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The 2012 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team

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It's time again to meet our choices for Arkansas's top 20 high school seniors.

The class of 2012, our 18th, is full of National Merit Scholarship semifinalists, artists, musicians and writers. There's rarely a B on the transcripts of these students — in not just this, their senior year, but in any year of their high school careers.

They have busy lives outside school, too, with extracurricular activities, volunteer work, mission activities and more.

They'll be honored this week at a ceremony at UALR with plaques and $250 cash awards. AETN will feature some of them in a series of short videos that will appear periodically on the state's public television network.

We've tried to give an idea of what the future holds for them, but these profiles appear before the final deadline for college decisions and many of our winners have exciting options. College plans listed are, therefore, not set in stone.


Age: 17

Hometown: Albuquerque, N.M., and Little Rock

High School: Episcopal Collegiate

Parents: Stephen and Joan Beetstra

College plans: Georgia Tech, Washington University, Northwestern University, Rice University or Agnes Scott, applied mathematics

Math, tennis, dogs — she fits all in

Margaret Anne Beetstra reads ancient Greek, tutors calculus students and spent last summer researching life expectancy factors for the state Health Department through a scholars' program at Arkansas Children's Hospital. She's lived in four states, she rescues abused dogs, and she serves meals at Stewpot. Not only is she a member of seven academic and community service clubs, she's president of two of them, and she captains her varsity tennis team. It's obvious that, at only 17, Maggie's a whiz with time management — which is great, because next year she plans to juggle college tennis with a full course load and some to-be-determined undergraduate research project.

Maggie knows her priorities, though. "I love tennis, but tennis can't be my life. I definitely want to do undergraduate research, and if I don't study applied mathematics, I'll do chemistry or neuroscience," she said. Among her academic achievements, Maggie is at the top of her class, has a 4.52 GPA and is a National Merit semifinalist. Joan Beetstra, Maggie's mother, is amazed by her daughter's work ethic. "With school and tennis, it's just the hours she puts in," Joan said. "I've never seen anyone who power-studies the way she does ... she's also good at thinking on her feet, which really works in her favor." Maggie considers leading Honor Council the most noble of her sundry activities. "It's the most prestigious club at our school," she said. "It's our job to enforce the Honor Code that every student signs. It can be tough, having to inform one of my peers that there are serious consequences to their behavior, mostly because students are remorseful and regret what they've done." In dealing with her peers, Beetstra applies principles she learned through working with her family's rescue dogs: "I'm an only child, so these dogs are my siblings. They teach me to be grateful, they teach me unconditional love, they teach me that everyone deserves a second chance."


Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Central High

Parents: Daniel Berleant and Joy Liaw

College plans: California Institute of Technology, computer science

Model student

Joseph Berleant is a computer whiz and lifelong cellist with plans to head off to Pasadena's Cal Tech this fall. (For the record, Cal Tech just became the first university to beat Harvard for the title of best school in the world, according to the London-based "Times Higher Education.") The Central High senior recently received his acceptance letter, and he's still giddy. "It's such a good engineering school," he said. "I want to go into computer science, but that ties in so closely with other types of engineering. Being at Caltech will give me a good opportunity to keep up with what's going on in all forms of engineering and physics." It's no surprise that Caltech wants him. Joseph scored a perfect 36 in math on his ACT, with a composite score of 35. This year he took a course in differential equations at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, since he took AP calculus, the highest math Central offers, his junior year. He has also designed a computer program that more efficiently models plants. The program took top honors at the state science fair and advanced to the international Intel Science Fair in Los Angeles. Currently, Joseph is working on a paper detailing the program, which he hopes to present at the Bionanotox 2012 Conference. If his paper is accepted, he'll be a rarity — a high school student among graduate students, professors and think-tank types. Though his achievements are far beyond high school, Joseph is down-to-earth and committed to his school and his community. In addition to being treasurer of Junior Civitan, a Central High volunteer club that pitches in everywhere from the Salvation Army to Wildwood Park, Joseph is in six other clubs and honor societies, he's a National Merit semifinalist and he plays with the Arkansas Youth Symphony. Last year, he won the Arkansas ACLU Bill of Rights essay contest with an essay about First Amendment freedoms of gay and lesbian high school students. He's taken 21 Advanced Placement classes, which means, depending on Caltech policies, he could have a major head start on his freshman year. Joseph should be right at home next year among the world's brightest engineering hopefuls.


