1. Nicholas Gordon Holland
Valedictorian Nicholas Holland hopes to one day earn a doctoral degree and become a research physicist.
He plans to start that journey in the fall when he studies physics at the College of William and Mary.
The 18-year-old son of Robert and Nancy Hollands credits his parents for always pushing him to do his best.
“They always pushed me to do my best and did not punish me for my failures; instead, they emphasized the importance of learning from my mistakes,” said Holland.
He also said being on the ACE team throughout high school gave him a “sense of community and served as an outlet for using what I had learned in class.”
As someone who studied approximately five hours a week, he would put a smaller emphasis on standardized testing.
He would rather see the school system “focus more on the real-world applications of what students are taught; properly compensate teachers to keep them, and thus their students, motivated.”
2. Cassie Lee Snead
Last summer, Halifax County High School’s Class of 2020 Salutatorian Cassie Lee Snead studied biomedical engineering and medical technology, as well as various diseases and human body systems while participating in Duke University’s Medical Innovations Program.
The 18-year-old spent time in class and researched many hours a day while meeting students from all over the world.
During that time, she conducted medical research on Lupus, a disease that impacts her family.
“My team and I developed a research study plan on alternative therapies for minorities with Lupus, which is the predominant group impacted by Lupus,” said Snead.
Now the high school graduate hopes to become a Doctor of Pharmacy. She plans to study at High Point University.
Before her work at Duke, she had found she “truly enjoyed chemistry” after taking Lanette Spencer’s chemistry class, even organic chemistry, which she said, “everyone seems to dread in college.”
In addition to Spencer, she also said teachers “Mrs. Clem, Mrs. Henderson, Coach Lacks, Ms. Motley, Mr. Pasciuta and Mr. Popek” were influential throughout her school career.
“I learned a great deal in each of their classes, which helped guide me in my decision-making process for the future. They are each outstanding teachers, and I will miss them all,” said Snead.
As someone who studied approximately 35 hours or more per week, her goal is to work in the healthcare industry either in specialized pharmacy within a hospital setting, medical research, pharmacovigilance or other related area.
In addition, she hopes to live in Durham or a surrounding region where medical research and development is emphasized.
As a student who has been in the Halifax County Public School system since she began preschool in 2006, she said, “I definitely have had the public school experience to say the least.”
Growing up, she said she thought about many ways that the school system could be changed.
Implementing laptops was one change that she had hoped for, which was finally obtained by her class during her junior year.
“I would like to see less homework given especially for AP/DE students who become overwhelmed and stressed during their junior year. I am not a morning person and personally believe that greater student success would be achieved if school started later in the day,” said Snead.
She originally planned to attend high school at a more private school setting, but she is happy she choose Halifax County High School, so that she could continue public education and finish her years where it all began.
“I have had many great teachers here and with my mom being in the school system since I began middle school, it has made me see that I really couldn’t change that much,” said Snead.
Throughout her school years, she said, “I worked extremely hard to keep the highest grades possible and be the best that I could possibly be.
“I had to overcome several personal and medical issues to achieve this, so I feel that I have had to put forth more effort than most in order to be successful,” she concluded.
Snead is the daughter of Janet Guill (Dunn).
3. Anna Marie Lewis
Top 3 graduate of Halifax County High School’s Class of 2020 Anna Lewis has her eyes set on becoming a general surgeon.
The 18-year-old daughter of Odie and Carolyn Lewis plans to study biomedical sciences at Radford University Carilion, formerly known as Jefferson College of Health and Sciences, in the fall.
After undergraduate school, she plans to apply to medical school.
She credits teacher Laura Meeks and 4-H for being influential throughout her high school career.
Meeks was her teacher for two years and one of her Ace coaches.
“She made the lessons in her class easy to understand. Plus, she included labs that were very interactive and fun to participate in. In addition, she was very fun and straightforward. She would answer any questions that students would provide,” said Lewis.
As part of her time with 4-H, she was able to visit Rockport, Texas to help with hurricane relief.
“While I was there, I was able to help and meet many new and amazing people,” said Lewis.
When thinking about the time she spent in her studies, she said if it was just studying, it took only about an hour or two hours a day.
Homework on the other hand, took her all day once she got home.
If she could change anything about the educational system, she would try to make some classes more available for students because some students have to choose the required subject over the one geared toward their career.
“For example, I wanted to take Pharmacy Tech, but I could not because it was only offered the same time statistics took place,” said Lewis.
She had wanted to be a part of the top 10 of her graduating class since elementary school.
“Many people told me that I could never be in the top ten, so I decided to prove them wrong,” Lewis concluded.
