Photo: Lawrence University Dacula grad Shannon Murray, who recently completed her college softball career, was given the 2013 Marion Read Award, given to a student who makes outstanding contributions to Lawrence University athletics.
The chance conversation, the one that changed her life, still remains fresh in Shannon Murray's mind.
As a Dacula senior, Murray attended an Atlanta area college fair and one admissions counselor found her in a group of high school students.
"He literally picked me out of a crowd," Murray said. "He said, 'You, young lady, you look like you belong at Lawrence University.' I remember thinking, 'You're incredibly cliche, but I will talk to you anyway.'"
That encounter, coupled with her own research, let Murray know that the Appleton, Wisc., school was right for her. She read about it in "Colleges That Change Lives," a book that features 40 schools that the author feels offer as much, if not more, than a heralded Ivy League education.
It convinced Murray to enroll at Lawrence, where she just completed an impressive career on the Vikings' NCAA Division III softball team, but she had no idea back then just how much she would love her college. And few students can say they were as involved in their schools as Murray, who took advantage of much of what Lawrence had to offer.
"It's my home away from home," Murray said. "The school itself has a community feel, that was something that I looked for in a college. The people kept me there. The friends I met there will be my best friends for life."
Murray is the ideal example of a Gwinnett student finding the perfect college match. The county funnels teenagers, athletes and otherwise, into a variety of institutions every year, and many of those end up at big, sprawling colleges like Georgia or Georgia Tech that are akin to the typically large Gwinnett high schools.
Others end up at a small, liberal arts college like Lawrence.
For Murray, that allowed her to be heavily involved at a quaint school with roughly 1,500 students. When she wasn't playing softball, she worked three years as a student athletic trainer for the Vikings' basketball team and four years as a trainer for the women's tennis team. She won the Marion Read Award, given for outstanding contributions to Lawrence athletics, the past two years.
Her other job, not surprisingly, fit well --a tour guide for prospective students.
"I love Lawrence so much that I didn't mind bragging about it," she said.
The college also verified that Murray wanted to be an educator like her mother Sally, a longtime Gwinnett teacher who is currently at Lovin Elementary. She majored in German with a minor in Spanish, earning her degree last Sunday. She begins a summer job Friday as a camp counselor in Chicago, and plans to work on a master's degree shortly thereafter.
Her list of goals also includes living in Germany for a few years to hone her language skills, and teaching students at inner city schools in Chicago.
"The education classes I took at Lawrence inspired me for that," Murray said. "A lot of times inner city kids get passed by in education. I feel like a lot of those kids need a teacher on their side."
Murray also found Lawrence to be the perfect fit athletically. She was a four-year starter, a two-time All-Midwest Conference player and a three-time all-region pick. She was the Vikings' top pitcher and hitter throughout her career, hitting .379 her last season and tossing the third no-hitter of her career.
She said giving up softball, a sport she began as an 8-year-old at Dacula Park, is the hardest part of leaving college, but she hopes to coach the sport when she becomes a high school teacher in the future. She will bring with her great memories from softball, fully aware that she got the most out of the sport and her college experience.
"I'm more than satisfied with (my college career)," Murray said. "I found the best friends I'll have for life in softball. I grew up as a person. I found myself as a person in softball. The entire athletic department is like a family. It's one of the things I really loved about Lawrence."
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.