Age: 18

Hometown: Conway

High School: Conway High School West

Parents: Peg and Douglas Corbitt

College plans: Centre College, undecided major

Global perspective

This summer Jean Corbitt is going to Turkey as part of Centre College's summer enrichment program. She's almost as excited about that as she is the fact that, as a Brown fellow at Centre, her college career — or at least, tuition, room and board — are entirely covered. As the daughter of two philosophy professors (her mom is at Hendrix, her dad is at University of Central Arkansas), she chose the small Danville, Ky., liberal arts college because, she said, "I wanted to take classes in a lot of subjects and be with people with way different majors from mine. It's a bigger perspective for learning." Jean loves English and history. In fact, her team qualified for the National History Day competition four years in a row. Her ninth grade year, her team won second place with a skit about Jackie Cochran, who founded the women's air force training program during World War II. The team got to perform the skit at a congressional breakfast in Washington, D.C. — one of Jean's proudest moments to date. Jean came to international politics a little more cautiously. Last summer through a Duke Talent Identification Program, Jean spent a week in the Netherlands, which included an extensive tour of The Hague. When she came back, she signed up for Model UN. "All of the super-powers were taken, so we chose to represent Afghanistan," she said. Through researching the country's policies and conditions Jean realized "how much we take for granted ... education for women, a peaceful transfer of power ... things I just assume should happen." In addition to her academic achievements — Jean is a National Merit semifinalist, ranked second in her class, will graduate with a dozen A.P. classes and has a 4.30 GPA — she is first-chair trumpet in her school's symphonic band, and she founded a jump rope team at her former elementary. "We teach the kids tricks and choreographed routines to help them feel special and give them confidence," she said.


Age: 18

Hometown: Springdale

High School: Har-Ber

Parents: Phil and Shawna Ford

College plans: Duke, mathematics

Out in front

Zach Ford is the drum major of the Har-Ber High School Band. He patiently explained to a questioner the responsibilities of a drum major: He makes sure that the band stays together in its playing. He teaches marching techniques to the incoming 10th graders. He gives "very vocal" commands to the band while it's on the march. When Zach isn't drum majoring, he's the leader of the Har-Ber Band's percussion section. But when asked about significant achievements, he mentions not the band, but working as a volunteer at the Miracle League in Northwest Arkansas, a baseball league for special-needs children. "Seeing the joy on the face of a child who has been told that they cannot play sports because of their disability is enough to make anyone get out of bed on a Saturday morning to go out and play ball," he writes. Academically, Zach ranks first in a class of 481. He's the Student Council president, a Quiz Bowl competitor, a member of the National Honor Society, manager of the basketball team, a runner on the cross country and track teams, and a participant in his school's production of the musical "Anything Goes." Besides his work with the Miracle League, he helps lead services at the Westside Church of Christ, is a Junior Rotarian, coordinated a fund-raiser for a children's charity, and organized the annual Christmas caroling event for Har-Ber students. He's been an all-region musician for five years, and an all-state musician for two. He won the Epsilon Sigma Alpha Outstanding Youth Award.


Age: 17

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Central High

Parents: Xiang Gao and Li Tong

College plans: Harvard College, premed

Not defined by scores

When Whitney Gao was nominated queen of the Central High basketball homecoming court, she gave a shout-out to her counselor: "Score one for the smart girls!" But Whitney's not really one for numbers — at least as identifiers. Yes, she's ranked No. 1 in Central's senior class. Yes, her SAT score was 2400. Yes, her ACT score was 35. Yes, she scored seven 5s on her Advanced Placement exams. But, as Whitney said in her essay for the Times, "I'm a sister, a daughter. I'm an under-the-covers reader of fashion magazines, a complete nerd, and the girl whose laugh you hear all the way down the hallway." She chose that essay topic, she said in an interview, because so much weight is put on test scores and grades; "I want college to recognize me as someone besides SAT and AP scores." They should know she's a pianist who loves Grieg, and she hopes to keep playing in college, though math and sciences will be her focus. "I just really want to learn about everything ... the most obscure subjects that I wouldn't get a chance to learn in high school." But the big picture is to prepare for medical school and become a physician like her father, who is a radiation oncologist at CARTI. When she hears students say they are looking forward to having fun in college, "to me that's extremely boring," she said. Not this summer, though — "I want to chill." Then, come fall, she says she'll buckle down. It's hard to believe, but Whitney said that without her mother, "I would have been super lazy. I wanted to watch TV when I was little." But her mother "got me started really early doing math and reading and it was good." (Is she fashionable, by the way? She'd like to think so, but she confesses, "To be honest, I have shown up in sweat pants and a sweat shirt to school.")


