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Bulloch County High School Valedictorians – 2023
Portal – Marlie Motes; Southeast Bulloch – Julia Basquin; Statesboro – Nickolas Langes; Bulloch Academy – Sophie Wall; STEAM – Jaydin Lewis; Trinity Christian – Maya Nessmith


Marlie Motes, 17, is the valedictorian of Portal Middle High School for 2023. She is the daughter of Travis and Mandy Motes of Portal, who are both employed by Bulloch County Schools. 

     “Marlie is an inspiration to me,” her father said.  “She has such a determination to do things right and to finish a task.  She does not like the spotlight, but to see her up on stage giving her valedictory speech just confirms that she can do anything that she puts her mind to.  She is growing up but she will always be my sweetpea!”

     Her mother describes her as being the atypical middle child in their family, which includes Motes’ elder sister, Kolbie (20), and younger brother, Brodie (16).

     “Her intrinsic motivation and ability to plan far exceed our expectations,” her mother said. “To say we are proud of her is an understatement. We are proud of her work ethic, athletic and academic accomplishments, but most importantly her faith and love for helping others.”

     Motes has worked toward this academic goal for two years after achieving the highest grade point average of her class in 10th grade.

     “Once I actually realized I had the chance to be valedictorian, I started putting in the extra time and work to make sure I accomplished just that,” she said.

     It was a tight race between her class’ top four graduates, one of whom is her second cousin, Chandler Grooms, who was named salutatorian.

     “This has been a very special time for the both of us and our family,” she said. 

Marlie Motes

The heart of Portal, a city of less than 700 people, is its two schools, an elementary and a combined middle/high. Most children grow up going to pre-kindergarten through 12th grade with the same classmates, some of whom are family, and their teachers can also be alumni of the schools. As a result, there is a strong sense of family and community. This is certainly true for Motes, who besides Chandler, also has her first cousin, Jozie Motes, in her 67-member senior class.

     “Being from Portal, we are all very close,” Motes said. “I can’t help but think that my Maw Maw, Paw Paw, and Grandma Motes are watching over us and thinking just how proud they are of Josie, Chandler and me,” she said during her graduation speech.

     The family bond between Portal’s top two graduates was evident during graduation when Chandler joked in his salutatorian speech that he’d made it short in order to give Motes more time to speak. He knows that public speaking is not her favorite thing to do.

     “George Jessel said that the human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public,” Motes quipped back later during her valedictory address. 

     Public speaking may not be among her favorite things, but writing is, which one could note from her graduation speech.

     “My favorite subject in school was English. I enjoy writing papers, and I love the challenge of coming up with ideas for different topics,” she said. 

     She shared an inspirational speech with her fellow graduates. She noted how failure can be a positive instead of a negative. She encouraged them to think and plan about how to fare during life’s challenges.

     “It isn’t the failure we go through that define us,” she said. “It’s how we overcome that battle and make the adjustments needed to prevail.”

     One of Motes’ favorite teachers was Dennis Moore, who’s been her math teacher all four years of high school.

     “He creates a relationship with each of his students to help them strive to perform to the best of their ability,” Motes said.

     Moore shared that Motes drives herself to succeed not just in academics but in her extracurricular interests as well.  

    “She is one of the hardest working and determined students that I have had in the classroom,” Moore said.  “She is always engaged in the lesson and will ask questions until she has mastered what we're doing.  She is also one of the best students at volunteering to teach to her peers if they need help.”

     Motes has been involved in 10 different clubs and three sports during her time in high school, including Beta Club, the National Future Farmers of America chapter, student council, National Technical Honor Society, her school’s Chick-fil-A Leader Academy, the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America chapter, Youth Leadership Bulloch, and vice-president of her senior class.  

     She was a member of the Panthers’ varsity softball team, where she was awarded the Defensive Award her junior and senior year, and she was named to the Second Team All-Region. Her senior year the team made it to the Georgia High School Association’s state softball playoffs, and they made it to the playoff’s Sweet 16 her freshman and sophomore years.  She was also part of the school’s flag football team during its inaugural year when they made it to the championship game and were named state runner-up. She was also a varsity cheerleader.  

     “My favorite memory from school is when our varsity softball team hosted the first round of state playoffs,” she said. “There were so many people that came to support us all dressed in white for the white out. It was truly the best atmosphere, and I am so thankful I got to be a part of it.”

