Where are they now?
Five years after high school, the 2009 valedictorians and salutatorians at high schools in the region are spread far and wide. The area’s top graduates of that year each have a unique story to tell. And while some were unavailable for comment, many others were able to share their thoughts on high school, college, real-world jobs and starting families. Many of them also had advice for the high school students of today.
Camden High School Valedictorian Seanna Robey was unavailable for comment.
Raymond Saywer — Camden Salutatorian
Raymond Sawyer was salutatorian at Camden High School’s 2009 class. He is the son of Connie W. Sawyer Jr., and Bonnie D. Sawyer.
Sawyer followed in the footsteps of several of his siblings by attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but once there, he blazed a path all his own.
“I am the youngest of nine children, and six of my siblings attended UNC before me,” he said. “I certainly was not pressured into following their footsteps to Carolina, but I often visited them while they were away, and the school just became a part of me. However, I wanted to call it my school, not just my brother’s or sister’s school.”
Sawyer said he was offered a Morehead-Cain Scholarship to UNC, “an opportunity of a lifetime that I just couldn’t turn down.”
He majored in global studies, with a concentration in global health, and graduated in May 2013.
He’s now in South Korea on a Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarship.
“The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries,” Sawyer said. “I serve as a U.S. cultural ambassador, and I also teach English at an all-boys high school in Busan, the second-largest city in the country.”
Sawyer’s undergraduate experiences helped prepare him for his work now.
“Before college, I had never been on an airplane, but during those four years I was blessed to have several meaningful international experiences in different regions of the world,” he said. “Those opportunities exposed me to so much and helped shape my future goals and aspirations.”
He also credits his high school experiences with helping to prepare him for college.
“I feel my time in high school prepared me for my college experiences,” he said. “Interpersonal interactions were essential to my collegiate success, both academically and socially. In high school, I discovered when and how to ask for help; how to respect others even if we don’t see eye to eye; how to operate as a team, and also how to be an individual.”
He added, “If I could talk to my high school self, I would tell myself that ‘It’s OK not to be the best, as long as I am doing my best.’ If I could go back, I’d just focus on being the best version of myself rather than being preoccupied with how I measured up to others.”
Along with that, Sawyer said his advice for today’s high schoolers is “don’t be afraid to define your own success. The only thing that can keep you from your dreams is you.”
In the future, Sawyer plans to pursue a master’s degree.
“My long-term goal is to become a global health ambassador who spearheads the development, maintenance and improvement of culturally sensitive global health programs and health care systems throughout the world,” he said. “As a global community, if we strive to better understand one another, then our collaborative efforts can be stronger as we seek to create a healthier tomorrow.”
Matthew Bishop — Currituck Valedictorian
Matthew Bishop, the 2009 valedictorian at Currituck County High School, is the son of Mary Bishop and Olivier Bishop.
Bishop graduated from North Carolina State University in 2013 with a degree in nutrition sciences and started out as a weight-loss consultant at a clinic in Cary.
But when he started college, this wasn’t the path he intended.
“I started out in engineering,” he said.
But after taking chemistry and biology classes, he realized that his true passion was in the health care industry.
“I realized I could apply (the learning from those classes) to something very real,” he said.
This week, Bishop was promoted to the clinic’s assistant director.
“I love Raleigh,” he said. “I fell in love with the city. Job prospects are great. It’s the perfect size city, not to big, not too small.”
He did, however, feel like he had gone from being “a big fish in a small pond to a huge lake.”
“It’s a rude awakening but I feel every student experiences that — a different setting and a much bigger setting,” he said.
Still, Bishop credits his high school experiences with preparing him for college.
“Coming from Currituck, the school system was great,” Bishop said. “I loved my teachers from elementary to high school.”
He took advantage of advanced placement classes like government and English, statistics and calculus to get college credit before heading off to college.
“It’s good to take these classes to make sure you know what you know,” he said, and taking them early allowed him to get into his major program of study sooner.
Bishop plans to further his education in the health care field.
“I thought originally I would go back to graduate school right away,” he said.
But he’s enjoying the break, and “the work experience I’m getting is invaluable,” he said.
When he chooses to make the transition back to school, there are a wealth of choices open to him.
“There are a lot of options here (for education),” he said.
Bishop sees the value in keeping your options open, given his own change of focus in college, and cautions the next generation to recognize those choices in front of them.
“The day you figure everything out, something else will be thrown at you,” he said. “Be open to those new (opportunities). Going back, I would do it all over again. If you stay motivated, opportunities will come to you.”
Jessica Meidinger, the 2009 salutatorian for Currituck County High School, was unavailable for comment.
Claire Brown, the valedictorian at John A. Holmes High School in 2009, was unavailable for comment.