Age: 18

Hometown: Fort Smith

High School: Southside

Parents: Jaysree and Narender Gorukanti

College plans: St. Louis University, premed

Called to medicine

Sre Gorukanti has two goals: He wants to go to medical school and he wants to start a music school for elementary school children, which he sees as a way to boost learning in other areas. It's possible the Honors Diploma graduate of Southside High can pull it off: Sre is both musician (he plays alto and tenor sax and has made All-Region band three times) and scientist (he's spent time in a laboratory at Missouri University of Science and Technology extracting and cloning mouse and pig DNA looking for clues to obesity). He thought for a while about being rebellious and not pursuing what is a family calling: His father is a doctor, his sister is in medical school and he has uncles and cousins who are doctors. "It's the Indian thing, pretty much," he explained. However, after he volunteered at a hospital for two summers, he discovered that "I loved escorting the patients and watching the doctors work with the patients ... it really changed me." His biggest influence, however, was a trip to India where he saw "abysmal conditions ... people living in cardboard boxes. I think it would be a great thing if we had doctors go to these countries and work on sanitation" and other health issues, he said. His father is an oncologist, but Sre is interested in plastic surgery, so he could repair cleft palates in less developed countries. This AP Scholar with Distinction calls himself a "nerd at heart" who says partying doesn't "call" to him. (One thing that does call to him: If you graduate from St. Louis University with a high gradepoint average, you can forego the MCAT.)


Age: 18

Hometown: Springdale

High School: Springdale High

Parents: Randy and Cynthia Hutchinson

College plans: University of Arkansas, journalism

Jock and journalist

Andrew was both a member of his high school football team and the editor-in-chief and sports editor of the school newspaper. He aspires to be a sportswriter. We told him that as an actual football player, he might be overqualified. Most sportswriters are frustrated football players. He felt he could fit in. Though he was a wide receiver, he was not very athletic nor very big, he said, and he knows that his football career ended at the high school level. Academically, Andrew ranks first in a class of 517. He's a member of the National Honor Society, recipient of a Presidential Award for Excellence, an Advanced Placement (AP) Scholar, and a winner of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce Champions in Education Award. He's also senior leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Sports have always been a part of his life. Journalism entered in the 10th grade, when he joined the Bulldog Herald staff as a sportswriter, and loved it. But it wasn't until he wrote a published remembrance of his first football coach, who had just died of cancer, and he received a heartfelt letter from the coach's fiancee, "that I knew becoming a journalist would be worthwhile." Family members and others have told him that the print medium is dying. Nonetheless, he says, "That's what I'm going to do. I just want to write."


Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Little Rock Christian Academy

Parents: Anthony and Araceli Johnston

College plans: University of Oklahoma at Tulsa, St. Louis University or Baylor University, early childhood education

