Five weeks, five valedictorians

Published 8:48 pm Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For the past five weeks, I have met with each of Suffolk’s valedictorians to get to know them and write profiles on their accomplishments.

In those interviews, I heard five mind-blowing grade point averages, five plans for the future and five very different life stories.

Last week, I interviewed my final valedictorian, Eric Riley from Nansemond River High School.

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Riley was the hardest to get in touch with, because he is working from about 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday this summer at Fort Monroe to help with the base’s transition from federal control.

He is working through the summer in order to raise money for college.

Because of his busy schedule, we were unable to arrange a time to meet in person, so I had to speak to Riley over the phone.

After four other valedictorians, I thought I was a pro at the interview process, but Riley still managed to surprise me with his answers.

First of all, Riley was the first student I spoke to who has an affinity for both English and math and science.

While he wants to pursue computer programming as a career, Riley also wants to be a writer on the side.

Because math and science were never my strong subjects, I’m already impressed with someone who has a harmonious relationship with the STEM subjects.

But the fact that Riley excels and enjoys both letter and number topics is amazing.

This fact about Riley should have prepared me for his answer to another one of my questions: Why do you strive to do so well in school?

Initially, he said he worked hard to get good grades to have an advantage going into college. But then, he added, he also thinks he does such a good job because he loves school.

He was the first valedictorian to suggest enjoyment was a factor in his academic achievement, and I was blown away.

Through the whole valedictorian process, I’ve thought about how lucky these students are to be so smart, but Riley’s answer made me think that without passion for what they are doing, these students wouldn’t have reached the heights they have.

So while these five valedictorians are all motivated for different reasons and have different plans for their lives, they have one thing in common for sure — passion.

It is that passion that has guided them tough advanced placement courses and extreme class schedules, and I hope that passion will continue to guide them through their college years and into their careers.