Pushing for the top

Published 7:25 pm Saturday, July 2, 2011

Top honors: Lark Washington earned her spot as valedictorian of King’s Fork High School through taking several Advanced Placement courses. She also took a college course, ran cross-country and participated in several student clubs.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories about Suffolk’s 2011 valedictorians. Watch the Suffolk News-Herald on Sundays throughout the summer for the remainder of the series.

With her upbeat personality and gleaming smile, you would think Lark Washington doesn’t have a worry in the world.

But her journey has been a struggle, especially during the last year when she had to balance problems at home, mountains of schoolwork and applying to college.

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But even when times are hard, Washington always tries to keep a smile on her face.

“My attitude is to make the best with what you’ve got,” she said. “I try to keep an uplifting personality. You can’t let something bring you down.”

The 18-year-old’s positive outlook guided her through her senior year at King’s Fork High School, which she said was the hardest in her educational and personal life.

“It was a rough year,” she said.

When other students were suffering from senioritis, Washington was taking a full class load, which included two Advanced Placement math courses, in order to keep her grade point average up.

But in addition to worrying about homework, essays and projects, Washington was dealing with her parents’ separation.

Just before the end of her junior year, Washington’s parents decided to get a divorce. Her father moved to Atlanta, and she said she hasn’t seen him in about a year.

When he left, Washington lost more than her father; she lost her biggest cheerleader.

She said since she was in the fourth grade, her dad has been the reason she has worked so hard to get good grades.

When he was suddenly gone, Washington realized she had to motivate herself.

“You can’t rely on someone saying, ‘You can do it, Lark,’” she said. “Sometimes you have to tell yourself that.”

That outlook, along with the support of her mother, Renee, and 17-year-old sister Lauryn, inspired Washington to work through the emotional turmoil to become King’s Fork’s valedictorian.

During her time at King’s Fork, Washington did plenty to earn her 4.43 grade-point average and the top spot in the class.

During her junior and senior years, she took six Advanced Placement courses and one college course at Paul D. Camp Community College, all of which buried her in work.

“It was pretty challenging,” she said. “There were a lot of late nights. I wouldn’t suggest my schedule to anyone.”

Washington said the hardest courses she took were AP statistics, an online class that required her to teach herself several concepts, and AP literature.

But in addition to academics, Washington stayed busy with extracurricular activities as well.

She ran cross-country track during her junior and senior years, and she was the co-captain of the team last year.

Washington also served as president of the Key Club, a volunteering organization, and historian of Beta Club, a leadership club.

With such a busy schedule, Washington said she was nervous she had lost the top rank when she got her first two Bs during her first semester.

But she found out she was number one in February when she received a transcript to send with a scholarship application.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.

She said she was proud to find out she had done it, and in fact, Washington used her parents’ divorce for the inspiration behind her valedictory speech.

Soon after, Washington got more proof that her hard work had paid off when the University of Virginia offered her a full scholarship.

She said she fell in love with the university when she visited and can’t wait to move there in August.

“I was shocked how friendly the people were,” she said. “It was just a great campus, and I got a good feel for it.”

Washington plans to study engineering in the fall, although, she hasn’t decided what she want to do as a career.

She said she wants to explore biomedical engineering because she thinks it’s an amazing field.

“I’ve always been good at math, and I love numbers,” Washington said. “Engineering might be my calling.”

Washington said she hopes to be more social and become more confident in college.

As for being number one in college, she isn’t stressing about it. She’d be just as happy to be among the top of the class.