Loves her heritage

Brittany Grace Johnston is just the kind of young woman you'd love to have teaching your elementary school student: Bright, interested, observant. Fortunately, that's what she wants to do, so in five years or so she might be available. She might also give your child lessons in Mexican folk-dancing, which she took up as a high school freshman to get "closer to my culture." Brittany's mother, Araceli Johnston, is from Mexico, and Brittany told the Times she found more connection to her roots through dancing than through language. She wasn't always exploring her Mexican heritage; she said she at one time "approached it apprehensively." After her 9th grade "wakeup call," Brittany said in an essay, "I came to the realization that my family is different, and that's what makes it great. I love my country and I love my background. I am Hispanic. I am American. I swim in the melting pot of cultures that makes our nation magnificent." Besides being an essayist, Brittany also writes poetry with a weekly creative writing program at her school, and described a poem she wrote recently about driving: "When you come to a halt the whole world comes into focus." Number 3 in her class, Brittany's honors include National Merit semifinalist, National Hispanic Scholar and winning gold in the National Spanish Exam. With encouragement from her mother, who teaches Spanish at Little Rock Christian Academy, and a friend, Brittany co-founded a chapter of the National Honors Spanish Society at her school. And not only is she a member of Refeljos Mexicanos Ballet Folklorico, Brittany plays xylophone. At the beginning of her senior year, she wanted to be a dentist, because it "made sense," but has decided since that early childhood education suited her better. She's not rushing into anything however: "I don't want to get ahead of myself." That's how she'll get her world to come into sharp focus.


Age: 18

Hometown: Cabot

High School: Cabot

Parents: Billy and Robin Justus

College plans: Auburn University or University of Oklahoma, aerospace engineering.

Thanks to debate

If you were trying to sell the virtues of debate, you couldn't get a better spokesman than Nathan Justus. According to him, he was, in junior high school, insecure, timid and quiet. "I was the farthest thing from the confident young man that I am today," he writes.

In his sophomore year of high school, a "life-altering transition" occurred. "I was introduced to the debate team. Through debate, I was given the confidence I needed to fully live as a person and compete for my achievements, the social skills I needed to interact with people and forge bonds of friendship, and the logic and reasoning skills I needed to access my academic success." Access he has. He's captain of the debate team, of course, president of the National Math Honor Society, and a member of the Key Club, the National Honor Society, the Ecology Club and the AP Academy. He's had the lead role in three school productions and ensemble roles in two others. He has a 4.2 grade point average. He organized and led a six-week math tutoring workshop for junior high students. His high school principal says, "Nathan is a scholar in the truest sense of the word. ... Perhaps the crowning achievement that makes this young man so remarkable is he has such impeccable ethics and character."


Age: 18

Hometown: Fayetteville

High School: Fayetteville High

Parents: Lance and Tareneh Manning

College plans: MIT, Vanderbilt, Princeton, Georgetown, Rice, Notre Dame or Wake Forest, premed

Record hurdler soars in scores

Macy Manning approaches academic hurdles the same way she does actual hurdles: by effortlessly flying over them on her way to a first-place finish. The National Merit semifinalist and National Honors Society member holds the state record for the 60-meter indoor hurdles and she and her teammates on the Fayetteville High School Varsity track team won the state championships in 2010 and 2011. Among other big track and field wins, Manning won the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles. She's also the captain of the FHS Varsity cheer team, which also won the state championship in 2010 and 2011. She recently scored a perfect 36 on the ACT and has a composite score of 2200 on the SAT. Perhaps not surprisingly, Manning has been accepted at some of the most prestigious institutions in the country: MIT, Vanderbilt, Princeton, Georgetown, Rice, Notre Dame and Wake Forest. She hasn't made a decision yet, and still has to make a couple more campus visits. And she hasn't determined what her undergraduate studies will be, though it will likely be one of the sciences. But one thing she's sure of is that she'll be premed and will likely pursue the same practice as her father. "My dad is an ENT surgeon. I've watched him go through that whole process and I'm definitely thinking about going that route," Manning said. She's also thought ahead to where she'd like to do her residency, and will likely take a cue from her father in that regard as well. "My dad did his residency at The Mayo Clinic," she said. "I really had fun at Rochester and it would be so cool to get to follow in his footsteps and do a residency there."


Age: 17

Hometown: Lonoke

High School: Searcy High School

Parents: Don and Sheryl McKenzie

College plans: University of Arkansas or Rice University, chemical engineering.


