Taylor Elgin is upward bound

This first-year Covenant Scholar from Ashe County rang up groceries while pursuing her college dream.

A woman posing for a portrait on a street in a mountainous town with a painted building mural to her right.
Incoming first-year Taylor Elgin is interested in studying law or psychology to pursue a career in helping people experiencing difficulties. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

In the mountains, the higher you climb, the farther you see. Thanks to hard work, a federal college-prep program and the Carolina Covenant, Taylor Elgin of Ashe County sees a future as a Tar Heel.

This fall, she enters UNC-Chapel Hill as an Honors Carolina student and Carolina Covenant Scholar, which will allow her to graduate debt-free. (The Covenant meets full financial need without loans.)

“I’ve always grown up in small towns. It’s like I never got the opportunity to meet new people, to discover myself. And I feel like college gives me that opportunity,” Elgin said.

Her parents pushed their bright daughter to pursue college because they didn’t want her to struggle the way they had. But father Roger, a mechanic, and mother Laurie, a brewpub manager, had no personal experience in how to make it happen.

Another challenge was that Elgin started high school in a new town, West Jefferson, where she moved with her mother and brother following her parents’ divorce. Seeking a fresh start 750 miles north of the flatlands of Okeechobee, Florida, they arrived in Ashe County in 2019.

“And then COVID hit, which was great for trying to make friends and get involved,” said Elgin, with a touch of dry humor. “It was a lot of fun trying to figure that out.”

Upward Bound

Then Elgin discovered Upward Bound, which helps students in low-income families whose parents aren’t college graduates prepare for college. Appalachian State University hosts the program for high school students in the Boone area, including Ashe County, giving them access to college-prep instruction, counseling and mentoring. They get coaching on college applications and essay writing, do service projects, take college tours and spend part of the summer living on campus to get a taste of college life.

Elgin squeezed all that in while taking AP classes at Ashe County High School, cashiering 20 hours a week at Ingles Market and sometimes helping her mother clean tourist cabins.

“It’s very difficult having to go from school from 8 to 4 and then work from 4 to 10. You don’t really have a lot of time to be a part of clubs that meet after school,” said Elgin, who participated in student council and HOSA-Future Health Professionals.

At the time, she thought she might be a doctor. Her career plans have shifted, influenced by a close relative’s term in prison and its impact on the family. A therapist helped Elgin through the most difficult times, she said, and she’d like to do the same for others.

“Right now, I’m thinking law or psychology, like being a psychiatrist or psychologist. If I did psychology, I’d want to work with people in prison or mental institutes to try to give them a second chance,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Elgins have a lot to look forward to. Mother Laurie will move into her daughter’s bedroom, so she won’t have to share the bathroom with son Justin. A high school junior, Justin gets to use the truck he now splits with his sister, making it easier to get to his job at the brewpub.

Taylor Elgin sees herself at college, meeting other students who share her eclectic interests: thrifting old clothes, getting new piercings, reading horror classics like “Frankenstein,” writing real letters and mailing them, and creating cryptically titled Spotify playlists like Old Folks Home and Do Not Enter.

She’ll miss hanging with her old friends in the Ingles parking lot, but she’ll be hanging with new ones, possibly in her hammock, enjoying the view.