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Top students honored for academic achievements
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Twenty-nine of the 31 members of the Kershaw County School District and Upchurch & Jowers 2019 All-County Academic Team pose for a group photograph Monday night at Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Camden. Not present were Lugoff-Elgin High School students Rashad O’Neil Miller and McMillian Resse Thompson. - photo by Martin L. Cahn/C-I

For the 24th year, Upchurch & Jowers and the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) honored the district’s top 31 students in terms of academic excellence -- 10 each from Lugoff-Elgin and North Central high schools, and 11 from Camden High School (CHS) -- at its annual All-County Academic Team banquet. The insurance company and district celebrated the students’ achievements at Bethesda Presbyterian Church on Monday.

Following a meal catered by Hall’s Restaurant of Lugoff, Upchurch & Jowers Vice President of Sales Andrew Deese introduced KCSD Superintendent Dr. Shane Robbins, who opened his comments with the thought that every generation hopes to change the world.

“In my opinion, regardless of what career field you choose, you have to think outside the box,” Robbins said. “You have to think unconventionally. You have to think differently, or from a new perspective. Over the years, I’ve thought about a quote from Henry Ford. I think he best summed it up when he said, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.’”

Robbins said this reflects the importance of taking risks and to think differently in order to encourage and support change. He ended his comments by reciting an inspirational poem by William Arthur Ward called “Risk.”

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental

To reach out to another is to risk involvement,

To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self

To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss

To love is to risk not being loved in return,

To hope is to risk despair,

To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.

He may avoid suffering and sorrow,

But he (or she, Robbins added) cannot learn, feel change, grow or live.

Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.

Only a person who risks is free.

The pessimist complains about the wind;

The optimist expects it to change;

And the realist adjusts the sails.

Robbins then introduced the first of the principals, David Branham from North Central High School (NCHS). As he has for several years, Branham -- who said this year’s group was the most well-rounded he’s seen so far from NCHS -- introduced each of his All-County Academic Team members by relating the answers they gave to three questions, usually to some hilarious effect.

Sometimes, the students themselves told a funny story about themselves. That included the first student recognized for the evening, NCHS’ Colin Anderson.

“My most memorable moment was that I got a shoe thrown at me from my English teacher,” Colin, who will attend the University of South Carolina (USC) to study computer science, said. “She didn’t take anything from anyone. She was real serious about what she taught, and I hadn’t paid attention when she gave the instructions. When I asked a question, she went ‘What?’ But she told me the answer, but I forgot it, so I asked her again. She told me, ‘If you ask me that again, I’m throwing a shoe at you.’ So, I asked again, to be funny, and sure enough, I had a shoe thrown at me.”

On a more serious note, Laken Gross said she could not have had a better high school experience than what she received at NCHS, even if it was a bit unconventional.

“I decided to take my senior year kind of a little bit differently that most people do. I did mostly college course work and I decided to explore some career opportunities,” Laken explained. “So, next year, I will be continuing my work at a marketing firm in Columbia where I’m an account manager. I will also be attending USC. I’ve accepted to the computer science program, but I might be leaning toward the marketing and business area (now).”

She thanked Branham and the teachers at NCHS for teaching her to “never settle.”

Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS) Asst. Principal Kenneth Lawson decided to introduce his All-County Academic Team members a little differently than Branham, or later, CHS Principal Dan Matthews. Instead of reciting any facts or funny anecdotes about them, he used his smartphone to play back their “theme” song (usually the students’ favorite). The selections included pop and country hits, showtunes and even a little bit of electronic dance music for which Lawson tried some moves.

Jenna Morin came up to Bon Jovi’s “Living On a Prayer” and especially thanked Brooke Bradshaw, KCSD 2017 Teacher of the Year from the Applied Technology Education Campus for “helping me to be confident in my nursing career.” Jenna plans to attend Clemson University to pursue that field of study.

Lawson introduced Madeline Richburg to the sounds of “Hakuna Mutata” from The Lion King. Madeline, who said she plans to study chemistry and, eventually, own her own pharmacy, said her favorite memory from L-EHS is being a part of the school’s sports shooting team.