Kelly McKenzie is a passionate Quiz Bowler. She loves the thrill of competition. She loves the lightning round (10 questions in 60 seconds; her proudest quiz bowl memory is of her team answering all 10 questions in a JFK lightning round correctly). She loves the companionship of it; some of her closest friends are quiz bowlers. Since middle school, she's been the captain of her team. "I enjoy every suspenseful minute and every question that stretches on my brain further," she wrote in her Academic Allstars essay. Kelly's clearly stretched her brain plenty. She scored a perfect 36 on her ACT, a 2350 on her SAT and is a National Merit semifinalist. She'll graduate as valedictorian. Working hard comes naturally, she said. "I've always tried my hardest. If I have an assignment, I have a lot of trouble doing it just to get it done. Even if it's easy, I want to do it as well as I can for my own pride, I guess." Still, Kelly manages time for extracurricular pursuits. She's in school choir (it recently did a "fun" Latin song and a "haunting" arrangement of "Scarborough Fair"). She's a member of the chess team (losing to her younger brother inspired her to join; now they're more evenly matched). And she enjoys whittling wood she finds while exploring the 100 acres her family lives on in Lonoke (she's currently working on a carving of a hunting dog). In college, she plans to study chemical engineering because she's fascinated by chemistry and wants to work in alternative energy research and development. She's particularly interested in solar energy. "The oil situation right now is ridiculous," she said. "We're paying a lot of money for foreign oil and tearing up habitats to drill." Energy from the sun is a better alternative, she reckons. If chemical engineering doesn't work out, she could always fall back on crafting. A piece of jewelry she created — beaded safety pin brooches done in school colors — sold enough to raise $500 for a new cancer treatment center in Searcy. They even have a name: Jeangles.


Age: 17

Hometown: Arkadelphia

High School: Arkadelphia High

Parents: Bud and Amanda McMillion

College plans: Hendrix College, music and English

Sound the trumpets

First chair. Musicians know it's held by the band's best player of an instrument. The more people play the instrument, the harder it is to attain. Ask Audrey McMillion. The Arkadelphia high schooler plays trumpet, as do thousands of others in the state's high schools. Three hundred try out for All-State band. It's been a decade since an Arkadelphia band member made the all-state band. Audrey broke that string her junior year, though a nervous audition left her in the third band. But that experience taught her something. Her devotion to band, orchestra, scales and sight reading had paid off. She was in the league of the "factory" schools. She gained confidence. This year, her senior year, you'll find Audrey sitting in the first band. But look quick. You'll also find Audrey in the Jazz Band, fielding questions on the Quiz Bowl team, competing in Skills USA, Future Problem Solvers and Knowledge Masters. "She's the busiest genius we have," principal David Maxwell said. He particularly admires her problem-solving in Skills USA, where students tackle computer programming, robotics and engineering. "She's the type who loves to take things apart and see how they work," he said. A summer program in writing, Governor's School and a newfound devotion to reading classic books have inspired her desire for a liberal arts education. She's a National Merit scholarship semi-finalist. She's No. 3 in her class, with a 4.176 GPA and the As didn't come easily: Her senior year lineup is heavy on Advanced Placement: American government, calculus, chemistry, English composition. She's also taking Spanish and principles of engineering. Oh, and yes, band. She'll be soloing on Percy Grainger's "Lincolnshire Posy."


Age: 18

Hometown: Fayetteville

High School: Fayetteville High

Parents: Roger Montgomery and Colene Gaston

College plans: Harvard, Stanford or Duke, biomedical engineering

iPhones today, biomed tomorrow

The entrepreneurial bug bit Peter Montgomery in a big way last year. After learning how to repair iPhones from a friend, Montgomery started FayettvilleFix, mending the cracked screens of many customers around Northwest Arkansas. "It just kind of blew up this year," he said. "It's been a ton of fun learning how to keep a small business running, keeping inventory, filing taxes and everything. It's been a great learning experience and I've had a ton of fun with it." That love of gadgets and technology will likely figure into Montgomery's post-high school career as well. He's been accepted to Duke, Harvard and Stanford (he'll make a decision by May 1) and plans to study biomedical engineering. "My dad's a physician, so he's always made me interested in medicine and taught me a lot about how great it is to be able to have a profession where you're helping people every day. So medicine has always been an allure for me and at the same time, I've always been interested in technology, so biomedical engineering seems like a good mix of the two." Speaking of helping people, in addition to running his own small business, working for Fayetteville iPhone app outfit Field Agent, playing for the FHS varsity soccer team, taking an active role in his school's chapter of the National Honor Society and, you know, maintaining a 4.28 GPA, Montgomery also finds time to volunteer tutoring elementary school students and stocking the food pantry at the nonprofit Lifesource International. "Peter is one of those students that high schools, colleges and universities all want to have," wrote Kelly Williams, Montgomery's calculus teacher. "He is not only academically successful, but community minded, volunteering his time as a tutor for elementary children in need, stocking food pantries, and serving as summer counselor for underprivileged children."


