High school seniors have a lot of things to juggle at this time of year. From anxiously awaiting SAT results, to the crush of college applications and acceptances, to the need to remain focused on their studies when the natural instinct is to start the senior slide at Christmas.
When unexpected good surprises arrive, it can throw one for a loop. So it was for Mehki Rippey, a senior at Haddonfield Memorial High School who was selected as a winner of the Widener University High School Leadership Award earlier in the fall.
Rippey was one of 18 students selected from schools across Camden County, recognized for his work with the Peer Bias Leaders Committee as well as addressing issues related to school culture and climate change.
“It was a total shock,” Rippey told the Sun on Dec. 1. Ms. (HMHS Principal Tammy) McHale nominated me, and when I went through the whole application process, I was about 50-50 in terms of expecting that I’d receive any notification.
“But when I got word that I was a winner,” he added, “it was shocking to see it all come to fruition.”
Honorees gathered for a virtual-award event on Nov. 6 that Rippey noted was “exciting but definitely mind-numbing after a while. It was the biggest Zoom call I’ve ever been on.”
Rippey has been an agent of change in the community, pushing for greater awareness of the Black experience in Haddonfield as well as within the high school itself. Last summer, as part of S.J. Students for Social Justice, he helped organize and lead a peaceful protest and rally through the downtown area in support of Black Lives Matter.
In addition to the award, Rippey is on track to receive a scholarship of $20,000 over four years should he choose to enroll at Widener as an undergraduate. Honorees who do so are known as Apogee Scholars.
Has this sizable enticement influenced any part of the college selection process?
“Definitely,” Rippey offered.
“Widener wasn’t really on my radar at the beginning. My mom is a Widener alum, so I knew of the school,” he added. “Once I got the award, I decided to apply and do my research. I haven’t made up my mind yet. The scholarship money and the leadership opportunities are definitely part of my thought process now.”
Rippey was careful to reveal that he hasn’t made up his mind yet, although he did reveal that he made early-decision applications to both Widener and the University of Pennsylvania.
Wherever Rippey lands, the actions undertaken and lessons learned over the last year appear to be the foundation for his leadership journey. He’s found some basic principles to guide him as he takes the next step.
“Things that stick out the most for me are courageousness, to be able to take the first leap, to be able to rally people around you, and to be prepared for the pushback,” he noted.
Rippey also recognizes that self-reflection is a key leadership tool, but realizes there’s a balance to be struck between expressing satisfaction for an accomplishment and the knowledge there is still much to experience and digest.
“I’ve had to learn that lesson over the summer,” he stated. “I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, but I looked back and saw how much of a difference I made. That’s what I see in a true leader.
“We need to keep pushing forward, because there’s always work to be done.”
In its ninth year, Widener’s awards program recognized 160 students from high schools throughout the region for their abilities to stand up for what is right, address a wrong and make a difference in their communities or schools. A comprehensive list of all award recipients can be found by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/y2rd3gl6.