By Eli Scharf
Photo contributed by Ainsley Eckhoff, graphics by Adrienne Lirio
The first thing most people notice about senior Ainsley Eckoff is her outlandish spirit. Eckhoff has dressed in her mother’s wedding dress and ridden around on a motorized unicorn — she’s even dyed her cat pink for a football game.
“I don’t think anyone had seen that before, so it was a lot of fun,” she said. “A lot of teachers and friends came to meet my cat.”
As a teaching assistant for a sophomore chemistry class last year, Eckhoff and her friend senior Pearl Berzin ran the class after the teacher left, easing the transition of many rotating substitutes. Eckhoff worked with science department head Gerard Gagnon to guide the situation.
“She was a great asset in terms of her ability to support the kids, but also then to pull me into the solution when I could be helpful,” Gagnon said.
Eckhoff met junior Hailey Smith through the chemistry class and they remain close friends today.
“She tries so hard with everything that she does and it’s really impressive,” Smith said. “She’s one of my best friends and I’m so grateful to have met her.”
Eckhoff worked with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society during her freshman year in Alabama where she raised almost $100,000 in just a few weeks. This money was used to fund a grant which helped people with blood cancer.
Tricia Center, Eckhoff’s mentor for the program, said that a large factor of the fundraiser’s success was Eckhoff’s determination.
“[Eckhoff] was very driven and really, really wanted to make a difference,” she said.
Inspired by her sister’s muscular dystrophy, Eckhoff started the Students Empowering Communities program for the Muscular Dystrophy Association when she moved to Massachusetts, which has since gone national.
“It was really exciting to see the millions of dollars it’s bringing in and to see the impact it has,” she said. “It’s really fulfilling.”
Having moved just a couple of years ago, Eckhoff’s ability to put herself out there has also made her well-known in the South community, Berzin said.
“[Eckhoff] really does a good job of trying to meet lots of different types of people, being very open about meeting different kids at school and making friends with different people,” she said.
Eckhoff said that moving to South made her a more open person.
“I was forced to really connect with the community here, so I wasn’t so alone the rest of my time here,” she said. “It’s been really nice to create such deep connections in such a short amount of time with the faculty and other students.”
Physics and math teacher Ryan Normandin said that he admires Echkoff’s confidence and ability to advocate for herself.
“I’m really impressed with her and her persistence and her ability to connect with other people and work really well with them and not give up when she runs into challenges,” he said.
As graduation approaches, Eckhoff said that the end of her time at South is bittersweet.
“I’m glad to finally be done with everything, but it’s still hard saying goodbye to the teachers, students, staff and building that I’ve been in for a couple years now,” she said.
As for her future, Eckhoff has committed to the University of Miami and currently plans to major in biomedical engineering. Eckhoff loved her biology class at South and is also close to the subject because of her sister’s muscular dystrophy.
“I’m surrounded by biomedical appliances and, being in the hospital, I’ve seen the consumer version of it, so I’m excited to be a part of the creation of it,” she said.
Normandin said that Ainsley Eckhoff is truly one of a kind and that she has made a positive impact on so many people.
“She contributes so much to South,” he said. “We’re going to miss her next year.”