasn't easy. When she was closest with Rachel, says Molly, she wasn't as close with Pauline.

"Rachel is the same as she was when she was 17," Molly explains factually. "We were fighting all the time and I started to think my life would be better if I didn't have to talk to her. Sometimes you have to back away from challenges." She stopped speaking to Rachel, stopped clashing with Pauline, and her life felt more even-keeled.

Now, Molly tries to keep a good balance between being driven academically and having some down time, but she admits that it's hard.

"I'm someone who gets bored easily; I need to be doing stuff," she says. When she is able to relax, she reads and hangs out with her dog and her friends. But ultimately, "everything I do, I do intensely," she says.

In the meanwhile, Molly has a very keen sense of keeping her bragging rights in check. "It's hard to talk about your accomplishments without seeming arrogant," she admits. "I'm confident, but I'm also careful not to feel like a jerk." She credits her history teacher, David Chamberlain, with helping her express herself this way. She must be doing a good job, as she says people she barely knows have approached her in the hall to congratulate her on her college acceptance. "Everyone's been really nice about it."

As a student who likes every subject but physics, Molly plans to study anthropology at Penn.

"I have a terrible fear of being stuck in an office the rest of my life," she says wryly. "I thought about psychology, but there is that whole office part." She'd like to join the Peace Corps after college, travel and eventually help develop educational systems in foreign countries.

Come September, Molly will be traveling as far as Philadelphia, the home of UPenn. She's loved this city with its "earthy feel" since she was a kid. Coincidentally, Philadelphia is also where Rachel now lives. When asked if she thinks she'll contact Rachel again, Molly hesitates. On the one hand, she's content with the family she already has. But, "I worry about her getting old," she says softly. "I don't think there's a retirement plan for drug dealers."

If she's modest about being smart, Molly Yeager is pragmatic when it comes to success. "So much of doing well in school is about having drive," she says. "I'm a go-getter."

Molly's strong drive, the unpretentious attitude she keeps about it and her sincere care for others will continue to open paths for her, no matter what the future brings.

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