Campbell Brown — John A. Holmes Salutatorian
Campbell Brown was salutatorian at John A. Holmes High School in 2009. He is the son of Steve Brown and Jean Brown.
Brown said his time in high school helped to prepare him for college.
“I was on the same level, both academically and socially, as students who attended larger or private schools,” he said.
Brown graduated in May 2013 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a major in exercises and sports sciences, with an emphasis in athletic training, and a minor in history.
“I wanted to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since I was a child,” he said. “The most rewarding experience (I had) while I was in college was working for multiple varsity sports (programs) as an athletic training student, especially football. It was a unique experience has provided me with many connections along the way.”
This past year, Brown completed a season as an athletic-trainer intern with the Green Bay Packers, and is currently taking prerequisite classes for physical therapy school.
“My time with Green Bay was a direct relation to the experiences and knowledge I gained in college,” he said. “My future goals are to attend physical therapy school and become an athletic trainer in the National Football League. Preferably, I would like to work for the Carolina Panthers” in Charlotte.
Brown hopes that wherever his career takes him, it will be somewhere warm.
“After living in Green Bay for a year and experiencing the brutal winter, I would like to live in North Carolina or further south.”
His keys to success?
“Stay open-minded. Take risks and your efforts will pay off,” he says.
Jenna Wood — Northeastern Valedictorian
Jenna Wood was the 2009 valedictorian at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City. She is the daughter of Angela Wood and John Wood.
Wood graduated last year with a degree in biology from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and went straight into the school’s pharmacy program.
“I like all the possibilities you can go with in pharmacy, and I really enjoyed chemistry as an undergrad,” she said.
So far, with one year under her belt, she likes the pharmacy program a lot, she says.
For her, college was a family affair: her brother attended UNC before her, and her sister followed her there. In fact, her brother’s time at UNC was one of the reasons Wood chose to attend there, too.
Because of his experience, “I knew it was a really good state school,” she said. “For the money, it’s a really great education.”
Wood’s time at UNC overlapped with both her brother and her sister.
“I always had a family member here, (and) that helped,” she said. The siblings would often try to have lunch together between classes, and studied together as well.
“My younger sister is majoring in biology, too, but my brother did computer science,” Wood said.
Wood says her high school experiences left her “well prepared” for university life.
“I took (Advanced Placement) calculus, so that got me out of taking any math during college,” she said.
The biggest adjustment for her, she said, was the large number of students in her college classes.
She also participated in a dance organization while in college, something she has enjoyed her whole life.
Jake Thornton — Northeastern Salutatorian
Jake Thornton was the 2009 salutatorian at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City. He is the son of Ed and Pat Thornton.
Thornton graduated from Chowan University in Murfreesboro with a degree in history, and while there, continued to excel in academics. An offensive lineman on the school’s football team, he received the award for the best all-around student, had the highest grade-point average on the football team, and won both the Outstanding History Student Award and the Chowan University Undergrad Research Conference during his junior and senior years.
Thornton chose to attend Chowan because of its size and location.
“It’s reasonably close,” he said. “Both of my parents teach at Northeastern. I’m very close to them, and wanted to be able to come visit. (Also), I liked the small setting. I like to get to know people that I’m working with very well.”
After finishing his undergraduate degree, Thornton entered graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he is also studying history. His focus is on modern American history from World War II to the 1970s.
“I think it’s relatively close (chronologically) and there are so many resources available about it,” he said. “It doesn’t have quite as much done on it — there’s a little more room available for me to slip into some original stuff. (Until recently), a lot of it has been current events — it’s just not been something that you can look at through the lens of history.”
Thornton enjoyed most of his high school classes, but history was his favorite. He said that’s probably because his dad taught him history at Northeastern.
“My mom was my biology teacher, so I enjoyed that, too,” he said. “I enjoyed the stories and the characters of history more. I also really liked to read, so English was big.”
Thornton attributes his academic success to his passion for learning.
“I don’t really go into it thinking ‘I need to get this done.’ You go into something you’re interested in and do it as best you can,” he said. “It turns out I did very well academically. I very much liked to learn. I have a question, and I go and try to find the answer to it.”
His advice for high school students is the same.
“Try and find something that you really enjoy and stick with it going into college, because that’s what you’re going to be spending most of your time on,” he said. “If you don’t enjoy it, you’re going to be absolutely miserable.”
He added, “Don’t let ‘official’ activities, like school or jobs, dominate your life too much. They are obviously important, but the stress can drain your sanity if you let it. Have as much fun as you can and still be successful. And, a good group of friends you can really talk to is one of the best things in the world.”
Pasquotank County High School’s 2009 valedictorian Cynthia Williams was unavailable for comment.