“Our team learned cooperation and gun safety, of course,” she said, adding that her favorite teacher is Shanna Hoff-Gilmer. “She taught me in 7th and 8th grades and followed us to high school. She helped me with my math homework, chemistry … she’s definitely worth thanking.”

CHS’s Matthews noted that all of the students making up his part of the All-County Academic Team’s last names came between A and L.

“M through Z are really sucking wind,” Matthews joked, but also listed out the career paths of former team members, including some in the room. “Some of them are teachers. Some of them are doctors, (and) business people. And I’m sure Amy Kinard from the chamber of commerce would hope you will find your way back to Camden.”

Like Branham, he introduced his students with some little known facts about them. Matthews started off with Lauren Andrews, one of the Chronicle-Independent’s high school columnists during this school year. He said Lauren is the only sister to four brothers, her handwriting is “horrible” (which prompted Matthews to muse that she could be a doctor) and suffered temporary hearing loss her first day at CHS.

Like many of CHS’ students, Lauren thanked English and Newspaper Production teacher Amy Goodwin.

“She’s always been there for me, beyond school. She’s taught me so much more past the curriculum,” Lauren said, indicating she would be attending either Presbyterian or Western Carolina universities to study psychology.

Matthews said student Navdhit Bedi considers his handwriting “terrible.” When Navdhit announced he would be attending Clemson with plans to be a doctor, Matthews could be seen pumping his fist with a “Yes!”

Navdhit said his favorite memory of high school was being punished.

“I know that’s kind of odd, but every time I would be punished in class for something, after school my coaches would make me roll about 100 yards. That forced me to never make (more) mistakes in school,” he said.

The reason CHS had 11 students on the team is that two of them are twins, Donald and Morgan Foss. While Donald plans to attend Clemson University to major in graphic communications, Morgan will attend Western Carolina where she and Lauren hope to be roommates studying psychology together.

Matthews said the twins are currently No. 1 and 2 in their class, separately by only .003 in grade point average.

Mayah Lee thanked her parents for “yelling at me” when she got a C on her report card one year in elementary school.

“That just snapped me out of it,” Mayah joked, “and now I’m standing here.”

She also took time to give a shout out to her younger brother, who was on hand Monday night.

“I love you so much. You’re my little brother, and you think it’s going to be really hard when I leave, but I promise it’s going to be harder for me,” she said. “I love you so much; you have taught me patience and tolerance and I am blessed to have a sibling like you.”

Finally, Matthews called Ashley Lopez to the stage, a member of the Bulldog Bunnies, a service group dedicated to working with special needs students.

“I want to give thanks to Camden High for giving me the opportunity to be a student there. Thanks to the teachers and students and family and friend who supported me along the way, I will be the first child in my family to attend college.”

Ashley plans to attend USC in the fall.

Following the recognitions, Upchurch & Jowers President Victor Jowers presented Robbins with a large plaque with all the students’ names as the All-County Academic Team for 2019.

This year’s team consists of (from NCHS) Colin Stuart Anderson, McKenna Briana Arrants, Christian Lawrence Bowers, Abigail Grace Catoe, Sarah Grace DuRant, Laken Angelia Gross, Chloe Elizabeth Hyburney Morrow, Joanna Marie Norwood, Abbigale Christine Outlaw, Kali Aliyah Tomlin, (from L-EHS) Mackenzie Grace Calcutt, Katherine Isabella Clippard, Molly Lea Edenfield, Sarah Elizabeth Hanson, Rashad O’Neil Miller, Jenna Renee Morin, Brianna Lian Ogburn, Madeline Danielle Richburg, McMillian Reese Thompson, Sarah Abigehl Turner, (from CHS) Lauren Elisabeth Andrews, Navdhit Bedi, Jillian Louise Breeden, Angel Malenga Pearl Cooke, Katharine Betsy Coplin, Donald Minot Foss, Morgan Kelly Foss, Johnson Mitchell Griggs, Amy Rebekah Kahler, Mayah Codyn Lee and Ashley Daniela Lopez.