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The 1995 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team 

Good news about today's high school seniors.

The public hears plenty about young people these days. Dead in drive-by shootings. Arrested with drugs. Falling behind in standardized test scores. Pregnant. Unemployed.

When the media focuses on positive achievements of teen-agers, the subject is most often athletics. Say a football all-star team or the next potential basketball millionaire.

Scholarship winners and valedictorians get a little newspaper space, usually in small type in the back pages. You'll wait a long time before seeing such news lead a television newscast.

The Arkansas Times has heard the complaints from parents and educators of the silent majority--the kids who go to school, do their homework (most of it, anyway), graduate and go on to be contributing members society. And we agree: They deserve news coverage, too.

So we decided several months ago to honor the best of this year's crop of high school seniors, the success stories of education in Arkansas. It was, as best we could tell, an unprecedented effort.

We drew up a nomination form and sent it to school districts and high schools, public and private, throughout the state. We forgot to figure out a way to reach home schoolers, a shortcoming we'll attempt to remedy next year. School districts were limited in nominations based on size.

More than 300 nominations came in. With cooperation from the Arkansas Education Association, we assembled a panel of judges to review the entries.

The judges' work produced our first All-Star Team, 10 boys and 10 girls with records that would be the envy of students anywhere. They were drawn from a group of 50 finalists.

We'll recognize the top 20 next week in a ceremony co-sponsored by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and other businesses that joined the Times in creating a scholarship fund for the 20 winners, each of whom will win $300 scholarships. We didn't look, by the way, just for good grades and high test scores. We looked for students with multiple talents and achievements in their communities as well as schools. Yes, some of them are also athletes. And hospital volunteers. And musicians. And Bible scholars.

We'd never try to say these are the absolute best high school seniors in Arkansas. Some students undoubtedly were overlooked in the nominating process. And we attempted to ensure diversity in the final team, based on such factors as school size and geography.

But we're comfortable in saying these kids are the pride of their high schools. They stand as living proof that good things are happening in Arkansas schools.

You'll find profiles of the winners, short sketches of the finalists and a complete list of nominees in the pages that follow.

GIRLS

RANI L. CROAGER
Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Central High School
Parents: Neil P. and July B. Croager
College plans: Duke University

July Croager remembers when her daughter, Rani, was in elementary school. "She would cry during the summer because there was no school. She feels she's a sponge and there's all this information out there she needs to absorb."

And what a sponge. Rani Croager moved with her parents to Little Rock at the beginning of the ninth grade. Says Rani, "Henderson Junior High wasn't challenging." At mid-year, she skipped to Central High School and set about completing high school in just two more years, a goal she achieved with the third highest grade point in a class of 530.

Rani made the tough look easy. She took six advanced placement courses one semester and aced them, for a 5.0 average. Though Central offers only six class periods, Rani has taken as many as eight, by giving up a free hour in the afternoon for an advanced science seminar and taking Greek during a brownbag lunch. She has also taken three correspondence courses and numerous summer school classes, including independent study of Latin to qualify for a course on Horace and Catullus.

In her spare time, Rani volunteers in the emergency room and orthopedics ward at Baptist Medical Center, has won prizes in regional science competitions and even played basketball. The Duke motion offense helped attract her, in fact, to Duke University, where she will work toward a medical career.

An Asian Indian by birth who was adopted by parents of English and Indian-Chinese ancestry, Rani is a leader of Accept No Boundaries, a club that seeks to dispel stereotypes and reduce prejudice. The club's name could be her motto.

