The Best and Brightest bid high school farewell

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The 2016-2017 school year in Fayette County has come to a close. And with the end of the school year it is time to take a look at the valedictorians and salutatorians at each of Fayette’s five public high schools.

Each of the valedictorians and salutatorians were asked a number of questions by the school system. Several of those questions and their responses are included below.

The Fayette County High School Valedictorian for 2017 is Rebecca Hammond, daughter of John and Arlene Hammond.

Rebecca will be graduating with a 4.21 grade point average and will be attending Ga. Tech with a major in chemical engineering.

Rebecca responded to the following questions:

What will be the key message of your commencement speech?

The key message I hope to convey in my commencement speech is embracing diversity and seeing all people as human beings instead of focusing on the factors that divide mankind.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in high school and who gave you this advice? How did it help?

My dad told me that the memories you make in high school are the most important thing. He said years down the road you might not remember that difficult test you had to study for or who your math teacher was, but you will remember the people you hung out with and the good times you had. This helped me to not get too caught up in my grades and actually enjoy my high school years.

What does the honor of being named valedictorian mean to you?

Being named valedictorian is a motivation for me. This honor validates all the hard work I have done so far, and motivates me to excel in the future.

The Fayette County High School Salutatorian for 2017 is Alma Jesell Andrade, daughter of Bianca and Jose Andrade.

Alma will be graduating with a 4.327 grade point average and will be attending Emory University with a major in biology.

Alma responded to the following questions:

What will be the key message of your commencement speech?

The key message will be about how our life is filled with people who come into and out of our lives and how those relationships shape the direction in which we persevere or give up.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in high school and who gave you this advice? How did it help?

As a freshman, Dr. Myra Rhoden, my band director, told me to be involved within the school community. Her advice drove me to join clubs with which I identified. While participating in club activities, I made some close friendships and bonded with a wider group of people over these past four years.

What does the honor of being named salutatorian mean to you?

Being named salutatorian means that I can not only represent my family successfully, but also be a role model for younger Latinos in the Fayette County community.

The McIntosh High School Valedictorian for 2017 is Samantha Schmid, daughter of Jim and Andrea Schmid.

Samantha will be graduating with a 4.326 grade point average and will be attending the University of Pittsburgh with a major in biological sciences.

Samantha responded to the following questions:

What will be the key message of your commencement speech?

High school and college are said to be the best years of your life, but hopefully they prepare you to have the best life possible.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in high school and who gave you this advice? How did it help?

My parents always told me to manage my time well and ask for help if I became overwhelmed. With extracurriculars and rigorous coursework at school, I heeded this advice many times. Life could be stressful, but by working with my teachers and peers, I could handle it.

What does the honor of being named valedictorian mean to you?

This honor means a great deal to me. I appreciate being recognized for my hard work and achievements during high school.

The McIntosh High School Salutatorian for 2017 is John McCauley, son of Jeff and Janna McCauley.

John will be graduating with a 4.386 grade point average and will be attending Bethel University with a major in physics.

John responded to the following questions:

What will be the key message of your commencement speech?

My main goals are to congratulate my classmates on completing a major life milestone and to encourage them as they begin new journeys on their own.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in high school and who gave you this advice? How did it help?

My parents, especially my dad, have always encouraged me to work hard and pursue a variety of interests so that I could create opportunities for myself in the future. Now, looking back on years of school and many choices, I understand that although I cannot fully explore each opportunity, this advice has allowed me to experiment and find what I love and want to do for my future.

What does the honor of being named salutatorian mean to you?

I am excited to represent my class as salutatorian. I am extremely proud of my classmates and their achievements, so I understand that this honor could have easily gone to one of many well-deserving friends. Therefore, this honor means I have an opportunity to uplift, represent, and celebrate the successes of many classmates.

The Sandy Creek High School Valedictorian for 2017 is Phaidra Buchanan, daughter of Paul and Yonette Buchanan.

Phaidra will be graduating with a 4.182 grade point average and will be attending either Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt or the University of Georgia with a major in education.

Phaidra responded to the following questions:

What will be the key message of your commencement speech?

Find who you are, and follow that person to the ends of the earth.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in high school and who gave you this advice? How did it help?

In Dr. Pattiz’s 10th Grade World History class, I was confronted with the 21st Century’s greatest challenges for the first time. I had heard “be the change you wish to see in the world” before, but as he repeated it, he made me realize why I came to school every day. From then on, I worked hard in school not to get into college or to make more money in the future, but to prepare myself to make a difference in the lives of others. School itself became much easier and more rewarding as a result.

What does the honor of being named valedictorian mean to you?

To me, being valedictorian simply means getting the best grades in your class in high school. I don’t think it shows any qualities that you couldn’t find among the rest of the student body. I feel that it’s the people who hold the titles that give them their prestige, not the other way around.

The Sandy Creek High School Salutatorian for 2017 is Krista Jackson, daughter of Sharon and Eric Morris.

Krista will be graduating with a 4.174 grade point average and will be attending the University of Alabama with a major in biomedical engineering.

