- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
This year’s valedictorians from St. Mary’s County high schools have varied backgrounds and lofty goals. The seven graduates earned top honors at their schools and they, along with the other more than 1,000 graduates from St. Mary’s this spring, will now fan out to colleges, universities and the military to continue their education and begin their adult lives.
Leonardtown High School
Dillon Norris, Leonardtown High School’s valedictorian, will be attending the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, and he said he has plenty of business experience to take with him. Norris served as a Maryland state officer for the Future Business Leaders of America as Region IV president and has attended both state and national conferences.
“As part of FBLA I met a lot of cool people and students with similar interests,” he said. “Plus, I got to be friends with a lot of people outside of the county.”
Norris was also member of the Leonardtown Student Council Association and National Honor Society, among many other activities.
Norris, the son of Sheri and Dan Norris, attended Hollywood Elementary School and Esperanza Middle School before going to Leonardtown High.
The valedictorian said his favorite experience at Leonardtown has come during the past few weeks as he has reflected on his experiences during his time the school.
“I get to look back and see how I’ve grown and look at all of the things I’ve accomplished, and that is definitely the best part of high school so far,” Norris said.
Chopticon High School
Courtney Maines, Chopticon High School’s valedictorian, plans to enter the Marine Corps after completing a semester at the College of Southern Maryland and receiving her associate’s degree.
“I can’t say that I am looking forward to freedom because I am entering the Marines,” Maines said. “But I really look forward to meeting new people.”
Maines said her favorite part of her senior year at Chopticon was breaking the mold of spirit week at the school by dressing up as senior citizens with her friends, as opposed to participating in the regularly scheduled hat day.
“It was something different,” Maines said. “It was a lot of fun, and we ended up getting in trouble for it, but it was worth it.”
Throughout her high school career, Maines was part of the Chopticon tennis, soccer and cross country teams and was a member of the National Honor Society.
“My biggest challenge [in high school] was meeting new people, because I like to keep to myself, but the different organizations helped me with that,” Maines said.
Maines is the daughter of Daniel and Frances Maines. She attended Margaret Brent Middle School and White Marsh Elementary School.
Great Mills High School
Fusing her love of the environment with her enthusiasm for science, Great Mills High School valedictorian Amelia Ryan, who goes by Emma, plans to pursue a degree in environmental engineering when she begins her undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland in the fall.
“If I do the engineering side of it, I’ll be able to include all the other topics I like.” Ryan said of choosing a major that incorporated her passion for the environment. That passion has influenced her high school career, as she counts AP chemistry and AP environmental science among her favorite classes and the Envirothon and National Honor Society as her favorite activities.
“We had a lot of fun in AP chemistry. Or at least I did,” she said. “A lot of memories.”
Although she will miss her friends from high school and admits to being nervous about being away from home, Ryan also looks forward to the new memories she will collect during her college career.
Ryan lives with her parents, Richard and Patrice, and her sister, Erica.
A former student of Greenview Knolls Elementary School and Esperanza Middle School, Ryan noted the importance of her family legacy at the University of Maryland. “It’s my dad’s alma mater so he was really excited about that,” she said. While uncertain of the activities her college will offer to her as accompaniments to her major, Ryan is eager to begin her studies in a field about which she is passionate.
STEM AcademyUpon her graduation from Great Mills High School as the science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy valedictorian, Molly Tracy will head to Boston to pursue a degree in chemical engineering and a possible music minor at MIT. A member of Great Mills’ chorus and an avid and competitive piano player, Tracy said she believes that her time at Great Mills has prepared her for the rigors of college life. “I guess in high school you can dip your feet into everything, but in college you kind of have to hunker down,” she said.
A member of the high school’s engineering club, student government, National Honor Society and Project Possible, Tracy said that she will miss the teachers and friends she has met during high school, but looks forward to making the most out of the challenges of college, which a university professor presented to her as being either “the most miserable place you’ll ever be in your life or [being] in a candy store.”
Echoing the theme of what the future holds, which is the focus of her valedictorian speech, Tracy has high hopes for the educational experience MIT will provide. “Everything they do is uncharted waters. It’s really cool and I’m really excited to go there,” she said.
