Meet the 2004 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star team.

The 20 members — 10 males and 10 females — were chosen from nominees from all over Arkansas. We invite every high school in the state, public and private, to nominate one male and one female for the team.

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The winners go through two rounds of judging. The first produces 40 finalists. The final round of judging, by professional educators, produces our winners.

This is the 10th year of the all-star competition. Each winner receives a plaque, cash and recognition at a ceremony this week at UALR, a sponsor of the project from the first year. AETN also supports the program with filmed features on the all-stars, which are broadcast on the TV network. Last year was the first for the AETN features and we appreciate their support of this, the only statewide program focused on academic excellence.


While winners with extraordinary personal stories and special talents outside the classroom always stand out, the first requirement for winners is academic achievement. It’s rare that a winner is not at or very near the top of his or her high school class, with high standardized test scores, a challenging schedule of courses and a number of college scholarship offers.

With this year’s prizes, the Times will have distributed more than $50,000 to winners.


Age: 17
Hometown: North Little Rock
School: North Little Rock High School
Parents: Terry and Cindy Ballard
College plans: University of Arkansas

Expectations are responsible for Shawn Ballard’s academic success so far, the North Little Rock High School senior said. Curiosity, however, may be the key to her future accomplishments.

Doing well in kindergarten set her up for 12 more years of good grades, Ballard said.

“You don’t realize that when you do well, and [adults] see that, they continue to expect you to do well. It was just expected. I tried to outdo myself.”


She jokes that while her parents insist they wouldn’t like her less if she didn’t bring home high grades in hard classes, she doesn’t believe them.

Ballard has been equally drawn to literature and science in high school, although she said physics is her favorite class.

She’s taught herself a little Latin on the side, and played clarinet and saxophone in the band. She also joined the debate team this year — the topic involved science, so it was a natural fit, she said — and won two trophies for her speaking skills.

But she knows college means focusing her academic pursuits more narrowly. This fall Ballard plans to attend the University of Arkansas on a Bodenhamer Fellowship, and she said she’ll major in a branch of physics, possibly biophysics. She borrowed from Donald Rumsfeld’s phrasebook to explain her choice:

“I think it’s the great quantity of known unknowns,” she said. “There’s so much there and it’s just constantly changing.” Ballard said she also has a personal interest in the field. Her mother and younger brother have kidney problems, and her mother wants her to find a cure.

Then again, a recent lesson about the Theory of Everything — which includes the idea that there are a dozen dimensions out there that humans can’t experience — had her buzzing.

“It just blows my mind,” she said, ” but I’m really curious about it.”

Age: 17
Hometown: Sherwood
High School: Mills
Parents: Paresh and Archita Buch
College plans: Accepted by Boston University, Brown University, Case Western Reserve University and University of Arkansas

English class is one of those places you’d expect a high school student to get a flash of inspiration — all that Shakespeare and Hemingway and such. But the lightning bolt that struck Vivek Buch came courtesy of a blank sheet of paper, and it was the kind more likely to land a student in the principal’s office than a teacher’s good graces.


Buch and a friend had folded a sheet of paper into thirds, so that it made a triangle shape that was open at both ends. When they blew air through it, Buch said, they noticed that it collapsed.

With that, “We came up with an idea for a new design for airplane wings,” he said.

Not the paper airplane kind, either. The real kind. Delta. Pan-Am. Lear.

Aeronautics has fascinated Buch since he was little. And at 17, Vivek has already taken his childhood hobby squarely into the adult world.

That impromptu English class experiment eventually led to a balsa-wood model of the airplane wing they’d imagined. They arranged to have it tested at a wind tunnel at Arkansas Tech University, and it became a science project that garnered fourth place at last year’s International Science and Engineering Fair. They’re taking a new improved version to this year’s fair in May.

But don’t pin Buch down as strictly an airplane geek. He’s on the varsity soccer team at Mills — a fact that overjoys his soccer-loving extended family — and has been a fixture in student government throughout high school.

“I’m big into politics,” he said. “I like government — I don’t really know why. I like the idea of being in charge, I guess.”

