Around this time each year, hundreds of seniors from multiple high schools in the area prepare for graduation: the culmination of years of studying and testing. From these groups of seniors, an even smaller number are given the prestigious title of valedictorian as recognition for being the very best academically among their classmates.
There is typically only one person chosen for each school, but that convention has been thrown on its head by Pitman High’s Class of 2017, which managed to produce not one but three valedictorians with overall GPAs of 4.54 — Daniel Dwight, Ashlynne Smith and Dylan Folkner.
“It’s amazing. It’s really an honor that we get to be valedictorians, and all tied together with two of my really good friends,” Smith said.
“We’ve all been pretty close since fourth grade, and I’ve always known they were smart people, but I never thought we’d all be valedictorians at the end of high school,” Dwight said. “It’s pretty special.”
The trio first met as classmates at Julien Elementary where they were part of the Gifted and Talented Education program. After a temporary split that saw Smith attend Medeiros Elementary, the three were reunited at Dutcher Middle School before enrolling at Pitman as freshmen.
“I’m really happy about it,” Folkner said of how things turned out. “Honestly, when I first started high school valedictorian wasn’t really my goal.”
As they settled into life as high schoolers, Dwight, Smith and Folkner branched out and became involved in clubs and athletics. Dwight played a couple seasons of soccer and basketball and ran track for four years while also being involved in Key Club and the student body as a student representative for Pitman. Smith played tennis and was a member of Key Club and Future Business Leaders of America. Folkner was also part of FBLA, as well as Game Club in addition to serving as an after-school tutor.
Despite their varied extracurricular activities, however, the three were consistently brought together by their advanced placement classes.
“We’d compare scores with each other, but we’d also help each other study and had different study groups together,” Smith said.
They grew up and studied together, often receiving the same grade in the same classes, but it wasn’t until their junior year that they realized they had a collective shot at becoming valedictorians.
When the proverbial prize was won and their three-way tie was made official it was time for their respective parents to celebrate.
“My dad heard and he was really excited. When my mom heard she almost started crying,” Folkner said.
“When my mom saw…she started screaming and clapping like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re number one!’” Smith said.
“My parents were obviously proud, but they wanted to remind me to always remember my roots and stay humble,” Dwight said.
Now, a day away from graduation, it’s a waiting game to begin a new chapter in life as college students. Facing no pressure from giving speeches – the three opted not to audition for speaking roles during the ceremony – the primary thing concerning Smith and Folkner is their impending departure for UC Davis while Dwight is planning for his move to North Park University in Chicago, Illinois.
Smith will study civil engineering and business with hopes of running her own civil engineering firm; Folkner will study chemistry with the aim to earn his doctorate and work in the field of theoretical chemistry; and Dwight will study engineering and business at the same university his father and grandfather attended.