Before Great Mills, Tracy attended Hollywood Elementary School, Father Andrew White School and Esperanza Middle School. She lives in Hollywood with her parents, Robert and Julie, and her brother, Jay.
St. Mary’s Ryken High School
Alex Wyvill of Hollywood, who was named the Xaverian orator for St. Mary’s Ryken, the equivalent of valedictorian, moved from Upper Marlboro 12 years ago and attended four different elementary schools, including being home schooled, before landing at Father Andrew White School for fifth through eighth grades.
Wyvill led the Ryken St. Mary’s varsity sailing team and also played on the varsity hockey team. He said he enjoys playing classical piano as well as guitar and drums. He recalled the “warm atmosphere” of the Catholic school and the character development embedded throughout the campus.
The National Merit Scholar starred in several school theater productions while completing 10 Advanced Placement courses during his four years in high school.
Wyvill recalled penning a 10-minute speech for the school’s president’s dinner event on the back of a grocery store receipt while hiding in a coat room before the event.
“In the end, the speech went great, but that was really cutting it close. The school president still claims that the receipt is framed on her wall, but I don’t believe her,” he said.
He plans to attend Vanderbilt University and hopes to eventually start his own business. He is the only child of Ann and Anthony Wyvill, “both of whom have given me more than I could ever ask for these last 17 years,” he said.
In his speech earlier this week, he opened with the line, “We were lost. We were lost and we didn’t even know it.” He acknowledged his and his peers’ faults and failures while taking note in the lessons learned. The speech closed with a call to action, asserting that each student must “give this life everything you have to offer…. We were lost, but we have been found.”
The King’s Christian Academy
Breana Benefield of Hollywood was born in St. Mary’s and attended The King’s Christian Academy since first grade.
“We’re affectionately known as lifers,” Benefield said.
The Hollywood resident said she could not have imagined any other school experience for herself, and that being part of such a small graduating class (22 students) allowed the group to become close friends.
The last 12 years spent at the school provided many fond memories and gave her a desire to love and serve God, she said.
Benefield played on the school’s varsity soccer team, as senior captain this year, and was active in student government as well as a church volunteer.
She was named a Charlotte Hall Fellow and received the Union University’s provost scholarship, which will cover full tuition for her at the Southern Baptist college in Jackson, Tenn.
Benefield plans to major in biology/premed with a minor in Christian ministry and missions. “I have felt God calling me to the mission field, and I hope someday that he will use me in medical missions working with orphans,” she said.
Her brother, Seth, and sister, Torie, also attend The King’s Christian Academy. Her parents are Tom and Lisa Benefield.
She alluded to a D.H. Lawrence poem in her graduation speech, saying that as students go out into the world on their own they begin filling our “ships of death.”
Instead of filling ships with food and gifts to prepare ourselves for whatever “oblivion” of an “afterlife” awaits us, they must instead fill ships with faith, righteous acts, service and love. “We must live our ships of death, so when we do finally die, we have something worthy of Christ’s calling to lay at His feet,” she said.
Leonard Hall Junior Naval Academy
Stephen Witkowski of Upper Marlboro attended Leonard Hall Junior Naval Academy from sixth through 12th grades, where he was the Key Club president and battalion commander in the Navy JROTC.
He said his favorite memories during his time at the Leonard Hall come from time spent with Craig Guy, the battalion director, and his crazy antics. He is one of five graduates from the school this year.
Witkowski plans to attend Mount St. Mary’s University this fall. He said even though the college is relatively small, with about 2,000 students, it will still be a new experience for him, adding that he is looking forward to having a much larger pool of peers from which to make friends.
He is the son of Michael and Kathleen Witkowski.
The Leonard Hall valedictorian’s speech centered on not saying farewell during graduation, but instead taking time to say thank you for the preparation given to the students by friends, family and staff members.
Jonathan Munshaw and Haley Potter contributed to this report.
Great Mills High School Lydia Browne
Leonardtown High School Frederick “Trey” Bergen
Chopticon High School Kyle DeMarr
STEM Academy Kelles Gordge
St. Mary’s Ryken High School Chelsie Stanley
The King’s Christian Academy Jocelyn R. Baker