Cancer. Kidnapping. Calculus.

These are but a few of the obstacles overcome by a talented group of high school seniors-the 1996 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team.


The Times inaugurated the recognition program for academic achievement last year. It is the only statewide program of its kind in Arkansas, which has many athletic competitions but few geared to classroom work.

Earlier in the spring, we invited counselors and principals at all of the state’s public high schools, as well as representatives of private high schools and home schoolers too, to nominate seniors for consideration.


The schools submitted applications detailing the students’ academic and extracurricular achievements. Good grades and test scores were only the beginning of the criteria. We were looking for students who stood out in many ways–in school, sports, jobs, communities, churches, families.

The nominations were reviewed by two independent panels of professional educators. They selected the 10 young women and 10 young men for the All-Star team.


Following are capsule biographies of the winners, along with a list of honorable mentions and the complete list of nominees.

The winners will be honored, along with parents and teachers, at a reception next week at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Each team member will receive a cash award and plaque.

Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Central High School
Parents: Robert and Dana Brewer
College plans: Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., English

A quick glance at the achievements of Robert “Beau” Brewer can yield only one reaction: This young man is the figment of a Hollywood movie producer’s imagination, too good to be true.


And, indeed, even a fictional academic superstar might have a tough time living up to Beau’s lead. His achievements aren’t one-faceted–Beau this season was the third-ranked high school tennis player in the state, helping the Central Tigers win the state championship by making it to the semifinals of the final competition. He has a fine record of service, including tutoring his peers in French and mathematics during his lunch hour and teaching tennis to underprivileged kids in Little Rock.

And on the academic front, his success is almost unprecedented. Beau scored a perfect 240 on the PSAT, the only student in Arkansas to achieve the feat that year. He is the No. 1-ranked senior in his class of 400 and scored a 1570 on his SAT, including a perfect 800 on the verbal portion of the test.

“And I didn’t even tell you about his walking on water,” Central guidance department chairman Sam Blair said with a laugh. Asked to try to remember an instance when Beau failed at something, Blair paused for a while before saying, meekly, “Well he has dropped to third in the state in the tennis rankings” after holding down the No. 1 spot for a time, “and I wouldn’t exactly call that failing.”

Discussing his accomplishments obviously makes Beau uncomfortable, but he doesn’t pooh-pooh their significance.

“It’s hard to take stuff for granted. Test scores are such a small thing that can make a huge difference,” he said. His unassuming attitude shows in his college selection–the well-rounded Georgetown experience appealed more than Princeton where everybody “seemed very aware that they were at an Ivy League school.”

Before you worry about Beau’s non-stop schedule, know that he and his buddies have established an unofficial group they call “the Brotherhood of Slackers,” Beau says, who work just hard enough to get their As.

Age: 17
Hometown: Glenwood
High school: Caddo Hills High School
Parents: Charles and Barbara Buck
College plans: Arkansas State University, electrical engineering

Can Michael Buck work? Check it out. Though he piled up sufficient credits to take only a half-day of classes his senior year, he doubled up instead.

In the morning, there’s English, world history, biology and the principles of technology. In the afternoon there’s calculus, Spanish and drama. After school for at least 16 hours a week, there’s part-time work with the Army Corps of Engineers.


Says guidance counselor Jayne Green: “When I asked him why he wanted to take principles of technology, not a traditional college-bound student’s course, he told me, ‘Well, Mrs. Green, I took chemistry and physics in the 11th grade. I thought I would just take it for fun.’ Wow! If I had more students like Michael, my scheduling would be a breeze.”

Green says Michael’s work makes it hard for him to participate in a full slate of extracurricular activities–that is, unless you count serving as the high school’s unofficial computer technician. “When we have anything go wrong, we can count on him to fix the problem or explain,” says Green.

He’s a Quiz Bowl team captain and Beta Club president and winner of awards in most of the subjects he’s taken. He has a 3.95 grade average, first in his class of 40. “But he never gloats on this,” says Green. “He’s so quiet he sometimes gets passed up for recognition.”

His workload doesn’t prevent Michael’s participation in fund drives for flood victims, Coats for Kids and food drives for the needy. But work with the Corps is a constant. He started work for the Corps in June of 1995 as a student aide. Working from the Corps’ Mountain Pine office, he soon graduated from odd chores to assisting rangers in patrols and maintenance jobs. Finally, they just said he should feel free to sign in and work whenever he had the time.

