Bible Baptists Christian Academy valedictorian Kelsey Williams has always wanted to work in medicine, so after graduation, she will attend classes at East Georgia College in pursuit of becoming a registered nurse.
The 18-year-old daughter of Larry and Judy Williams is an only child, and has attended Bible Baptist since kindergarten.
College isn't new to her, as she is an Excel student, which means she has been attending college classes and high school at the same time, she said.
Even as a child she wanted to be a nurse, and when illness struck family members, she was impressed by the care they received from nurses.
"As a child, I was always the one running around taking care of everybody' s boo-boos with my little nurse kit," she said.
Already interested in nursing, the experience of seeing in person what nurses do for others inspired her.
Williams has also volunteered at East Georgia Regional Women's Pavilion, which led her to decide she wants to work in pediatric nursing, she said.
As a dual college and high school student, most of Williams' time has been spent in class, but she does take time to enjoy sports, including basketball and volleyball, and likes to watch football.
Candace Widener, valedictorian of the 2015 graduating class of Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology, has demonstrated leadership on campus and throughout the community.
For Friday's ceremony, she planned to talk to her schoolmates and their guests about striving for excellence.
"I want to emphasize how important it is to try your hardest, because I know it can be difficult at times," she said in an interview. "I just want all my classmates to know that we should strive to do our best, especially in our everyday lives."
Widener is the 18-year-old daughter of Tasha and Roger Evans of Screven County. Having attended Screven County's schools beginning in second grade, she was a Screven County High School student before going to Charter Conservatory for 10th–12th grades.
At Charter, Widener served on the yearbook committee her sophomore and junior years. She served as a member of the prom committee all three years.
When the conservatory had cheerleading teams, a teacher was head coach, but Widener served as an assistant coach. She coached the middle school cheerleading team when she was a 10th-grader. As an 11th-grader, she helped the teacher lead both the high school and middle school cheerleaders.
Her junior year, Widener participated in Youth Leadership Bulloch, sponsored by the Statesboro Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce. She and other participants organized a skeet shoot that raised money for the planned creation of a dog park.
This year, she served on Charter Conservatory's own, relatively new leadership team. The team of student volunteers takes on various projects for the school and community. For example, they hosted a drug abuse awareness event in cooperation with the Bulloch Alcohol and Drug Council. Leadership team seniors such as Widener also mentored arriving sixth-graders at the small but growing school for grades six through 12, said Charter Conservatory Director Corliss Reese.
"Candace is a very bright young lady with a very bright future," Reese said. "She has been an asset to our school."
Widener is a National Honor Society member. She is also an active member of Double Heads Baptist Church, where she helps with Vacation Bible School each summer.
She graduates from Charter's high school with a semester's worth of credit at Georgia Southern University. She will continue at Georgia Southern, where she plans to major in justice studies. From there, she wants to go on to a law school, possibly at Mercer University or the University of Georgia.
Southeast Bulloch High
If you had to choose between singing at Carnegie Hall or being named valedictorian of your senior class, which would you choose? It is not a choice that Southeast Bulloch High School valedictorian Lauren Boddiford had to make. She achieved both and is also her school's STAR student.
Just five weeks ago, she stood on the stage of Carnegie Hall's famed Stern Auditorium and sang alto with the SEBHS Advanced Chorus. The performance of a lifetime, Boddiford and her fellow 60-plus-chorus members impressed the judges and clinicians with their difficult, college-level selections. Boddiford was selected for the Georgia Music Educators Association's All-State Chorus her sophomore, junior and senior years and was a member of the Region 1-AAA First-Place Girls Trio in 2013.
Boddiford is an equally talented pianist, continuing a family tradition. "My mom is the pianist and my grandmother is the organist at Old Fellowship Baptist Church in Stilson." In fact Lauren's maternal greatgrandmother, Ida Groover was a pianist here too, and Lauren is a substitute pianist there. That makes four generations and nearly 100 years that her family as served the church with their musical talents.
Taking piano lessons continuously since first grade, Lauren received superior-plus ratings in the National Piano Guild Auditions at Armstrong State University. "I hope to continue playing piano and join a choir in college to keep me involved in music."
Boddiford shares her mother's passion for the piano and mathematics.
"Lauren is an extremely intuitive mathematics student who not only excels in the classroom but has been a leading scorer for our math team throughout her high school career," said Lauren's math teacher and mother, Susan Boddiford, whom Lauren selected as her STAR Teacher. "The fact that she has done all of these things is even more special to me because I am her mother."
