Maria Morabe's first step toward becoming Surgeon General of the United States is being taken at Hesperia Christian School.

"I really want to go into medicine and get a job in epidemiology," the study of what leads to groups becoming ill. "I like to pretend I'll be surgeon general one day, but I think I'll need connections for that."

The Barstow native so far has had a small social circle, starting off home-schooled and joining the close-knit Hesperia Christian School community in middle school, which has meant getting on the road at 5:30 in the morning on school days.

"It's a really nice, small school," she said.

A National Merit Society finalist and valedictorian, Morabe has long been an A student and a hard-charger, taking at least one college class a semester since the end of her freshman year of high school, in addition to participating in band and speech competitions. And this year, as the only student taking Spanish 4, Morabe (who is not a native Spanish speaker) has been helping to teach Spanish to her fellow students.

"I kind of like holding back on stuff so I have a lot to do and feel busy," she said. "I like to have a balance of busy-ness and lying around like a bum."

But she knows there will be a lot less of lying around like a bum this autumn, when she attends Harvey Mudd College in Claremont.

"I always wanted to do something to impact the world," she said. "I know it sounds cliché, but I don't just want to fade away."

Her interest in epidemiology began when she did a school paper on smallpox, and the challenge of using math to save lives appeals to her.

But the first step toward her future is saying good-bye to the school she's attended since seventh grade.

"It's bittersweet," said Morabe. "When we were freshmen, we didn't realize it was just four years, and would go by so quickly. ... We're so close and being such a small school, it's scary in some ways."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.