Valedictorians Led Classes in Academics, Recall Fond Times at School

by Gretchen Phillips · The Enterprise · 5/29/2015

Valedictorians Led Classes in Academics, Recall Fond Times at School · by Gretchen Phillips · The Enterprise · 5/29/2015


The nine valedictorians representing St. Mary’s County schools’ Class of 2015 completed their high school careers this spring, collecting dozens of awards, honors and memories along the way. Several of the valedictorians provided words of wisdom to fellow graduates at their respective ceremonies in speeches, talking about the opportunities awaiting their fellow graduates and looking back on those who helped along the way.


Chopticon High School


Tiffany Marie Thompson and Blake Hill Buckler both earned the title of valedictorian at Chopticon High School.


Thompson of Mechanicsville said she will miss the familiarity of her school, where she had four years of perfect attendance. She now will move on to the University of Maryland, College Park. With an UMD animal science and department of agriculture scholarship, she plans to study animal sciences and pursue a career as a veterinarian.


Thompson’s fondest memories include bus rides with teammates during tennis and volleyball seasons as well as the final lab in AP Chemistry, “where everything we learned throughout the year came together in one awesome experiment,” she wrote in a response letter to The Enterprise.


In addition to volleyball and tennis, Thompson was a member of the RoboBees robotics team and several other activities.


In her speech Wednesday at graduation, Thompson, daughter of Charles and Barbara Thompson, stressed the importance of balancing a focus on the future with enjoying time spent with friends.


Buckler, an Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction, plans to major in biochemistry while following a premedical track at the University of Maryland, College Park’s honors college. “I look forward to practicing medicine in St. Mary’s County one day,” he wrote in his response. He wrote that his greatest experience came in recent weeks as he reflected on friendships strengthened while in school.


Buckler, son of Willie and Terri Buckler of Leoardtown, was given honors for achieving four years of excellence in math, science and English. He played junior varsity and varsity soccer and was on the varsity tennis team. The National Honor Society president attended Mother Catherine Spalding School in Morganza before reaching Chopticon.


“I attribute much of my academic success over the past four years to the high standards that were set at the small parochial school,” Buckler wrote.


In his speech, Buckler told classmates, “The relationships we have established over the years will play an integral role in allowing us to face the realities of the society in which we live. You must learn to amalgamate your ability to live and to love with the issues the world presents.”


Great Mills High School


Kelon Funyak and Robbie Romano will share the honor as this year’s valedictorians for Great Mills High School.


Funyak was awarded a Stevenson University Presidential Scholarship and the Stevenson University Founders’ Scholarship among other scholarships, and will attend Stevenson in the fall to study business administration with a sports management track. The Great Mills resident said he’d like to become an athletic director at a college or university.


Funyak, son of Kara and James Funyak, was a member of a travel soccer team and also played varsity soccer at Great Mills. He plans to continue with soccer in college.


Funyak listed his fondest memories as spirit weeks and sporting events at Great Mills. He wrote that he likes how school spirit brings people together.


Both Funyak and Romano attended Greenview Knolls Elementary and Esperanza Middle prior to reaching Great Mills High School.


Romano, who had perfect attendance this past year, received an academic scholarship for Frostburg State University, where this fall he will begin studying mechanical engineering.


Son of Cindy and Jack Romano, the Merit Scholastic Award winner was active with the national honor society, outdoor track and cross country. He plans to continue running cross country and track in college.


He said his favorite memory was going indoor skydiving with his classmates at the iFly center in Virginia Beach, calling it the coolest thing he’s ever done.


Leonardtown High School


Andrew Lee holds the honor of valedictorian for Leonardtown High. He and his family moved to St. Mary’s from Florida in 1996, when he was just 6 months old.


He attended St. Mary’s public schools through high school and recalled one of his fondest memories as being the emcee at a pep rally this past school year where the senior class won the spirit stick.


The Callaway resident was named a Villanova Presidential Scholar and in the fall will pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at Villanova University. He was a National Chemistry Olympiad qualifier along with earning several other academic honors.


While in high school Lee, son of Jeff and Pamela Lee, was active in football and wrestling. He volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and Hospice of St. Mary’s, and was an escort with Special Olympics.


In his speech, Lee said that graduation is just as much a beginning as an end.


STEM Academy


The science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy valedictorian at Great Mills High school is Sohum Shah.


The scholar athlete said he was most fond of being part of the tennis team at Great Mills.


Shah, a recipient of a National Merit Scholarship Program Letter of Commendation, will attend Georgetown University in the fall with the intention of pursuing a career as a physician.


Prior to attending Great Mills, Shah went to Benjamin Banneker Elementary School and the STEM academy at Spring Ridge Middle School.


Son of Drs. Anil and Beena Shah, the AP scholar was a member of Key Club and volunteered at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, among other community and school activities. His speech this week will focus on high school experiences and the road ahead.


St. Mary’s Ryken High School


For reaching the highest academic achievement, St. Mary’s Ryken named Katerina “Katie” Georgia Pappas, the Xaverian Orator, which is the school’s equivalent to valedictorian.


The President’s Award for Academic Excellence winner will take her talents and skills to Drexel University in the fall on an academic and athletic scholarship to study biomedical engineering.


Pappas, daughter of George Pappas and Tara Everly, made all-county lacrosse and field hockey teams throughout her high school career and was team captain for both sports as well as field hockey MVP.


She was active with many organizations and activities, including the honor council.


Pappas moved to St. Mary’s in 2004, attending Father Andrew White School from second- to eighth-grade. The Leonardtown resident spoke to her class about thanksgiving at Baccalaureate Mass earlier this month, thanking all who helped the Class of 2015 make it on their journey. Pappas said she enjoyed all the good times spent at school with classmates and teammates and she would miss the entire Ryken community.


Kings Christian Academy


Hannah Miller of the Kings Christian academy was the top achiever in her class, with her twin sister, Meghan, celebrating along with her as the class salutatorian.


Hannah Miller is headed to Regent University in the fall, where she plans to major in political science with a focus on international relations. She said she aims to be an ambassador in the future.


While at KCA, she played basketball and was the captain of the volleyball team.


Hannah, daughter of Frank and Stephanie Miller, also participated in theater. She said her fondest memory at KCA was when she performed as Alice in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” her sophomore year.


She was named the ACSI Distinguished Christian High School Student in Academics, Leadership, Fine Arts and Service. She focused her graduation speech on the future, writing, “I know that we all have the ability to be successful in the future, because we have been prepared. We can love because we have been loved, we can fall because we know that someone will be there to pick us up, we can fail because we have failed before but we are still here to talk about it. Life isn’t about what will happen to you, it is about what you do when things happen.”


Leonard Hall Junior Naval Academy


Kathryn Burcham finished first in her class of eight at Leonard Hall Junior Naval Academy this year, following her brother, William Burcham III, who was valedictorian at Leonard Hall last year.


Burcham said good grades is one of her highest priorities, and she will continue to reach for the top when she heads to Marymount University in the fall to study molecular and cellular biology in the university’s honors program.


Burcham previously attended Father Andrew White School in Leonardtown. She is the daughter of William Burcham Jr. and Miriam Burcham.


The Mechanicsville resident said she would miss the closeness she felt at the academy and listed her favorite memory as playing Deal or No Deal in statistics class.


Among her accomplishments at Leonard Hall, Burcham was president of the National Honors Society and fundraising chairwoman for Key Club.