Area’s top graduates reflect on high school success
This school year has offered a number of challenges for students, parents and teachers alike as school districts across the nation struggled to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of a worldwide pandemic.
Despite those challenges, students and teachers pushed on — navigating remote learning, pandemic safety protocols and a heavy dose of surrealism — to close out a successful year for the Class of 2021.
Some area students have reached above and beyond, rising to the top of their classes as valedictorian and salutatorian, and will be honored during their school’s respective graduation ceremonies.
At Green Forest High School, graduation ceremonies are scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, May 14, and valedictorian Alassandra Holsted and salutatorian Magen Parton are both excited about representing their class.
“It feels really great,” said Holsted, 17. “I've worked on it for all of my high school and it's been something that I've really wanted for a long time.”
Parton, who said she was happy to be salutatorian, nevertheless said it was secondary to her goals.
“Being salutatorian is part of it,” said Parton, 17, “but what I'm most proud of is my academic accomplishments in high school, how I think that they really prepared me for college and for my future — even beyond college.”
Holsted, the daughter of Casey and Alton Holsted, was very active during her high school career, performing with the school’s chamber choir and as a member of the color guard, among other activities.
She said it was important to enjoy high school.
“The thing that is most important is having fun and enjoying your high school career,” she said, “because it doesn't really matter even if your grades are good. If you're not having a fun time, it's not going to be an enjoyable memory.”
Parton, who has attended Green Forest schools since kindergarten, played volleyball, ran track and has been in the band, along with winter guard and robotics. She offered a bit of advice to underclassmen.
“My message is always really about doing hard work in your classes, because I think that even though starting out school and high school, sometimes your classes can be pretty easy,” said Parton, daughter of Nick and Sheila Parton. “But as the years go on, they always get more and more challenging. And then when high school is over, you know, you go on to college and those classes are even more challenging. So if you can always do well and do your best in those classes, you'll ultimately be more prepared for the classes in the future in college and things like that.”
Holsted will attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in the fall, where she plans to major in journalism and march with the Arkansas color guard. Parton plans to attend the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and study psychology.
“Me and [Holsted] are really, really good friends,” Parton said. “And I think that we just wanted the best for each other, whichever way that it went. Valedictorian ultimately was not my goal, whereas it was hers, so I think that I'm happy just the way that it worked out. I think that we both really are.”
At Alpena High School, graduation is set for 7 p.m. Friday, May 14. Valedictorian Bryce Martin is eager to get a jump on the next chapter of his life.
Originally scheduled to graduate with the Class of 2022, Martin, 17, discovered in February that he had already accumulated more than enough credits to graduate and decided to join the Class of 2021. At that point, he realized he would also be the valedictorian based on his cumulative GPA.
“I will have 35 college credit hours going into this fall,” Martin said, “and I just figured that graduating early and getting a head start on everything would be a pretty good idea for me.
“I was very fortunate to get the top spot.”
Salutatorian honors went to Nic Stone, who said reaching the top of the class was more of a “happy accident” than a goal and that he’s glad for Martin.
“We're really good friends,” he said.
The son of Mike Martin and Summer and Jerod Newberry, Martin already runs his own business, a small cattle operation, and has worked in his mother’s restaurant, Hometown Scoop in Berryville, since it opened.
“I went through FFA in Berryville and I got one of the loans through them to start my own business and ended up finding some great cattle and purchasing that and just growing that,” said Martin, who said plans to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in the fall and study business finance. “It turned out to be awesome. I love it. My family has always had cattle and horses and stuff, so just being able to have my own is something that I've always dreamt of and I'm glad to kind of carry on the tradition.”
Stone, 18, is the son of Shelly and Scott Stone. He plans to attend North Arkansas College this fall, where he hopes to study health sciences or business and later transfer to Arkansas.
Both Martin and Stone are also athletes. During his high school career, Martin played basketball, baseball and golf and was a member of the school’s track team, while Stone played basketball, golf and baseball. Both are also members of the National Honor Society, and Martin is also active in Future Business Leaders of America, Fellowship of Christian Students and Beta Club.
At Berryville High School, where graduation is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, May 16, at Bobcat Stadium, the top students are Abigail Thurman and Nicholas Harp.
Thurman, 18, is the daughter of Greg and Ashley Thurman. A dedicated athlete and student, Thurman plans to attend Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, where she will major in communications sciences and disorders.
Thurman finished her high school career with a weighted GPA of 4.17, just one-hundredth of a point ahead of Harp, who finished with a 4.16.
“I found out my sophomore year that we were tied,” Thurman said. “I honestly wasn't sure how it was going to turn out this year. Last year they had two valedictorians, so I just didn't know how it was going to work out. I was honestly kind of surprised when I found out that I was valedictorian and he got salutatorian. It was really close.”
Thurman said she and Harp never really viewed each other as rivals, instead choosing to support each other.
“Honestly, we were just good friends,” Thurman said. “We never really talked about it. We would make some jokes here and there, but it was always friendly. I think we both supported each other either way, whoever would've gotten it.”
Both Thurman and Harp were extremely active during their high school careers. Thurman, the student council president, played volleyball, basketball and soccer and was also active in several student clubs, committees and organizations, including National Honor Society, the journalism and yearbook committee, the Junior Chamber board, the Character Committee and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Harp participated in band for four years and enjoys art.
Thurman will get a bit of a boost in attending OBU, having earned the Merit Scholarship, which is a president’s scholarship worth $74,000.
Harp, the son of Claudia and Justin Harp, plans to attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he hopes to major in political science. He was awarded the Sturgis Fellowship, which is an award of $72,000 for four years.
At Eureka Springs High School, where graduation is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, May 22, valedictorian Morgan Price and salutatorian Mia Evans are excited to celebrate their high school experience with close-knit classmates, faculty and staff.
Price and Evans both enjoyed many extracurricular activities over the past four years. Price recalled being in Quiz Bowl and National Honor Society. She loves softball, Price said, and played on the school's team her freshman year.
“I tried to start a team again this year and I got a team started, but the coach quit,” Price said.
Evans said she was in “a lot of clubs,” including Rotary Interact, Art Club, Environmental Club, Quiz Bowl and National Honor Society.
“That's just a few of them,” Evans said. “I also played soccer this year.”
She likes to stay busy, Evans said, so she's always open to more extracurricular activities.
“It gave me a really good opportunity to make friends and feel like I'm part of something,” Evans said.
For Price, extracurricular activities have helped her with personal growth.
“Typically, I work better on my own but being on a team helped me figure out how I can fit into place rather than everybody working around me,” Price said. “It helped me a lot with social skills.”
Evans said she loved learning in the Eureka Springs schools, saying her favorite class was chemistry. Price's favorite class was anatomy.
“My brain is very science- and math-based,” Evans said.
Price shares a similar interest.
“I just think it's really interesting to study how the human body works,” Price said.
Price and Evans plan to share a dorm room at the University of Arkansas Honors College, where they both look forward to studying science. Price said she plans to major in biochemistry and pursue pharmacy school after she completes her bachelor's degree. For Evans, it's all about statistics.
"Statistics is one of those majors that you can basically get a job anywhere because it's a universal skill set," Evans said. "I'm looking more at the scientific side of statistics."
What's their advice for incoming freshmen at Eureka Springs High School?
"Getting good grades is more about effort than intelligence," Evans said.
"If you put in the effort, you get results," Price said. "It's actually doing your work that helps you out in the long run. Putting in the effort is your best bet toward success."