Vivek said he’ll probably major in aeronautical engineering in college, but could go on to medical school after that. And he’s open to the idea of running for public office someday.

“They’re all just plans, possibilities,” he said.

Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Central
Parents: Gonghe Dai and Zhao Yang
College plans: Stanford, Princeton or Duke

The determination that’s taken Yang Dai through a high school career that can only be described as grueling showed itself years ago, at an age when most kids are content to play with glue and construction paper.

“When I was a little kid I was like, ‘OK, I can color in the lines now, but can’t draw worth crap – I don’t want to have just scribbles,’ ” she said. “So I sat down with pictures of animals and tried to draw them, and I got better.”

Art is still a hobby, but Yang said she hasn’t had time to study it formally. And no wonder: As a freshman, Yang decided she would be valedictorian of her senior class, so she planned to take every AP class Central High had to offer by the time she graduated.

She won’t realize that goal, but only because she changed it. Instead, she decided to graduate a year early, and has taken an extra English class by correspondence this year — in addition to a class load that would make most people weep just to think about.

And believe it or not, even that isn’t the academic accomplishment that Yang will be remembered for.

The 17-year-old daughter of Chinese immigrants earned perfect scores on both the ACT and SAT college entrance exams, a feat only a handful of students across the country manage each year.

A stranger even stopped her at Barnes and Noble to ask for study tips, Yang said.

“I told her I cram a lot — I’m not that good of a student, but I do all the work.”

Yang said she’s thinking about a career in biomedical engineering, but will probably change her mind “at least 10 times.” As for college, she said she hopes the late nights she’s used to putting in have prepared her. And she’s also looking forward to taking an art class or two.

Age: 18
Hometown: Pocahontas
High School: Pocahontas High School
Parents: Rex and Debra Flagg
College plans: University of Arkansas

Pocahontas High School valedictorian Eric Flagg said music is a force that’s bettered him “creatively, intellectually and personally.” Eric, who’s taken private piano lessons for the past 10 years, plays for his school’s symphonic and jazz bands, and also performs an occasional solo for his church. He plans to continue private study while at college, and hopes to play in the UA’s jazz ensemble.

“I like playing jazz the most because you have to improvise,” he said.

Eric also plays the alto saxophone, and has made All-Region band every year since the eighth grade and contributed to the PHS band’s success in winning a national competition award from the All-American Music Festival in Orlando, Fla.

But Eric’s abilities also extend to his studies. The National Merit semifinalist earned a 4.1 GPA and scored a 33 on his ACT and a 1370 on his SATs.

“He’s taken every Advanced Placement class the school offers,” said school principal Jerry Malone. “He has his priorities right.”

Eric’s been accepted as an Honors College fellow at the University of Arkansas, where he plans to major in biochemistry with an eye toward medical school.

He’s also active in a number of school organizations, serving as president of the Beta Club and the gifted and talented program. He also serves on the student council. His volunteer activities include organizing fund-raisers for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Principal Malone praises Eric’s sense of humor and his easy-going nature. “He’s not super-sensitive. If you pick at him he’ll just grin and laugh,” he said.

With so many activities, Eric said the hardest part is managing his time so he can do it all. “I have to put social activities aside sometimes,” he said. When he does have a few moments, he likes to spend it outdoors, usually hunting and camping.

Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Episcopal Collegiate School
Parents: Charles and Sarah Henry
College plans: Davidson College.

Gving less than 100 percent effort to a project isn’t in Elizabeth Henry’s nature. Elizabeth, a National Merit semifinalist who scored a 1520 on her SATs, is first in her class with a 4.30 grade point. No senioritis for her — she’s taking five Advanced Placement courses this year.

“I’m not able to do anything halfway — everything I do is going to be completed to the best of my ability,” she said. As a member of Episcopal Collegiate School’s first graduating class, Elizabeth has put that dedication to good use, helping her classmates create the school organizations and student governing bodies already in place at more established schools.