4. Aaliyah Teshay Paige
After landing in the top 3 students with the highest grade point average in Halifax County Middle School, 18-year-old Aaliyah Teshay Paige made it her personal goal to keep her standing throughout high school.
She did just that when she made it to number four of Halifax County High School’s Class of 2020.
Now the daughter of Bernadette and Gregory S. Paige plans to study nursing at Norfolk State University after wanting to attend a school similar to the local high school.
“Similar to Halifax County High School, Norfolk State University sees the potential in each and every student,” said Paige.
Her goal is to graduate college with a bachelor of science in nursing degree. Then, she plans to work in the emergency department of the hospital near her future residence.
Looking back on her high school career, she credits teacher Virginia Henderson as being the most influential person.
“Not only did she teach me essential course material, but she taught me life lessons. Even when I did not believe in myself, she believed in me. I learned from her, and she learned from me. At the end of the day, I knew I could always count on her to tell me right from wrong,” said Paige.
YOVASO Club (Youth of Virginia Speak Out About Traffic Safety), one of the several organizations Paige was a part of, also was influential to Paige’s success.
“This club taught me how to be a better teen on and off the road. It taught me life lessons. Also, this club helped me obtain more leadership qualities and skills,” she said.
As someone who studied approximately 20 hours a week, she would change the educational system if given the chance.
She would advocate for a more open environment that allows better communication with teachers.
5. Shanya Lanay Boyd
Shanya Lanay Boyd didn’t always focus on landing in the top 10 of her graduating class. She always tried her best to achieve good grades, and on Saturday, it paid off.
The 17-year-old daughter of Shenetta Guy and James Boyd was number five in Halifax County High School’s Class of 2020.
Now she plans to attend Howard University, a historically black university that gives her a chance to explore a new area, and she plans to major in nursing in hopes of being a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner.
Looking back on her high school career, she credits her counsin, Iyanna Guy for always encouraging and motiviating her.
“I can always count on her and know that she will always pray for my success. She has influenced me to never give up on myself and my dreams by pursuing hers,” said Boyd.
She also touted Student Council Association (SCA) for teaching her how to be a “more effective leader, work with a large group of people and plan activities.
“By being a part of SCA during my high school years, I have grown as an individual and learned the values of being a leader,” she added.
As someone who studied eight hours a week, there is one thing she would do to improve the education system.
“I would do away with SOLs so that teachers have more time to teach all essential information rather than focusing on key points for an SOL. This would change the focus of studies and make school more about retaining the information, rather than remembering it until the SOLs are over,” said Boyd.
6. Frida Sofia Hernandez
The top six graduate of Halifax County High School’s Class of 2020, Frida Hernanzdez, hopes to one day help work with cleaner energy and more sustainable products.
The 2020 graduate is on her way to Amherst College where she plans to study chemistry.
While at Amherst, she plans to study abroad and participate in summer research with professors there.
Afterwards, she plans to go to graduate school and get her master’s degree in chemical engineering.
From there, she plans on working in sustainability and using her knowledge of chemical engineering to help work with cleaner energy and more sustainable products.
The 17-year-old daughter of Maria Villanueva and Delfino Hernandez credits her parents for always been influential throughout her high school career.
Although she admits they could never directly help with school work, they always were there cheering from the sidelines.
“They picked me up whenever I felt frustrated with school, and they always encouraged me to keep going despite any setbacks that occurred. My mom and dad give the best advice, and they helped me through my toughest times. I wouldn’t have achieved so much without them there as support and motivation to keep going,” said Hernandez.
She also praised band for being the most influential program in high school.
“Band, and music in general, is my escape from all of the stress from school. We go there to make good music and put on a show. Everything else just melts away,” said Hernandez.
Even though she moved to Halifax County, she said and instructor Dominic Stephens and the band accepted her as one of their own right away.
“Mr. Stephens trusted me enough to make me a drum major, and thus helped me step into the role of a leader, something I never thought I would do. My experience in band has made me into the person I am today,” she added.
When thinking about how much time she spent in her studies, she said it depends on the subject. For her, math and science required about 10 hours of studying a week while history only needed about 30 minutes a week.
If given the chance, she would “definitely alter the curriculum nationwide to basically make it more uniform.
“I have had personal experience with how difficult it is for school credit to transfer when a student moves schools. Every school, county and state has their own choice about what kind of classes they offer, and it makes it more difficult for all students to be on a level playing field when it comes to college admissions. If the kinds of classes that are offered were at least a little more standardized, then it would make it easier when students inevitably move or have to apply for college,” said Hernandez.
While she always strived to get the best grades that she could, she didn’t give the idea of being in the top 10 much thought.
