Andrews – Both Juliana Aiken and Karlie Curtis have used their time in high school to inspire classmates. They’ll get one last chance to inspire as they give speeches as the top students in the Andrews High School Class of 2020.
"I'm excited to get to represent them," Aiken said. "They are my best friends, and I have a lot of things to say to them."
A big theme of Curtis' graduation speech will be dealing with change – not only changes they are encountering through getting older, but changes they are facing due to the coronavirus.
"We managed it," she said. "It definitely wasn't easy."
Aiken wants to remind her classmates it's not just them going through the challenges the virus has brought. She said she gets "a little bummed out" when she thinks of all the things she missed out on – like senior prom, spring semester and track – but she has also gained time with her family, worked on her art and spent time in the garden.
"So it's really been a blessing," she said. "We have to count our blessings in times like this."
Both Aiken and Curtis are graduating summa cum laude, with grade point averages greater than 4.5.
Aiken is the daughter of Julie and David Aiken. She attended Andrews Elementary School, The Learning Center charter school, Andrews Middle School and was homeschooled for a time.
At Andrews High, she was on the cross-country team, shooting team, track team, swim team and golf team. She was also in the band and was a cheerleader. She was an active member of the Chick-fil-A Leader Academy, Beta Club and National Honor Society.
Aiken will be going to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and plans to major in either radiological science or biomedical engineering. She chose the university because there were aspects that reminded her of home and it has a "phenomenal medical program."
Curtis had been working hard since freshman to do well in school and was happy to be rewarded as one of her class' top students.
"It's a great accomplishment, honestly," she said. "It was definitely worth all the hard work."
Curtis is the daughter of Erica Curtis and the late Wayne Woody Curtis, and the stepdaughter of David Martin. All of her schooling has been in Andrews.
At Andrews High, Curtis was on the basketball and softball teams. She was also active in Health Occupations Students of America – Future Health Professionals, the student council, Chick-fil-A Leader Academy, Beta Club, National Honor Society and North Carolina Scholars.
Curtis will be going to Western Carolina University, where she plans to major in physical therapy.
"Physical therapy is something I’ve always been interested in," she said. "I love to see the progress in people."
Both Aiken and Curtis said their favorite thing about Andrews High is their classmates are like one big family.
"We all care about each other," Curtis said. "Everyone's been there for each other."
"It was a great sense of community," Aiken said.
Aiken added that if she ever needed help with a community service project she was running, she could count on her friends. They all brought different talents to projects, too, helping with the overall success.
“Juliana and Karlie are two individuals who stood out among their class,” Principal Lisa Fletcher said. “While the class as a whole always cared about each other, these two young ladies reached out to others.”
Both were service-minded – Aiken organized many community projects, including the Every Day Veterans Day 5K, while Curtis created Karlie’s Closet, a room in the school for students to pick up whatever they need from clothing donations.
Curtis said her favorite teachers were Emily Kilpatrick and Dr. Barbara Haydon. Kilpatrick got Curtis to love English class, while Haydon could always find a way to make Curtis smile.
Aiken said all the teachers she had taught her to be a better person.
"Their dedication to us really showed me how much dedication I should have in myself," she said.
They are appreciative that school and local leaders were able to provide a graduation ceremony for them, knowing there are seniors across the county not getting the same opportunity. Fletcher said the students decided they did not want a later graduation because it was important for them to be together.
“ 'Together as one' is how I would describe the Class of 2020,” she said.
On May 28, the class paraded through town. They received their diplomas at the top of School House Hill, overlooking the town.
"It will definitely be something to remember," Curtis said ahead of the big day.