AMY C. DRAKE
Age: 18
Hometown: Rogers
High School: Rogers High School
Parents: Steve and Julie Drake
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Amy is a Sturgis Fellowship winner who plans to study molecular biology at the University of Arkansas in anticipation of becoming a virologist with the national Center for Disease Control at Atlanta. She's second academically in her class of 433 at Rogers High School, where she has excelled in such various studies as Latin, American History, and mathematics. She's editor of the school yearbook, the Mountaineer, which this year won the Arkansas High School Press Association's highest award. She's captain of the school's Quiz Bowl team, president of the National Honor Society, and vice president of the Students for Political Awareness. She was third on the school's Hi-Q academic team this year. In addition, she was a National Merit finalist, an advanced placement scholar, and winner of a Wal-Mart scholarship. She was a member of the school's mock-trial team, which won first place in the state competition sponsored by the American Bar Association, and recently represented Arkansas in the national finals of this competition. She won a top award on the national Latin exam.

School doesn't take up all her time: She works summers and weekends at the fruit-and-berry farm that her parents operate near Rogers.

REBECCA M. LOFTON
Age: 17
Hometown: Heth
High School: Hughes High School
Parents: Jack and Nancy Lofton
College plans: Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia

School and church are both very important to Rebecca M. Lofton of Heth. The daughter of Jack and Nancy Lofton, Rebecca achieved a 3.98 GPA, second in her graduating class, while teaching a Bible class every Wednesday afternoon and Vacation Bible School classes in the summer. She was also active in children's church theater. She edited her school's yearbook and participated in many other activities, including the Student Council, the Beta Club (vice president), the Art Club (vice president), Humanities Club (vice president), the Quiz Bowl team, Mu Alpha Theta math fraternity (president) and Colorguard. She was a National Merit Finalist, attended Arkansas Governor's School, took first place in regional algebra and geometry contests and won numerous other academic awards.

Rebecca will attend Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia on a full scholarship. She plans to major in psychology and minor in Christian counseling. She also plans to attend graduate school and eventually become a clinical psychologist.

BROOKE CAROLINE MCKNIGHT
Age: 18
Hometown: Damascus
High School: South Side High School
Parents: Sandra and Harold McKnight
College plans: University of Central Arkansas

Marietta Hurley, a counselor at South Side High School in Bee Branch, is one of Brooke McKnight's biggest fans, and part of the reason why is that McKnight breaks stereotypes.

"She's beauty and brains all in one," says Hurley. "She has a dynamic personality plus she's gifted academically--in everything she does. She'll do well in any field of study she pursues."

In her high school career, McKnight has maintained her excellent academic record while staying involved in a variety of school and community projects where she's also achieved an equal amount of success.

Brooke is a National Merit finalist and Arkansas Beta English Champion who will attend the University of Central Arkansas in Conway where she plans to major in English. She describes herself as "outgoing," a quality that she says has enabled her to become involved in school organizations and activities. She has served as senior class president, a student council representative, FBLA treasurer, FHA vice-president, French Club president, Senior Beta reporter and editor of the high school yearbook and newspaper.

In her community, Brooke serves as a Red Cross volunteer and works with programs on AIDS awareness and suicide prevention. She also is pianist for the Community Choir in Damascus and is Miss South Side 1995.

CRYSTAL MORRISON
Age: 18
Hometown: Bismarck
High School: Arkansas School for Mathematics and Science
Parents: Debbie and Larry Morrison
College plans: University of Missouri at Rolla

Crystal Morrison of Bismarck was so eager to start school last year at the Arkansas School for Mathematics and Sciences in Hot Springs that she arrived early to help move in furniture and ready the new building for the school year.

"She came right in and started working the day she got here," says guidance counselor Marlene Bush, adding that the young, outgoing scholar knew from the get-go she wanted to study engineering.

Morrison is strong in the sciences, but until last year had never entered a science fair. Her first project took her all the way to the international fair.

Morrison holds a 3.98 grade point average and scored a 31 on her ACT, yet she still finds time for dozens of clubs and community activities. Her list of scholastic accomplishments is dazzling, from first-place chemistry awards to recognition in the fields of engineering and life sciences.

She plans to major in chemistry at the University of Missouri at Rolla, where two engineering departments, anxious to have an outstanding female in their fields, have fought over her. She has accepted a $66,000, five-year master's program scholarship.

