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Top of the class: Heritage High School
Jessica Reed, Salutatorian, and Natalee Duke, Valedictorian - photo by Michelle Kim

For friends Heritage valedictorian Natalee Dukes and salutatorian Jessica Reed, it all began in the fourth grade with a squeaky pencil.

Dukes and Reed attended different elementary schools – Dukes went to Sims and Reed went to Barksdale – but both were in the Program Challenge gifted program

“You know when people are writing and the lead squeaks?” explained Dukes.

“Mine was squeaky,” said Reed.

“I asked her politely to change her pencil,” said Dukes, laughing at the memory. “It was a pet peeve of mine!”

The girls remained friends through the years, and now, as they find themselves graduating at the top of their class, they’ll head off to the next chapter of their lives together at University of Georgia, where they’ve requested to be roommates.

Both said they were surprised and excited to find out on Tuesday they were valedictorian and salutatorian.


Natalee Dukes

Dukes plans to go the pre-med route with a major in biology and international affairs at UGA and eventually become a neurologist.

As a graduate of the Dual Enrollment program, Dukes earned two years worth of credits by taking classes at Georgia Perimeter College and has the time to explore.

“I’ve always been interested in political science.” She added half-jokingly, “I’ve always wanted to become president, up until last year, because I felt like that was the one person that could make the biggest impact in the world… But now I’m more interested in what countries are doing and the people that are behind the scenes.”

Dukes recently returned from Washington D.C. where she was part of Heritage’s Model Arab League and Model United Nations team, named one of only two Outstanding Delegation awardees out of teams from across the country.

Dukes also participated in activities such as the Flag and Dance Line, theater, and the Fellowship of Christian Youth. She was one of two recipients in the state for a Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Silver scholarship, received a Snapping Shoals EMC scholarship, is in the UGA Honors program, and received a CURO Apprentice Scholarship from UGA.

She said she’s received many suggestions from classmates on what to address in her speech. “I want something that really represents our Class of 2011,” she said. “I feel like we’re a pretty unique class of people.”

She said she’s happy but sad to see the end of her senior year. “About the beginning of this year, I was ready to get going and go off to college. But now that it’s getting closer, it’s just weird that this chapter in my life is over.”

Dukes is the daughter of Grady and Roxanne Dukes and has an older brother, Cory in the forestry masters program in UGA and a younger sister GraceAnne who will be starting at Heritage this fall. Currently Dukes has no plans for the summer and added that she’ll be looking for a job.


Jessica Reed

Reed is also planning to major in biology for pre-med and wants to become a pediatric neurologist.

She became interested in helping children through her experience volunteering for the Anchor Club and at the Boys and Girls Club, she said.

“I want to help be an advocate for children and I feel like this is a way that I can do that,” said Reed.

In addition to Anchor Club, National Honors Society, and Math Team, Reed, along with Dukes, helped revive the Fellowship of Christian Youth club.

She received a scholarship from Snapping Shoals EMC, from the Pilot Club for her Anchor Club activities, and is in UGA’s honor program.

Reed said she was slightly daunted after seeing the speeches from salutatorians and valedictorians past. “I’m trying to think of something that’s original but good,” she said.

She said she was excited to be graduating but experiencing mixed emotions. “I was ready to be done. But after finishing everything, I realize it’s like the end of an era and we can’t come back to it. It’s sad. I’m happy, but it’s sad.”

Reed said she’ll be working over the summer as a nanny.

Reed is the daughter of Don and Laurie and has two older sisters, Lyndsey, a social work grad student at Kennesaw State, and Whitney, who’ll be starting UGA’s pharmacy program.