Our Kids: Attia Gray, 15, spends summer studying marine life : Kids

With all due respect to the actual parameters of the potential assignment, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology sophomore Attia Gray can probably wrap up one of those tried-and-true "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" essays with just one simple word: water.

For two hours a day she was in it, practicing with the competitive Lansing Swim Organization and continuing a relationship with the water that began when she was just a little girl.

"Since the tender age of 5," she says, "swimming has been a way of life for me."

In July, Gray was able to indulge yet another aspect of her love for aquatic life — one that might set the stage for her eventual career in marine biology. The 15-year-old honor student was among 14 kids chosen through a rigorous application process to participate in the High School Lake Ecology (HSLE) program run by the Shedd Aquarium. It was an experience that included both classroom and hands-on activities with marine life at the Shedd, as well as a thoroughly "unplugged" trip to the Apostle Islands area of Lake Superior.

"There was no running water, no working toilets, no TV, no Internet, and no cell phones," Gray recalls. "We kayaked between islands and in and out of some of the most beautiful sea caves I have ever seen. We also hiked, bird watched, collected specimens and worked on our prediction statements about birds and plankton."

Eventually, Gray hopes to apply what she learned during the HSLE program to a life of marine exploration and discovery at a place like Shedd or Sea World, all by following an optimistic personal mantra that actually borrows a little something from astronomy.

"Always shoot for the stars and you'll never fall short of the moon," she says.