Graduates sharing highest-ranking distinction

For most college students, just getting across the stage with the parchment in hand is considered success. But there are always those students for whom just "getting by" is not an option or a goal.

At Wayland Baptist University, those numbers are bigger than usual. As the Class of 2001 received their diplomas Saturday, May 19, five students shared the distinction of highest-ranking graduate, each finishing with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

That represents a clear record for the university, which has never had more than three students tied for the top graduate spot. More typically, only one or two students achieve the honor.

For these fabulous five, the honor doesn't come as a shock. Rather, it helps them each fulfill a goal they set early on. For Blanda Miller, a native of Tahoka, that came during Freshman Orientation.

"This was something I set out to do," she said. "At Koinonia, we set goals and then played this silly game to show how it's not always easy to accomplish the goal. I just decided I'd show them and do it. I said, 'I'm here for academics and I want to make all A's.' "

Several others agreed. Nathan Burgess, who graduated valedictorian from Hale Center High School four years ago, said he set the goal in the beginning, but knew it would mean working hard. For Corrie Igo, a Whiteface native who was also valedictorian, aiming for the highest mark was natural, though she admits, "it wasn't really pressing until I kept getting A's and realized I really could do it."

For Damon West, a Littlefield native, the prize was just a result of his focus on doing his best. He admits that as a new college student, he didn't see maintaining a 4.0 as possible.

"I'm really goal-driven and motivated by doing my best and achieving," he said. "After the first semester or two, I knew I could do it. I realized if I put time into it, it could be done. So I did."

Much the same was true for April Winn, a Meadow native who also graduated at the head of her high school class. Achieving a 4.0 involved work, but she said, "I always wanted to make good grades and can't settle for just anything. I've always wanted to do the best I could in everything."

The group's penchant for success didn't just come in the classroom. While earning A's, many of these students held part-time jobs on- and off-campus or, in Winn's case, were involved in athletics, which took up much time. West worked in the campus bookstore and has been a youth minister for two years, currently serving 9 months at First Baptist Church in Halfway. Burgess worked days in the bookstore and spent evenings at HealthSouth, a physical rehabilitation center in Plainview, earning valuable work experience toward his field of interest, physical therapy.

But the five were also just as involved in campus activities. An education student, Igo was involved in student government, band and choir and was voted class favorite for three years. A religion and Spanish major, Miller was involved in Ministerial Fellowship, serving as president this past year, as well as the Baptist Student Ministries leadership team and Student Foundation. Burgess was active in the Student Alumni Council and Pi Sigma Sigma, a math and science organization. Winn, a business student, was involved in Phi Beta Lambda and spent four years on the basketball court as a member of the Flying Queens. West was involved in Ministerial Fellowship and several honor societies.

The group all agreed that achieving this goal meant work and even a bit of sacrifice at times, though being good students didn't hurt.

"In basketball we always played in a tournament right before finals and I'll never forget how everyone would be running around but Becca Whittle (a former team-mate and December's highest ranking graduate) and I would be off studying for finals," Winn recalled. "It was definitely tough when you're gone most of the week through the season."

Others counted events like getting engaged (Miller) or married (West and Winn) as adding extra challenges to their focus on academics. Each took no less than 13-15 hours each semester, with West taking advantage of microterms to finish in three years. But no matter what the circumstances, each pulled through and saw the goal to its completion.

"I got a little burned out at least once a semester, when everything started catching up with me, but I just had to sit down and decide what I needed to do to keep it up," Burgess said. "Mostly I just tried to start out good and finish good."

Aside from these five, the Class of 2001 as a whole is filled with high achievers. Of the 104 graduates to cross the stage, 15 were graduating summa cum laude (with highest honors), 14 were magna cum laude (high honors) and 8 were cum laude (with honors). Three others have received honors or distinction for their degrees.

Perhaps Igo summed up the feelings of many with her desire to give credit where it's due.

"God has just blessed me so much. I know it was only through his strength and grace that I was able to do all that I did," she said. "I have to give Him the glory."