Being a pioneer at school forced her to be creative and self-sufficient, she said. It also taught her to ask for what she wanted: She and four classmates successfully lobbied for an AP Physics class this year. Elizabeth helped draft the school’s honor code and serves as honor council president. She’s also a member of student council, senior class vice president and plays volleyball and softball.

Phil Hooper, a counselor at Episcopal Collegiate, said it was fate that Elizabeth was part of the school’s first class. “She has an incredible work ethic and is full of good ideas,” said Hooper.

Elizabeth’s zeal and flexibility extend to her activities outside of school. A camping and hiking enthusiast, she went rock climbing for the first time this summer — and scaled the Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole, Wyo. When her group reached a mountain peak, they saw the forest floor obscured by smoke from a nearby forest fire. The experience, she wrote on her nomination form, “opened my mind to the idea that no amount of preparation or conception can actually prepare one for the view from the top.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Hall High School
Parents: Lascelles and Dr. Beverly Lyn-Cook
College plans: Considering Vanderbilt, Washington University, Duke, Hendrix, Bowdoin and Grinnell.

Lascelles Lyn-Cook’s fascination with neuroscience began in fifth grade, when a neurosurgeon brought a human brain to his summer gifted and talented class. That interest was cemented in high school when he observed neurosurgeons operating at UAMS, and he decided to one day join their ranks.

He’s already gotten a good head start: For his junior year science fair project, Lascelles worked with a researcher at the National Center for Toxicological Research in Pine Buff to study the effects of a dietary agent found in broccoli on normal and cancerous brain cells. The project placed first in its division at the state science fair and also placed first overall at the state Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. This year’s follow-up project examines whether the dietary agent helps repair brain cells damaged by neurotoxins. Lascelles said his NCTR mentor plans to submit their findings for publication in medical journals.

But science isn’t his only interest. He’s third in his class at Hall High and scored a 28 on his ACTs. He plays soccer and throws the shot put and discus for the track team. His favorite sport is football, where he’s been named an all-state offensive guard and an Arkansas Wendy’s Heisman finalist. He said he plans to be a walk-on for football when he goes to college, hopefully at his first choice, Duke.

He’s also an Eagle Scout and volunteers for the Roland Crisis Center, the Humane Society and the Watershed Community Project. In his spare time, he said he likes to go bowling with friends and build and race model cars.

Jane Meadows, his science teacher, describes him as easy-going and well rounded. “The only thing bad about him is that he’s an only child — I wish he had many brothers and sisters like him,” she said.

Age: 18
Hometown: Pine Bluff
High School: Pine Bluff
Parents: George and Debbie Makris
College plans: Columbia University

George Makris hopes to play out the familiar refrain from the song “New York, New York.” If he can make it there, he’ll make it anywhere.

Educationally, that means attending Columbia University, but he also likes the idea of being in the Big Apple to further his performance dreams.

At Pine Bluff High School’s annual choir follies, as one parent of another student there said, “George Makris brought the house down” with the show’s climactic song the past two years, and is set to sing the finale again this spring.

“It’s kind of my forte,” George said. “I really enjoy singing, and I was hoping that New York would bring some experiences in that area, too.”

George hasn’t decided on a college major, but as an award-winning essayist, he expects to start out in liberal arts with an eye toward graduate school.

At Pine Bluff, whose enrollment is 80 percent African-American, he was elected the school’s student council president — a social model for the future, he says. He captained the boys’ tennis team, and is co-valedictorian with fellow All-Star Sara Slaughter. “We’ve always helped each other. We’re friends and competitors, and we feed off each other.”

Performance runs in the Makris family. His younger brother, Nicholas, is the school’s starting quarterback.

“Between the two of us we are involved in almost everything at school,” George says. “We can talk about anything. There could be a lot of competition, a sibling rivalry, but we are involved in so many different activities and congratulate each other on our accomplishments.”

His inspiration, he adds, has been his father. “Whenever I have a problem and pride doesn’t overcome me, I ask him for advice and he definitely gives me great advice.”

