Top 10 students in the 2013 RCHS senior class:
Jordan Taylor Brown
Taylor Nicole Johnson
Candace Jelaine Johnson
Ciana Nicole Munford
Jade Savannah Newton
Loren Marie Stokes
Olivia Katherine Welch
For Rockdale County High School's valedictorian, Jade Newton, and salutatorian, Olivia Welch, graduation is just another step on the college path they've already been taking for a while.
Both girls have had one foot out the door as Dual Enrollment students at Georgia Perimeter College. Since junior year, they attended classes full time at GPC and accumulated enough credits to put them well ahead of their peers who are heading to their freshman year of college.
"It doesn't feel like I'm graduating," said Welch.
"All our friends are excited because they're out of school now and we've already been out for two weeks," added Newton.
The girls, who have known each other since sixth grade and even have June birthdays that are just days apart, knew they were in the top of the class but didn't find out the official standings until this week.
Jade Newton, Valedictorian
The bright 17-year-old is the youngest in a household of Rockdale Bulldogs. Her older brother Lucas graduated RCHS in 2009 and is attending Georgia Southern. Her older sister Sophia is Class of 2007 and is now a graduate student at University of Georgia.
Her parents, Larry and Jo, were excited and proud when they learned that Jade would be this year's valedictorian, but they're also nervous about facing an empty nest.
Newton will be attending Auburn University this fall, where she received a $6,000 scholarship. She intially thought she'd be attending Georgia Southern like her brother. But a visit to the Auburn campus during her sophmore year changed all that. "He bet me my entire freshman year of football tickets that I would fall in love with Auburn. I lost that bet miserably. I don't know what it was about that campus, but it felt like home."
She'll be enrolled in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering with a focus on polymers and fibers. "That's where I'm starting, but I know it might change," she said. Chemistry was one of the sciences she "didn't despise," she said laughing. She enjoyed looking at how things work and come together in chemistry. Physics and computer science were a challenge for her this year. "It was really stressful this semester because I thought I was going get a couple B's. I thought 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to lose it in the last semester of high school.' But I pulled through."
She's been involved in chorus and the school's drama production, including "The Picture of Dorian Gray" this past fall. She enjoyed spending time with the drama crowd because no matter how much time has passed, "They act like I was just here yesterday... Here, everybody knows you." She also enjoyed attending football games at Rockdale and getting into the spirit by decorating classmates with body paint.
Newton grew up in Rockdale and attended Program Challenge, Shoal Creek Elementary School, and Davis Middle School. She attends Conyers First United Methodist and Connexion Church. She was also involved with the Y Club, Interact, and was inducted in the Phi Beta Kappa at GPC this year.
This summer, she'll be visiting Washington D.C. on a family trip and hoping to join the St. Bernard Project to help rebuild New Orleans for the third year.
Newton said, if she had to do it over again, she might take Dual Enrollment through Rockdale Career Academy, because there are mostly high school students in those classes. Most of the time, her teachers at GPC didn't know she was a high school student until the last day of class.
Olivia Welch, Salutatorian
Reflecting on her new title, Welch said, "It's rewarding because you do try in school."
The independent 17-year-old will continue taking classes at GPC until she earns her associate's, giving her time to figure out what subject area she wants to continue studying. Once she has that figured out, she'll start looking at applying for colleges and universities. Welch, a dancer and artist, said she enjoyed her world history and geography classes and her 10th grade literature class with Ms. Heidi Smith.
Welch was born and raised in Rockdale, attending Hightower Trail Elementary and Edwards Middle. Her older sister, Rachel, graduated from RCHS in 2010 and will be going on to Kennesaw State University after having earned her Associate's in psychology from GPC.
She is the daughter of Myra and Corey Welch. When news of the official standings was announced, Welch said her mother called everyone she knew while her father quietly beamed.
Welch, also a member of Conyers First United Methodist, is involved in the Y club, was editor of the Creative License student magazine at GPC, a dancer with the Dominy School of Performing Arts, and also works as a hostess at Outback Steakhouse and a personal assistant at the Sketching Pad.
She said, regarding the speech she has to give, "I'm excited about public speaking, but I have no idea what I'm supposed to say."
Welch will be going on a tour of Europe this summer and continuing her classes and work.
Her advice for incoming freshmen? "Please do move on when you're ready. I do kind of miss the social aspect of (high school). That's something you sacrifice... but you get really far."