Age: 17

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Little Rock Christian Academy

Parents: Roy and Julia Neblett

College plans: University of Tulsa, University of Arkansas or Auburn University, engineering.

Strong man

Little Rock Christian's Carter Neblett sees himself as a product of four strong male role models — his father, brother, uncle and grandfather. He wrote in his All-Star application of the influence each had, such as his father's example of staying cool under pressure. Guidance counselor Carla Kenyon, who nominated Carter, said she'd seen the Nebletts operate coolly — and happily — when Carter was only 13. He joined his father and others on a mission trip to an orphanage in Guatemala. "He showed incredible maturity," Kenyon recalled. He helped his father lead worship services and worked with children. "My favorite memory of him was when he and his dad put on some worship music and twirled the girls around. I'll never forget the looks of delight on the little girls' faces."

Carter leaves much to be delighted about. As a sophomore, he notched a 34 composite score on the ACT test, a high-range score good for top scholarships at many colleges. He's a four-year varsity soccer competitor and a singer who participates in the school's Barbershop Beaux, the Madrigals, the Warrior Choir (which he leads) and school musicals. He's a National Merit semifinalist, as well as a finalist in the National Achievement Award competition for minority students. He's the top-ranked student in a class of 111, with a 4.44 GPA. He did it the hard way, earning enough high scores on Advanced Placement tests to be named an AP Scholar. His AP courses senior year include calculus, chemistry and a foreign language. Carter, a midfielder, says his soccer has cut into singing, a talent he picked up from his dad. In addition to the school team, he's played for the Maumelle soccer club. Math and science are his school strengths, he says, which helps explain his engineering plans. He's continued mission work locally, working on community projects between working at Chick-fil-A.


Age: 18

Hometown: El Dorado

High School: El Dorado High School

Parents: Elizabeth and David Pratt

College plans: Arkansas State University, theater

The producer

While the world is sure to be her oyster someday soon, for now all the world's a stage for El Dorado High School's Ashley Pratt, a National Merit Scholarship finalist who is finishing up her high school career with a 4.28 GPA. Since she was young, Ashley has been interested in the theater and drama. She has put that passion to work in El Dorado High's theater program, working in over a dozen school productions of plays and musicals, from "The Tempest" to "A Christmas Story," while also volunteering at the South Arkansas Arts Center. Though she's comfortable onstage, her real passion is working behind the scenes as a producer and stage manager. Working in the theater is demanding both physically and intellectually. "I kind of like the fact that it requires a little bit of every skill," she said. "You have to be really capable and really smart to do it." She admits she has a love/hate relationship with math and science. Drama and English have always been her favorites. "I like to discuss things," she said, "and in math and science, it's really just, 'This is how it happens, or this is what you're supposed to do.' In a lot of the humanities classes, there's more give and take." This fall, Ashley will be attending Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, where she plans to major in theater. While you might think she's aiming for the bright lights of Broadway, you'd be wrong. A visit to New York City in recent years left her cold, but thanks to her recent work on a short film made in El Dorado, she's now thinking of working in film. "I had more fun working on that, despite the crazy hours, than I've had for awhile working on stage productions. It just kind of clicked with me." Asked why she pushes herself so hard academically, given all the other demands on her time, Ashley says she's a perfectionist. "I cannot stand to do less than my best," she said. "Even if more than my best is what it takes to be perfect, that's what I'm going to do."