"She's very exceptional in her work effort," Bush says. "She studies a lot and wants it all to be done correctly. She believes in giving your best and not turning in things halfway done."

KIISHA MORROW
Age: 17
Hometown: Pine Bluff
High School: Pine Bluff High School
Parents: Beverly and Curtis Morrow
College plans: Harvard University

Like her sister before her and her little brother still in high school, Kiisha Morrow makes schoolwork her first priority. The result of her hard labor: A 4.48 grade point average, the Danforth "Outstanding Senior" award, and a place in the freshman class of Harvard University. (Stanford, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania and Duke missed out.) Why is she, like her siblings, a success? Her parents, she says. After school, "It's do your homework, and then watch TV," she said. Ask her mother the success question, and she credits an even higher authority: "I gave them to the Lord when they were babies," Beverly Morrow says.

Scholarship is a Morrow family tradition. Beverly and Curtis Morrow, the owners of a McDonald's franchise in Pine Bluff, both hold engineering degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their oldest daughter, Achilia, is a sophomore at Stanford, where Curtis Morrow earned his MBA; son Chane is a sophomore at Pine Bluff High. (Youngest daughter Asha is only 7--but expect to read about her in the future, too.)

Characterized by teachers at PBHS as "sensitive and caring," Kiisha, who plans to follow Harvard with law school, has spent what little free time the Governor's School and Girl's State grad has had volunteering in town clean-ups, at the arts center and at the Special Olympics.

Now, she looks forward to four years at Cambridge and a future in which "I'll be set. When I'm finally through, I won't have to depend on anybody."

RUTH PLYMALE
Age: 17
Hometown: Fort Smith
School: Greenwood High School
Parents: Gary and Andie Plymale
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

It's been a great year for Ruth Plymale.

"She has received more state and national recognition than any student I've known in my 20 years at Greenwood," says Debbie Bilyeu, who heads the science department.

Those honors include representing Arkansas as a Westinghouse Science Semifinalist, a Tandy Scholar and an Edison-McGraw Science Scholar.

Ruth was born in Japan where her parents were working as missionaries. The couple eventually settled in Arkansas, and Mrs. Plymale home-schooled her daughter until she was 7.

Academically, Ruth has a 4.12 GPA and ranks first out of 192 students, she is valedictorian of her class and excels in science and chemistry. Ruth is active in 4-H, has raised chickens and donated them to needy families, taken mission trips and is an accomplished cook, counting pies among her specialties.

One of her most outstanding characteristics is an ability to work independently. For instance, she has devoted a great amount of energy to a science project to isolate insect families that can serve as viable measures in water quality control projects rather than costly, short-lived chemicals. The endeavor has taken her to little known streams throughout Arkansas, consuming much of her spare time.

For now, she's headed to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where she will study chemistry. Eventually, she wants to become a research scientist.

JENNIFER LYNNE ROWE
Age: 18
City: Malvern
School: Malvern High School
Parents: Bob and Louanne Rowe
College choice: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Jennifer Rowe was hooked by Friedrich Nietzsche as soon as she encountered him, at about the age of 15. Later, she discovered other great thinkers, including the great and controversial feminist writer Mary Daly, and the world of ideas began opening like a flower.

Rowe's emerging interest in philosophy complimented an already developed passion for literature. She lists among her favorite writers: Barry Hannah, Ray Carver, Ann Beattie, Tobias Wolff, Kate Chopin, Thomas Mann, "and Kafka just grips me," she adds, "so you can see I'm enthralled with this German stuff."

For all that, Rowe's first love may actually be music. She says she'd major in music and theater but that she considers herself too realistic; she doubts her talents are strong enough to carry her to a career on the stage.

Fortunately, philosophy and creative writing are a different--and more promising--matter. Ultimately, Rowe expects she may find her stage in a classroom, where she can pass along the treasure of words and ideas that other teachers have opened for her.

"But I would not mess with high school kids," she laughs. "I've seen too many of them at my own school, driving teachers crazy. I'd want to teach students who came to class because that's where they wanted to be."

