When you’ve had one-student classes for nearly your entire upbringing, the prospect of landing on a campus of 35,000 students can seem incredibly daunting. But to Madison Higbee, who starts at Georgia State this fall, it’s felt surprisingly natural.
“Probably the biggest factor was I knew that Georgia State, especially the Honors College, would give me a voice,” she says. “I was home-schooled my whole life, and as a result I was able to have a voice in my studies, which was very important to me. In the Honors College, I know I won’t just be a number — the people at the Honors College are there to support me.”
Being part of a tight-knit group such as the Presidential Scholars, with all the resources that entails, certainly doesn’t hurt either. “But honestly, even if I hadn’t received the scholarship, there’s a very good chance I would’ve gone to Georgia State anyway,” Higbee says. “They’ll do whatever they can to help me achieve my goals.”
A Call to Action
Right now, those goals are far-ranging. Over the summer, Higbee changed her major to interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in law and society, “because I have a really wide variety of interests, and my biggest passions are social justice and human rights. I feel like a major in interdisciplinary studies will help me effectively understand and combat prejudice.”
Higbee is already establishing a track record of activism in those areas. Earlier this year, she attended the Summer Teach-In at the Center for Civil and Human Rights not far from Georgia State’s campus. She’s also spoken out against conversion therapy for minors, a controversial practice that attempts to take young people with same-sex attractions and “turn them straight.”
Higbee won an award for a speech she gave on the topic earlier this year at Kennesaw State, where she was dual-enrolled her senior year of high school. That experience, she says, was a “wonderful transition” between home-schooling and full-time enrollment at Georgia State.
“I felt like it was a bit different from being home-schooled, because it was a traditional classroom setting,” she explains. “I took a German course fall semester, and in that course I kind of felt like I was just sitting around because I knew a lot of German already. But that same semester, I took an honors statistics course, and I was working my butt off the whole time to keep up in that class. I ended up making an A, but it was a very challenging course.”
Opportunities Right in Her Backyard
It was right before classes started at Kennesaw that Higbee sent in her application for the Presidential Scholarship. “I was looking at different kinds of early-action opportunities, and I had already been accepted to the Honors College, so I said, ‘Well, it doesn’t hurt to apply.’” The application and interviewing process was “really exciting,” she recalls, and when she finally got word that she’d been picked for the scholarship, it was “shock and excitement. I think I was speechless at the time.”
When she first began her college search, Higbee figured she’d attend a small, private liberal-arts school like her parents did. Last summer, they visited colleges such as Oberlin in Ohio and Sarah Lawrence in New York.
“Both of them emphasized that they would be able to help me change the world,” she remembers. “But once I got there, I decided that all the opportunities I had there, I had just as many, if not more, in Georgia — and especially at Georgia State.”
With so many options available to her at Georgia State, Higbee is looking forward to “trying things out and seeing what I enjoy the most,” with an eye on her future career path. “I could stay in academia and continue with a graduate and doctorate degree in some sort of subject. I could work to fight for more diversity in film and media, which actually sounds really exciting to me. I could work to change policies with human rights,” she says. “There are so many possibilities, and they all sound exciting.”
A Time for Exploration
Of course, not everything she wants to explore is restricted to a classroom setting. “I love skyscrapers,” says Higbee, who is eager to venture out into an urban environment much different from her hometown of Ball Ground in north Georgia. She already has memberships to the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the High Museum of Art, and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens; she’s also got tickets to Music Midtown, and is compiling a list of restaurants she wants to try as well.
With everything going on in Atlanta, there might even be an outlet for another interest of hers: hula dancing.
“In middle school, I saw this movie about these girls in Japan who learned to dance hula and became part of a big hula dance company. It was a very moving film,” Higbee says. “A little bit later, we got this postcard in the mail that was offering hula dance lessons. A friend of mine who’d also seen the movie and I decided we were going to learn hula. I’ve been taking hula dance lessons for five or six years now.”