Krista responded to the following questions:

What will be the key message of your commencement speech?

Use your unique qualities and interests to fulfill your definition of a successful and happy future.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in high school and who gave you this advice? How did it help?

The best piece of advice given to me in high school was that doing my best is the standard. This advice was given to me by my mother, and it helped me keep my grades high with a mindset in which I would always try to exceed expectations and reach for a perfect score instead of meeting expectation and risking getting a bad grade from lack of effort. I have also managed to apply this tactic in everyday life, leading to my involvement in multiple clubs, volunteering events and extracurricular activities. As a result, I have made many great memories and have managed to obtain experience in areas such as music, organization, and leadership.

What does the honor of being named salutatorian mean to you?

Being named salutatorian means that, not only am I being recognized for significant academic effort and achievement, but that I mastered the mindset and tactics needed for successful learning in the future. In my opinion, mastering the skills of lifelong learning and managing to preserve a passionate drive for success will help a person go far in life.

The Starr’s Mill High School Valedictorian for 2017 is Joshua Tysor, son of Dale and Kim Tysor.

Joshua will be graduating with a 4.277 grade point average and will be attending Ga. Tech with a major in aerospace engineering.

Joshua responded to the following questions:

What will be the key message of your commencement speech?

The main point that I will deliver during my commencement speech is the need for setting unreasonable goals. Often times, when we set goals, we only set easy ones so that we can make sure that we meet them. I believe that setting difficult goals is a much more effective process. Whether or not we meet these difficult goals, we are sure to achieve a lot during the process as we are constantly challenging ourselves to achieve greatness.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in high school and who gave you this advice? How did it help?

My cross-country coaches have always encouraged us to make stretch goals when planning out our season. Not only should we put reasonable goals, but also goals (times or placements) that may seem unreasonable at the moment, but may become possible if we work hard enough. Even if the stretch goals are too tough to achieve, they are a great motivator towards achieving one’s personal best. I have been able to apply this concept at school and other areas of my life, which has helped me get through high school successfully, and much of my commencement speech will be focused on this.

What does the honor of being named valedictorian mean to you?

It means that I achieved the goal that I set for myself five years ago, and I am proud of what I have accomplished. I am very proud to represent the Starr’s Mill Class of 2017.

The Starr’s Mill High School Salutatorian for 2017 is Aubrey Bennett, daughter of Lance and Christina Bennett.

Aubrey will be graduating with a 4.273 grade point average and will be attending Purdue University with a major in biophysics.

Aubrey responded to the following questions:

What will be the key message of your commencement speech?

My speech will be on taking the foundation that the Class of 2017 has received from this community and building upon it to become global citizens.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in high school and who gave you this advice? How did it help?

My parents have always reminded me to participate in as many activities as possible during each stage of my high school career because I can never go back. This motivated me to experience more things and to become a more well-rounded person.

What does the honor of being named salutatorian mean to you?

This honor means so much to me because I have worked hard to achieve this ranking and now I can represent my school and speak to my class in this pivotal time in our lives.

The Whitewater High School Valedictorian for 2017 is Matthew Skibiel, son of Mark and Lauren Skibiel.

Matthew will be graduating with a 4.29 grade point average and will be attending either Fordham University or the University of Georgia with a major in international studies.

Matthew responded to the following questions:

What will be the key message of your commencement speech?

Matthew had not decided on the message for his speech by press time.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in high school and who gave you this advice? How did it help?

The best advice anyone’s ever given me is when my mom told me “complaining doesn’t get your work done.”

What does the honor of being named valedictorian mean to you?

This honor is so rewarding to me. It make me appreciate all those night of crazy studying and barely any sleep; they were definitely worth it.

The Whitewater High School Salutatorian for 2017 is Jennifer St. Martin, daughter of Dasha and Tom St. Martin.

Jennifer will graduate with a 4.245 grade point average and will attend Kennesaw State University with a major in international affairs and German studies.

Jennifer responded to the following questions:

What will be the key message of your commencement speech?

The key message of my commencement speech is understanding the importance of hard work and dedication. I achieved the title of salutatorian only because I was driven and motivated. We can accomplish our goals as long as we realize the effort and time it will take to succeed. Not only in education and sports, but in our acceptance of others and respect for individuals from different cultural backgrounds or beliefs.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in high school and who gave you this advice? How did it help?

The best piece of advice given to me was from my mom – not losing hope. Throughout the years, I experienced periods of time that were exhausting and stressful when I did not believe I could continue with my sanity. My mom is my pillar of strength. When she had a stroke and surgery, I realized the extent of adhering to her advice. I could not have made it without her, and I realize certain events are meaningful in life, and not to stress about situations we cannot control.

What does the honor of being named salutatorian mean to you?

Being named salutatorian is an astounding achievement and honor to me. Being salutatorian proves to me that I can achieve my goals and dreams if I dedicate myself to this goal. I am humbled and grateful for this honor. I am the first in my family to be awarded this title, and it brings me great pride.