At 18, Cole Grieshop believes in taking ownership of his life — knowing what he wants to do and figuring out how to get it done. And so far, he’s proven good at it.
In April, Grieshop was named the 2016 Louisiana High School Student of the Year by the state Department of Education.
And at graduation time, his résumé at Destrehan High read like something a dreamy-eyed new parent would imagine, in the wee hours, for his perfect baby’s future:
Destrehan High valedictorian
Four-year starter on the DHS district champion soccer team
More than 400 volunteer hours with special-needs children
National Honor Society president
Captain of gifted debate team
Helped create an exam tutoring program for other Advanced Placement students
Published first novel, “What Tides Offer Islands,” available at Amazon.com and Apple iBooks
If Cole’s parents, Vance and Patricia Grieshop, of Destrehan, had any such aspirations for him, however, they didn’t harden those dreams into demands. Cole credits their attitude for teaching him to be self-motivated.
“My parents always have been so supportive. They were never the type to say, ‘You have to make a 4.0. You have to get this scholarship.’ They never projected a goal line and said you’ve got to get here. They said just do the best you can do.
“That gave me so much confidence going into high school. ... For a kid, that’s really important. A lot of kids who are held to arbitrary standards ... they turn into kind of robots. That motivation isn’t inherent. It isn’t in them. That was their parents,” he said.
Time management skills have been a cornerstone of his success.
“If you get behind in one class or another, it’s really hard to catch back up,” Cole noted.
“For the last four years, it’s been 10,000 different things to juggle. A lot is just having a calendar and putting things in it. I leverage a lot of organizational stuff on the phone so I’m not constantly thinking what do I have to do. Just holding yourself accountable and showing up on time is important.”
Still, Cole lost sleep over high school, literally. He said he averaged about five hours a night.
“In school, the first few hours you feel like a zombie,” he said. “But I found a way. I’d come home Friday afternoons and crash and catch up on sleep on weekends.”
Sleep was slipped in between volunteer work, more studying and games for his year-round St. Charles Parish soccer club, which were in addition to playing on the Destrehan High team. “We have like two weeks off a year. We were traveling all over the state: Alexandria one weekend or New Iberia the next,” he said.
Time with teammates made up part of his social life, but “I was fortunate enough to have friends who would understand I had to go do this, that and the other; they have ambitions just as grandiose as mine,” he said.
While that sometimes meant putting Advanced Placement Statistics or Honors Calculus before social time, Cole realizes that striking a balance is important.
“I don’t want to make it sound like I went to school with a briefcase every day and always sat down and followed every single rule. ... We tried so many senior pranks and some got taken down. I think this one’s OK (to print): A buddy of mine, we bought $40 worth of rye grass seed and went onto the grounds beside the school and wrote ‘Class of ’16.’ For a few weeks no one knew, and after it rained, the grass sprang up, and everyone saw it. It was pretty harmless, but all about trying to have fun in the moment.”
Of all his accomplishments, Cole is most proud of his novel, “What Tides Offer Islands.” “It sounds like (you do it so) you go to a dinner party and can say ‘I wrote a novel,’ but for me it started out as catharsis.”
While its dark topics aren’t taken directly from his life, “It’s a way to translate feelings into something productive. It reminds me that no matter what situation I happen to be in, you can always turn it to a positive one. I’m proud of the book because it’s kind a reflection of where I was, and now I contrast with that how far I’ve come.”
Graduation was another tangible, but bittersweet, reminder of how far he’s come, the culmination of 12 years of work.
“Being able to celebrate side by side with childhood friends and the people I respect most in this world, all together for one big moment, brought a lot of closure to a lot of loose ends and frayed edges. It really was — though it would be sad, too — the purest expression of joy on everyone’s face. We were all happy for each other. It was amazing.”
Cole values those core friendships, many with people he’s known since his age was in single digits. He said they helped keep him centered. “That’s the scary thing about going to college,” he added.
College means Tulane University, where he’s a Dean’s Honor Scholarship recipient. He’ll study in biomedical engineering, with the goal of becoming a neurologist.
He’s happy about staying local.
“I love New Orleans, and how could you pass up an opportunity to spend four years Uptown?”
He acknowledges there will be a learning curve, and it won’t just be about the coursework. “You’ve got to take ownership of everything you do, everything you are. They’ll be temptation to go to that party or this bar, and you’ve got to be able to be in control enough to say, ‘I’ve got to stay in my dorm.’ It’s not the best thing, to go study, but it’s what you have to do. A lot of kids don’t know how to say no. I hope I don’t fall victim to that.”