By Elizabeth Bonner, The Tennessean
If Tennessee wants to remain the Volunteer State, it needs to take education more seriously, the area's top high school graduates say.
Education and community service were the top concerns among more than 230 valedictorians and salutatorians surveyed by The Tennessean - and students said the two issues are linked.
think that if we instill a good education in people, they will give
back to the community," said Ashley Virgin, one of two valedictorians at
the Nashville School of the Arts.
"When you're educated on the problems in our community, you can go out and try to fix things."
than 80 percent of the students ranked education and access to quality
schools as the most important issue facing Tennessee, but only one-third
believed other Tennesseans would share this opinion.
As they head for college, the top graduates
from public and private schools in Davidson and six adjacent counties
envision a united, tolerant community focused on education and
characterized by a willingness to lend a helping hand.
Many said education goes beyond schooling and includes becoming informed about the world around them.
a world where we can instantaneously communicate with others across the
world, I believe it is vital that we not only stay aware of current
events around the world, but maintain tolerance for those with other
ways of life," wrote Laura Bean, one of Siegel High School's 22
"We also need to be aware of the needs of those less fortunate and take action to meet those needs."
Many see community service as uniting force
Most used the survey not to demand greater services but to offer their own, with a plea for others to do the same.
think by participating they realized they're getting a lot more out of
it than even those people they're giving to," said Tammy Hickey, a
counselor at Smyrna High School. "They're gaining a sense of peace
within themselves, and the ability to help others just makes them feel
Nicole Yim, one of Madison Academy's two valedictorians,
said community service can be a uniting force for people of varied
Several of these students' understanding of the
community comes from a lifetime of living in the area - almost
three-quarters have lived in Tennessee for more than 12 years and most
plan to attend college within the state.
But Cole Jordan, one of Smyrna's seven valedictorians, thinks the community needs to redefine the word.
do not have to look far to help someone," Jordan wrote. "Our community
includes those people who cross our path every day. We too often view
community as people who are somewhere else. It is everyone."