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Valedictorians: Five Falcons finish ahead of the flock
South Whidbey High School’s valedictorians this year are the fantastic five of Marina Kovic, Sommer Harris, Holly Huey, Dinah Hassrick and Will Mellish. It’s the largest valedictorian group in a few years. They are the top five students out of more than 120 graduates (almost the entire senior population) from the class of 2012. South Whidbey’s academic aces are musicians, scientists, poets, athletes, trivia titans, high achievers and procrastinators. And they will lead their classmates one last time at the graduation ceremony at noon Saturday, June 9 at the high school gym as they each speak to their parents, peers, teachers and community.
The schoolwork wizards have a few traits in common that translate into success: Hard work, good friends and, of course, 4.0 grade point averages.
Meet Marina Kovic, who has a fitting name given she grew up on Whidbey Island, surrounded by marinas and water. It’s also appropriate she plans to graduate from the University of Washington with a degree in biology and biochemistry, since where there is liquid water, there is life.
She is an athlete and an academic who likes light-hearted people and making teachers’ lives easier, which she said was key to her success in school.
“There are a lot of kids who don’t care at all about school who would be difficult to teach, so I try not to be one of those people,” Kovic said.
“My favorite class at South Whidbey High School was Spanish 1 because there was a lot of singing, fiestas and just overall fun,” she said. “There weren’t a lot of projects or difficult assignments, which made it good for a freshman like me.”
Her perfect grades weren’t a product of careful and calculated course planning, however. Kovic also took physics and analytic literature classes like “world classics,” in which she criticized poetry.
The people, more than the presentations, lessons and Powerpoint lectures, Kovic met while in South Whidbey’s schools were the defining aspect of her class.
“There are a lot of funny and light-spirited people,” she said. “I don’t think anyone takes themselves too seriously, which I like. I can joke around with nearly everyone in my class, whether I know them well or not.”
As a lifelong South Whidbey guy, Will Mellish relishes his time on Whidbey Island. The Associated Student Body president spent his free time with the Hi-Q and Knowledge Bowl academic competition teams, performing with the high school jazz band and served the community as an Eagle Scout. Keeping his grades immaculate required focus and sacrifice, he said, as well as quality friends.
“You have to be able to do things that you don’t particularly enjoy exceptionally well,” Mellish said.
“Surround yourself with a group of friends who are also striving to reach the pinnacle of success; they provide a wealth of knowledge and motivation.”
The only boy in the valedictorian group will attend Washington State University in the fall. Once at the school of his family (his dad and older sister are both Cougars) in Pullman, Mellish will pursue a degree in electrical engineering while in the honors program.
“I am currently embroiled in physics and while I have a fairly strong grasp on the course material, last period of the day in my last semester of high school makes it hard to find motivation occasionally,” he said.
South Whidbey’s balanced education, Mellish said, shaped his appreciation of the arts, sciences and time. Music, and specifically, jazz band, was his favorite course.
“It is one of the only classes where the curriculum is determined by the desires, attitudes and work ethic of the students,” Mellish said.
Music provides Sommer Harris’ life more than rhythm. Through jazz band and other experiences at South Whidbey High School, Harris found the importance of finishing work early and individuality.
“We have many individuals who aren’t afraid to be themselves, and who are loved and accepted for it,” she said.
“This class has been through a lot together, so there is a tremendous amount of support.”
Harris, a 4.0 GPA student, found history to be the most challenging and the most rewarding course. Top level, collegiate-caliber classes like that helped define her work ethic and showed Harris the result of studying.
“I have learned always to put forward my best in school because although it doesn’t always feel like it, all the schoolwork I’m doing is really for myself,” she said.
Come Saturday, Harris said she will talk to her fellow students about the power of a daily positive attitude and the importance of shaking off the past, because “who we are is not defined by our past, but who we choose to be each day when we wake up.”
Next year, she will attend Quest University in Squamish, B.C. The monthly, seminar-based school allows students to design their own major after the first two years are spent on foundation courses.
This lifelong South Whidbey student recently realized how the island influenced her, from the classroom to the trails she hiked and the waters she swam in.
“I grew up swimming all year round, spending all day in the woods or in the meadow in my back yard, and writing poetry about the view from the tree tops,” Hassrick said.
This love of nature will take her to Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. The campus is close to the San Gabriel Mountains.
A thespian, Hassrick has performed on stages for Whidbey Children’s Theater and the Whidbey Center for the Arts since she was 4 years old. She recently finished a run in “The Taffetas,” at WCT with fellow valedictorian Sommer Harris. Hassrick also performs with the marimba group Chenjera.
Her speech to her peers Saturday will be a recital of the poem “Ode to the Present,” by Pablo Neruda.
Being present, Hassrick said, was vital to her. It influenced her feelings about the future and in particular, gave her a calmness regarding life after her lifelong home.
“I don’t need to be wealthy or famous to feel I’ve made something of my life because ultimately I believe a sense of personal fulfillment is more important than financial or social success,” she said.
Insight and honesty are Holly Huey’s thing. Being valedictorian is far from the full picture of a “top” student in her eyes.
“A valedictorian should not only be recognized by their endurance to maintain high grades, but also by their work affecting other individuals besides ourselves,” she said.
“Grades could not possibly show the depth of character of my fellow valedictorians.”
Huey was co-president with fellow valedictorian Marina Kovic of the S-Club, a high school chapter of Soroptimist International which aids women. Huey also handled a rigorous course load with Advanced Placement biology, history and statistics and college preparation English.
South Whidbey equipped Huey with the critical thinking to enroll at Saint John’s College in Annapolis, Md. At the small liberal arts college, Huey said she plans to enter the Great Books program that reviews classic literature and is equivalent to a double major and a double minor. Knowledge was only half of the education she received living on South Whidbey, however.
“While the high school has certainly shaped me in becoming a better academic thinker, it has been the South Whidbey community which has influenced me in becoming a better person,” Huey said.
Huey spoke like a realist. She admitted she has anxieties about college, graduate school and student loans. Her peers and she have grown up in a tough recession, Huey said, but they also persevered through it, and those experiences will come out in her graduation speech.
“My speech will neither focus on optimism nor pessimism, rather accepting the difficult futures we will have and making the best of them just as we have in South Whidbey High School,” Huey said.