South Whidbey valedictorian, math whiz Connor McCauley ready for next equation

Connor McCauley takes a quick tour of his favorite teacher’s room. The senior excelled in math, taking an independent study Advanced Placement calculus course.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Connor McCauley takes a quick tour of his favorite teacher’s room. The senior excelled in math, taking an independent study Advanced Placement calculus course.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Succeeding in school was a simple equation for Connor McCauley.

Do what the teacher asks and give up that eighth or seventh hour of sleep. That’s sound advice even if it means sacrificing some snooze time, given that it comes from one of South Whidbey High School’s class of 2013 valedictorians.

“All the assignments you have to do and keep track of, it’s difficult but it’s doable,” said McCauley, 18.

And his wisdom doesn’t come from a place of having nothing else to do. McCauley was plenty busy over the past four years as a student, soccer player, soccer coach, volunteer and landscaper.

Studying calculus, Advanced Placement biology, contemporary world problems and English was just part of his academic trajectory. Enrolling in challenging classes just made sense to him.

“I’ve tried to take all the challenging classes I can and save one class for something easier,” McCauley said.

“The biggest thing I sacrificed was sleep, especially after soccer, knowing I had to write a one-page paper.”

Writing essays and other papers for his social studies and English classes was the most challenging part of school for McCauley. Checking algorithms, angles and arithmetic was a natural talent. Espousing on post-traumatic stress disorder in the military and military families presented a radical task for the Washington State University-bound student.

“Getting through 10-page papers is a pretty big accomplishment for me,” McCauley said.

“My opinion on (PTSD), I hadn’t done enough research to develop a strong feeling on it.”

McCauley has spent his entire life in the same house on South Whidbey and grew up in South End classrooms. He started at the Wellington Day School until fourth grade, when he enrolled at South Whidbey Elementary School, moving to Langley Middle School and eventually South Whidbey High School. Learning in the South Whidbey School District had a familial quality.

“There’s a more personal aspect because we’re a smaller school district than others,” McCauley said. “I feel like the teachers are personable people, I look at them more as friends as well as teachers. They’re willing to help and joke around, which for me made a more comfortable learning environment all around.”

When he’s not solving equations as in “Good Will Hunting,” McCauley kept the beat for the South Whidbey High School jazz band.

He also played soccer for the Falcon varsity team all four years, transitioning between midfielder and defender. Playing midfield, where he could be an integral part of the team’s offense, was his desire. But team needs trumped his wants, and McCauley filled in as a defender last season and this season. Injuries prompted McCauley’s switch from the midfield to defense this season. As a team captain, he accepted it without complaint and helped South Whidbey to its best playoff finish in years when the Falcons advanced to the 1A tri-district tournament before elimination in a shootout.

“I kind of knew that was going to be my position,” he said. “It was difficult, but I came to terms with it.”

Speaking of terms, McCauley studied every math class South Whidbey offered. When there were none left, he made his own with an independent study Advanced Placement calculus course online through Apex. He’s taken four classes with his favorite teacher, David Nelson.

“You can sense he wants to help you,” McCauley said. “He never just passes you by. If you want to learn, he’s there and ready to teach you.”

McCauley is the valedictorian who almost wasn’t. Focused on his studies in AP biology as a sophomore, his English grades were close to an A-minus by the semester’s end. McCauley admitted a little extra work and a bit of playing teacher’s pet secured his solid A grade.

“Doing extra credit, sucking up to the teacher a little more than normal,” he said. “I’m not going to lie.” Add in a ton of hard work over four years, and McCauley earned 2013 co-valedictorian honors.


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