And maybe she'll find a way to fold in her love for music and drama. "Someday, when I'm rich and famous," Rowe says, "I think about coming back to Arkansas and creating my own school for the performing arts."

KATHERINE LEAH SHAVER
Age: 17
Hometown: Batesville
High School: Batesville High School
Parents: Vickie and Greg Shaver
College Plans: Baylor University

Maybe they should call her "Saint Katie."

For the past few years now, the conscientious Miss Shaver has been known among the Batesville High School faculty for single-handedly organizing an after-school tutoring program for elementary and middle school students. It was Katie who figured out the tutor-to-student ratio, Katie who recruited tutors from the ranks of her Beta Club chapter, and Katie who obtained permission from parents to allow her little students to stay after school. This year, about 15 Batesville kids reaped the benefits of Katie's devotion to task.

"She's just been phenomenal," says Kathryn Kibe, English teacher and Beta Club sponsor at Batesville High.

To top it off, she's a pretty good student, too.

With her 4.53 GPA, 33 ACT and 1250 SAT scores, Katie plans to become a foreign missionary some day, but ever the practical person, she is charting a college major at Baylor University to take advantage of her high aptitude in math and science, majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in religion. As measure of the aptitude, Katie made the "honor roll" of the American High School Math Exam, and placed first in her district's algebra II and geometry competitions. On the side, she placed third in the state on the National Spanish II exam. She gives credit for the awakening of these skills to her junior high math teacher, Miss Burns, who encouraged her to try her hand at competition.

Katie has been involved for three years with the Easter Seals Kids Baking for Kids program, and has also spent time visiting nursing home residents. She sings in the church choir, and has played french horn for four years.

ANANDI N. SHETH
Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
School: Hall High School
Parents: Nayan and Nita Sheth
College plans: Rice University

Linda Porter, a guidance counselor at Hall High School, remembers the day last year when she handed Anandi Sheth her PSAT scores. Porter knew that Anandi's scores would put her in the running for a National Merit scholarship, and she expected a little jubilation.

Surprisingly, Sheth remained impassive. Later Porter asked her why. "It turned out that on that day, Anandi was a participant in our Disability Awareness Day and was playing the role of a visually impaired person," Porter said. "Her self-discipline is such that, despite her curiosity, she would not allow herself to peek at her scores."

That kind of discipline has allowed Anandi to juggle a full plate of volunteer activities--including student council, Quiz Bowl, and National Honor Society, plus piano, Indian Cultural Dancing, and track, a sport in which she's lettered for the past four years.

At times the responsibilities have felt overwhelming. She handles them philosophically.

"Sometimes," she says, "you just have to stop and sort out everything you have to do. But there's a deadline for everything. You take them one by one and know that eventually they'll be over and you can move on with your life."

In college, Anandi is contemplating a major in biology. She's fascinated with neuroscience, "because the brain is so complex, and there are so many things unknown."

Wherever she goes, those who know Anandi predict she will apply a vigorous approach to learning and her remarkable self-discipline. And by the way, she did go on to win that National Merit Scholarship.

BOYS

JONATHAN PAULK BRASHER
Age: 18
City: Fort Smith
School: The Arkansas School for Mathematics and Sciences
Parents: Russell G. and Molly E. Brasher
College choice: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Jonathan Brasher will not "walk" at his class's graduation, but that's not because he failed. Brasher will be in St. Petersburg, Russia, that day, presenting a theoretical paper on mathematics at the invitation of the Russian Academy of Science.

At the conference, known as the Sakharov Readings, in honor of the eminent physicist, Brasher will present his research into "characteristics of harmonic-type infinite series." Asked if he could put that more simply, he struggled, then apologized, "It's kind of difficult to explain in layman's terms."

"I've always been real interested in mathematics for their elegance," Brasher said, "for the way it can describe so many things in nature and yet have so many parts that are completely abstract."

Brasher also has some very down-to-earth interests, as well. He's studied Latin, German, ancient Greek, and Irish, and some Russian for this trip.

