After months of observing, listening and preparing, Liberty High School rising senior Rachel Van Parys has left the audience and joined the actors, ready to take on her new role.
Van Parys is the new student member of the Carroll County Board of Education, a position she will hold for a year.
For the first time this month, she slipped into the seat recently vacated by Maggie McEvoy, a Century High student who just graduated.
"It's really exciting, and it will definitely be hard to follow Maggie and Brendan [Schlauch]," Van Parys said, referring to the student representative on the board before McEvoy.
But Van Parys is stepping to the dais with a considerable record of service.
At Liberty, she has been involved with student government, acting as parliamentarian during her sophomore year. This past year, as she watched and studied McEvoy in preparation for her coming term, she was part of the county Student Government Association's executive board.
Beyond Carroll, Van Parys said, she has been involved with state and national student-government groups.
A desire to get involved with "an even bigger picture" drove her to seek the school board position, she said.
"I wanted the opportunity to be able to have that kind of communication with the authorities in our school system," said Van Parys, who also participates in debate, drama and Spanish clubs.
Nora Murray, the SGA adviser at Liberty, said Van Parys is ready.
Being a student member of the board sometimes can be a little overwhelming for anyone, said Murray, who described Van Parys as thorough and dependable. "But she has the ability to communicate with adults on that level."
Students do not have voting rights but can express opinions on board issues.
As Van Parys looks ahead to her months on the board, McEvoy, her predecessor, is gearing up for her last summer before heading off to the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where she said she might study international relations.
McEvoy had served in several positions - vice president of her sophomore and freshman classes, and vice president of Century High's SGA. She said she was drawn to the board because it allowed her to work directly with what goes on in schools and how decisions are made.
Like Van Parys, she said she wanted the chance to "look at things from a really global perspective."
That kind of broader perspective was something McEvoy brought to the table, said Penny Foster, the Century High SGA adviser.
"She was aware of more than Carroll County," Foster said, with knowledge of current events and how things were done in other places. "Because of that, she was able to bring a different viewpoint."
Before the end of her final meeting last month, McEvoy formally withdrew a resolution expressing the school board's support for partial student voting rights and for the pursuit of a change in state law.
Such rights typically allow student members to vote on issues tied to curriculum or education policy, but not personnel or budget matters.
McEvoy had reintroduced the measure in the spring, almost a year after the board had voted against the idea, but a discussion on the matter was not reopened before her departure.
"I didn't want to leave it as something that was just hanging," Mc- Evoy said last month. "I still really believe in the voting rights."
Estelle Sanzenbacher, who guides student representatives throughout their terms, praised McEvoy for the job she had done, particularly noting the way she had handled the voting issue.
"It showed a lot of integrity because she didn't want anyone to think she was just backing off," Sanzenbacher said. "She showed much poise."
Van Parys said she didn't know whether she would resurrect the resolution. "I'm the biggest proponent you can have for student voting rights, and I do think it's going to eventually be a necessary thing," she said.
But unless the board signals a shift in its opinion, she added, it's not worth pushing for them again.
She expressed an interest in possible changes meant to increase school security, which were recommendations from a committee that studied the matter. The board is expected to review the suggestions this week.
Regardless of what Van Parys decides to take on, Sanzenbacher said, "you can expect Rachel to do her homework and not be afraid to speak up."