The highest-achieving members of Little Rock School District's Class of 2016 are planning careers in fields such as medicine, politics, economics, engineering and business after earning degrees from colleges and universities across the nation and in Canada.
More than 60 students from the school district's five high schools announced their college and career plans at the annual Academic Signing Day ceremony Monday afternoon at the Governor's Mansion.
Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, a 2003 graduate of Little Rock Central High, and Arkansas first lady Susan Hutchinson urged the graduating seniors who are leaving the state to eventually return to Arkansas to fulfill their careers.
"I want you to take your time, go out and have a great education, take advantage of your educational opportunities, spread your wings, get some perspective, get some wisdom, and follow your passions," Tucker told the students. "I hope in the end you will at least think about coming back here and sharing your talents with the people of Arkansas."
Superintendent Baker Kurrus, who said he will sing as well as shake the hand of each graduate at commencement ceremonies today, Wednesday and Thursday, thanked the students' parents and others "for giving us the marvelous opportunity to educate these brilliant students."
He also praised the students' teachers.
"We have the best educators in the LRSD," he said.
Speaking to the students, Kurrus said there must be a connection between the mind and the heart to make the biggest difference in their lives.
"You begin to influence others, you begin to build on your own strengths and bring out the best in other people," he said about melding intellect and heart. "Before you know it, good things start happening, not just for you but for others. When you can help someone else with the God-given talent you have ... then you begin to feel that life has meaning."
To qualify to participate in the annual Academic Signing Day, graduating seniors had to have a cumulative 4.0 grade-point average from ninth through 12th grade; be the valedictorian, salutatorian, or the third- or fourth-highest-ranked student in their class; be a National Hispanic Scholar; or be a National Merit Scholar semifinalist.
The universities and colleges the students will attend include the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Little Rock and Pine Bluff. Others include Hendrix College, Arkansas Tech University, University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas State University. Harvard, Vanderbilt, Rhodes, Wake Forest, Stanford, Pitzer, Louisiana State and the University of Texas, were among others.
David Xiang of Central quipped that he didn't meet the height requirements to be a professional basketball player so he is going to Harvard University to study biology and English. Earlier in the school year Xiang -- who routinely sports a bow tie -- was one of five students selected by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities to be part of the National Student Poets Program. He read his poetry at the White House for first lady Michelle Obama. He said Monday that his studies in English would make it possible to try screen writing.
Erica Braswell, who is graduating from Hall High, said she will attend Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where she said she will study philosophy with a concentration on feminist and gender studies. She is one of two recipients in the school district of a Gates Millennium Scholarship, which pays for the recipient's undergraduate and graduate education through a doctorate degree.
"My mom and I sometimes volunteer for abuse shelters for battered women and children," said Braswell, who gifted another of her scholarships to a fellow student. "Seeing them and being around them makes me realize there is a need, and we should go where the need is."
Gabriel and Rafael Del Carmen are twin brothers who are graduating from Hall High. They immigrated from the Philippines before entering the 10th grade. Both said they plan to attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville to study in the computer science field.
Kristin Howard, who is graduating from J.A. Fair High, plans to attend Washington University at St. Louis to study biology and chemistry. She said she wants to be the first black dermatologist in the Little Rock area.
Nivetha Srinivasan of Central High said she has been accepted to the College of New Jersey at Ewing and its seven-year medical program.
"I have had a love for medicine while I was growing up and I volunteered at local hospitals, Srinivasan said. "I selected New Jersey because I got into a specific program where I won't have to apply to med school later on and I don't have to get the high score. I just have to get the average score to continue in this program. It's more laid-back. I have more time to see what I really want to do in the future."
Sarah Nicholson of Central High said she plans to study physics at Hendrix College.
"I want to become a research cosmologist," she explained. "I originally got interested in physics because I wanted to learn more about light and the particle wave duality and all that. I heard about the cosmic microwave background radiation, which is like the oldest light in the universe. Then I began to get interested in the beginnings of the universe."
Ryan Kaufmann, another student at Central High, also will study physics but at the University of British Columbia. Kaufmann plans to do physics research.
Other students had other plans.
Worthie Springer III, a student at Parkview, plans to major in political science at Arkansas State University.
Chuang Tang of Central High said he will study engineering at Vanderbilt University and design the world's first flying car.
Casey Labbate of Central High said she will study political science and dance at Oberlin College at Oberlin, Ohio. Her long-term plans include decommissioning Guantanamo Bay, she told the audience.
Whitleigh Montgomery of McClellan High said she will study nursing at the University of Central Arkansas.
Alexander Herndon of Central High is going to Louisiana State University to study civil engineering.
Nathaniel Felan of Central High is going to take a year off from school, a gap year, before studying engineering.
Elisabeth Graf of Central High plans to study math at Texas A&M with plans to work for the FBI.
Abigail Wikoff of Central High is going to the University of Central Arkansas at Conway but has not decided on a major.
"Whatever it is, I'll rock it," she told the crowd.
Sponsors of Monday's event were AT&T, Wright Lindsey & Jennings law firm, the Public Education Foundation of Little Rock, and the Little Rock School District.
Metro on 05/24/2016