Then there's his music. Brasher's first love is the violin; he played in the All-State Orchestra last year and this year formed a classical quintet at ASMS. He also plays the mandolin and recently took up the bagpipes.

At MIT, this National Merit scholar anticipates a double major in mathematics and molecular biology, with maybe a minor in languages. "Personally," he says, "I like things like protein structures, and I was pleased to learn that computers are used a lot to model these things, so my interest in mathematics will actually help me a great deal in studying them."

ERIC DUANE LARSON
Age: 18
Hometown: Mountain Home
School: Mountain Home High School
Parents: Robert and Shirley Larson
College plans: Air Force Academy

Eric was born in Great Britain, where his father was stationed with the U.S. Air Force, but he's lived in Mountain Home since kindergarten. Academically, he's second in his class of 224 at Mountain Home High School, and has given much of his spare time the last few years to a variety of Baxter County community service projects, including organizing an Explorers Scouts League basketball team and filming church services at Redeemer Lutheran Church, his home church, and distributing them to shut-ins. He was chosen outstanding senior this year by the faculty at Mountain Home High. He was captain of the school's traveling Quiz Bowl team, a platoon commander in the school's ROTC program, and a Beta Club Student Council representative.

Eric says he's eager to follow in his father's footsteps by becoming an Air Force officer, and has already received an appointment to the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs. Eventually he'd like to be a doctor of internal medicine.

JOSEPH RUSSELL LEASE
Age: 17
Hometown: Hot Springs
High school: Lake Hamilton High
Parents: George and Kathy Lease
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Joe Lease spent his school days working to "take in every scrap of knowledge he can," his English teacher, Golden Lloyd says. "He's one of the most earnest students I've ever had."

Lease, who'll attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in the fall as one of nine Sturgis Fellows, betrays that eagerness himself. Asked where he'll spend the year abroad that the fellowship includes, he says he'll go someplace where English is spoken. Otherwise, Lease said, "I feel like I'd spend the whole year learning the language, and would never get a chance to do a lot of heavy studying."

Lease has already done some heavy studying at Lake Hamilton High, where he is valedictorian. He earned that distinction in a year in which he took four advanced placement courses, played tennis and held the lead in the school's two major theatrical productions. "I don't see how Joe was able to do what he did this year," Lloyd said.

So what's he do for fun? "My idea of a good time is probably a whole lot different [from others'], like being with my friends and having really good conversations," Lease said. And, he added, "I love a good book."

Sound too good to be true? Well, Lease says he got in trouble once. "I drove the wrong way in the school drive and the football coach turned me in for that."

That's probably the last wrong turn Lease will take in what promises to be a bright future.

ADRIEN LAMONT LEWIS
Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: John L. McClellan High School
Parents: Karon F. and Ron Lewis
College plans: Vanderbilt University

Everybody knows and likes Adrien LaMont Lewis, a McClellan senior who stands out in academics as well as sports.

"He's truly an all-American student," says Phyllis Smith, chairman of McClellan's business and vocational department and the school's FBLA sponsor.

"He can do so many things at once and do them well," says Lewis' counselor Gloria Blakney.

Those many things include being student body president, Arkansas Future Business Leaders of America state president, a cornerback on the football team and football letterman. Plus, he finds time for service activities, such as signing up to pack Thanksgiving baskets or volunteering as a Holiday Helper at Park Plaza. At the same time, Lewis holds two jobs, one at Discount Records and the other in the mail room at the Harvest Foods corporate office.

When he's in the classroom he's aggressive, outspoken, self-assured. He is highly organized, rarely procrastinates yet tempers everything with good intentions.

"He is way more than a sum of his parts," says Nancy Jones, his English teacher. "He's very up front about his agenda, which is to excel."

But Lewis is from being a no-nonsense student: he's an endearing, quick-witted cut-up who can make anybody laugh, likes to flirt and dresses well.

