MARICOPA — For many theater junkies, their love of theatrical performance and the arts began in high school. The same is true for 17-year-old Maricopa High School senior and salutatorian Haley Lemon.
Aside from her stellar academics, Lemon has been heavily involved in the theater community practically since she stepped foot on campus. In her first two years, she was a part of every major performance the school put on, but she longed for a larger role.
She got it her junior year, becoming the director for their spring musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” She and her friends painted sets, performed, directed and lit up the stage for many performances over her four years, but she finally rose to the top her senior year, snagging the title of president of theater. She also landed that big role she wanted in “Peter and the Starcatcher.”
She played Mrs. Bumbrake, who she describes as a “crazy” nanny with a thick British accent who only ever spoke in alliterations.
“It was pretty much the only big role I’ve gotten on a main stage show, and I got to do that with a lot of my close friends. It was so fun, but it was so difficult because the character I was playing required a lot,” Lemon said. “That show was probably my favorite I’ve ever done in high school.”
While she was memorizing lines and prepping the perfect pompous accent, she was moving forward on a goal she’d held since freshman year.
“It kind of started with the vision of valedictorian — that’s a super awesome thing. Then I kind of just kept going and kept getting lucky,” Lemon said. “I always did my best and I always felt like I had to do my best and that turned out the best for me in the end.”
The weight of being so involved in theater while also trying to maintain an outstanding GPA was tough for Lemon, who struggled with anxiety throughout her high school experience.
“I have clinical anxiety,” Lemon said. “Dealing with that, while dealing with the workload of a full-time thespian and a full-time student — even though I was lucky enough to not have to get a job or do other extracurriculars — that was kind of just a big part of my life.”
Lemon was just short of her final AP tests when COVID-19 hit the United States. It was a tough added stressor to her final semester, and the loss of prom and a traditional graduation ceremony ate at her.
“At first dealing with everything was pretty much impossible,” Lemon said. “I was originally going to use it to get ahead on my senior portfolio and study for AP tests. But I didn’t do anything for those (first) two weeks because I was just dealing with everything that was going on. That was really difficult at first.”
Still she managed to scoop her title of salutatorian, hot on the heels of valedictorian Freya Abraham, but neither will be able to give their final send off at graduation like they had planned.
“It’s difficult knowing that I’ll never get to say those words in front of thousands of people like I had always kind of wanted to and had worked toward,” Lemon said sadly. “But also the thought comes to mind that, if I didn’t get to be a salutatorian and I still did as much work as I did, I would still be happy.”
Being a hard worker is in Lemon’s nature, and her four siblings, parents and stepdad are all supportive of her no matter the achievement.
“They’re super supportive,” Lemon said. “I’m really lucky because they’re not like the parents that expect you to get perfect grades. They kind of just let me do my thing, and this is just what I wanted to do.”
Though some of her family members hold higher degrees, she is the first in her family to attend directly after high school. She will head to Northern Arizona University in the fall on a full-tuition scholarship, where she hopes to either study forestry, studio art or English.
Bernadette Russoniello, Career Coordinator and Senior Specialist for MHS, admired Lemon’s ability to captivate people with her natural creativity.
“You only need to spend a moment with Haley to notice that her poise, her quiet confidence and her composure make her distinct from her peers,” Russoniello wrote. “Haley balances both an analytical and creative mind, and develops both aspects in her academic and creative expression.”