From hot dog stand owner to class salutatorian, Old Lyme senior lives life with passion

Old Lyme — Growing up in South Lyme, 18-year-old Lyme-Old Lyme High School senior Hannah Morrison said she went through childhood trying to fulfill what she explained as a societal pressure to know exactly what she would do in life.

“People were always asking me 'What do you want to be, what do you want to do with your life?'” she said. “I would say, 'I like art' and they’d say, ‘Oh you’ll be an artist.’ Or I’d say ‘Oh, I love animals’ and they’d say ‘Vet!’”

But during that time, Morrison said the pressure to set herself on an exact career path scared her.

“It was like, I had to choose one part of me and let everything else go,” she said. “I always felt that I had so many different aspects of my personality that were important to me. Choosing to pursue just one thing felt like shutting off other parts to myself.”

So in high school, Morrison decided she would dedicate her life to exploring the varying and disparate parts of her personality — traversing through everything that makes Hannah uniquely Hannah, she said.

Creating a TED Talk titled, “Why One Hannah Wasn’t Enough,” as a final project for her communications class, Morrison said the talk's theme of not having “to have just one passion that defines all of who you are,” has carried her through her teenage years.

Besides being an accomplished student — her class salutatorian, to be exact — Morrison is well-versed in many subjects ranging from calculus to art, chemistry to Spanish. She is active in a wide range of extra-curricular activities, including wind ensemble and concert choir. She co-founded her high school’s math tutoring center, and she’s competed in the Yale Physics Olympics.

As a budding actress, she’s performed in the school’s annual musicals, taking a lead role this year. And as a singer and dancer, Morrison is the dance captain to her school’s Show Choir — “a group sort of like ‘Glee’ where we both sing and dance,” she explains — creating choreography and teaching her fellow classmates the steps in person, or through videos she created.

As a musician, Morrison also plays alto sax in the school’s wind ensemble, as well as its jazz band.

Starting her own business to raise money for college at the age of 15, Morrison runs a hot dog stand, known as the Deep River Dog House, in the summer. And though Morrison said she hasn’t necessarily made or saved more money running the stand compared to say, lifeguarding, or working at the local ice cream shop, it’s been the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of managing a business — such as balancing budgets, hiring employees and thinking about supply and demand — that’s been her biggest takeaway.

“She does everything that interests her and she does it all very well,” said Morrison’s choral teacher, Kristine Pekar. “She is incredibly well-rounded. And when she commits to something, she is all-in.”

"National Merit Scholar. Outstanding performer. Entrepreneur. Salutatorian. She is unique in that she excels in so many areas," Principal ‎James Wygonik said in an email.

This fall, Morrison will attend Oxford College of Emory University, outside of Atlanta, Ga., where she plans to study psychology — a subject Morrison says “that can be integrated with anything.”

Rather than see life as a straight line with a direct mission to be just one thing, Morrison, wise beyond her years, said she wants to pursue a career that allows her flexibility and the ability to truly help people, all while being able to pursue passions such as acting and art.

Morrison said her way of thinking and doing wouldn’t have been possible, however, if it weren’t for both her supportive parents and her caring teachers at Lyme-Old Lyme High School.

Because of her high school’s small size, Morrison said that students are, in particular, supported and encouraged to partake in all activities and interests that appeal to them, even if it's, say, both sports and theater.

"There is a lot of personal connection here where they are there to help you make it all work," she said. "They want you to have that passion and they want you to have that interest."

But it’s also been her teachers’ wise words that have shaped her viewpoint on life, as well. Morrison's theater and music teachers, in particular, have been pivotal to her growth, both inspiring her to be unafraid, as well as bringing a certain joie de vivre into everything she does.

“A big part of music, I’ve learned, is expressing something to the audience and making the audience feel something,” Morrison said. “Music is a way to communicate, and if you’re not allowing yourself to feel what you’re playing, you’re not communicating anything.”

“So, it’s feeling what you’re doing. And it’s applying that idea to the rest of life, too,” she continued. “You shouldn’t be just going through life to go through the motions. It shouldn’t be just, ‘I have to go to college and I have to pick a job.’"

“I want to be feeling something and I want to care about what I’m doing,” Morrison said. “I want to do something impactful and I want to do something meaningful.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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