Adrien holds a 4.11 GPA and excels at chemistry as well as English. Like his older brother, he plans to attend Vanderbilt University, where he'll major in chemical engineering.

"I'm lucky. I'm determined," Lewis says. "I just do what I can. If I see it, I can do it."

CADE MICHAEL MARTIN
Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Pulaski Academy
Parents: Ross and Nancy Jones
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Cade's father, a physician, died when he was only three years old, leaving young Cade with a desire to pick up where his father left off in the medical profession. Thus, after an impressive high school career, he is setting his sights for medical school.

At Pulaski Academy, where his mother works as a seventh-grade science teacher, Cade became known both as a scholar and a leader.

He served on the student council for four years, wrapping up as the vice-president of the senior class, and also found time for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, academic clubs and honor societies.

Cade earned awards on a wide variety of subjects and racked up an impressive 4.56 GPA, along with scores of 31 on the ACT, 1420 on the SAT and 177 on the PSAT.

And he's a nice guy, too. Among his many volunteer activities, Cade made time to clean out puppy cages and amuse the animals at the Humane Society of Pulaski County, and to play with youngsters at the James H. Penick Boys Club.

Most impressive, perhaps, is Cade's foray into the world of business. For the last few summers he has run his own lawn care operation, hiring other students at school to help with the workload. With the money he netted, Cade bought himself a Jeep, and even saved a little dough for college.

"He's a self-starter," says Cade's high school principal. "He knows the value of hard, dirty sweaty work. Cade is a phenomenal student...and a very gentle-spirited young man.Whatever it is, if Cade does it, you know it's done right."

SAMUEL MERRIWEATHER
Age: 18
Hometown: Sweet Home
High School: Wilbur D. Mills High School
Parents: Mr. and Mrs. Carl Merriweather
College Plans: Georgia Tech University

As "the voice of the school" by giving the morning announcements, Samuel Merriweather, a "quiet, very self-confident" student at Wilbur D. Mills University Studies High School, knows how to think on his feet, even though he's been susceptible to the occasional on-air blunders. It was Sam's ability to think on his feet that gave him the initiative to start his own tutoring service out of his home: "Sam's Homework Hotline," which allowed friends to call him about any subject or with any homework problem. Among his numerous awards, honors, and leadership positions such as Student Council president and member of the motivational organization Future 500, Merriweather is the first African-American valedictorian in the school's history, which is "quite an accomplishment," boasts a Mills high school counselor.

According to his father, Merriweather was always a "good kid who liked to study" when other children were outside playing. Although he may not have built toy bridges with his Legos, he may eventually be building real ones: Sam is looking to Georgia Tech University for a degree in engineering. "My parents always told me to do my best," says Sam, and it seems that the best is all that Sam can do.

BRENT A. RAGAR
Age: 18
Hometown: Cabot
High School: Cabot High School
Parents: Kathy and Anthony Ragar
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Brent Ragar excels in both academics and athletics.

With a 4.189 grade point average, 34 ACT and 1410 SAT, he's a Sturgis Fellow who'll be studying at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in the fall where he plans to be a pre-med major, he's a National Merit Finalist and a Presidential Scholar Semi-Finalist. Brent has 14 foreign language awards at the state and regional levels to his credit because he's gifted in Spanish, and he has captained the Quiz Bowl team for three years, enthusiastically recruiting other bright students to join the team.

Brent, described by his counselor as a team player in every sense of the word, is equally capable in sports, lettering the three years he played on the varsity team. His interest in sports has taken him to the Meet of Champs, where he has served as a track official on the high school, junior high and elementary levels.

But there's more to Brent than books and football: He's active in his church choir and youth group, the Boy Scouts and the National Honor Society.

"Brent is a unique young man who is highly respected by his peers and who has an unusual thirst for knowledge," says counselor Kathie Houston. "[Brent] works hard to maintain a balance in his life. He maximizes his abilities through perseverance and dedication."