Age: 18
High School: Lake Hamilton High
Hometown: Hot Springs
Parents: Robert and Patty Meeks
College plans: University of Arkansas, political science

For Olivia Meeks, making waves is all part of the job description. Her tenure as co-editor of the Lake Hamilton High School newspaper has often been a study in controversy, fueled by Olivia’s editorial page opinions on issues like gay rights and student hazing.

While her resume contains highlights like a 4.14 GPA, status as a National Merit semifinalist and helping co-found her school’s Student Forum, one record she is particularly proud of doesn’t make the official cut: the record six angry letters the paper got following her column opposing the war in Iraq. “I thought that was great,” she chuckles.

Standing up for unpopular opinions is nothing new for the self-described liberal. Her sense of activism, she said, is thanks to her parents, who taught her to keep up with the news. “I remember when I was in grade school, we’d get up every morning, and we’d watch C-Span.” That inspired lofty goals. “My pie-in-the-sky dream was to be a Supreme Court justice,” she said.

She’s well on her way. Accepted as a fellow in the Honors College at the University of Arkansas, Olivia plans to major in political science, with a minor in journalism so she can work for the college paper. Eventual plans include law school, and a career in — surprise — the judicial branch of government.

While Olivia says her left-wing leanings have often made her an “odd duck” in her conservative community, she wouldn’t change a thing. “Most people are just going with the flow, and I can’t do that… I know that high school isn’t it, and that there’s so much beyond that that I’m working toward.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Fayetteville
High School: Fayetteville High School
Parents: Carole and Phillip Moore
College plans: Accepted by Hendrix, University of Arkansas, University of Chicago, University of Kansas and Vassar College

Fayetteville High School’s Rebecca Moore is one student for whom the language barrier is no obstacle. In addition to holding down a 4.21 GPA, working at a Chinese restaurant, and landing a spot as a National Merit Scholar semifinalist, for the past four years Rebecca has been a dedicated French scholar.

As is often the case with our Academic All-Stars, Rebecca kind of fell into her forte.

“When I was in eighth grade, there were three languages: Spanish, German and French,” she said. “Everyone was taking Spanish, and German just seemed kind of ugly and harsh. French, I don’t know, it’s just so pretty.”

Since that spur-of-the-moment decision, she has taken advanced-placement classes in French, studied the language at the University of Arkansas, and read many of the great French novels in their original language. Nonetheless, as something of a perfectionist, Rebecca admits that learning to speak the language of amour hasn’t always been a love affair.

“There are certain people who are really good at foreign languages,” she said. “I don’t think I’m one of those people who it just comes to naturally. I like it, and I study it. I’m pretty good at [reading] it, but speaking it is not easy for me.” Still, that difficulty hasn’t kept Rebecca from setting her sights on yet another linguistic challenge. She plans to begin studying Mandarin Chinese in college.

No matter where she ends up, a trip to France last year with her French Club convinced her that she wants to spend at least part of her college career in the City of Light. Her late teens have brought on a case of wanderlust, it seems.

“I hope to travel a lot more in my 20s,” she said. “I want to live abroad in several places.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Catholic High
Parents: Mohy and Maria Morris
College plans: Stanford University

George Morris says Catholic High School was the right place for him. It was there that he started an art club and got art classes, taught by volunteers from the community, started. It was there that he was able to make Brother Richard Sanker happy, by fulfilling Sanker’s long wish to see a painting of a guardian angel taking care of a teen-aged boy.

George’s artwork is known outside the halls of Catholic, too. He’s had several eggs, including one depicting Mary and Jesus on one side and a dragon on the back, in the Youth Home fund-raiser Eggshibition, and they’ve gone on exhibit at the Cox Center. He’s painted a “huge” mural, after Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, of contrasting social classes in a cantina. It was for his Governor’s School audition, and now hangs in his room at home.

