| By Billy Davis
and Rita Howell
Although he rarely "cracked" a book in high school, South Panola’s 2006 valedictorian, Drew Wilkinson, knows life is about to change when he begins classes at Ole Miss in the fall.
The top senior credits a near-photographic memory for finishing with a 4.0 grade point average, but he knows he’ll need good study habits for his long-term plan, graduating from medical school.
"We got that talk from some of our teachers," Wilkinson said. "They told us it’s a whole new world out there, and they stressed that we need to be prepared for that."
As class valedictorian Wilkinson will address the class of 2006 Sunday afternoon on the Ole Miss campus. He hasn’t written the speech yet, but he wants it to be light-hearted and show his comical personality.
And, yes, he will probably quote the speech from memory.
The young man’s excellent memory translated into good grades even as a youngster, said his mother, Susan Camp.
"Drew’s always been smart. He was counting to 100 when he was three," Camp said. "His conduct was kind of bad for a while because he was bored in class, but then by junior high he kind of settled in."
By 10th grade the teenager realized he could compete for academic achievement, Camp said, and he was ready to "go to the top" among his peers.
Wilkinson considers himself a "math and science" person. Two of his favorite classes at South Panola were AP calculus and human anatomy and physiology.
"I did have to crack a book for calculus," Wilkinson said. "It was a challenge."
Wilkinson will also start college in the fall with an appreciation for working hard for a paycheck. He has worked since last summer at Bogie’s, and last month he landed a second job at Lowe’s.
"I’m working about 40 hours a week right now," the valedictorian said. "I’m saving up to buy a truck."
Smith heads for Honors College
North Panola High School valedictorian April Smith used to look up at the school’s "Wall of Fame," where there are framed photos of students who have posted exemplary scores on the ACT college entrance exam.
"I wanted to make at least a 30," April remembered this week.
Not only has she earned herself a spot on the wall, she’s earned herself admission – and a scholarship – to Ole Miss’ prestigious Barksdale Honors College.
The Honors College operates like a college-within-a-college to offer academically versatile students opportunities for development through reading, writing, and discussion, according to the Barksdale Honors College Web site. Students enrolled in the program conduct research and write thesis papers during their senior year.
Ole Miss and its Honors College won out over nine other colleges and universities who wanted April.
An admissions representative came to Sardis from North Carolina Central University to convince April she needed to go there. Howard University offered her a full scholarship. Iowa State wanted her.
In the end, the University of Mississippi’s proximity to Crenshaw was the deciding factor.
That’s where April lives with her grandparents, Roberta and Elliot Wright.
It seems to suit everybody just fine that April will only be one county away when she goes off to college.
Mrs. Wright wouldn’t take any credit for April’s outstanding academic record.
"She came to live with us when she was in the seventh grade, and she was already used to making good grades," the grandmother said. "She just wanted to keep on."
Those good grades led to a National Achievement scholarship in the amount of $2,500. She’s one of only 10 Mississippians chosen for that award.
This year she earned awards for having the highest grade average in her A.P. English class, pre-calculus class, and government class.
Mrs. Wright attributes her granddaughter’s success to her love of reading.
April gives credit to a higher source.
"It’s by the grace of God," she said.
After she gives her valedictory speech Friday night, she’s not sure what she wants to study at Ole Miss.
Before the fall, she plans a trip to Texas to visit her mother, Sharon Smith. Her dad is Anthony Smith of Virginia.
"I just want to enjoy the summer before I start to college," she said. "But I’ll be checking the reading lists for Honors College. There’ll probably be some books I haven’t read yet."