     Motes also finds time to give back to her community of Portal and to Bulloch County. She’s volunteered for 12 organizations while in high school including four related to fighting food insecurity.

     When thinking about her future career, she also chose a field that will serve others.

     “I have been accepted to the University of Georgia, Georgia Southern University and East Georgia State College, but I plan to attend Georgia Southern University and major in Biology,” she said. “I hope to become a dentist and open my own practice in the future.”

     In addition to the HOPE Scholarship, she has received more than $8,100 in local scholarships from the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club, the Bulloch County Historical Society, Planters EMC and the Marion C. Hulsey & Terri Bell Hulsey Scholarship Fund. 

     Motes encourages her fellow graduates and Portal students to never be afraid to try new things and venture outside of their comfort zone. 

     “There are going to be times when you fail,” she said, “but you have to be willing to make mistakes and learn.”

Southeast Bulloch High: NICKOLAS LANGES

Nickolas Langes, 18, son of Aaron and Amanda Langes of Brooklet, is the valedictorian of Southeast Bulloch High School’s Class of 2023. He’s the oldest of the Langes’ three children, which include Madeline (15) and Elliot (10).

     “My family thinks it's cool. They are proud of me,” Langes said of his top academic honor. “It has been my goal since the start of high school. When I got highest average in 11th grade after taking a lot of APs (Advanced Placement courses), all of the hard work payed off.”

     He has come up through the Southeast Bulloch district schools of Stilson Elementary and Southeast Bulloch Middle School, with the exception of a few years at Bryan County Elementary School.

     His favorite class in high school was history because he likes learning about cultures and places. He added that his favorite teachers were Corey Green, one of his high school English teachers, and Mary Jones, his math teacher throughout middle school. 

     “Nick is a great kid,” said Green. “Though I'm sure like all valedictorians he was grade-conscious, he is sincere in learning. I always enjoyed having him in class. And I anticipate he'll make worthwhile contributions to his chosen field and, more importantly, to the company he keeps."

     Running track and cross country have been his favorite memories of high school. During his time on the school’s teams, cross-country won a region championship, and he was on the track and field’s 1600 meter relay team and the 4x800 meter relay team that won region.

     “Nickolas has a blue-collar, roll-up-his sleeves, and get-to -work mentality,” said Jason Anthony, his track and field head coach. “Nick’s level of maturity along with his drive and desire to perform to the best of his ability allowed for coaching him to be structured in the realm of having a seasoned veteran who always knew how to approach practice.”  

Nickolas Langes

Running helped point Langes’ way to his post-secondary education choice with scholarship offers from Truett McConnell University. 

     “I was accepted to Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, but I will attend Truett McConnell to continue my track and cross country career,” he said.

    TMU has provided him with a $7,000 athletic scholarship and a $6,000 academic scholarship. He has also received the HOPE Scholarship and the Brooklet Community Development Authority’s scholarship.

     “His work ethic got him these scholarships,” Anthony added.

     Langes plans to major in business. 

“I love learning about money, and I want to learn how to successfully start a business of my own,” he said. 

     He says that his mother has been the most influential person in his life.

    “We are really proud of him, and how hard he works,” said Amanda Langes. “He is a dedicated, well rounded, and caring person who wants to see everyone succeed. We are honored to be his parents.”

Statesboro High: JULIA BASQUIN

Julia Basquin, 17, the daughter of Burke and Stacey Basquin of Statesboro, is Statesboro High School’s valedictorian and STAR student.  She is the eldest of the Basquin’s three children, followed by Brady (15) and Sara (10).

     “My family is proud of my accomplishments,” Basquin said. “They have always been the biggest influence in my growth as a person and in my drive and work ethic.” 

     Basquin believes the work ethic her parents modeled encouraged her and her siblings to achieve as they too are beginning to be recognized for their academic successes.

     “My parents have always pushed us to go outside our comfort zone, embrace challenges, have compassion for others, and always put in our very best work,” she said. 

     Basquin has attended kindergarten through high school in the Bulloch County school system, beginning with Julia P. Bryant Elementary School, where her goal to be valedictorian began, and later William James Middle School. 

     “When I won the highest grade point average in fifth grade, I realized that I wanted to work hard and achieve this accomplishment in successive grades,” she said.