Age: 17

Hometown: Jonesboro

High School: Jonesboro High School

Parents: Vicky and Robert Richmond

College plans: University of Mississippi, business law

For the defense

An attorney friend of ours once told us that if you dislike lawyers so much, try calling a plumber the next time you're in a legal pinch. In a few years, one of the lawyers pulling her clients' fat out of the fire will undoubtedly be Jonesboro High's Emily Richmond. A National Merit Scholarship finalist with a 4.35 GPA and a ranking of number two in her class of 357, Richmond already has her sights set on a life before the bar. An accomplished trumpet and piano player, Emily's love of legalese began with her school's mock trial team — a group of students that stages faux legal cases, facing off with other teams who present either the prosecution or defense. "If you're watching it," she said, "it looks exactly like a real trial. You have a judge, you have a jury, you always have to stand up and say 'Your Honor' to the judge, that sort of thing." Emily says she's always been interested in the justice system and the laws that allow society to function, and plans a dual major in accounting and broadcast journalism while an undergrad, followed by law school. While she had planned on attending the University of Arkansas, the suggestion of a neighbor that she take a tour of the University of Mississippi changed everything. "When I went down and took the tour, I just fell in love with the campus," she said. "They have a program that does dual-majoring in accounting and law, and I could get it done in about six years." After law school, she plans to go into some form of financial law, possibly bankruptcy law. "I've kind of always been geared toward a goal," Emily said. "And my goal was always: I've got to get to college and it's got to be paid for. It's my personality. I love the satisfaction I get when I do well in something."


Age: 18

Hometown: Monette

High School: Buffalo Island Central

Parents: Matt and Angie Rolland

College plans: University of Central Arkansas, mechanical engineering

Inspired by first plane ride

UCA's Honors College is getting a young woman with experience in a multitude of disciplines when Amber Rolland arrives in Conway in the fall. The serious-minded straight-A student has worked in the field for entomologists at Arkansas State University, studying insect damage to cotton plants. She's traveled to Orlando, Fla., to take part in a Future Business Leaders of America conference. Every month she sends $38 to a 9-year-old in Rwanda with whom she shares a birthday and exchanges letters. Last year, she helped raise several thousand dollars, through T-shirt sales and a letter-writing campaign, for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, inspired by a toddler suffering from neuroblastoma. She's also editor of her high school newspaper BIC Hoofprints, sports editor of the Mustang yearbook and was named Arkansas Scholastic Press Association Writer of the Year in 2011. She displayed some of that journalistic talent in an essay about the press association conference she wrote for the Arkansas Times ("The uncomfortable dress I was wearing made me fidget and I was unprepared for the amount of hairspray and make-up that had been applied to me by our yearbook editor in the two hours she spent using me in a real-life version of Barbie Dress Up."). She was gracious as well, attributing her win to the assignment of more interesting pieces to her by her editor (who came in 2nd in the contest). Amber is sensible, so rather than go into journalism as a career, she thought about becoming a financial analyst — she was already writing a financial advice column for the newspaper. But she'd also taken her first ride in an airplane the summer before her senior year and started thinking about wanting to work with aircraft. "One of my teachers sat me down and said I think your brain would be better utilized" as an aerospace engineer, Amber said. It's a brain that produced 2070 on the SAT and was useful in making Amber the valedictorian of her class.


Age: 17

Hometown: Searcy

High School: Searcy High School

Parent: Stacie Smith

College plans: Undecided.


Searcy's Edwin Sherwood is a pragmatist. Asked why he's taken every AP class available at Searcy High School, why he's involved in more than a dozen school clubs, why he's spent portions of his summers at prominent universities attending classes and leadership forums — why, rather than coasting on natural intellect, he's closing out his high school years, by actually trying — Edwin said simply, "I want to get into a good college, get a good scholarship and get a good job." Julia Roddy, Searcy High School guidance counselor, attributes that disposition to Edwin's maturity. It was on display recently, she said, when administrators determined that Edwin, despite long considered a lock as valedictorian, had fallen a hundredth of a point behind a classmate (fellow All-Star Kelly McKenzie). He handled the news with grace, Roddy said. "He was completely accepting and immediately hugged Kelly and congratulated her," Roddy said. Perhaps Edwin's equanimity stems from self-confidence. With his resume, he certainly should be confident. He's president of Searcy High's student council, National Honor Society, Youth Advisory Council, Spanish Honorary club and Key Club. He's a National Merit Finalist with a 4.3 GPA and a near perfect score on his ACT. And, unlike most of his peers, he already has college credit from an elite university. Last summer, he participated in summer session at Yale, where he took a writing seminar and a course on political philosophy. By then being on the campus of a prestigious university was old hat, as he'd previously attended conferences at Stanford and Johns Hopkins. Spending time outside of Arkansas with people all over the world whet Edwin's appetite to attend college out of state. He's still undecided where he'll go, but despite expressing interest on studying international law after he returned from Yale summer session, now he says he probably will major in physics. As for his plans this summer, he's considering a well-earned break. "I'll probably just relax," he said.


