Bible Baptist Christian
Walker Stovall is not only a power forward on the basketball court but a power forward in the classroom as well, earning him the title of valedictorian of Bible Baptist Christian Academy.
The 18-year-old Southern gentleman who loves history and basketball has big dreams for his future. Starting his college core classes in the fall at East Georgia State College, Stovall plans to transfer to Georgia Southern University, where he will work toward a doctorate degree in hopes of becoming a pediatrician.
“I like helping people,” Stovall said. “I always have liked helping people out, and I learned that from (Bible Baptist).”
Stovall is the youngest of four children and the only boy. Older sisters Paige, Casey and Miranda have a strong Georgia Southern connection. The blue and white pride runs deep in the Stovall family, so it was not a tough decision for Stovall when it was time for him to choose a college to attend.
“I want to graduate from Georgia Southern,” he said. “My oldest sister graduated from GSU, my middle sister is currently at GSU, and my youngest sister is currently at East Georgia.”
Although Stovall is eager for the future, he is beginning to realize how much he is going to miss high school.
“I’ll miss most of the things, like basketball and seeing the same people every day. But not all the work,” he said with a laugh.
Stovall credits his academic success to the one-on-one help that has been provided to him while at Bible Baptist and the positive motivation that his mother has offered. She urges him to do his best.
“I just want to make something of myself,” he said. “So, I tried my best.”
Bulloch Academy valedictorian Claire Branch is an outgoing 18-year-old with future plans that are centered around helping others.
With self-motivation being the trait that she believes most valuable for her academic success, the former cheerleader is quick to thank her parents for her “always do your best” mentality.
“Both of my parents are successful because they have worked very hard to get where they are today,” she said. “I just want to make them proud.”
After graduating from Bulloch Academy, Branch plans to attend Georgia Southern University and major in biology. She then plans to attend Georgia Regents University in Augusta to pursue a career in the medical field.
Branch would like to become a dermatologist in hopes of helping those who suffer from skin issues. But the even bigger, selfless reason why Branch has chosen to study dermatology is for the chance to help people who may suffer with self-confidence issues because of their skin.
“I want to make people feel better about themselves, and maybe I can help do that by working with their skin,” Branch said.
Although she seems to have her plans for the future ready and set, she knows she will miss many aspects of a small private school.
“I’m going to miss cheering at football games,” she said, “and my friends that are moving away for college.”
“(Bulloch Academy) is small, but it feels like home,” Branch said. “Everybody cares about you. It’s just like a family.”
Someone who has made a huge impact on Branch during her years at Bulloch Academy is English teacher Jillian Perry.
“(Perry) is very helpful. She pushes you to do your best, and she won’t let you do anything less,” Branch said.
Although she has ambitious dreams that very well may lead to a successful future, Branch knows she will forever cherish and appreciate her time at Bulloch Academy.
“I will take away lasting memories,” she said, “and all the lessons I learned over the years.”
The ever-smiling Kayla Smith of Statesboro, valedictorian of Charter Conservatory, is ready to take on the medical field and the world when she enters college this fall.
She is ready to attend Georgia Southern University to start her academic career in the medical field, first with a nursing degree and then continuing on with big plans for her future career.
“I wanted to go into the medical field, and I had actually shadowed an anesthesiologist at the local hospital, and I really liked that,” said Smith, 18. “I’m going to major in nursing, and once I get my nursing degree, I’m going to try and be an anesthesiologist.”
Besides obtaining her medical degrees, Smith also has hopes of traveling around the world with her career. She already is looking forward to participating in study-abroad programs that Georgia Southern has to offer, which will provide a preview of traveling when she is established in her career.
“I have a passion for traveling,” Smith said, “and I really want to travel, like, everywhere. I know when you’re in college, you can study abroad. So, hopefully, when I am in the nursing program, I hope to find some programs that will let me study abroad in different countries.”
Her time at Charter Conservatory, along with the faculty and staff, has helped paved her way to academic success through a school that was welcoming and inviting.
“All of them have helped me so much,” Smith said. “Everybody is really loving, and they take you in and help you.”
All of the teachers and other staff members made Smith feel comfortable enough to open herself up to a new environment and to others when she first arrived at Charter Conservatory. Without her time there, Smith said she would not be as outgoing as she is now.
