When Destinee Grove first set foot on the campus of the University of North Carolina as an eighth-grade student, she decided then that the visit would not be her last.
Currently a senior at Scotland High School, the Wagram native will enter UNC this fall as one of 48 freshman Morehead-Cain scholars. Considered one of the most prestigious merit scholarships offered in the United States, the Morehead-Cain provides four fully-funded years of undergraduate study at UNC.
Grove’s first trip to Chapel Hill was arranged for youth of Native American heritage, and she resolved at that point to one day return to the school as a member of the student body. But the possibility of receiving the Morehead did not become tangible for her until more recently.
“Our tour guide was a Pogue Scholar, and she was telling us about her scholarship,” Grove said of that experience. “We had heard about the Morehead-Cain and she told us about her friend who had it and about all the things that she had done and I was like: wow. Some of the things that these people do are amazing. “
Leadership and learning
Grove's mother, Ruby Clark of Wagram, said that at first the scholarship was one of many potential avenues to a school of UNC’s caliber.
“The school actually nominated her for the Morehead-Cain,” Clark said. “We didn’t go in with the intent to win, it was one of many things we had to do to find the means for Destinee to attend a school like Carolina.”
Scotland High School publications teacher Matt Smith wrote Grove’s initial recommendation to the Morehead-Cain selection committee in October, keeping them updated on her progress throughout the school year.
“You never have to worry about her,” Smith said. “She’s a great role model for the other students of how students should carry themselves.”
Grove holds a 4.7 weighted GPA while serving as the co-editor of the school newspaper, as well as the president of the National Honor Society and student body president. She has also been a member of the varsity women’s soccer team for four years.
“The thing they really want to see is that leadership ability and Destinee carries herself as a natural leader; she can’t help it,” said Smith. “If they hadn’t chosen Destinee, I would have questioned what the Morehead-Cain scholarship is about because she really embodies those qualities that a Morehead scholar is supposed to command.”
Grove counts Smith and Scotland High School English teacher Beth Ferguson among her most significant mentors, though her ultimate aspirations veer toward the scientific.
“I like writing because I can be more creative and there’s more room for different ideas and opinions,” Grove said. “On paper I can say all of these crazy things that a science or math teacher wouldn’t understand.”
Outside of school, her involvement includes membership in the NAACP Youth Council, volunteer work at the hospital, teaching herself sign language, and coaching with the Scotland Youth Soccer Association.
“Soccer’s not a big sport here, so it’s fun when you get to be the person to help motivate them to stay with the sport,” she said.
As the field of Morehead applicants was winnowed down from thousands to hundreds, Grove remained in the game.
“The first notification we got, me and my mom checked it together, and I remember we just boo-hooed when we found out I was a semi-finalist,” she said. “You go through that interview and I came out and knew I killed it, I was awesome. I was on a roll, and then you get to that last one and you’re waiting. That was scary.”
After the committee narrowed the pool to 100, Grove visited the UNC campus in March with the other applicants for a long weekend of familiarization with the school and the Morehead community of current scholars and alumni, along with two interview with the selection committee. It was not until that trip that Grove elected to share her status as a finalist with her friends and teachers.
“I kept it a very private process - I’m one of those people, I just keep to myself a lot, so aside from myself, our scholarship coordinator, and my recommender, no one really knew about it until the finalist stage,” Grove said.
For Clark, learning in March that her daughter had been granted the Morehead-Cain scholarship paled in comparison to Grove’s impact on her community so far.
“I’m more proud of the things that she’s done to be eligible to win the scholarship,” Clark said. “I have always been proud of her; I just felt very blessed that she was selected. It’s been a big honor. Out of all of the people they could have chosen, they chose her.”
As a Morehead-Cain scholar, Scotland County’s first since Whitfield Gibson was named in 2001, Grove will also be supported in summer service projects and learning opportunities during the school year.
This summer, Grove will spend three weeks in Maine boating and hiking the Mahoosuc mountain range with other scholars. For the following three summers, she will be allowed to explore her specific interests by spending time in public service and public or private enterprise.
“The fourth year we’ll have Exploration and Inquiry, where we are kind of leaving and trying to cut ties and figure out what we want to do after school,” said Grove. “Each year, you do something different. A lot of people work with a nonprofit organization in Rwanda, or Morgan-Stanley is a big one. One scholar worked at the 2012 Olympics as her public service.”
With new access to a global network of 3,000 Morehead alumni, Grove suspects that her current horizons are only the beginning.
“The week I got the Morehead-Cain, one of the curators from the Smithsonian sent me something from their Black History Month program: this huge thing of African-American portraits that were really nice and tapes with details about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” she said. “I didn’t even know this guy a month ago and now I have this connection.”
During her time at Carolina, Grove plans to double major in psychology and exercise and sport science, with her sights on volunteering at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil next summer. She also plans to join the Black Student Movement during her time at Carolina as a continuation of her work with the NAACP.
“I just love representing Scotland County and making us look good and being able to come back and bring something to our community.”