From a small school to big dreams: Tidioute’s Hailie Cass Student of Year

Times Observer Student of the Year Hailie Cass has big dreams and she is consistently achieving them.

“I had this large ambition,” Cass said. “I knew I wanted to be valedictorian. I knew I wanted to go to college early.”

Missions accomplished.

A week ago, Cass gave the valedictorian speech at Tidioute Community Charter School’s graduation.

Before her senior year even started, she had completed the requirements for graduation and taken seven courses as a dual-enrollment student through Gannon University. “I took most of the classes Gannon had to offer through dual-enrollment,” she said.

Cass did attend TCCS in her senior year — one period per day to remain part of the band. The rest of her day was spent as a full-time student at the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville with a focus on the classes she will need in a career as a dermatologist.

All that school-work added up. “I would go to school from 7 a.m. to 9 sometimes 10 p.m.,” she said.

She has been accepted to Grove City College and will attend there in the fall. She will walk into her first day with 46 credits. Academically, she will be a second-semester sophomore.

Being Student of the Year was not on her long-range radar, but it is a step along her path.

“It’s an honor. It’s a big deal,” she said. “It’s groundbreaking.”

Cass is the first student in the history of TCCS to be named Student of the Year.

Her graduating class itself has broken ground at the school. Cass was in the inaugural kindergarten class and she and her original classmates are the first to attend the school from kindergarten through graduation.

In seeking to be first in her class and get a jump start on college, Cass had to make some sacrifices.

“Dance was my life until I started high school,” she said. “Some of my fondest memories and greatest friends are through dance.”

She knew the time investment she made as part of Linda Dies’ Dance Express, including more than an hour of round-trip travel every time she went to the studio, was not one she could maintain and achieve her new goals.

“I knew that I had to really devote my time to what I really want to be in the end,” Cass said.

So, she pulled herself out of competition and entered Dance Unlimited, with its lesser time requirements.

“I really focused on building up my resume, getting into college, and getting scholarships,” Cass said.

She played volleyball in her freshman and sophomore years, was on the trap team for four years, and competed in archery.

She joined 4-H and through that experience attended Pennsylvania Leadership Conference.

And, at summer camp at Miracle Mountain Ranch, Cass fell in love… and bought the object of that love.

“I fell in love with my horse, Skip,” she said.

Together, Cass and Skip: A Super Jet — his competition name — have won titles at the district, state, and national levels.

Her many co-curricular activities supplement her academic excellence. Cass graduated with a 4.7 weighted grade point average and those 46 college credits.

She did not allow the size of her school — with a graduating class of 21 — to lead her, or anyone else, to think that she should not ‘dream big.’

In fact, she credits TCCS with affording her the opportunity to excel.

“In my small school, I was able to get involved in the music program, sports, drama club, academic bowl, student government, lots of clubs,” she said. “It helped me to be very well rounded.”

“We had small classroom sizes and we were able to have lots of small group discussions in our classrooms,” Cass said. “My teachers were amazing. They went the extra mile to make sure we knew the information. We had interactive classrooms where we traveled, went outside, took field trips, spent time in the forest, at the river, or on the farm.”

“We did mentorships that allowed us the opportunity to explore our career choices in the real world. I was able to spend time in an operating room, was present during medical procedures, and spent the day with a physician’s assistant allowing me to see what a day in these careers is like. This helped me make choices about what I liked and did not like before making plans for college.”

At Grove City, Cass will enroll in the biology pre-health — pre-med — track on her way to becoming a dermatologist.

“There’s a definite need in our area,” she said. “If the time comes, I’d really like to give back to my community by being a dermatologist here.”

She not only wants to give back to her community, but to those less fortunate. She would like to spend time in Doctors Without Borders. “I feel that it is my duty to give back my time and my service to this area and war-stricken areas and those who are in need,” she said.

Cass said many people view dermatology as a field that indulges vanity. “That’s not the case,” she said. “Your skin is the largest organ in your body.”

“You can do a lot of preventative care that can give you a better quality of life,” she said. “I’m super interested in burn patients, scar patients, and skin cancer. I believe as a dermatologist I can make a difference.”

Those days may still be a few years away, but Cass has her sights set and she hasn’t missed yet.

Dream Big.