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story.lead_photo.caption Little Rock Central High senior Maghana Bollimpalli signs her name as part of the annual Little Rock School District academic signing day at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock on Monday. About 101 students, which is a new record for the event, were celebrated for their academic excellence. - Photo by Jeff Mitchell

Top achievers in the Little Rock School District's Class of 2019 on Monday announced their college and career plans to a Governor's Mansion audience that included Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., as well as proud families.

Molecular biology, engineering, computer science, history, international studies, pre-medicine, foreign languages, nursing and journalism are among the fields of study that the newest of Little Rock's high school completers say they want to study.

Once commencements are completed this week, the newly minted graduates will be taking their talents to a mix of colleges and universities that are both in-state and as far away as Harvard; Yale; the University of Washington at Seattle; Scripps College in Claremont, Calif.; and Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University and the U.S. Air Force Academy are among other soon-to-be destinations for the Little Rock graduates.

Both Hutchinson and Scott urged the 101 honored students -- in attendance at Monday's event because of their 4.0 grade-point averages, top five class rank, and/or their status as a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist or National Hispanic Scholar -- to eventually follow their passions back to their home state and city.

"Life isn't always planned, but unfolds," Hutchinson told the crowd. "Be ready for whatever life brings you," he advised, generating laughter when he said that as a fifth-grader he wanted to be a farmer, as a 12th-grader he wanted to work in a factory and when he did go to college, he chose accounting as a major because it topped the alphabetical list of academic majors.

Scott, a graduate of Little Rock's Parkview Magnet High, said he didn't want to go to college but his mother insisted, resulting in his attending the University of Memphis.

He advised the students -- who he said constitute a diverse and inclusive future for the city of Little Rock -- to follow their passions and diligently prepare for their destinies.

"If you do what you want to do and do it well, you will have a successful life," Scott said.

Each of the students stood to tell the crowd the high school that they attended and their plans for the future. They then signed their names and university to a ceremonial poster -- similar to how top athletes indicate where they will play college sports.

The next leg of Zia Tollette's journey will be to Yale University in New Haven, Conn., where she is leaning toward a focus on journalism and pre-law, the Central High senior told the audience Monday.

Her interest in journalism was piqued, she said later, by her work on the school's Memory Project, which is ongoing student research into and the sharing of people's experiences during the civil-rights movement, particularly the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High.

Ali Khalil, also of Central, is planning to attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to pursue interests in medicine and creative writing -- interests that he did not initially believe could be compatible until he was inspired by actor-comedian and medical doctor Ken Jeong.

"I always wanted to do medicine because my parents were doctors and ... I could see the good work they were doing, helping people," Khalil said after Monday's event. "I like to help people, too, and I felt that it would be a stimulating, intellectual endeavor. As far as creative writing, I've always had a passion for writing. One of my biggest goals is to be a screen writer. I hope I can balance the two out -- be a doctor and write on the side. Both would be very fun to do," he said.

Ramy Yousef of Central is going to Hendrix with plans to eventually become a pharmacist.

His Central classmate Keira Boop also is Hendrix bound.

"I'm going to major in international studies and I hope to become a diplomat," Boop said.

Heidi Tandiono of Central is going to the University of Washington in Seattle. She said she is undecided on a specific major but has an interest in medicine and providing medical help on an international level.

Sanjana Padala of Central is going to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., to study neuroscience.

"I"ve always been interested in the brain," she said.

Alida Kaufman of Central is headed to the University of Tulsa to study chemical engineering.

"I've always liked making things and participating in clubs, like the robotics club," she said and then realized that she enjoyed her chemistry courses. Chemical engineering is a way to combine the two interests, she said.

Meghana Bollimpalli, of Central, will attend Washington University at St. Louis to study chemistry.

Ella Moody of Central is University of Texas-bound to prepare for a medical career.

First cousins and Central students Natalie Fisken and Meredith Hatfield are splitting up for college with Fisken going to Tulane in New Orleans to study international business and Hatfield to Rhodes College in Memphis to major in biology.

Evelyn Perez-Garcia, a Hall High student, plans to attend the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to prepare for a nursing career. Ja'Nae Griffin, who is graduating this week from McClellan High, says she will attend Henderson State University to prepare for a nursing career. Jenae Jackson of J.A. Fair High also plans to become a nurse, with a degree from the University of Central Arkansas.

Clara Mitchell, who is graduating from Parkview Magnet High, will use her Donaghey Scholarship at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to study the fine arts.

Her Parkview classmate Rudy Fajardo plans to study clinical psychology and theater at the University of Central Arkansas.

And Rebecca Dixon said she will attend Drury in Springfield, Mo., to study English with an eye toward law school and politics -- but will keep her finger in the fine arts she enjoyed at Parkview by continuing to play the viola.

William Kano, another Parkview student, said his plans to study biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis stem from his once torn ACL, which is a ligament in the leg. The work of those who treated him was fascinating, Kano said.

Metro on 05/21/2019

Print Headline: Hutchinson, Scott help Little Rock's top grads celebrate next steps

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Comments

  • RBear
    May 21, 2019 at 6:27 a.m.

    As I read the surnames of some of the students listed in this article, it's exciting to see the multicultural environment at LRCHS and how those students have shown excellence in academics. This ceremony means so much more to me than the daily parade of signees to the Razorbacks which I often ignore. The commitment of all these students from across the city to further their pursuit of academics shows the future can be bright thanks to the dreams of youth.
    ...
    Don't get me wrong. I admire an athlete who has worked hard to excel on the field or court. But in the long run, these academic scholars will have so much more an impact on our nation and world than the next star running back for the Hogs.

  • Skeptic1
    May 21, 2019 at 7:48 a.m.

    Top grad from the Little Rock school system is sadly not likely to translate into collegiate success.

  • RBear
    May 21, 2019 at 10:43 a.m.

    Skeptic your claims are based on what facts?

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