Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
It's our 14th edition of the only comprehensive effort in Arkansas to recognize academic achievement, though there is no shortage of recognition for athletic teams at Arkansas high schools.
Every year, we invite nominations from all high schools in the state, public and private. They are allowed to nominate one male and one female student.
The applications go through a two-step review to select the final group of 10 male and 10 female students. Grades, test scores, difficulty of courses, extracurricular achievement and community work are among the standards our judges use to grade the nominees.
Academic achievement is paramount. Our winners are invariably ranked at or near the top of their classes. They take mostly Advanced Placement courses. They score high on standardized tests and many winners were named semi-finalists in the prestigious National Merit Scholarship competition.
The students will be honored at a ceremony at UALR this week, where they'll receive plaques and cash awards. Several will appear in features on AETN.
But enough generalities. Let's get down to specifics of our winners.
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Little Rock Central
Parents: Feraydoon Bahrassa and Persis Shroff
College Plans: University of Illinois ; aviation
Cyrus Bahrassa has an academic rap sheet that should get him into the most elite colleges in the nation: 17 AP courses, a 35 on the ACT (36 is perfect), a 4.45 GPA. But he isn't content to stay on the ground at an idyllic Ivy League school (he was accepted at several, including Princeton and Yale). Instead, with just one flying lesson under his belt, he wants to study to become a commercial airline pilot at Illinois. “It's just cool to soar over everyone else,” he says. “I enjoy the freedom and grace airplanes offer.”
Cyrus has approached his entire academic career with a similar sense of whimsical possibility. His activities range from Quiz Bowl to volunteer work. He has worked with a youth golf program called First Tee, as well as with the Little Rock Compassion Center, a live-in mission for homeless men.
One of the activities he values most is student government. As president of Central's student body, he prefaced speeches by Bill Clinton and the Little Rock Nine during ceremonies this past September. But for Cyrus, being president is about more than just giving speeches and chatting up classmates during lunch hour. “It has been an incredible experience,” he says, “not only for the Little Rock Nine, but also to represent so diverse a student body.”
If Cyrus puts a lot of stock in diversity, that's because he comes from an unusual background. His father is Iranian and his mother is Indian. His family is one of the few in Little Rock to observe Zoroastrianism, an ancient monotheistic religion with roots in Iran.
That background has informed Cyrus culturally (he loves spicy Indian food) as well as academically (he hopes to one day become fluent in Farsi). And he expects his own scholastic diversity to carry over into college: as he takes to the skies, he also hopes to study German and astrophysics.
Hometown: Hot Springs
High School: Lake Hamilton High School
Parents: Stan and Nancy Dunn
College Plans: University of Arkansas, University of Tulsa, Harding; pre-med, biology
Humility and service
Hunter Dunn has a passion for Lake Hamilton athletics. Not only does he participate in them — he's a letterman in cross-country, track and swimming — but he also anchors the cheering section at Lake Hamilton's football, basketball and volleyball games. Rebecca Dwiggins, a guidance counselor at the school, says it's all a part of his strong character. “His most outstanding characteristic to me is his humility,” she writes.