He’s a musician too, and this year gave at UALR a one-hour piano solo of classical pieces and a score he composed inspired by Greek myth. He’s the editor in chief of “Capstone,” his school’s literary magazine, where he says he’s expressed himself with “lucidity, vitality, appeal and unusual insight.” That he’s a National Hispanic Scholar, a National Merit semifinalist and is ranked third in his class attests to his academic skills. What will this Renaissance kid become? “I never let any of my talents go to waste,” George said; he plans to find a use for them all — as a doctor. The son of physicians at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, George has shown he’s willing to put in the work it will take to succeed, by volunteering at Children’s “to figure out what they do.” He can see himself writing and illustrating his own research in publications such as National Geographic. So can we.

Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Pulaski Academy
Parent: Dr. Jeanne Murphy
College plans: Washington and Lee or Claremont-McKenna

Natalie Murphy is head of Pulaski Academy’s Science Club — but when it came to dissecting a cat, she said to herself, “This isn’t for me.”

She can see herself being a corporate lawyer — but she’s spent more time working at a camp for disabled children than reading weighty books. She’s a brain with a heart, one of those kids whose grades are higher than a perfect 4 point, whose SAT scores are just short of 1600, and who tops the kindness scale that measures the teen-aged counselors of Camp Aldersgate.

Natalie’s work at Aldersgate, with five boys with muscular dystrophy her first summer and with a girl named Kelsey her second, has been the high point, “the most rewarding experience,” of her life.

There was Anthony, mentally retarded as well as physically disabled, who still was “inquisitive, lively and optimistic. When Anthony was around, there was not a person near him who wasn’t smiling.” Kelsey required a feeding tube and could not talk, but she and Natalie found other ways to communicate. “Kelsey’s reaction to the birds’ songs and the squirrels that ran in front of us was priceless … she taught me how to enjoy the little things in life,” Natalie said.

Natalie once thought she might follow in her mother’s footsteps and go into medicine. But, not surprisingly, she reconsidered: “I have a really weak stomach when it comes to blood.”

Now it’s law: “I decided that I had a good understanding of legal terms,” she said, after reading motions in a divorce case. But while her mind may turn to law in the fall, her hands are now busy. Her summer plans include spending time sewing with her mother. “I really like shopping and I really want to start making clothes.” Instead of what’s available, “We think we can make them a lot better.” She may affect the world the same way.

Age: 18
Hometown: Springdale
High School: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science and the Arts
Parent: Lisa Hollingsworth
College plans: Johns Hopkins

The Times’ All-Stars are smart, upbeat kids, for the most part homing in on their future careers. Natashia Piazza is all that and more: She’s totally turned on by science and politics (“don’t get me started!”) and books, loves to sink her teeth into research and learn all there is to know about a subject, and articulates those desires surely and rapidly.

She’s mature, firmly grounded, familiar with financial hardship. The oldest of four children of a single mom who worked nights, Natashia grew up a little faster than her peers. But tough times only made her family tighter, she says, and she’s overflowing with pride on her mother’s latest move: to return to college, at the U of A, to pick up where she left off when Natashia was born. “I’m so proud of her,” she gushed. The feeling is, no doubt, mutual.

In pursuing her own education, Natashia made the unusual choice of entering the math and science school at Hot Springs as a junior after she finished her junior year at Springdale High. “I thought it would be better to spend two years actually doing something,” she said, rather than coasting through a senior year at home. The fruits of that choice: She’s co-authored a paper on a UAMS project to improve a vaccine against cancer in poultry. She’s a National Merit Scholar. She was the only Arkansan chosen for the Telluride Association Summer Program, where for six weeks she read Plato, Aristotle, Kafka, Kant, Bloom, Foucault and the like and wrote a 10-page essay on the political influences on T.H. White’s “Once and Future King.” She loves “watching the news more than anything else in the whole world,” and rounds out her literary and scientific facets with the tuba (section leader for four years).

Already, Piazza knows “I’ll definitely be a scientist.” In truth, she already is.

