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Top Academics Named
Oakdale High School seniors Emily Clayton, front, and Robert Winders were named Valedictorians and Laurie Baxter, right, was named Salutatorian for their graduating class of 2012. Along with achieving the top GPAs, the three have also been involved in various school activities and teams. - photo by Dawn M. Henley/The Leader

They’ve climbed the ladder of academic success and while proud of their achievements, three Oakdale High School students remain humble about their honor in being named “head of the class.”

Seniors Emily Clayton and Robert Winders are the valedictorians and Laurie Baxter is salutatorian for the OHS Class of 2012.

In their freshman year, each of them had 4.0 GPAs. After that, their GPAs crept up a little more, to maybe a 4.1 their sophomore year. Then they took a bigger jump to maybe a 4.5 or 4.6 GPA for their junior and senior years when they were able to enroll in more of the academically-rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Being part of this top academic trio isn’t an easy task; it’s not just about being smart. Achieving and maintaining top grades requires diligence and commitment. They’ve all had to work through various challenges and trials.

“I ended up missing the end of my junior year and the first part of my senior year because of a health issue,” Clayton said. “It was just difficult because I had to keep up with all my assignments I wasn’t in class for. It provided a new challenge because I could learn without being in the classroom. I wasn’t physically there but I still kept up with all my work.”

She added that she had to seek help from teachers for some classes in order to understand and ensure success. Clayton said she felt really honored to know all her hard work meant something when she was tapped with the valedictorian honor.

Winders said that he’s very strong in math and science but acknowledged that English isn’t a strong subject, so he’s had to work harder there. Perhaps the most challenging time, he said, was in the spring of his junior year – he was on the varsity swim team and had four AP classes. It was a lot to manage, he said, but added that “just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you still can’t succeed.”

Winders said he didn’t know if he was going to be valedictorian or salutatorian, but because of his work he was pretty sure he was going to be somewhere in the top.

Baxter admitted that chemistry was her hardest class overall. She said that even when you work hard, you have to make sacrifices. She reported that she, too, had to go in and get help from her teacher at times to make sure she was on track.

Setting time aside to study and making it the first priority was also difficult at times.

“I was actually kind of surprised (to be salutatorian) because I thought I was number three,” Baxter said. “…It’s nice to know all the hard work pays off. It’s really rewarding. I was pretty excited when I found out.”

They each have their own recipe for success and they shared how they became the top academic achievers in their class.
“Just staying focused in school and taking challenging classes… working hard,” Clayton said.

“You have to take school seriously and you have to challenge yourself,” Baxter offered, adding that she gets home from school and gets her homework done, and gets her work turned in on time.

“The biggest thing is there are always going to be a lot of people who can maintain straight ‘A’s,” Winders said. “You have to take the most rigorous classes… You have to be motivated, too… You have to be working toward this goal for pretty much your entire high school career.”

These graduating seniors each offered advice for younger students, regardless of their level of academic achievement, in order to be successful in high school.

“Don’t be afraid to go and ask your teacher for extra help,” Winders said. They want to see you succeed and they know you’re trying to do better and will want to help you.”

“Seeking help is the biggest thing,” Clayton agreed. “It could be from a friend or a teacher. Also, don’t belittle yourself. You can look around and see there are a lot of bright people in the classroom and see them as resources for help instead of being intimidated.”

Baxter’s approach to academics has a common theme about homework.

“Don’t procrastinate – big one. Do your homework first. That way you don’t get distracted by anything else,” she said.

The three students also have college plans. Clayton plans to attend University of California, Los Angeles and major in History. She said she’s not entirely sure what to do with that major yet, but she’s keeping her options open. Winders will also attend UCLA to major in Computer Science and Engineering. He said the subject is new to him but it falls between math and science and he thinks he’ll enjoy it. Baxter plans to attend Brigham Young University, Provo and major in Nursing. She said she’d like to be a nurse practitioner or diabetes care manager.