    Basquin believes that Statesboro High School did a very good job in preparing her for her next steps from helping her create a four year plan of rigorous Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses to teaching and encouraging good study skills. However, she admits that achieving her class’ highest academic honor was very competitive.

     Basquin and Statesboro’s salutatorian, Alexis Vladescu, have been friends throughout high school and have shared several classes. 

     “I think Alexis and I pushed each other to be the best version of ourselves. We worked on group projects for classes like AP Lang (Advanced Placement English Language and Composition), and we encouraged each other by embracing the value of hard work,” she said.

     Through the years, Basquin believes that her favorite classes have been the sciences.

     “From Mrs. Jackson's eighth grade physical science class to chemistry, biology and environmental science, I've always found that I enjoyed learning about Earth's seen and unseen processes,” she said.

     She recently took AP Environmental Science, which quickly became her favorite. In class she enjoyed evaluating the impact that humans have on the natural environment. It also helped guide her to her intended major, landscape architect.

     “The class sparked my drive to mitigate this human impact as we move into the future. I originally was debating architecture or landscape architecture. What made me choose landscape architecture was my love for nature. There's so much opportunity to promote sustainability and encourage the incorporation of greenspace,” she said. 

     She has been accepted to the Georgia Institute of Technology, Clemson University, the University of Utah and Auburn University, but she ultimately decided to attend the University of Georgia.

     “It was an honor and privilege to serve as Julia’s teacher,” said Anthony Hammett, one of her favorite teachers, whom she selected as her STAR teacher, after she was named STAR student at SHS for having the highest score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Basquin was a student in his AP Government and AP U.S. History classes. 

“Every teacher should be so lucky to have a student like Julia in their classroom. She is a born leader with a knack to create an environment that her peers feel valued in their contributions to open-ended discussions,” he said. “She possesses a relentless work ethic in which complacency does not exist. The thing that I most appreciated from my perspective, she is just a great human. I am blessed to have been a small part of her life experience.”

     Along with academic rigor, Basquin balanced her high school experience with fine arts, athletics, and student clubs like Beta Club, and National Honor Society.

     “I've had Mrs. Hayley Ward, one of the visual arts teachers, for all four years, and I think I've grown as both a person and as an artist during my time in the amazing visual arts program at SHS with her as my teacher,” she said.

Julia Basquin

     Basquin submitted two Advanced Placement art portfolios and competed in several art competitions. She was also an active member of the National Art Honor Society, and was involved in events such as the Farmer's Market Living Art Exhibit and ArtsFest. She also served as the art editor of the school’s literary magazine, Listen.

     She was a member of the varsity tennis team all four years, and served as captain of the team this year. Each of the past three years, the team has both won the region championship and advanced to the Georgia High School Association state tennis playoff’s Sweet 16. Winning region this year was a favorite memory of Basquin’s because the team was playing in a new region against teams that they’d never played before. She definitely plans to stay involved with tennis in college either through intramurals or club leagues.

     Basquin is an active member at First Presbyterian Church in Statesboro, where she volunteers with the youth group and participates in helping lead worship.  She volunteers with Feed the Boro, and she has helped people in need learn how to sign up and use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits at the Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market’s Market 2 Go program in order to have access to fresh, locally-sourced produce. She has also volunteered at the Seventh Mile Farm, a 31-acre recreational facility for local foster children and their families. 

     Basquin is one of 154 graduating seniors who were selected by the Georgia Department of Education to be a Georgia Scholar. This is an honor for students who have achieved excellence in school and community life. She received a special seal on her diploma and the privilege of adding this academic honor to her resume. In addition to the HOPE Scholarship, she has also received $5,000 in scholarships from the Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club and the Statesboro Service League.

     She is looking forward to meeting new people in college. She encourages her fellow classmates to find their people as they take this next step and always find time to laugh. 

Bulloch Academy: SOPHIE WALL

Sophie Wall, this year’s valedictorian for Bulloch Academy, has attended the school ever since kindergarten.  She is the daughter of Drs. Marie and Michael Wall. 

Wall says her senior year has been fantastic, although the first semester was difficult due to the workload she carried. But she calls her second semester a breeze, and says she’s really enjoyed hanging out with her friends more and not having to deal with the stress of college or high school.

Math and science have been her favorite subjects.

“Although Mrs. Burke’s math classes are difficult, I found myself able to rise to the challenge and it was really fulfilling. I also love science because of the projects we do, especially this year,” she said. “We have created so many 3D models of the bodily systems in Anatomy, which I find really fun.”