Age: 18
Hometown: Pine Bluff
High School: Pine Bluff
Parents: Patrick and Cindy Slaughter
College plans: Vassar College

Sara Slaughter’s schedule doesn’t allow for much downtime. Besides being in the Pine Bluff High School choir and the annual spring follies, Slaughter has been taking three Advanced Placement courses, captaining the Quiz Bowl conference winners, serving as peer tutor at lunch or after school, and playing fast-pitch softball after captaining the girls tennis team. Plus, there’s volunteer work around town. And did we mention she has worked at the local paper on weekend nights on the sportswriting staff?

“I sleep a lot on the weekends,” she said. “It all works out.”

She says this academic year has been her toughest. “I really learned how to balance my time … when enough is enough, when too much is too much and where to put my priorities.”

Many times those priorities are in the volunteer sector,

where she has worked with the Ozark Mission Project, the Salvation Army, at the YMCA as a coach and referee, at her church and at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.

Sara credits her brother, Preston, a graduate of the University of Colorado who is working toward teaching calculus and coaching basketball, as an inspiration. “I saw from him how much there was to do and how much you could gain from it if you wanted to.”

Sara also wants to teach, most likely English literature, though she’s also interested in word origins. Then there is math, in which she has also excelled.

Sara also can count on being picked for barbershop quartet. “I’m a Tenor 1, which is weird. I’m probably the only girl to go through Pine Bluff High to sing Tenor 1,” she said.

“It’s fun, it’s interesting,” she adds, which can apply to about every hour of her day.

Age: 17
Hometown: Conway
High School: Conway High School West
Parents: Sam and Lea Ann Smith
College plans: University of Arkansas, biochemistry

Clark Smith of Conway is a guy who likes to march to the beat of his own drum. Or in his case, bass.

A full-time fan of the thrash metal group Tool and a part-time wailer on his own bass guitar and sax, Clark doesn’t fit the studious nerd stereotype most people might expect when they hear about his 4.25 GPA and acceptance as National Merit Scholar finalist. That’s just the way he likes it.

“Tool is very intellectual and that’s what I like about

them,” Clark said. “At the same time, they’re not the most popular thing out there. I kind of like the fact that they’re not mainstream. I don’t like to be just like everybody else. I’m not a non-conformist, or whatever, but I like to be an individual.”

Clark’s decision to take the road less traveled has served him well. In high school, he helped head an effort to distribute more than 1,000 used books to local charities and was a star on his Quiz Bowl team. Recently, he found out that he had been awarded the prestigious Sturgis Fellow-ship by the University of Arkansas, where he hopes to study biochemistry, with possibly a history, philosophy or political science minor.

While he said his parents have encouraged him to excel, Clark called his need for academic success self-motivated. That drive, he admits, has sometimes meant second-guessing himself when he thought he didn’t do as well as he could have on a test. When that starts, he often turns to his music.

Like many of our Academic All-Stars, Clark’s ultimate goal is to become a doctor. Few, however, could put the reason more eloquently. “[Medicine] would be the field in which I could use my talents to help the most people,” Clark said.

Age: 17
Hometown: Prairie Grove
High School: Fayetteville
Parents: Richard and Mary Neligh Sonn
College plans: UA, Cornell or Cal Tech

On one hand Xan Sonn isn’t like most teen-agers. When he entered high school, he was thinking about the world of artificial intelligence — not just seeing the movie “A.I.” but working in the field professionally — but now, with heroes such as Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein, he’s planning to study to be a physicist.

However, talk with him about music and he sounds like a teen.

“I have varied taste,” he said. “I listen to punk, classical, classic rock, pretty much everything, but I don’t do rap. I just don’t like rap, or country either, all that much, though there is some good country music. I just don’t listen to it.”

Xan plays trumpet in a local band with friends dubbed Musical Spoon Orchestra. “We’re alternative rock with brass, kind of a ska band.”

He’s also skilled enough with the trumpet to play classical music with the Northwest Arkansas Youth Orchestra.

A Quiz Bowl participant for four years, he’s captained this year’s Fayetteville team to a regional win. He lives in nearby Prairie Grove, but left that school system after the sixth grade for Fayetteville because of its Advanced Placement program. He’ll graduate at the head of the class of 474 students.

