Evan Thompson / The Record — Six of South Whidbey’s seven valedictorians pose for a picture. From left to right: Kari Hustad, Fiona Callahan, Tyler Heggenes, Thandeka Brigham, Amelia Hensler and Chloe Hood. Emma Kerr, the seventh valedictorian, is not pictured.

Valedictorians talk challenges, obstacles, accomplishments

A total of 102 South Whidbey High School students will receive their diplomas this weekend during the school’s 2017 graduation ceremony.

Among them are this year’s valedictorians. Following tradition, The Record chatted with the academic achievers to find out what makes them tick and how they maintained a 4.0 grade point average over four years. There are seven valedictorians this year: Thandeka Brigham, Fiona Callahan, Emma Kerr, Tyler Heggenes, Amelia Hensler, Chloe Hood and Kari Hustad. The valedictorians are also making a speech at Saturday’s graduation.

The ceremony begins at 12 p.m.

Questions & answers

Record: What was your biggest challenge or hurdle in your four years here?

Brigham: Balancing extracurricular activities in sports, academics, social life and sleep.

Callahan: I guess balancing my social life, school, family and everything.

Heggenes: AP Biology.

Hensler: I’d say time management was something to work on, and just keeping it all balanced — happiness and education.

Hood: I would say doing too much and not having time to relax.

Hustad: Managing my time and not over committing… because I did that a lot.

Record: Did you have a source of inspiration?

Brigham: Definitely, my classmates. Our class is pretty talented and driven. Just being around motivated people helped me.

Hensler: There’s so many inspirations… Mrs. (Jennifer) Gochanour was really an inspiration. I want to go into international medicine and she’s a big part of that. Clyde Monma has been mentoring us for math every year and has encouraged us to be the best that we can be. That’s just a couple. I could go on forever.

Heggenes: My father died when I was 2. So, I’ve always tried to do good. He never went to college… I think he’d be happy with it (being valedictorian). At least I hope.

Hood: There’s so many teachers, so many different mentors. But, I’d also say my parents and my brothers; they just inspired me to be myself and just do my best all the time.

Hustad: Mrs. (Jennifer) Gochanour, Mrs. (Jennifer) Gandaris, Clyde Monma.

Record: What motivated you and kept you going when things were hard?

Brigham: Whenever it got hard, I would have to remind myself that I had an education and I need to take advantage of it. I like learning, a lot. When you remind yourself, it’s not that bad.

Callahan: I felt like my peer group was really supportive of me and that we were all in it together.

Heggenes: I wanted to be able to pay less for college (Heggenes received a full-ride scholarship to Concordia University Irvine).

Hensler: I’m just really stubborn and once I decide on something, I do it. I decided well, I’m going to get an A. Then it happened.

Hood: It’s either because I really love what I’m learning and am passionate about it, or it’s because I want to use all the knowledge I gained to be able to use it toward a career in the future, so that I can help people and do great.

Hustad: I think the knowledge that I was passionate about everything that I was doing helped me keep going. Even if I didn’t really like the thing I was doing in the moment or I was really frustrated by the thing I was doing, I knew I cared about what I was doing on the whole.

Record: Where do see yourself in 10 to 20 years?

Brigham: At the moment, because it changes all the time, I want to be a photojournalist that kind of investigates human rights violations in the developing world and bring attention to all sorts of causes.

Callahan: At this point, I want to go into biology, which takes a lot of years of school. But, after that, I want to work in environmental fields or maybe medical research.

Heggenes: I’m not really sure. I see myself just graduating (from medical school), so probably just starting to be a physical therapist. That’s what I was thinking of doing.

Hensler: I want to work abroad as a doctor, so that’s a lot of schooling. But, my end goal is Doctors Without Borders.

Hood: I want to be doing something where I’m traveling, possibly journalism, and being very involved in the arts in someway.

Hustad: I think 10 years and 20 years are equally unsure for me at this point. In 10 years, I see myself either continuing my education indefinitely, getting a doctorate or Ph.D. in something, or having invested and entrenched myself in the arts, music, film industries.

Record: Do you think it requires a balanced mind in terms of educational ability to be a valedictorian? Or can you be good at one thing and just OK at another?

Hustad: I think you have to be driven and stubborn. I think maybe that is maybe the biggest characteristic…and caring about your education and being determined. I think anyone could probably achieve that if they worked hard.

Callahan: I disagree. I feel like a lot of being valedictorian was determination. But, also I’m really good at testing, for example, and not everyone is.

Hensler: I know people that have studied harder than me and deserve better grades than they got. Some of its testing anxiety. There’s other factors of course. I don’t think you have to be well rounded.

Record: What separated you from the rest of your classmates who were on the edge?

Heggenes: I have a really good ability of being able to seem like I know what I’m talking about. It’s very useful.

Brigham: I have a super academically minded family. They helped me out a bunch. I was also willing to get up early and come in and ask for help, and willing to take the extra time to do it, not just sufficiently but to do it right.

Kerr was not at school on Monday when The Record conducted its interviews.



Residence: Langley

College: UC Berkeley

Major: Undecided

Sports/Clubs: Cheer, Spanish Club, Model UN, Random Acts of Kindness, ASB and National Honor Society


Residence: Langley

College: Concordia University in Irvine

Major: Pre-med

Sports/Clubs: Boys Basketball and Honor Society


Residence: Clinton

College: Scripps College

Major: Undecided

Sports/Clubs: Soccer, Math Club, Knowledge Bowl and Math Olympiad Coach


Residence: Langley

College: Whitman College

Major: Undecided

Sports/Clubs: Soccer, track and field, drama club, jazz band and honor society


Residence: Langley

College: Kalamazoo College

Major: Double major in international studies (Global Health) and biology

Sports/Clubs: Girls tennis, jazz band, Green Team, Honor Society, International Business Alliance Program, Math Team, Math Olympiad Coach


Residence: Clinton

College: Yale University

Major: Undecided

Sports/Clubs: Drama Club, Climate Arts Project, girls soccer, International Business Alliance Program, jazz band, Honor Society, Math Team and ASB.


Residence: Freeland

College: Centenary University, Hackettstown, New Jersey

Major: Veterinary Medicine and Equine Studies (Pre-Vet Track)

Sports/Clubs: Horseback Riding

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