Amelia Phillips — Pasquotank Salutatorian
Amelia Phillips was the 2009 salutatorian at Pasquotank County High School. She is the daughter of Thomas Phillips and Valerie Phillips.
Phillips graduated from the University of Wilmington in December 2013 with a degree in psychology and criminology, as well as a minor in creative writing. She is currently seeking a position at a rape crisis center in Wilmington, where she has been a volunteer.
“A position opened up for a victim advocate,” she said. “It looks promising.”
Phillips chose the University of Wilmington for its psychology program and its student activities, as well as its close proximity to the ocean. While there, she was part of the school’s psychology honors society, and worked in a research laboratory as a research assistant, collecting data and conducting experiments.
“I love it here,” she said. “I had a great experience in college, it’s really helped me make this next step. I’m very excited about this job opportunity at the rape crisis center.”
Phillips feels that “involvement and activity” during college is vital to success after school.
“Experience is very important these days,” she said, adding that she would advise high school students to be “active and involved.”
“Just because you have straight As, you can only get so far with that,” she said.
Jaclyn Winslow Cartwright — Perquimans Valedictorian
Jaclyn Winslow Cartwright was the 2009 valedictorian at Perquimans County High School. She is the daughter of Philip Winslow and Marisa Winslow.
Cartwright spent her freshman year at Asbury University in Kentucky, originally working toward a chemistry degree, but then deciding later to major in math and minor in Spanish. The following year, she married her husband Chris and the year after that they welcomed their daughter, Alaina, who is now almost 3.
Since last September, Cartwright has been the office manager at Eure Seed Farms, where she is able to pursue her interest in chemistry, working on sampling and testing.
“Keeping up with the chemical records, I enjoy that,” she said.
Cartwright said she also enjoys the precision of the work, “keeping up with the details.
“There’s some routine, but there’s other periods of time where we’re doing lots of different things. It’s got variety but also time where I’m able to get comfortable in what I’m doing,” she said.
Cartwright said she worked hard in school, and “ideally, I thought I’d be going to a four-year school, graduating with a bachelor’s degree and going on to something else. Life just didn’t unfold that way.”
She said her advice to high school students is that “you don’t have to be perfect.”
“I think (realizing that) would have helped me to just relax a little bit,” she said. “I’m glad I worked as hard as I did, but I would probably tell myself to have a little more fun and relax a little bit.”
Chase Baccus — Perquimans Salutatorian
Chase Baccus was the 2009 salutatorian at Perquimans County High School. He is the son of Donald Baccus and Terri Baccus.
Baccus attended the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for his undergraduate degree, and graduated in just three and a half years with a double major, one in exercise and sports science and one in the geography of human activity.
“I had enough credit going in that I graduated a semester early,” he said. “It helped money-wise not having to pay for an extra semester.”
Baccus took advanced placement courses and online courses through the University of North Carolina at Greensboro while still in high school.
“I think I had 21 credit hours when I first went into college,” he said. “I went in with a pretty good head start — that was really helpful.”
He encourages others to take advantage of that opportunity if it’s offered to them.
After finishing his degree, Baccus stayed in the Chapel Hill area for about a year, but says he “never really fell into anything that really suited me.”
“I didn’t really like the big city thing. I really liked the area here,” he said.
Baccus moved home and now works for the family business, Baccus Sea Food, where he is the co-captain on a boat with his cousin, Jeremy, crabbing for blue crabs. He hopes to one day have his own boat.
Even though his degree is unrelated to his career path, Baccus calls being able to leave Hertford and attend college “an extremely positive experience.”
“I feel like the biggest thing about college for me was being able to conceptualize the world in a different way, understanding other people’s points of view, becoming a more well rounded individual, and being able to make goals and take responsibility,” he said. “Also, I feel like having my degree prepares me in the future for being able to branch out in any field later on.”
He advises anyone who has the opportunity to go off to college somewhere different from where they live, to do so.
“It opens you up to a lot of different experiences that you can’t get here,” he said. “Even if you end up coming back like I did, it broadens your horizons. I don’t think anyone should constrain themselves to their local hometown all the time. Even though I came back here and I know it was the right decision for me, if I had never left in the first place, that would have been a mistake.”
Baccus said one of the most positive experiences he had in college was being involved in InterVarsity, a Christian fellowship organization.
“It was really uplifting to be around people who shared common beliefs. I definitely think that for anyone who is trying to go out to a bigger university where they don’t know anybody is to get involved in some sort of group,” he said. “(Friends you make there) are the friends that last.”
Baccus found another friend in Chapel Hill — his fiancee, Jesse Enterline — who he met shortly after graduating. The two will marry this September.
Katie Bedard-Goytowski is a correspondent for The Daily Advance.