AYER -- Holly Caires has a lot to look forward this year as she makes her way to Florida to study marine biology. Making her journey a bit easier is a $5,000 gift for college.
A graduate of Ayer Shirley Regional High School, Caires was one of three winners of the Acton Toyota of Littleton Scholarship awarded to seniors from among 10 regional schools.
The application required students to write an essay describing their leadership experience in either the community, the classroom or sports.
As a leader in Student Council and a captain of three sports teams, Caires rose to the top three of 79 total applicants.
"It was so amazing when I found out I won, because I was going up against really big schools, and Ayer Shirley is a very small school," she said. "It was just great that I was able to receive that money."
She said she's very grateful to receive the scholarship, which will help her fund college in Florida at the University of Tampa.
Caires was a nonstop athlete, participating in soccer during the fall, indoor track in the winter and outdoor track in the spring.
"Sports has been a big part of my whole high-school career," she said. "I've played every season I could possibly play, starting freshman year, and it's just served as a great way to relieve stress from school."
She was captain of all teams both junior and senior year, which she said was a great experience.
"Senior year is my favorite because during soccer you're able to make the team a lot stronger," she said.
Caires has also been involved with Student Council, serving as vice-president from sophomore to senior year.
"I was able to organize prom my senior year and it worked out great," she said. "It was just a great feeling being a huge reason why prom worked out so well."
Stephen Poulin, an employee at Acton Toyota of Littleton, who helped choose the scholarship winners, said this year attracted the largest number of applicants.
The money comes from a contribution by Acton Toyota that is matched by the Toyota Corporation, he said.
He said Caires stood out because she displayed leadership in all categories.
"Holly was definitely excelling in all three and she had a very well written essay to follow up with everything," he said.
The other two recipients are from Concord and Littleton schools, he said.
"She's definitely a very deserving student, as well as the other two winners, and we're happy to be able to give her the scholarship," he said.
Caires said high school has been an unforgettable experience.
"I love that I got involved with the school as much as I could," she said. "And senior year was very tough because I was taking three AP classes, but I wouldn't take back anything I did."