By Justin Swanson, Special to the Independent
Of the graduating seniors in the 2012 Laguna Beach High School class, the students who earned the two highest grade point averages are Conor Ross and Katherine Barton, a distinction that earned them the honor of addressing their classmates at this week’s commencement ceremony.
Even so, GPAs do little to define the character of this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.
Conor, a 13-year resident, arrived from Concord, a San Francisco suburb. He’s relocating again, this time to Washington, D.C., where he will attend Georgetown University. He plans to declare a physics major, doubling with either political science or English. “I started off wanting to do science and now I’m realizing […] I definitely want to keep something in the humanities open.”
During his spare time, Conor was “big into the drama department” in high school. He landed the starring role as Charlie Brown in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Participating in the plays was always among good company, “With my grade, all of the kids who are in drama have been friends since elementary school, so we all had this bond and we knew each other really well. It made the experience more fulfilling.”
Conor also contributed to the community by helping to re-start the Interact Club, an affiliate with the Laguna Beach Rotary Club. “We’d work with the local Rotary Club in their projects and events and we’d make our own community service events.” He was also the vice-president of the National Honors Society.
Additionally, Conor earned an academic achievement award for math and two MACY achievement awards for roles as the narrator and mysterious man in “Into the Woods” and his turn as Herr Zeller in “Sound of Music.”
Even so, Conor’s favorite subject in school was AP Physics. “It really explains how everything works in life – light and sound, motion. I could take everything and put a theory to it or a formula. It really connected with me personally,” said Conor, who envisions himself in the future in a lab researching quantum mechanics. “I know that, when I figure something out, I’m just going to work really hard for it and I’ll make it happen.”
Salutatorian Katharine Barton is a lifelong resident. She will be attending Harvard University in the fall and tentatively declared a government major, though she also would like to “experiment with a bunch of different classes.”
Among her favorite activities is rowing crew, in which she assumes the duties of the coxswain, which is, as Barton puts it, “the assistant coach.”
“I first tried it last summer for exercise and just as a fun thing to do,” said Katharine, who admits, “It’s still a really new experience for me.”
So it was very much a surprise to her when she learned that Harvard wanted her to coxswain for the men’s team next year. “I was ecstatic,” Barton explained, having filled out an application to join the team at the behest of her father, until lo and behold, the coach started calling her to determine her dedication to the team. “It’s a huge commitment since it’s a year-round sport.”
With regard to school, Katharine fondly remembers that, “some of my favorite teachers have been in subjects I probably won’t pursue in college,” though her strong suit is history, hence her interest in government.
Since both of her parents are lawyers, Katherine said, “I could see myself going to law school,” she added, quickly and wisely, “but I really don’t know.”
Along with her earning the title of salutatorian, Katherine was also named a SAT National Merit finalist.
“Most of my awards are school related, although some of my most rewarding experiences have been outside of the classroom,” she mused, recounting her experience as a performer in the Pageant of Masters as, “some of the best times I’ve ever had.” Katherine also volunteered at the Laguna Beach library, and, through school, for the National Honor Society and the California Scholarship Federation.
(please find out where she is on the center boat. I think the coxswain is at one end, facing the rowers. Also please find out where this is.)