“It really helped me to open up. Before I came here, I was really shy,” Smith said. “I didn’t talk to anybody, so now, I am really open, and I can talk to anybody.”
From downtown Portal to downtown Atlanta, Portal Middle High School’s valedictorian Sawyer Davis says he is “ready to explore” new opportunities in college.
“This is a huge change, and I don’t know what to expect,” Davis said.
The graduate will attend the Georgia Institute of Technology in the fall, and though he is undecided on a major, he knows it will be a career in a technology-based field.
His exploring will start with campus and where public transportation or friends take him at first.
“I’m not taking a car. Maybe if I was going anywhere else, but I’m not taking one to Atlanta,” he said.
Driving on Georgia Tech’s campus in the heart of a major city is a drastic learning curve from U.S. Highway 80 West in Portal.
Davis has always lived in Portal, and he is leaving behind classmates that he has known since kindergarten.
“Growing up with the same people your whole life, you have deeper entrenched memories,” he said.
His classmates have seen Davis’ success for many years. He has achieved the highest grade point average each year from elementary through high school. His 4.0 GPA and 2100 SAT score were key factors in his acceptance to Georgia Tech.
Like each of Bulloch County Schools’ three valedictorians this year, Davis was also the STAR student for his school. He credits his parents, Vince and Melony Davis, with motivating him but said that performing well academically just comes naturally to him.
Davis also is the recipient of a $10,000 GAF scholarship. His father is employed by the company’s local facility in the Gateway Industrial Park. Headquartered in New Jersey, the company annually selects two graduates in the United States who are children of its employees.
In addition to academics, Davis is equally talented with two types of stringed instruments: the bass guitar and a compound bow. A member of Portal High’s marching and symphonic bands during his junior and senior years, he taught himself how to play bass because the group already had an electric guitarist. Davis was also a member of the Bulloch County 4-H Compound Archery Team, which placed first in the state in 2011.
Valedictorians traditionally are tasked with speaking about the future, and salutatorians speak about the past. This is a twist for Davis, because one of his favorite high school subjects was history. So, he had the chance to explore a new area of interest in preparing his speech and sharing it with his close-knit group of 55 classmates as they each set out to explore their futures.
Southeast Bulloch High
There is nothing “artificial” about this Southeast Bulloch High School graduate’s intelligence, but that’s exactly the career Ginna Groover plans to pursue as she majors in computer science at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“It’s something that I’ve always thought was cool to go into or to see in the movies and on TV,” Groover said. “At Christmas, I asked for a college textbook about it, and after reading it, it cemented my decision.”
The daughter of Cliff and Elaine Groover plans to look into all the different aspects of computer science that Georgia Tech offers during freshman orientation this summer.
Her academic and extracurricular activities played a major role in her acceptance to Georgia Tech. Like all three of Bulloch County Schools’ valedictorians this year, Groover also was her school’s STAR student. She is a National Merit Scholarship finalist, the recipient of the National Presbyterian Fellows Award and the recipient of the Brooklet Community Development, W.O. Denmark and Zell Miller scholarships. An alumna of Stilson Elementary School and Southeast Bulloch Middle School, she has maintained the highest grade point average of her class since eighth grade. Groover was also a dual-enrolled student this year at Georgia Southern University.
Lest one think she’s all about hitting the books, Groover already has scoped out a place to develop her other talent, playing bass guitar.
“Georgia Tech has this great place called ‘Under the Couch’ where musicians gather and play on campus,” she said.
“I plan to only take a bicycle to Tech, so how I’m going to carry my bass amp on my bike, I don’t know,” she said with a shrug.
“I currently play in several local bands out of Pladd Dot Music’s School of Rock,” Groover continued. “My schedule varies from month to month, but I play with Chyann Rose & The Black Pearls, Awakening and Relentless.”
Family friends loaned Groover her first bass, but now she enjoys playing her own electric bass guitar. She also one day would like to own an upright bass.
“At Pladd Dot, they first put me on bass because I was tall, but I like playing it now, because I don’t enjoy the spotlight,” she said. “The bass allows me to contribute without being in the forefront. It’s just groovy.”
Groover is ready to begin college life.
“Forrest Strickland and Callie Martin, who graduated from Southeast last year and are already at Tech, have reached out to me recently, so I’m excited,” she said.
