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Erica Johnson is 2008 valedictorian

Erica Johnson is the South Whidbey High School Class of 2008 valedictorian. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Erica Johnson is the South Whidbey High School Class of 2008 valedictorian.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

When she was in the seventh-grade, Erica Johnson received a B+ in band.

“I talked too much in class,” Johnson recalled.

She learned her lesson.

Since that time, she has gotten nothing but A’s for a cumulative grade point average of 4.0.

And that is why Johnson was selected as this year’s 2008 class valedictorian for South Whidbey High School’s graduation ceremony. Commencement is Saturday at noon.

It’s the first time in eight years a single student has qualified for the honor. And for Johnson, a perfect GPA is all about balance.

“You have to prioritize by deciding what’s most important,” she said.

That means avoiding television and not reading magazines or books.

“I’ll have time for them someday,” she added.

Johnson said good grades takes self-discipline coupled with a little help from her parents, former South Whidbey Principal Mike Johnson and mother Lana.

“There were times I wanted to do something else but came to realize their advice made sense to me,” she said.

Though she clearly excelled in every class, math and science are her favorites. She will attend Pacific Lutheran University in the fall and major in environmental engineering with a view to a career in architectural design.

Or, maybe not.

“I’m thinking about statistical mathematics and a career as an insurance actuary, too,” she said.

She picked PLU because the college offers an engineering master’s degree within five years.

She said the school is a good fit because of its size, curriculum and athletic programs. Just this week Johnson learned she’s on the cross country and track rosters.

Sports have always been high on her priority list — she has been on the Falcon track and cross country squads for four years and played basketball for three seasons.

Her advice for a youngster entering as a freshman is to get involved.

“Join the band or a club,” she said.

“If there isn’t a club, start one. Raise your hand in class, find a sport you like.

“Above all, don’t sit back and let high school pass you by.”

Johnson said she got a first-class education in the South Whidbey public school system. She had some good teachers, but one stands out in her memory.

“Mr. [Tom] Kramer teaches history in a unique way; not just dates but the details of a time in the past that he somehow brings to life,” she said. “He has a way of letting you visualize a place, a culture, a time gone by.”

Kramer was quick to return the compliment.

“Like our other outstanding seniors, Erica excels in multiple areas; some obvious, some not so obvious,” Kramer said.

“Academic success is obvious. The hard work, discipline and dedication that she shows in the classroom also has helped her be successful athletically.

“What isn’t obvious is the positive influence she and others like her have on the other students as role models. Erica is compassionate and caring and donates her time and effort to many of the activities at school,” he said.

Falcon teammate Lauren Sandri has no illusions why Johnson got the nod as valedictorian.

“She’s very diligent about her school work, often finishing an assignment on the bus taking us to a meet and making sure she got her work done,” Sandri said. “But she has a great sense of humor and genuinely cares about her friends and classmates.”

Since he began as principal a year ago, Rob Prosch has been impressed by Johnson.

“Erica is responsible, caring, very service oriented and a fine example as a student,” he said. She has served as our student body executive vice president this year, modeling how students should conduct themselves academically, socially and athletically. I have appreciated her leadership.”

As with most kids, growing up on the island is both a blessing and a curse.

“This community is close-knit, like a big family where everyone cares about you,” she noted. “But the isolation can be a real drag. Heading ‘over town’ for shopping or taking the ferries to Sequim to see my family hasn’t always been great.”

A requirement for graduation beginning with this year’s class, the culminating project requires students to use their ingenuity, knowledge, skills and creativity to master a subject of interest.

Johnson’s project required her to learn computer-aided design. She then designed and completed the drawings for a playhouse for a single mom with a 6-year-old daughter, part of a Habitat for Humanity project.

She approached the woodshop class to see if students would be interested in helping do the construction, along with Price/Johnson Construction.

Then she contacted Frontier Building Supplies to get a donation of lumber and Hanson’s Building Supplies for a truck to hoist and move the house onto the site once it was completed.

“I like to see things get built,” she said simply.

Among other things, she’s cool under fire.

Last year at a cross country meet in Yakima, she stepped off the curb on the way to dinner and her dress ripped.

“She was startled but very cool about it,” classmate Steven Gabelein recalled. “She dealt with it in a professional manner and that’s how she lives her life.”

Gabelein noted that Johnson exhibited a clearly defined work ethic all the way through high school.

“She’s organized, keeps track of her schedule in a little notebook and manages all the details well,” he said.

“She tries to be the best at everything, and often succeeds.”

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbey record.com.

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