published Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Apathy, technology concern graduating valedictorians in Chattanooga-area

Howard High School valedictorian Derquazia Smartt crouches on the track at Howard in Chattanooga on Thursday. Smartt ran track, played varsity volleyball and was a part of the superintendent student advisory committee during her time at Howard. She will be attending Tennessee State University for college, where she hopes to major in English.
Howard High School valedictorian Derquazia Smartt crouches on the track at Howard in Chattanooga on Thursday. Smartt ran track, played varsity volleyball and was a part of the superintendent student advisory committee during her time at Howard. She will be attending Tennessee State University for college, where she hopes to major in English.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

See the list of valedictorians.

Apathy, an uncertain job market and technological advances that are moving too fast are among the biggest problems facing their generation, according to a survey of Chattanooga-area high school valedictorians.

"I fear we will become so dependent on technology to do our communicating for us, we will be unable to express our true thoughts and feelings," said Jenny Snyder, valedictorian for Chattanooga Christian School. "Everything will be boiled down to a simple emoticon."

The annual Times Free Press survey of graduating valedictorians also found that concerns about succeeding in college and living a spiritual life far outweigh worries over money and career. Nearly 40 percent of students said spirituality was an issue for them, second only to succeeding in college, at 41 percent.

"Coming from a public, inner-city high school, I know my education has been hindered," said Derquazia Smartt, valedictorian for Howard School of Academics and Technology. "I have committed myself to doing everything essential to [attain] success in all of my endeavors."

Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School's valedictorian, Megha Patel, is focused on finding a balance.

"Leading a spiritual life is important to me," she said, "but I think college and all it entails will help me to achieve all I want to do in my life."

Other key survey findings included:

• More than half the students said they expect to see a better world in the future.

• Only half expect to have a higher standard of living than their parents.

"I keep reading that my generation will be the first generation in many years to not be better off than our parents," said Rachel Davis, valedictorian for Meigs County High School. "I can definitely see that being the case."

It might be more accurate, perhaps, to say that only half the valedictorians of 2012 strive to have a higher standard of living than their parents. Many students said their expectations for themselves, as compared to their parents, were based on factors other than monetary ones.

"Standard of living is a matter of perspective," said Mary Horton, valedictorian for Fort Payne High School. "My parents have always been able to provide me with the food and necessities I've needed. They raised me to know right from wrong and how to be grateful for what I had. That's the highest standard of living I need."

For some students, academic excellence is paving the road to a brighter, better future. Alexandria Oviatt, valedictorian for Red Bank High School, is headed to New York to earn her degree from Barnard College, an opportunity not afforded to either of her parents.

"They were not blessed with the amazing scholarship I received, which will allow me to follow my dreams," she said.

The class of 2012 will have a successful future, the best and brightest say, but only if they are willing to work hard for it.

"Nothing at all is owed to us," said Jacob Moore, valedictorian for Southeast Whitfield High School. "Our generation needs to learn to work for success, whether it be in the form of money, an ideal job or ideal relationships."

Staff writers Susan Pierce, Clint Cooper, Casey Phillips and Karen Nazor Hill contributed to this report.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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