“My whole life is the American dream,” Nidhi Aggarwal said.
She is Statesboro High School’s valedictorian, an exuberant teen who values the educational opportunities that she’s been given. Born in America, her parents immigrated to the United States in the mid-1990s from India.
“My life is a constant duality,” she said. “At school, I’m your typical American teen, and at home, I speak Hindi with my family. “
Her father, Sudhir Aggarwal, is an oncologist at East Georgia Regional Medical Center, and her mother, Neelam, is a mathematics professor at Georgia Southern University. Aggarwal understands and deeply appreciates the sacrifices her parents have made for her and her sister, Neha. The family had to live apart for several years while her father completed medical school and his residency.
“I was in first grade before I really remember seeing my father and understanding what he did,” Aggarwal said. “Ever since that time, I’ve wanted to be a doctor like him.”
That is one reason Aggarwal wants to excel. She values the life her parents have provided — one in which she can dream, work hard, receive a quality education and become who she wants to be.
“I often think of how very different my life would be had my parents not made the decision to leave their native India,” she said.
A glance at Aggarwal’s high school accomplishments reveals that she definitely has excelled. This year, she was named Bulloch County’s STAR student, a National Merit Scholarship finalist and an Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction. She also served as a student representative on the Board of Education’s District Advisory Committee for Community Engagement, and she was a dual-enrolled student at GSU.
Her other school activities included participating in Statesboro High’s award-winning math team, Odyssey of the Mind and Science Quiz Bowl. She also served as president of the school’s reestablished National Honor Society chapter, which had been dormant for 10 years. She helped build the membership up to 45 students and led the group to volunteer more than 500 hours of service to the community.
Aggarwal has been accepted to the University of Georgia’s Honors Program. She is also the recipient of the university’s Baldwin Scholarship, which is only bestowed upon 90 incoming freshman. Though she has not completely settled on a major, she knows it will be something in the medical field.
“I’m leaning toward microbiology on a pre-medicine path,” she said. “I’ve been in contact with some of the pre-med students at Georgia, and I’m excited.”
Like most graduates, Aggarwal is looking forward to college life.
“I’m ready to experience the essentials, like living in a dorm, making new friends and learning to wash clothes and cook,” she said. “I also just got my driver’s license two months ago, and I have a new car, so driving myself to school safely has been a big step.”
Aggarwal is ready to step into her future, and that’s a topic she touched on in her speech to her classmates.
“I want to challenge everyone to never take anything for granted,” she said, “and I hope that we all keep that sense of magic and awe about life.”
The valedictorian of Trinity Christian School, James Conners is a bit unsure of his future, as he is currently stuck between two choices for majors to study.
Conners, 18, is heading off to the University of Georgia this fall with thoughts of majoring in philosophy, but the film industry has caught this valedictorian’s attention and, possibly, his ideas for his academic future.
“I really enjoy arts, all forms of arts,” he said, “and I feel like movies are kind of a collaboration of all forms of arts. That’s kind of what inspires me. It seems like a way to express my creativity. Directing would be my dream job.”
He has been inspired by a variety of directors including “classic” directors like Steven Spielberg and up-and-coming directors like Zach Snyder. These directors have influenced his views of filmmaking and his choices for career paths. Synder’s creativity and originality are some qualities that Conners really admires.
Conners said he loves all genres of film now, but he believes his tastes will change once he gets started in the industry.
His road to success was paved with help from the teachers at Trinity Christian School, who Conners said are skilled and have a passion for teaching. In fact, it was his teachers’ passion that inspired him to do his best during his academic career.
“They are very skilled in what they do. Unfortunately, they do not get paid a lot to teach at Trinity, but they love it, and you can see it in what they do,” Conners said. “That theme, that passion, inspired me to do my best with my schoolwork and everything like that.”
Two particular staff members, English teacher Diane Welker and counselor Damon Scharff, helped Conners during his time at Trinity Christian. Welker has tried to retire three times, but her skill keeps her at the school.
“Mrs. Welker shows her students how to see the beauty in that kind of art,” Conners said. “I really appreciate what she’s done. And Mr. Damon Scharff I have looked up to as a role model and a counselor over my years here in Trinity Christian. He’s just a great guy.”