Through participating in numerous math tournaments throughout Georgia, Lauren has challenged herself with problems that go far beyond the typical high school curriculum, and she consistently placed in the top five individuals in most of these tournaments. "I'm thrilled when any student makes the kind of observations that she does, but when you realize those comments are coming from your own child, it is thrilling to me as a parent and teacher."
Lauren was a Governor's Honors Program nominee in mathematics her sophomore and junior years. She received the highest class average for math her eleventh and twelfth-grade years. She is also a recipient of the Most Valuable Player Award for tennis, the Presbyterian College Academic Achievement Award, the University of Georgia Certificate of Merit, an Advanced Placement Scholar Award and the Zell Miller Scholarship.
Music and math were not her only high school interests. She excelled in Beta Club, Student Council, Science Olympiad and FFA.
FFA is another family tradition. Lauren's brother Knapp, a 2013 graduate of SEBHS, is a two-time FFA National Proficiency Award winner for Fiber and Oil Crop Production (2013) and Diversified Crop Placement (2014). Knapp shares he and Lauren's father, Joe Boddiford's, love of farming. When asked if she and her brother share a healthy academic rivalry, Lauren laughed, saying, "Well, Knapp goes off and wins these national awards in FFA, but if you need help in calculus, you come to me. We're very close, but very different."
An accomplished vocalist, pianist and student, Boddiford has been true to herself and worked hard to pursue her goals. Lauren has been accepted to the Georgia Institute of Technology where she plans to major in engineering.
Trinity Christian School
Trinity Christian School has been home for valedictorian Will Lattner ever since kindergarten. Now 18, Lattner is looking forward to attending Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, where he hopes to major in English.
He will follow his parents' footsteps in attending the college and has received several scholarships, including some from Covenant College and one for winning the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Essay contest in Bulloch County. The essay was about history, and "learning from the past and looking towards the future."
Lattner is interested in writing for news and research publications such as World Magazine. He said he has always enjoyed writing.
The son of David (Trinity's headmaster) and Lori Lattner, the Statesboro senior has two brothers who also attend Trinity. Lattner is an Eagle Scout and enjoys basketball, soccer and watching movies and sports with friends.
Bulloch Academy valedictorian Cody Rowan Lanier is looking forward to the freedom and independence that college life brings.
"I want to find out what I am supposed to do with my life," said the 18-year-old son of Jeff and Janet Lanier. "I am looking forward to meeting new people as well. I am also hoping to find my passion."
Armed with a Zell Miller Scholarship, an ACE Worldwide Scholarship and a University of Georgia Charter Scholarship, it was a toss-up between two in-state rivals as to where Lanier would try to find that passion.
"I had trouble deciding which college to attend and what I wanted to do once I got there," he said. "Because math is my strongest subject, I thought about engineering. I looked really hard at Georgia Tech. But I thought Georgia would give me more options."
The student voted Most Likely to Succeed by his classmates is leaning toward a career in the field of science.
"The study of cellular biology would prepare me for med school or to participate in some form of stem cell research," he said.
Lanier is a legacy at BA; his mother was the salutatorian in 1979 and his sister Kacie was the salutatorian in 2007. He has been a Gator since pre-kindergarten and has both enjoyed and thrived in the small-school environment, where he is the top graduate in a class of just 38 students.
"I like attending a small school," he said. "You get to know everyone, including your teachers. They help you and push you to do your best. If I would have gone to a bigger school, I may have had more opportunities to choose from. But it's the bond that you develop with your classmates, teachers, staff and administrators that really counts."
Joint-enrolled at Georgia Southern since his sophomore year, the Wendy's High School Heisman state finalist has enough credits to "have at least a minor in mathematics."
Still, it's the little things from his small high school that will keep him going when he travels to Athens and the much-larger University of Georgia.
"I'll always remember when we were in 10th grade and we won the homecoming skit contest," he said. "And the field days where we, as entire junior and senior classes, helped the little kids have fun during the last days of school."
From cross country and tennis to robotics and literary competitions, Lanier has many memories of life as a Gator.
"If I had anything to tell the underclassmen, it's that what you do in high school will affect what you do in the future," he said. "Keep that in mind. It all matters … academics, athletics, community service and school service. Don't take high school lightly."