An admiration for Fermi and Einstein, reading books by Stephen Hawking, and a local assist from high school chemistry teacher George Spencer directed him toward the sciences, he said. He also worked last summer with UA physicist William Harter.

He credits counselor Debbie Goodell and English teacher Dr. Martha McNair as guiding him well during high school.

‘”Xan is an outstanding young man in any and every way,” Goodell said. “He’s passionate about physics. He’s modest, shy, confident, gifted and talented … His personal standards of achievement exceed our highest expectations.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Beebe
High School: Beebe
Parents: Chad and Mary Nell Sparks
College plans: The “top three” are the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy and Texas A&M; industrial engineering

“It was during Arkansas Boys State this past summer that I came to the realization that I could make a difference in the lives of my fellow citizens, and that no dreams were beyond my reach,” Justin Sparks writes.

Justin was one of 850 delegates to Boys State. Only two of them would be chosen as delegates to Boys Nation in Washington. “I thought there was no way I could be one of the two delegates from Arkansas because of the extremely strong competition. However, my parents encouraged me to run. To my surprise, I not only made it through the first and second interviews, I was chosen as one of the four finalists to give a speech to the entire Boys State delegation to decide the two representatives. I stayed up that night writing my speech and finally came to the conclusion that if I was honest and straightforward with my fellow delegates, I would be successful, win or lose.” He won.

Justin ranks first in his class of 171. He was president of both his senior and junior classes. He was a member of the football team, the basketball team, the track team and the Quiz Bowl team. He was an ROTC flight leader and a member of the Spanish Club, the Future Business Leaders of America, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Journalism Club, the yearbook staff, the Science Club, CHAMPS, the Future Educators of America, the Future Farmers of America and the National Honor Society. He won the Advanced Placement American History Award and numerous other awards for chemistry, English, Spanish, biology, pre-calculus, geometry and other subjects. And by the way — he owns his own business, Sparkle Car Detail Service. His counselor says he is “an exemplary young man, student and citizen.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Little Rock Central
Parents: Bill and Cathy Spivey
College plans: Considering Vanderbilt, Davidson and Princeton

A few years ago, John Spivey managed to take enough time from studies and soccer to found a lawn-care business with a friend. The services include mowing, edging, sealing and repairing decks, and mulching flower beds. “Our business was successful the first year and has only improved — we grossed nearly $14,000 last summer alone,” he writes. And there have been rewards other than financial. “I honed my accounting skills, learning how to keep track of revenue and expenditures, and gained an appreciation for how much things cost. I learned (primarily through trial and error) the right and wrong way to communicate with my customers, to deal with vendors, to make accurate estimates, and to settle the occasional dispute. All of these things led me to develop a sense of pride and personal responsibility for the quality of mywork. I’ve become adept at using power tools (weed eaters, power washers, etc.) as well as more traditional ones (pitchforks, shovels, rakes). Working outside allowed me to get a tan and stay in shape during a period I would otherwise have spent in the air conditioning. I became an entrepreneur, developed an interest in business, and to top it all off, I made money. Our wooden trailer vies for business with multi-truck operations. Though I don’t plan to make a career of mowing lawns, it is very satisfying to taste success in a competitive market.”

John is a National Merit semifinalist, a candidate for the Presidential Scholars Program, an Advanced Placement scholar with distinction, captain of the varsity soccer team, and a member of the principal’s cabinet, the National Honor Society, the Beta Club and the mayor’s youth council. He graduates at the top of his class of 382.

Age: 17
Hometown: Springdale
High school: Springdale
Parents: Danny and Martha Walker
College plans: University of Arkansas, business

During the summer before her senior year, Jennifer Walker decided to start her own business. “I had always thought that I would need to be older to be successful in this endeavor; however, I decided that if I waited until exactly the right moment, my dream might never be realized,” she writes. “I had been painting personalized canvases for my friends for several years, and I thought it was time to take my paintings to a new level. It took a lot of courage for me to walk into that impressive store and into the owner’s office. I was extremely nervous until I decided that the worst thing that could happen was for her to say no to my offer. However, her answer was as far from no as possible: She loved my work and bought 28 paintings on the spot! … I used to dream of owning my own business; that aspiration has already come true. After college, I plan to expand this business into an events co-ordination firm.”

