The process of choosing our Academic All-Star Team is both an exciting and anguishing task.
Exciting because the stories of Arkansas's top high school seniors are always encouraging. Anguishing because the choice of the final 20 — 10 males and 10 females — always means somebody has to be cut.
This year was no different. From the nominations sent by high school principals and counselors all over Arkansas, judges selected 50 finalists, 25 males and 25 females, to go to the final round of judging. A team of four judges met to read the finalists' applications and score them on a point system.
Academic excellence takes top priority in the judging. But students must distinguish themselves in other ways -- often extracurricular and community activities, sometimes an extraordinary problem surmounted.
The choices sometimes are hardly choices at all, as you will see when reading about just a few of the achievements of the students who were finalists, but not winners of one of the top 20 positions.
John Thomas Lee Stewart of Kirby High School, for example, in addition to being number one in his class and having the highest ACT score at his school in seven years, works 30 hours a week at a part-time job and still found a way to be the school's first candidate for national office in a student organization, the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. That's the group formerly known as Future Homemakers of America.
Or how about Dawnyell Fletcher of Atkins High School? She's also first in her class, a top Spanish student and, oh by the way, a state champion in the 400- and 800-meter runs.
It is the same on down the list. Our other finalists, and some of their notable achievements (it goes without saying that nearly all are top-ranked in their senior classes):
Margaret Berry, Arkansas School for the Blind: A student of voice, ballet, piano and drama, she's violinist in the Arkansas Youth Symphony.
Carrie Coppernoll, Mountain Home High School: Newspaper managing editor, student council president, band drum major, National Merit winner.
Emily Dart, Booneville: Editor of both the yearbook and newspaper, football and track team trainer, lead in "Anne Frank and Me."
Giselle M. Davidson, Huntsville High: National Merit winner and captain of a Quiz Bowl team that competed for national honors.
Catherine Michelle Harris, Pulaski Academy, Little Rock: A prize-winning dancer who won a spot on a Disney Cruise, as well as a superior pianist, artist and choir member.
Alice Lynn Holifield, Clay County Central High, Rector: A National Merit finalist and member of the basketball team and band.
Ashley Michelle Hooper, Mount St. Mary Academy, Little Rock: A varsity basketball and volleyball competitor, eucharistic minister and volunteer in summer program on Mexican border.
Amanda Johnson, Camden Harmony Grove: Governor's School and Girls State delegate who founded a tutoring program at Boys and Girls Club.
Elizabeth Ann McGregor, Russellville High: Student council president and bassoonist who was a member of a team that earned a role in a National History Day competition for telling the history of submarines from a fish's vantage point.
Sima Shah, Mills University Studies High School: She's been doing independent research in immunotherapies for treating cancer at the Arkansas Cancer Research Center.
Amber N. Shaw, Sheridan High School: A two-year editor of a nationally lauded yearbook and all-region flutist.
Loretta Jean Smith, Hazen High School: Class president and Quiz Bowler who took on principal over content of a Family Dynamics class with a student body survey.
Brittney Verser, Oak Grove High School. She's second-ranked in the state in high school barrel racing.
Nikki Wright, Lee High School, Marianna: Student Council leader, Quiz Bowl competitor, choir member.
Ashley Altom, Heber Springs High: A football player, church pianist and math competition award winner.
Nealon DeVore, Valley View High, Jonesboro: A yearbook editor and bandsman, he's active in drama and plays twice each Sunday in his church orchestra.
Michael Natale France, Russellville High: A baseball and soccer star, he also plays in the band and is aactive in Young Republicans.
Kevin C. Harrison, Lakeside High School, Hot Springs: A National Merit finalist and football player who's won appointment to the Air Force Academy.
Alistair J. Kent, Walnut Ridge High: A National Merit finalist, he was all-state in Quiz Bowl and an all-region trumpeter.
Clayton Lee Layson, Mountain Home High: National Merit winner who competed in robotics and attended a pre-college summer academy at University of Missouri-Rolla.
Charles McCollum Jr., Parkviews Arts/Science Magnet High, Little Rock: A four-year participant in band and football, he's also a top scorer on the AP math test.
Chris McNulty, Pine Bluff High: An all-conference football player and student council officer who worked as an HIV/AIDS peer counselor.
Michael Nutt, Camden Harmony Grove High: Captain of the Quiz Bowl and Forestry teams, he found time for football and Governor's School.
Christopher Robertson, Pulaski Academy, Little Rock: A student newspaper editor and Aldersgate Med Camp volunteer, he represented Arkansas at the World Leadership Congress of the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership organization.
Jonathan Matthew Rohner, Westside High, Jonesboro: The band drum major, he attended the Skidmore Jazz Institute in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Jonathan David Schisler, Shiloh Christian High School: An all-region saxophonist and winner of the VFW's "Spokesman for Freedom" contest.
Lee Willingham, J.A. Fair High, Little Rock: A participant in band, Quiz Bowl, the newspaper and taekwondo, he's won awards in science and essay writing.
Andrew Wilson, Gurdon High: An all-region percussionist, his numerous other activities including the 4-H and FFA meat judging teams.