Age: 17

Hometown: Greenwood

High School: Greenwood High

Parents: Michelle and Milton Spain

College plans: University of Arkansas

The time traveler

When Tyler Spain was in kindergarten, his parents Milton and Michelle Spain were called in for a conference by Tyler's teacher, who was concerned that he wasn't finishing his work. When the teacher shared some of the coloring Tyler had done, they saw the issue: he didn't finish in the time allotted, but the parts of the drawing he did finish were perfect. When Tyler's parents pointed that out to the teacher, Milton recalled, "she said: 'That's what I mean. He's a perfectionist.' We said: 'Is that a bad thing?' ... We knew from that point on that he pushes himself." That search for perfection has paid off for Tyler both academically and athletically. While holding down a 4.09 GPA, Tyler found time to play on teams that took Greenwood High School to back-to-back 5A state football championships his junior and senior year. It was grueling, both intellectually and physically. Between going in early to watch game films, his classes, practice after school, workouts and still more prep, it wasn't uncommon for him to leave home at 7 a.m. and not return until 7:30 p.m. When he got home, he still had a book bag full of the most intellectually-demanding homework his school could throw at him. That should tell you why he's one of only a handful of Academic All Stars to ever play on a high-ranking sports team. "Not only are you physically drained from what you're doing all day," he said, "then you go home, you've got to eat and shower, and then you've got to do the mental aspect, which is doing your homework." One of the things that's been driving Tyler intellectually for the last few years is a fascination with time travel. It started in the 7th grade, when he befriended a former rival by striking up a conversation about the nature of time. Soon enough, they were recommending books on the subject for each other. Tyler — who will be attending the University of Arkansas in the fall, with plans to study business — said he doesn't know if he'll ever be able to build a working time machine, but adds that one of the things he's come to realize is that life isn't always about succeeding. "If you try and don't succeed, it isn't a failure," he said. "It's only a failure when you don't learn something."


Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Pulaski Academy

Parents: Wenle Zhang and Jinfen Li

College plans: Several Ivies, Georgetown or Vanderbilt, pre-med and business

Of being a 'Michael Jordan'

Cheryl Watts, Pulaski Academy's college counselor, has praised many a nominee for the All-star team over the years, but we're pretty sure TC Zhang is the first she's called the "Michael Jordan of academics." It doesn't seem an exaggeration. The National Merit semifinalist was a finalist in the prestigious Intel science competition. (Research into free radicals was where he lost us.) He's a scientist who is also a winner in the NCTE writing awards. Who's a perennial winner in National History Day competition (he's built websites on subjects that have included Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms and the Dayton peace accords.) But wait, TC has more knives in his drawer, from president of Model UN to the chess team to Quiz Bowl. In the Model UN, he debated nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. TC, born in Shanghai to parents with engineering and computer gifts, said he once was sure that he'd be a medical doctor. But he said his exploration this year of philosophical topics had expanded his view. His senior thesis is on the existential philosopher Martin Heidegger's involvement with Nazism. "I ran across a general introductory philosophy book. I was interested in it. I started with Sartre and ended up with Heidegger. I wanted to see how his philosophy played into the real world." His social studies have led him to study religion, particularly Islam. He takes lessons each Sunday in the visual arts, working in media ranging from pencil to oils.

Where does he wind up? Like the 800-pound gorilla, presumably, the answer is wherever TC chooses. PA doesn't rank its students, but it would be hard to top a 4.7667 GPA, inflated by his exhaustion of virtually every advanced course the school has to offer. His ACT and SAT scores were near perfection, 34 and 2330. His senior courses included AP biology, calculus, government and politics, literature, physics and student art, along with independent research the senior thesis. His lowest score in any course, on a 100-point scale? 97. Better work on that government, TC.


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