Jennifer ranks first in a class of 687. She’s a National Merit semifinalist, an AP scholar, and a winner of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce Academic Achievement Award. She’s a member of the National Honor Society, the Key Club, the Future Business Leaders of America, the Technology Honor Society, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the A Cappella Choir, and was a delegate to Girls State. Her community contributions include being a volunteer for the Susan G. Komen Racefor the Cure, for the Arkanshire Retirement Community, for the Washington County Teen Court and for the nursery at Christian Life Cathedral. Her high school counselor describes her as honest, compassionate, friendly, positive, confident and “not embarrassed to stand for what she believes.”


Age: 17

Hometown: Sheridan

High School: Sheridan

Parents: Phil and Karen Wilson

College plans: Vanderbilt University, math or music education

Chelsea Wilson adopts a metaphor she once heard used by a preacher for her role as drum major of the Sheridan High School band. As the mother giraffe must nudge and occasionally kick her newborn until it can stand and walk on wobbly legs, the drum major must quickly teach new recruits to march and guide right and play instruments at the same time. If not a life or death situation, learning to be a functioning member of a marching ensemble is a skill that must be learned quickly. It takes only one wayward sousaphone to produce a knot of crumpled brass and woodwinds when marching and formations aren’t mastered.

“I love being the mother giraffe,” Chelsea confesses, while admitting few real “kicks” are required.

Chelsea gets her own kicks from a wide range of activities. Her early piano skills led her to band, where she’s mastered just about every percussion instrument, including marimba and keyboard, a skill that landed her in the all-state band. She’s not just a football game marcher, but a leader of the school’s jazz band (she was outstanding soloist at the Lakeside Jazz Festival) and she has a sacred bent as well, coordinating music at her church.

She’s a Quiz Bowl team co-captain (good on calculus questions, we hear), active in the Young Democrats, top-ranked in her class of 252 and a National Merit semi-finalist. Apart from band, she has plenty of class work, with a senior schedule including AP calculus and chemistry.

Lisa Pemberton, who teaches Chelsea Advanced Placement English, thinks her student’s dream job would be as a part-time band director and part-time English teacher. Pemberton says Chelsea is noteworthy for more than academic ability. “The thing that stands out to me is her humility. She always believes she has something else to learn. She’s never once intimated she thought she knew everything she needed to know about any subject.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Alma
High School: Alma
Parents: Tim and Marcia Wise
College plans: Rice University or University of Arkansas, social sciences

Andrew stands tall physically and in just about every other respect. He’s at the top of Alma High School’s class of 209 with a 4.42 gradepoint. You get that by making A’s in a schedule packed with AP classes — English IV, calculus, European history, chemistry and computer programming this year.

The high tenor of his trumpet soars over the crowd, too. He judges making all-state band in 2003 as his most rewarding experience, particularly since he’d “frozen” in tryouts the year before. It’s not easy, sitting in a small room with experienced musicians and running through a round of challenging etudes and scales. Some 100 players try out for the all-state trumpet section. Only a handful make it. Using relaxation techniques taught by his private lesson teacher, Andrew made it in 2003 and was back on board this year.

“I don’t do things halfway,” Wise says. It’s reflected in his selection as the school’s male Danforth Leadership Award winner. He’s also a National Merit semifinalist, a Quiz Bowl team member, a Future Business Leader and a member of the school’s honors chorus. He puts his musical skills to work, too, for the First Baptist Church.

Wise has been a key member of Alma’s Science Bowl team, too.

Andrew figures high school achievements are only preparation for college. He says he’s always tried to take the hardest courses. “It makes the transition to college easier. And the environment for learning in those classes is higher than in survey classes.”

This is a student that reaches for the high notes. Says counselor Lou Scroggins, “Talented, intelligent and mature — Andrew stands taller than most.”