HOT SPRINGS — The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts celebrated commencement for the 107 members of the Class of 2017 during a ceremony May 27 at Horner Hall in the Hot Springs Convention Center.
Jada Hunter of Delight and Lana Thurman of Blevins were amongst the graduates.
The Class of 2017 celebrated many achievements, including eight National Merit Scholarship Finalists; two Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology Semifinalists and Regional Finalists; eight students who qualified for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, tying the record for the most qualifiers in the year, with five of the eight participants earning recognition at the competition; and more than 20 students who participated in the school’s Research in the Park program or served as volunteers for Hot Springs National Park who were recognized as a group for their work for the park with the National Park Service youth group volunteer award.
One of the most impressive achievements of the class came on the ACT test. This year’s class averaged 30.6 on the college entrance exam, the highest composite of any class in school history. Class members also received $11.2 million in scholarship offers, pushing the total of scholarship offers made to ASMSA students in the school’s 23 years to more than $215 million.
Despite all of the achievements by the class, Lauren Capes, a senior from Booneville, encouraged her fellow graduates to continue to strive for success. She said while they must all continue to have big dreams, which are an essential part of motivation, they should not let those dreams dictate everything they do.
“Don’t let them stop you from trying a new hobby, from branching out, from doing,” she said. “After all, dreamers write stories about doers, but doers are the ones that go out there, both afraid and unafraid of what may come but facing it all the same.
“ASMSA has not taught us how to dream. It has taught us how to think for ourselves, how to evaluate our opinions and stances on different issues, how to manage our time, and most importantly, how to follow our heart. That the building blocks to discovery are not dreams, but rather passion and drive.”
While each of them may have a plan today for where they will go in life, they should not be afraid to change that path, she said.
“Don’t be afraid if you start to leave the road you paved for yourself. Don’t be afraid to let your passions get redirected, to have your opinions change, to go on an adventure, to be kind, to go crazy, to be diligent, to breakup, to make up, to pull yourself up when you fall down, to throw yourself down, to reach for the top, to be content where you are, to laugh when you fail and cry when you succeed. Don’t be afraid to be you,” Capes said.
Hayward Battle, the chair of the ASMSA Board of Visitors and a longtime practicing attorney and pastor, echoed those sentiments. Battle served as the main speaker for the commencement ceremony.
“I want you to realize that you will have plans and you will dream, and I don’t want to discourage about making great plans,” he said. “In fact you should plan. But realize that plans do fail. Sometimes things will unexpectedly happen. Sometimes things will fall apart and not work as you had planned out. But you must understand it is better to fail with a plan than to fail without one. Ask me why? Because you have a document to memorialize how not to do it next time.”
He told the graduates to choose to face their fears and not to be afraid to fail. “Failure is inevitable, but make it a temporary detour rather than a permanent distraction or excuse. Don’t stop, but come back with another plan,” he said, advising them to choose to be happy even in times of failure.
“In more cases than not, happiness leads to success. You don’t always have the power over some of the things that happen to you in your life, but you do have the power to how you respond to those things. Choose to be happy. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you, who will have faith in you, who will believe in you,” he said.
Director Corey Alderdice related the Class of 2017’s time at ASMSA to the fictional characters in “The Magicians” by author and Time magazine literary critic Lev Grossman. In the novel, one student, Quentin, is unexpectedly transported from an admissions interview for Princeton to Brakebills, the finest College of Magic in North America.
Quentin spends five years at Brakebills. On the night before graduation, the dean of the school posits that Quentin and his classmates undertook the study of magic because they were unhappy. In some ways, the students in the Class of 2017 were unhappy as well, Alderdice said, though for different reasons.
“You’re unhappy when you see other students who are more than happy to take a C on an exam,” Alderdice said. “You’re unhappy when others around you are more concerned with which university will be playing in the Final Four than which university they will be attending in the fall—if they plan on doing so at all. You’re unhappy with anything other than your best possible effort.”
Alderdice said the true value of an education isn’t the piece of paper earned after a specific set of years. Rather it is the connections, hours of hard work, moments of insight and ability to persist when others will not that will be remembered and more valuable in the future.
He also encouraged them to continue to draw inspiration and support from the individuals who have been there for them throughout their life—whether it is educators, family, friends, coaches or many others.
“They will help fill that spot in your chest when the natural fire within is not enough alone,” he said.
Dr. Donald Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas System, and Jason Ly of Jonesboro, president of the ASMSA Student Government Association and a member of the Class of 2017, also spoke at commencement.
Bobbitt praised the work and dedication of the faculty who worked daily to guide the students in independent, unique scholarship.
“This is a committed, inspired faculty. This is more of a calling than a vocation. I believe this faculty has chosen as their life’s work to share their considerable knowledge and indeed their experience with the next generation. I hope you will take this gift, graduates, and be inspired to share your gifts with others,” Bobbitt said.
Ly reminded his classmates that through their experiences at ASMSA they had become a family.
“ASMSA gave us this crazy, disjointed, mess of a student body that not only has some of the closest friends you could ever meat, but also a family we could all rely and trust through two of the most grueling years of our high school career,” Ly said.
“To everyone in this room, the students in front of you are the most kind-hearted, talented people I could ever call a family. I urge everyone sitting in the student section to look around and see the faces that have become such an integral part of our last two years and hope that this is far from the last moment we will see each other.”
About ASMSA: The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts is one of 16 public residential high schools in the country specializing in the education of academically gifted juniors and seniors, located in historic downtown Hot Springs. For more information about Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, visit www.asmsa.org or call 1-800-345-2767.