RUSSELL ROBERSON
Age: 18
Hometown: North Little Rock
High School: North Little Rock High School
Parents: Fred and Gail Roberson
College plans: Hendrix College in Conway

"While many students opt for activities which make for an impressive resume, Russell Roberson devotes his time and energy to activities which make a difference," an assistant principal wrote. She referred to Russell's presidency of the Keystone Club, a service organization for high school students at Boys and Girls Clubs. The Keystone Club reaches out to help the elderly, the homeless, battered women and others. He has been named Arkansas's Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year and will compete in Dallas for regional honors. Russell is also a mentor in the STORM program (Success Through Outstanding Role Models). STORM matches outstanding high school students with local elementary students to help the younger students do better in school and in relationships with classmates and teachers.

Russell has a cumulative GPA of 4.043 on a scale of 4.0. Notwithstanding the assistant principal's comment, his resume contains quantity as well as quality. He is an all-region performer in the marching band and has served as drum major. He is co-captain of the varsity golf team. He was president of Mu Alpha Theta math fraternity and has been active in the National Honor Society, among other organizations. Russell will attend Hendrix College at Conway. He plans to pursue a career in genetic research or some related subject.

JODY LYNN SIMMONS
Age: 18
Hometown: Rector
High School: Clay County Central High School
Parents: Ralph and Rebecca Simmons
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Jody Simmons was diagnosed with a speech problem when he was 3 years old. He could pronounce only three of the normal 151 sounds. His mother, Rebecca, consulted speech therapists. "They said he would never read and certainly never make a speech in front of anyone."

The Simmons didn't take that for an answer. Jody plunged into two hours a day of therapy. "I think that developed his determination," Mrs. Simmons said. "He is almost driven to do well."

Last week, the boy who would never read delivered the valedictory address at Clay County Central High School. He'll head off to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in the fall, his expenses paid by a governor's scholarship and a chancellor's scholarship and his resume padded with the likes of a National Merit Scholar designation, a perfect grade-point average, leadership positions on the student council, the Future Business Leaders of America and the district youth council of the United Methodist Church.

It's hard to get Jody Simmons on the phone if it isn't raining. This last year, if he wasn't in school (where his mom taught him German), playing football, or peddling cold drinks and barbecue at the Rector Labor Day picnic to benefit the town cemetery, he was laying down a straight seed bed on the family farm.

Jody Simmons plans to return to those old cotton fields of home, and a small community "where everybody knows everybody." With his farm earnings, he's already put aside enough to buy 13 acres to start his own farm.

ELBERT TRAISTER
Age: 16
Hometown: North Little Rock
High School: Little Rock Central High School
Parents: Jossie Traister and Truley Stone and James Traister
College plans: Rice University

There aren't many teachers at Little Rock Central who aren't Elbert Traister fans.

This remarkable young man is only 16 yet ranks No. 1 in his graduating class of 530 with a 4.29 GPA. A National Merit Scholar and class valedictorian, Elbert doesn't let such academic prowess go to his head. He's shy and modest; he's who students struggling with chemistry or physics tap for help. Elbert gives up two lunch hours a week to tutor his fellow students. And though he has taken every AP class his school has offered, Elbert stays after school to learn more, studying calculus-based physics with a handful of other students. A math, science, chemistry and physics phenom, Elbert is equally gifted in writing.

Elbert, who skipped second grade, works hard but leaves time for fun: He's an avid baseball card collector, loves to play softball and baseball, enjoys soccer, and is a talented artist with a penchant for cartooning.

Besides his academic responsibilities, he helps out at the Orient Express, a restaurant his mother, Jossie Traister, partially owns, and he cares for his 12-year-old brother.

He lives with his mother, who is Taiwanese, and stepfather, Truley Stone. Elbert's father, James Traister, is a Chinese-American in the Air Force currently stationed in Japan.

Elbert plans to attend Rice University and major in chemical engineering.

"He's the kind of kid that you want to take home; that you want your daughter to marry," says Jackie Dyer, his AP chemistry teacher. "It's hard not to just rave about him."

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