Carolyn Griffith never expected to be at Abilene High School for another Top 25 seniors reveal. Yet, thanks to her granddaughter, Abigail Griffith, there she was a week ago.
It was 55 years ago when Griffith, then Carolyn Moore, received word she was a top-performing student in her own Class of 1964.
“I could not fathom I would ever have a grandchild graduate from Abilene High School,” she said. That’s because after high school, she married Stanley Griffith and the two began a life together in the military.
Stanley’s career took them overseas and, when their son Riley Griffith was ready to complete his schooling, they were stationed in Germany.
Riley finished at the Osterholz American School in Osterholz-Scharmbeck, Germany. Eventually, the family found its way back to Abilene.
Abigail has since flourished academically. Among her many accomplishments, she was part of a group of students who completed the Advanced Placement Seminar course that featured postgraduate college level research work.
She studied the ethics of museums putting human remains on display.
Carolyn Griffith said she wasn’t as high up the list of her own graduating class when it came time. She, like Abigail now, was invited to the Top 50 banquet hosted by the Abilene Southwest Rotary Club.
Back then, she said, only the top 20 students had their names in the program, with their ranks. She wasn’t one of them, she said.
“I feel like we’ve come full circle,” Carolyn Griffith said. “I had to be here for this.”
Tough pill to swallow
News wasn’t all good from Monday’s trio of top academic student reveals. Cooper High’s normally easy reveal had a slight hiccup for two students.
First, let’s set the stage.
Two weeks before, the students each were provided pieces of paper detailing their GPAs, including their weighted averages from the honors and Advanced Placement courses they took.
Michael Thomlinson spent the first three years of high school sitting at the top spot among his peers. Gracie Granados was second. Jeongyoung “David” Seo, who had transferred to Cooper from Dallas for his sophomore year, was ranked No. 3.
Their transcripts confirmed it, Thomlinson said.
Fast forward to Monday, when it came time to line the students up for their entrance into the presentation, Thomlinson was shocked when he was listed at No. 2. Granados fell to No. 3.
Seo leapfrogged both classmates in a matter of weeks. After the ceremony, the students figured it out. Transfer credits Seo had from his Dallas high school hadn’t been calculated correctly. Once the Cooper registrar’s office figured out the mistake, it was about time to name valedictorian.
Cooper High Principal Karen Munoz provided an explanation that mirrored the one Thomlinson provided.
“We are very sorry about that way our top students learned that their ranks had changed from the unofficial rankings they were provided earlier,” Munoz said in an email Friday. “Unfortunately, it was not until a few days before the announcement that we discovered some courses were incorrectly entered into the transcript of a transfer student (Seo).
“We are thankful that our safeguard of validating grade-point averages is in place, which ultimately allowed the students to be ranked accurately. At this time, seniors do not learn of their final ranking until announcement day. We are always seeking ways to improve our procedures, and this development has prompted us to explore potential adjustments to our current practices.
“Most importantly, we are so proud of these students and all the hard work they have given during their high school career. They have exemplified success throughout their years at Cooper High School, and we look forward to all that will be accomplished by them in the future.”
Agreed. Each of these students, along with the ones who weren’t in the Top 3, have worked extremely hard for their futures. Thomlinson probably ranks among the hardest.
He has had to deal with economic hardship brought on by living with a single mother at home. He played football for Cooper as a freshman and juggled that with homework, sometimes merging the two.
“Sometimes I was doing homework on the team bus at 1 a.m. driving home after a game,” Thomlinson said. “I would have a blanket over my head with a light on. I would get yelled at for having the light on.”
That all changed in his sophomore year. He had a choice to make: Go to school and continue earning top grades, play football or get a job and start earning money to help his family. Two were possible, not all three.
Football took a seat on his bench. He got a job working at Century 12 movie theater, close enough for him to ride his bicycle to work before he was able to buy a car. Some weeks, he’d work 40 hours all while earning valedictorian-level grades in his challenging classes.
Sacrificing football was tough, but the decision was easier to swallow than what Cooper put him through last week. Thomlinson made a decision for his schooling based on the tuition waiver valedictorians receive from Texas’s public universities. His first choice, though, was to go to school out-of-state, up north where he has family.
That $10,000 he was banking on, after spending the past almost-four-years as supposed valedictorian, is now gone.
Part of this is on him, and he acknowledges it. For his senior year, he chose a slightly easier path than a valedictorian might. Instead of a full course load of Advanced Placement classes, he decided to go one less, replacing it with weight lifting.
It was a decision, he said, that really shouldn’t have mattered. If he’d known the race for No. 1 would become convoluted, he probably would’ve gone a different route.
“I’ve never heard of anyone’s rank changing that close to the end,” he said. “Usually by this point, the grades are so saturated. And none of the teachers want to do anything that could affect a student’s rank. They don’t want to be that one.
“I’m not upset over being No. 2, I just wish I could’ve known sooner so I could’ve made a different choice.”
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