Georgia Tech and Berry College are about to gain three very intelligent, well-rounded students.
Two of Bartow County’s three Class of 2020 valedictorians – Adairsville High’s Evan Crane and Woodland High’s McKenna Trapheagen – will become Yellow Jackets in the fall while Cass High’s Alexa Halpern will head to Rome to become a Berry Viking.
Crane, 18, who plans to major in mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said he had “an inkling” that his counselor, Kellen Cloud, wanted to talk to him about his class ranking status when she contacted him.
“As she was relaying the information and the realization of what she was saying hit me, there was pure elation,” he said. “That moment was both extremely humbling and a great honor to be named valedictorian. It has been a goal openly discussed and hoped for within my family since I first tied for Top Scholar freshman year to be valedictorian. As Ms. Cloud conveyed the news, I recognized that this was the fruition of all those efforts becoming a reality.
“With humility, I am fully aware that by no means am I the most intelligent person in my class so for me to win this honor is an experience that illuminates the daily blessings and gifts I don’t deserve. My parents were beyond themselves with joy and were so proud so pleasing them made me ecstatic. Admittedly, the many congratulatory messages were overwhelming. I can only pray that achieving this feat is a springboard into my life and will drive me forward in my next educational phase at Georgia Tech.”
The son of David and Dawn Crane of Adairsville is a Zell Miller Scholarship recipient and also won the $500 Jimmy Baker Scholarship, named for Hamilton Crossing Elementary’s beloved custodian who died unexpectedly in 2016.
Crane, a former Hamilton Crossing Knight, said he spent “a great deal of time hanging around after school” waiting on his mother, a teacher there for 20 years, to finish her work.
“Mr. Jimmy would invest his time interacting with me, telling jokes, letting me help with his job and just overall influencing how to treat other people,” he said. “He had a way of making the kids feel older and the teachers feel younger. So the privilege to be given the scholarship named in his honor is very special; therefore, in my view, it carries a lot of responsibility.”
During his senior year, Crane was inducted into the Georgia Highlands College chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, was part of the boys’ 200-meter freestyle relay swim team that went to state, was the top points scorer for the Bartow County Swim Championship and was a scholar-athlete for cross-country and swim.
He also may win other awards at AHS’s awards ceremony June 15.
But the high school accomplishment of which Crane is most proud is “achieving the honor of valedictorian,” he said.
“Above sports or any other activity, valedictorian has been the underlying goal since the end of my freshman year when I realized it was in reach,” he said.
Crane, who has a 4.0 GPA and a numerical average of 100.7, said having his final year of high school interrupted by COVID-19 has been challenging for someone like him, a “people person” who’s “severely missed interaction with my friends, teachers and teammates.”
“Also, missing out on my final season of golf with the goals I had set and the preparation I had put in had its disappointments as well,” he said. “However, having the opportunity to be home with my parents has meant a great deal to me in so many ways, as well as them. It has been especially good prior to leaving for college.”
Halpern, 17, who plans to double-major in English and education and become a high school English teacher, said she’s worked toward being valedictorian since elementary school, “and I held onto my rank for several consecutive years.”
“However, at the last second, my counselor told me there was a possibility that I would be salutatorian,” she said. “I immediately contacted all my teachers and began trying to boost my grade, even if it were only two points. That week was extremely stressful, and that knowledge was the only thing I could focus on.”
With a GPA of 4.0 and a numerical grade average of 102.29, Halpern was notified by her counselor in the middle of her Advanced Placement calculus exam that she had reached her goal.
“I felt breathless, as if the air seemed to get thicker, and my brain couldn’t process it,” she said. “I asked her if she was serious, and I was just waiting for her to yell, ‘Gotcha!’ Yet, it was true. After working so hard and putting so many things at risk for my grades, it felt like it had finally paid off. My biggest cause of stress had dissipated off my chest and shoulders, and it felt like I could finally live without having that impeding worry over me at all times.”
Becoming CHS’s valedictorian wasn’t “merely a title or a goal,” Halpern said.
“It’s a mindset that can become a lifestyle,” she said. “It isn’t as much about intelligence as it is the combination of perseverance, proactiveness and positivity. With the right outlook, anyone can succeed.”
Attending Berry on an academic scholarship, Halpern said she was a third-place county winner in the Young Georgia Authors Writing Competition this year and was part of a documentary called “Cartersville UNCUT” that was featured in a local magazine.
“I am most proud of my achievements that stemmed from my journalism classes,” she said. “When I joined the school newspaper, the Cass High Trumpet, I had the opportunity to interview students from all over the school about everything from sports to mental health issues.
“Not only did this expand my horizons and allow me to become more open-minded, it also enabled me to be able to work with the producer of ‘Cartersville UNCUT.’ Journalism has allowed me to receive so many opportunities and strengthen my own character, and I am immensely proud of everything that has come out of the class.”
Halpern, daughter of Richard and Diane Halpern of Cartersville, said dealing with coronavirus during her senior year was “such a strange sensation to know that everything we’ve been looking forward to – prom, graduation, baccalaureate, senior breakfast, senior night — has been ripped away from us.”
“We’ve been looking forward to these events since freshman year, and for some, these milestones were the one thing that allowed these students to continue holding on,” she said. “On top of that, digital learning days forced our students’ senioritis to impact them even harder. However, the real kick in the pants was leaving school without being able to say goodbye to the teachers one last time. If we had known that this was our last day, we all would’ve treated it so much differently.”
Trapheagen, 18, said she felt “a great sense of relief” when she found out she was Woodland’s valedictorian.
“The incredible salutatorian, Abby Matthews, has kept me on my toes the past four years and pushed me to be my very best,” she said. “It felt so fulfilling to know I had achieved this goal I had set for myself since the start of my freshman year.”
With a GPA of 4.0 and a cumulative numerical average of 102.18, Trapheagen plans to major in literature, media and communications at Tech in pursuit of a career in film technology.
The cross-country and track standout and STAR student at WHS will be attending college on both an athletic scholarship and the Zell Miller Scholarship and will be running Division 1 cross-country and track for the Yellow Jackets.
Trapheagen said she is “most proud of winning the 2016 GHSA Cross-Country State Championship with my team."
“This was the first cross-country state title in Woodland High School’s history, and it was an experience I will never forget,” the daughter of Sheri and Alec Trapheagen of Euharlee said. “Our team had a wonderful bond and worked so hard that season. I will always be proud to be a Wildcat.”
The COVID-19 situation has been “frustrating” for Trapheagen, “but it has changed my perspective for the better.”
“At first, I was very upset and heartbroken that my senior year wouldn’t be ending as planned,” she said. “However, the time I have spent with my family during quarantine has opened my eyes to relationships and goals I had previously been putting off during school. Between academics and athletics, my focus was narrowing on things with temporary importance. Once all of that was taken away from me, I realized just how insignificant it was.
“As I prepare to head off to college, I’ve become very grateful for the extra time I get to spend with my family. No prom or state championship could compare to the memories I have made with my parents and friends these past few months without traditional schooling.”
The salutatorians for the three high schools are:
— Bryana Candelaria from Adairsville. The QuestBridge Scholarship recipient plans to attend Carleton College and major in ancient to medieval history.
— Lexi Atilano from Cass. Atilano will be attending the University of North Georgia on an academic scholarship and majoring in chemistry.
— Abigail Matthews at Woodland. Matthews intends to major in biology and psychology on a pre-med pathway at Washington University in St. Louis. She received a merit and needs-based scholarship that covers 96% of tuition, and when combined with her Bob Hope Band Scholarship and the ones she earned through the Distinguished Young Woman program, she will have minimal out-of-pocket costs for college.