Portal High School
Martha "Mattie" Braselton
Portal Middle High School valedictorian Mattie Braselton is a great admirer of Stephen Hawking. The accomplished theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author once said, "However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at." Once you meet Mattie, you realize that she easily could have spoken these same words.
She has found a way to succeed academically throughout her middle and high school careers, and she is already succeeding in college as well. By taking advantage of the dual enrollment agreement between the school system and Georgia Southern, Braselton is already a college sophomore before she ever graduates from high school. She was selected for GSU's honors program and is the recipient of three of the university's available scholarships: H.C. Zelma Bland Scholarship, President's Scholarship and the On Campus Housing Award.
She is majoring in chemistry/pre-pharmacy and dietetics with a minor in math, and plans to either be a pharmacist or pursue a career in academia. With a 4.0 average in her college coursework, she's already been selected to be a teaching assistant in GSU's Department of Chemistry.
Being named valedictorian of her graduating class is a goal she's had for more than six years. She has achieved the highest GPA in her class every year from sixth through twelfth grade.
"I've wanted to be it (valedictorian) since sixth grade," Braselton said. "I've worked hard to get it, but I could not have done it without my mother. She is an amazing woman. She deals with me even when I don't make it easy."
Mattie is the younger of Jim and Lori Braselton's two daughters. Her older sister, Ada, is a student at Georgia Southern University, and both her parents are mathematics professors at GSU. With Mattie being dual-enrolled at GSU, the campus is home to the entire family.
"I love Georgia Southern," Mattie said. "You either get pummeled or you rise. I love the environment. There is more learning, more options, more classes, and the teachers are really good."
Braselton also has an interest in fine arts. Her favorite teacher is Deanna Scarborough, Portal's art teacher. Scarborough remembers Braselton as a determined, creative and passionate student, who pushes herself to do her absolute best.
"She encourages others by setting a positive example and high standard while focusing on what truly matters," Scarborough said. "She will be successful at anything she puts her mind to and will be missed in my art room tremendously."
"Stephen Hawking has made huge contributions despite ALS," Braselton said. While a student at Cambridge University, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at age 21. "The rest of us don't have any excuses to not go out and conquer." Braselton certainly doesn't make excuses and is eager to conquer the challenges in her future.
Statesboro High School
“Do what you are supposed to do and good things will come": The simple yet effective motto of Statesboro High School valedictorian Anji Li who graduated at the top of her 357-member senior class this weekend.
The daughter of LiLi Li, an associate professor and e-information services librarian at Georgia Southern University, and his wife, Mingfang Tang, Anji is the older of their two children. Her sister, Anyuan Li, is a rising junior at SHS.
The Li family made Statesboro home five years ago after relocating from Lawrenceville. LiLi came to America in 1989, to attend the University of Southern Mississippi's library graduate school, and his wife came in 1996. Anji and her sister were both born in the United States, but their parents are originally from Shanghai, China. The girls benefit from having a bilingual family that speaks Mandarian and English.
Though it is too far away for Anji's grandparents to make the trip from China for her graduation, she will visit them there this summer before she begins classes at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Anji is majoring in engineering, but is keeping her options open for now on what branch.
"There is so much that I like to do, so I just don't know yet," she said. "I love taking things apart. When there is something around the house to fix, I always try to fix it."
It is this attitude of not shying away from a challenge that brings Anji praise from her Science Teacher Rich McCombs. "She is a young lady whose personality, persistence and dedication to hard work have set the stage for her success. She consistently shows a high degree of intelligence, but never backs away from helping students who are struggling."
Anji excelled in her high school career. She is a member of the National Honor Society, a four-year member of the school's math team, and was elected to three terms as president of SHS's Future Business Leaders of America Chapter. She is a University of Georgia Certificate of Merit recipient and has received the highest grade point average awards for mathematics.
As a rising junior she was selected for the Governor's Honors Program. She spent four weeks at Valdosta State University majoring in math and industrial design.
"This was a jewel in my crown," said Anji. "I loved being with like-minded students from across the state."
While Anji is gifted academically, she also enjoys the arts. She particularly enjoys 3D origami, pottery and jewelry making.
"She is creative and intelligent," said Statesboro High Art Teacher Bunyan Morris. "She has a tremendous work ethic and understands that there is no substitute for hard work. Mediocre is not in her vocabulary." Anji took several of Moriss' art classes and was an active member of the National Art Honor Society.
"We are very proud of Anji, because it is her first major academic success," her father said. "We are very appreciative of the assistance, guidance and support that her teachers and classmates have provided."