Wall says her least favorite subject has got to be English, although she has loved her teacher, Courtney Burnette. 

“She does a great job, but it’s not something that interests me,” she added.

Wall is a driven young lady, and says that the possibilities of what she can achieve and enjoy in the future is what has driven her to get good grades. 

“Ever since freshman year I knew I needed to build up a good academic foundation for colleges and scholarships. My No. 1 college is out of state so I knew I had to achieve high grades to get accepted. Overall, I value academic achievement as it helps me know I’m on the right path towards my career goals,” she said.

Sophie Wall

Wall has enjoyed a lot of success in high school, but points to winning the Trustees Award in the 10th grade as something that she considers to be a highlight. The award goes to the student with the highest grade point average in the high school, and until she won, Wall says she didn’t even know the award existed.

“It took me a second to realize how big of a deal this award was, and then so many people congratulated me for it. This award also helped me pave the way for the possibility of achieving valedictorian,” she said. 

Along with the Trustees Award, Wall has also been a yearly headmaster student, and received Scholar Athlete recognition in the ninth and 10th grades. She is also a UGA Merit recipient. Her other awards include the East Georgia College Leadership Award, and being named an AP Scholar. She also received the Academic Charter Scholarship from Auburn University, and an academic scholarship from Clemson University, where she plans to go this fall.

Wall’s dad went to Clemson, and she says she’s grown up a die-hard Clemson fan. 

“I’ve been alongside him cheering on the Tigers my whole life, especially the football team,” she said. “We’ve been to several games, and I have fallen in love with the campus. It is a staple in my family and I can’t wait to call it home for the next four years.”

Wall plans to major in Biology, and is considering the pre-dental track. Both her parents are dentists, and it’s something that she’s been around her entire life, and she says she’s “taken a liking to the subject.” She’s also shadowed at several dental practices during high school. She says she’s always known that she wanted to enter the medical field.

“I am blessed to be able to have such an upfront experience with dentistry through my parents. However, I am open to all options, in case I find that dentistry is not for me,” she said. 

Wall looks up to both of her parents, and says they are the prime example, for her, of how hard work pays off.

“Along with work, they also value their family and faith,” she said. “They make sure my sisters and I have a strong relationship with God and with each other.”

Of all the things she’s looking forward to about starting college this fall, Wall says the “newness of college” is at the top of the list. 

“I can’t wait to meet new people and try new things. I’m ready to expand my horizons and see what the world has in store for me,” she said. 

When she’s not in school, Wall says her biggest hobby is playing soccer. She has played since the fifth grade, and says it’s just always been fun for her. 

“Playing with my school also allows me to play with my best friends and there is never a dull moment,” she said. 

Wall and her family also love traveling. “It is such a gift to be able to experience different cultures firsthand, and so we try to travel as much as possible,” she said.  

In addition to all that fun, Wall gets down to work at Southern Family Dental. She’s grateful for the opportunity to work and learn at the dental practice, located in Statesboro.

“Dr. Walden, Dr. Strub and their entire team are wonderful mentors and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with them,” she said. 

Of her high school career in general, Wall says she is grateful for all the opportunities she has had while a student at Bulloch Academy. She’s excited for her future, but she’s also excited for the future she sees unfolding for her soon-to-be alma mater.

“It gives me joy to see the bountiful growth the school is experiencing, and I hope everyone sees how impactful it is,” she said. 

Wall looks back on her high school years and realizes how much she has to be grateful for. 

“I have made so many friends and memories these last 13 years and will cherish them for many years to come,” she said. “I want to thank Mrs. Leisa Houghton, all the teachers and staff and athletic coaches for everything they have done for the students of Bulloch Academy. Our success as students is directly linked to the hard work and perseverance of the Bulloch Academy staff.”


Great teachers who have offered help when it was needed have made STEAM valedictorian Jaydin Lewis’ senior year wonderful. She has attended STEAM for her entire high school career.

A driven person, Lewis, who is the daughter of Katy and Patrick Lewis, says what pushes her to do more and to do better is the fact that she wants good opportunities in life. 

She is an honor graduate who says she loved pre-calculus because it was “the easiest to understand and do.” She says she didn’t have a class that she liked the least, but if she had to pick, it would be Advanced Composition.

