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story.lead_photo.caption Little Rock Central High School students Anil Chakka (left) and Julianne Chung sign their names Monday during an event to celebrate college-bound Little Rock School District seniors at the Governor’s Mansion. Chakka plans to attend Vanderbilt University and Chung plans to attend Rhodes College. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

One by one the top-achieving, graduating seniors from the Little Rock School District's five high schools on Monday announced their college plans and career aspirations at the annual "Academic Signing Day" ceremony at the Governor's Mansion.

Doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, architect, professional dancer, nuclear pharmacist and chef were just some of careers that the more than 80 participating students in the ceremony said they see on their horizons.

And to more fully explore and prepare for those and other careers, the students said they will attend colleges and universities not only in Arkansas but across the country, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Oregon, Morehouse, Rhodes, Drake, DePaul, Randolph-Macon, Yale and the University of California, Berkeley.

Samuel Pierce of Central High said he will take a "gap" year -- or a year off -- before going to the University of Central Arkansas, while classmates Emma Farnsworth heads to the University of Utah and Logan Meyer to the Colorado School of Mines.

Zyaire Love, who is graduating this week from McClellan High, plans to attend Tuskegee University to study aerospace engineering and ultimately become an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

"My grandfather was a Marine," she explained.

Juan Diaz, who is graduating from Parkview High, said he will attend Macalester College in Minnesota, also plans to join the Marines and, ultimately, to return to Little Rock to earn a graduate degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

Sophie Ryall, who ran the Young Democrats Club at Central High, said she is headed to DePaul to study political science and media studies.

"I would love to work in the political sphere," she said, adding that Chicago -- a big city that she loves-- offers lots of opportunities for that.

Annie Knight, a Central High graduate who was executive editor of the school newspaper, is going to George Washington University to study journalism.

"I might do some other things. I'm interested in criminology and film, as well. I might branch out."

Amy Schexnayder, on the other hand, intends to stay in Arkansas to attend the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville to study biology and environmental science with plans to become a doctor, she said.

James Swaim of Central said he also plans to attend the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville but to study mechanical engineering and business.

Anika Moorjani of Central is interested in engineering, too, but will do her studies at Georgia Tech.

Zharia Baker of Hall will study nursing at the University of Central Arkansas.

Keith Bradford, graduating from J.A. Fair, said he is planning a career in oncology after attending Morehouse College.

Arkansas first lady Susan Hutchinson and Little Rock attorney Antwan Phillips-- himself a graduate of Little Rock's McClellan High School -- each told the students of their humble beginnings and how they had to challenge themselves to succeed.

Hutchinson, a former teacher, said her high school in Atlanta did not adequately prepare her for the chemistry and biology courses in college, but she worked hard to succeed in those classes.

She urged students to pursue their dreams and absorb all the information you can -- and not just in the fields where they plan to work. She also called on the students to return to Arkansas if they choose out-of-state colleges and universities.

Phillips did the same, telling the students that they can be more impactful in their hometown and home state.

He also told of perseverance and the importance of internal motivation. For him, that motivation came from his mother who insisted on excellence -- even to the point of preventing him from going to a middle school formal dance because his nine-week grade average fell from a 3.8 to a 3.6.

"I had a 3.6. How do you get in trouble for that?" he asked. He said his mother left him with the legacy to do his best. She died of cancer within a couple of months of that dance.

Phillips also recalled how he graduated from McClellan to attend Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where some of his classmates had gone to private, prestigious and expensive preparatory schools.

"Who does that? High school is free!" he quipped.

"I was prepared by the Little Rock School District to succeed," Phillips said, but he also said he had to find a balance to the academic studies -- which for him was basketball. He didn't make the Bowdoin team in his freshman year. Instead, he insisted on working out and practicing with those who did -- for the entire year. He ultimately made the team the second year and became captain before he graduated.

Qualifications to participate in the Academic Signing Day ceremony are:

• Cumulative 4.0 grade point average from ninth through 12th grade.

• Valedictorian or salutatorian.

• National Hispanic Scholar.

• National Merit Semifinalist.

• Among the top five students in their school class by rank.

Sponsors for this year's Academic Signing ceremony were WER Architects/Planners; Baldwin & Shell Construction Co.; Polk, Stanley, Wilcox Architects; Cromwell Architects Engineers; the Little Rock Public Education Foundation; and the Little Rock School District.

Metro on 05/22/2018

Print Headline: LR schools' top seniors celebrated

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  • pamco
    May 22, 2018 at 8:26 a.m.

    Wonderful, engaging, positive story—we definitely need more of these!

  • GeneralMac
    May 22, 2018 at 2:05 p.m.


    Aren't these outstanding graduates from some of the same schools that liberals proclaim are sorely underfunded and minority students attending school there " don't have a chance" to succeed?