OLEAN — Most high school valedictorians and salutatorians don’t go on to “change the world,” said Alfred State College President Irby “Skip” Sullivan Monday night to a room of students likely to be their respective high school’s valedictorian or salutatorian at graduation next month.
An oft-cited 1995 study by Boston College researcher Karen Arnold, which tracked the post-graduation lives of 81 valedictorians and salutatorians, concluded those who graduate at the top of their class, while successful in their career fields, “aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries” and “typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”
So Sullivan, as keynote speaker of the 29th annual Big 30 Academic Scholarship Banquet, challenged the 35 seniors selected as their school’s “Academic All-Star” to step outside their comfort zones.
“Someday I want to read that someone here today did something to change the world,” Sullivan said.
Seniors from 35 school districts located in the Olean Times Herald’s sports coverage area, known as the Big 30, were honored during the annual dinner at Old Library Events. A committee of local high school principals have bestowed more than $60,000 in scholarships to students since the dinner began in 1990. Six students received $750 Big 30 scholarships Monday night.
Sullivan, who warned he’d speak candidly, told students success in the classroom doesn’t necessarily equal success “in the real world.”
He listed several successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of college, like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and even those who dropped out of high school, like Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson. Sullivan noted he himself was “nowhere near” a valedictorian or even making a dean’s list.
He instead stressed the importance of work ethic.
“The very fact you’re here tonight I hope is a reflection of a good work ethic, not just grades,” he told the students.
Sullivan also gave them some advice for college: hangout with the right group of friends, find a balance between academic and extracurricular activities, keep parents informed of how they’re doing and be willing to learn from anyone.
“You won’t like all your professors. They all don’t have to be your favorite … but please understand you can learn from anyone,” he said.
The Big 30 All-Stars also received some college advice from someone who was in their position just a year ago: Portville Central School graduate and 2017 Big 30 All-Star Anna Wray.
Recently finished with her freshman year at Houghton College, Wray told the soon-to-be freshmen they need to be willing to ask for help, whether it be from a roommate or even a professor who may have given them a subpar grade.
“College will be stressful at times, but it’s so much easier when you don’t try to handle everything on your own,” Wray said. “ … At some point in everyone’s life, they need help.”
For the scholarships, students were evaluated on everything from academics to involvement, community service and work experience. The six students to receive were August Brainard-Brunelle of Olean High School; Sage Printup of Scio Central School; Hallie Weinman of Genesee Valley Central School; Katharina Heitzman of Pioneer High School; Derek Keglovits of Coudersport (Pa.) Junior-Senior High School; and Tyler Lashway of Port Allegany (Pa.) Junior-Senior High School.
Other members of the 2018 Big 30 Academic All-Stars are: Emily Rohrs of Allegany-Limestone Middle-High School; Nykole Nevol of Andover Central School; Samara Lindberg of Archbishop Walsh Academy; Jordan Brewer of Austin (Pa.) Junior-Senior High School; Megan Rose of Belfast Central School; Gabriella Chudy of Bolivar-Richburg Central School; Jessica Stack of Bradford (Pa.) Area High School; Tess Dubler of Cameron County (Pa.) Junior-Senior High School; Abigail Gostomski of Cattaraugus-Little Valley High School; Sarah Stolberg of Cuba-Rushford High School; Kourtney Robinson of Ellicottville Central School; Yan Liu of Fillmore Central School; Allyson Haskell of Franklinville Central School; Lorrainna Davis of Friendship Central School; Courtney Veno of Hinsdale Central School; Thomas Wang of Houghton Academy; Benjamin Freeburg of Johnsonburg (Pa.) Area Junior-Senior High School; Angelo Costanzo III of Kane (Pa.) Area High School; Rebecca Morgan of Northern Potter (Pa.) Junior-Senior High School; Dustin Taylor of Oswayo Valley (Pa.); Allison Cousins of Otto-Eldred (Pa.) Junior-Senior High School; MacKenzie Gleason of Portville Central School; Wyatt Sluga of Randolph Central School; Karley LaBenne of Ridgway (Pa.) Middle-High School; Savannah Wujastyk of Salamanca High School; Emily Treat of Smethport (Pa.) Junior-Senior High School; Jaden Hyslip of Wellsville High School; Cody Keller of West Valley Central School; and Amber Lewis of Whitesville Central School.
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)