“That is because I have had a harder time in English classes most of my life,” she said.  

Lewis is a creative person, and is looking at careers in cosmetology and echocardiography. 

“I would like to go into cosmetology because I am a creative person. At the same time, I would like to go into echocardiography for financial security,” she said. 

Jaydin Lewis

Lewis says she hasn’t always known what she would choose for a career, and has had lots of ideas about that since she was a small child. 

“I have come to decide between these two for now,” she said. “A friend actually suggested cosmetology to me. As for echocardiography, my dad has gone back to college and suggested that if I am not sure what to do for college, that it would be a great option.”

Whatever she chooses, Lewis is looking forward to furthering her education and the independence it will bring her. She says she hasn’t applied for any scholarships yet because she hasn’t decided on her career path. Whichever path she chooses, Lewis says her goal is to always remain creative and have that outlet. 

“I want to first gain a degree where I can earn a livable wage so that I can have the freedom to pursue my interests later. I would also like to go (Ogeechee Tech) because it is close to home,” she said. 

Lewis has won numerous awards for her art. She is a talented young lady, having won third place at Beta Convention for her sculpture, fourth in fiber arts, and first for recycled art. She is interested in creating three-dimensional art. 

“I am interested in artsy things such as paper and cloth mache sculpture and crocheting. I’m also interested in martial arts. I’ve taken Hapkido and am currently taking Krav Maga. I’ve also been active in Girl Scouts since first grade,” she says. 

Lewis says she hasn’t had a mentor or hero per se, but she’s grateful for those who have stepped up and been there for her.

“I don’t have a particular hero or someone I look up to like that, but there are many people in my life that have helped me along the way,” she said. 

Trinity Christian: MAYA NESSMITH

It’s been a whirlwind of a senior year for Maya Nessmith, daughter of Douglas and Dorothy Nessmith. She is this year’s valedictorian for Trinity Christian School. 

Nessmith says that the hectic pace has been due to all of the opportunities she has experienced this past year.

“I have had amazing opportunities to compete in robotics and to introduce younger students to the joys of STEM. It has been so much fun to teach younger students to code and build LEGO EV3 robots,” she said. 

Nessmith has attended Trinity since she was in the fifth grade. A driven student, she has loved math, science and history, but English? Not so much. She says she has been driven to do her best academically by a “desire to get into my dream school and succeed in a career in which I can passionately help others.”

S he earned scholarships at two colleges, and has qualified for the Zell Miller scholarship. She also earned an award from the American Legion, and the DAR. She won the GAPPS State Spelling Competition, and placed second in her division for forms in Taekwondo during the Global Celebration last summer. She also graduated from the Bulloch Youth Leadership program in 2022. 

She will begin college this fall at the University of Georgia, where she will study biological engineering and computer systems engineering. 

“I chose UGA because I enjoyed the environment of the campus. Their Fablabs are incredible, and the students seem to have a good quality of life,” she said. She’s most looking forward to, she added, being able to meet more people and make use of the maker spaces.

Maya Nessmith

Nessmith is hoping to work in a field that uses both robotics and computer science to better people’s lives, either through prosthetics or by automated machinery. 

“I greatly enjoy robotics and programming, and have since I first joined a LEGO robotics team at Trinity. My dad works with programming and computers, and I have found it fascinating for as long as I can remember. I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to work with code,” she said, adding that she always knew she wanted to work with computers and programming, but her passion for robotics is something she only recently discovered. 

While at Trinity, Nessmith accomplished much, but the thing she is most proud of is when she was finally able to code a robot successfully. She says it was great to see something that you build perform how you want it and watch it exceed your expectations.

Outside of the classroom, Nessmith says she is most proud of her robotics team, the Barnstormers, which has afforded her the opportunity to volunteer in the community.

“I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with different organizations, like the Boys and Girls Club of Statesboro and Georgia Southern’s Field Experience, and teach elementary and middle-schoolers how to program and build LEGO robots. I also volunteer with Trinity Presbyterian Church to help with VBS during the summer,” she said. “I also practice Taekwondo with GTMA under the leadership of Mrs. Johnson.”

She says she also enjoys reading, drawing and playing video games.

When asked if she has a hero or someone that she’s looked up to, Nessmith has an unconventional answer for someone her age: Hedy Lamarr.

“I admire her work, which paved the way for the invention of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. She took the first steps toward its creation,” she said. 

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