“I just wanted to get good grades in order to get into college and earn scholarships. If the top ten came alongside it, then that would just be an added benefit,” she concluded.
7. Morgan Elizabeth Epperson
Morgan Elizabeth Epperson had always dreamed of landing in the top 10 of her graduating class, and she made that dream a reality Saturday when she graduated as number 7 in Halifax County High School’s Class of 2020.
The 18-year-old daughter of John and Beth Epperson said, “I worked hard in school and I knew being a part of the top ten would be the perfect trophy for all of my accomplishments.”
The 2020 graduate plans to continue her studies at The University of Virginia where she plans to major in communications in hopes of one day becoming a Speech Language Pathologist.
“I want to help people gain confidence through their speech,” she said.
One person who helped Epperson gain her confidence throughout high school was math teacher Virginia Henderson.
As someone who taught Epperson’s “hardest classes,” Epperson said Henderson pushed her to do her best.
“She encouraged me and believed in me when I did not believe in myself,” she added.
Tennis also was influential in Epperson’s high school career.
In tennis, she learned how to be a team player. She also said she had to develop time management skills while balancing her studies and extracurricular activities.
“I made so many amazing memories and friends through tennis, which I will forever cherish. I am so grateful at how tennis influenced me and made me a more well rounded individual,” said Epperson.
As someone who studied at least seven hours a week, or at least an hour a day, there’s only one thing she would change to improve the educational system, and that’s college prep.
She would like to see the school offer classes on the SAT and ACT.
8. Skyla Lea Strohm
Top eight graduate Skyla Lea Strohm hopes to one day be a pharmacist so she can help others feel better.
As the first step towards that goal, she plans to study pre-professional medical health sciences at Ferrum College in the fall.
The 18-year-old daughter of Christy Strohm said her mother showed her through hard work and determination, she can achieve anything in life.
“She always let me follow my dreams and learn from my mistakes. She is the person that taught me how to be a good person,” said Strohm.
She also credits pharmacy tech for helping her decide on her major.
As part of her life goals, she also wants to help others in any way she can and also would like to move to the beach with her family.
As someone who studied roughly five hours a week, she said she would not change anything about the educational system.
While landing in the top 10 of her graduating class was not a top priority, it was her top priority to always do her best and to get the best grades possible.
“But, once I found out I was in the top 10, I wanted to stay in it,” she added.
9. A’nya Brandon
A’nya Brandon, who was the number nine graduate of Halifax County High School’s Class of 2020, strives to one day become a dermatologist and open her own practice.
She plans to start that journey when she studies biology/premed studies in the fall at Howard University.
The 18-year-old daughter of Cheron and Shawn Coleman said her mother always taught her to do her best in everything and to never give up, “no matter how hard it gets.”
Throughout her high school career, Teens for Christ showed her “no matter your race, gender or social class, we all can come together to worship and learn more about God.”
As someone who studied about six to seven hours a week, she said she would do away with standard of learning tests.
Making into the top was a personal goal of Brandon’s since she started high school.
10. Justin Tyler Bates
Top 10 graduate Justin Bates has his eye on becoming a professional athletic trainer for an NFL team.
The 18-year-old son of Robert and Melissa Bates plans to study athletic training at Liberty University.
He credits teacher Cynthia Camp, who taught him three times throughout middle and high school for French and Latin, for always encouraging him.
“Mrs. Camp always came in with a smile and always encouraged her students not just to try hard and do well in school, but also to carry that hard work and dedication out into our everyday lives. Her love for teaching went beyond the classroom, and she taught me so much about just being a helpful and positive person. For that, I am forever thankful,” said Bates.
In high school, he was in the first leadership class, and he said Melanie Saunders was the “perfect choice as a teacher for it.
“She has such a great personality and treats everyone with a great attitude,” he said. “Saunders loved to laugh with the class and have a good time, but she also knew when to get serious and to let us talk about what was on our minds. I have never had a class in high school where I felt so comfortable talking amongst my classmates about such personal topics like I did in that one.
“Not only have I built my leadership skills from that class but I also have grown as a person in my everyday life, and I am so thankful to Ms. Saunders for that,” he continued.
As someone who studied between five to 10 hours a week, the only thing he would change about the educational system is ridding it of standardized of learning (SOL) tests.
“I feel that they are pointless, and teachers put too much emphasis on them instead of things in life that are really important. Other than that, I feel like I received a great education here,” said Bates.
Being in the top 10 was a goal of Bates since the beginning of ninth grade, and while he knew it wouldn’t be easy, it was something he “really wanted to accomplish.
“I was more than thrilled when I found out that I had made it,” he concluded.