Amonica Kirkland, the daughter of Gary Kirkland and Benita Palmer, is the 2018 Portal Middle High School valedictorian. A poised, articulate young woman with an infectious smile, she is known by the Portal faculty as a student who always strives for excellence. She will attend Wesleyan College in Macon this fall to major in pre-dentistry and Spanish.
“I want to be a dentist, but I also fell in love with the Spanish language in high school,” Amonica said. “Portal was the first school in the district to offer three courses in Spanish, and it’s because of Señor Hattaway that I want to pursue it. He is very passionate about Spanish, and you always get a great vibe in his classroom because he greets you and is genuinely happy to see you. I think it will be a language that will help me in my job in the future.”
Shannon Hattaway has taught Spanish at PMHS for 16 years.
“Amonica always pushed me to be a better teacher because she was always such a great student,” Hattaway said. “It’s so exciting to crack open the door to the Spanish-speaking world for my students.”
Trying new things seems to come easy for Amonica. She’s not sure how it happened but as a freshman, she was placed in Dr. Thomas Marshall’s Basic Agriculture class. Taking agricultural education career pathway courses was the furthest thing from her mind.
“I wanted to change classes, but I was not able to, so I learned to like it. I knew nothing about agriculture, but Dr. Marshall is an extremely nice man, passionate about horticulture, and he has great stories and advice,” she said.
Fast forward to her senior year, and Amonica realizes being placed in that ag class was a blessing. She joined Portal’s National FFA Organiza-tion chapter and was secretary of the club her junior year and vice-president this year. She had opportunities to learn and compete in public speaking events, and she became a member of the club’s Nursery Landscape team along with PMHS Salutatorian Cayla Morris.
Amonica and Cayla are part of the four-member, all-girl PMHS FFA Nursery Landscape team which won the Area IV and State Nursery Landscape Career Development Event this year. Amonica and the team will travel to Indianapolis in October to compete in the national Nursery-Landscape CDE held during the National FFA Convention. Pre-paring for this competition will keep them quite busy this summer.
“I learned that there really is something for everyone in agriculture,” Amonica said. “I enjoyed the plant science and horticulture classes.”
“Amonica is one of the most focused students I have had the pleasure of teaching,” said Dr. Thomas Marshall, PMHS’s agriculture teacher and FFA adviser. “She always strives for excellence in everything she does. She is also kind and generous toward those around her and very well respected by her peers.”
Amonica’s positive attitude and academic excellence were evident in middle school as well. In 2013, when she was in seventh grade at PMHS, she was selected to be a member of Bulloch County Schools’ very first cohort of REACH Georgia scholars. One of five young ladies selected that year, each of them has upheld the REACH Georgia program’s strict academic, discipline, attendance and mentoring requirements for five years and received a total of $110,000 in scholarships from the program in addition to the HOPE scholarships they’ve earned.
REACH Georgia is a needs-based mentoring and scholarship program designed to ensure that Georgia’s academically promising students have the academic, social and financial support needed to graduate from high school and complete college. Bulloch County was one of five school systems selected by the state to pilot the program in 2013, and now the school system now has 25 REACH Georgia scholars. The Bulloch County Foundation for Public Education sponsors the program for the school system.
“The REACH Georgia program is great. I am the first person in my family to attend college, and the first to ever be a valedictorian. Ms. Cherri Wagner has been my REACH mentor since seventh grade. It means a lot to me that she was my mentor. She always helped me, came to see me at school, offered great advice, and always made time for me,” she said.
Amonica has made being valedictorian her goal since fifth grade.
“I decided then that I wanted it. I never gave second best. I worked hard. Cayla and I have known each other since we were in pre-kindergarten. We have a friendly competition, but she’s proud of me, and I’m proud of her,” she said.
Amonica is looking forward to moving to Macon.
“I’ve always been confined to the city limits of Portal. I’m ready to meet new people, find new interests and clubs, and enjoy the sisterhood of an all-women’s college.”