What drives Michael Buck? “Neither of my parents went to college. Since I am going to be the first, I decided I might as well go in with a bang.” A bang it was. Arkansas State University has given him a full ride, plus spending money, to study electrical engineering.

Age: 18
Hometown: Fort Smith
High school: Fort Smith Northside
Parents: Thanh and Hoa Chung
College plans: Harvard University, Cambridge, biochemistry

Hon Chung arrived at Fort Chaffee in 1979 as a Sino-Vietnamese refugee, along with his twin brother, Anh, and the rest of the large Chung family.

Growing up in Fort Smith, Hon was fortunate to be surrounded by a community of fellow immigrants. “It’s real nice, because I feel I am able to experience everything without losing my culture,” he says. “We’re a tight bunch.”

A member of the champion Arkansas high school Quiz Bowl team and a National Merit Finalist, Hon has thrived on his family’s competitive academic tradition, which has produced several biochemists. Twin brother Anh joined him on the quiz bowl team and has been Hon’s main scholastic rival. “There’s sort of a friendly competition,” he says. “We’re known as the Chung twins. There’s almost a loss of identity. Our academic records are almost identical.”

The rivalry will no doubt continue—and perhaps intensify—as Hon heads off for Harvard and Anh goes to Yale.

“I am a Sino-Vietnamese refugee in the Deep South raised and surrounded by a strict Southern Baptist society,” he says. “I have found this mix of cultures to be very valuable and essential to shaping my personality. As it turns out, education has great importance in all three cultures …”

Hon comes from a family of 13—the children range in age from 7 to 29 and there are two sets of twins. “It seems like everybody I run into knows at least one brother or sister,” he says.

He scored a mighty 1543 on the SAT, a 31 on the ACT and was holding down a 4.38 grade-point average at the end of his first senior semester. Hon relieves daily stress by playing basketball and practicing with nunchaku, the martial arts weapon.

He is planning a career in medicine, either as a researcher or physician.

Age: 18
Hometown: Russellville
High school: Russellville High School
Parents: Bill and Marvelee Converse
College plans: University of Illinois, Urbana, biology, genetics

Scott Converse likes to spend time studying bacteria and dissecting rat brains, and he’s thought since the seventh grade that he’d enjoy being a genetic research scientist.

His interest in DNA and genetics landed him an internship at the National Center for Toxicological Research, where he studied with a research geneticist who wowed him with his research.

“It was really exciting,” Scott says. “It affirmed my commitment.” That’s the main reason he’s headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana, a school with a solid undergraduate curriculum and top graduate school for his area of interest.

No. 1 in his graduating class, Scott is Honor Society vice president, a National Merit Finalist, a Principal’s Leadership Award recipient and a Quiz Bowl and Odyssey of the Mind champ.

“Scott is the epitome of a young man capable of making a significant difference in our world. He is truly the most mature and insightful senior I have ever had the pleasure of knowing; he perceives concepts well beyond his years,” guidance counselor Rebecca Ritchie says.

A soccer athlete who wants to play intramural soccer in college, Scott is also a pianist and tuba player with musical interests as diverse as Glenn Miller and the Beatles. One of his goals is to learn to play guitar.

Scott has traveled with his church youth group during the summers to San Marcos, Texas, to the San Marcos River Work Camp where he has built and repaired homes in disadvantaged areas, project repeated in the Roland area. Closer to home, Scott volunteers at the Main Street Mission, a Russellville shelter for the needy, and has organized a fund-raising project and canned-food drive for the mission. Scott also holds down a part-time job as front end manager of a local grocery store.

He is graduating with a 4.1333 GPA and is planning to pursue a degree in biology and then graduate studies in genetics.

Age: 17
Hometown: Pine Bluff
High school: White Hall High School
Parents: Herbert and Ann Fendley
College Plans: Rhodes College, Memphis, biochemistry

A childhood bout with cancer taught Garney Fendley the value of life at an early age. Through this painful experience, which he is reluctant to share, Garney says he “learned not to take life for granted and acquired high motivation to achieve.”

And achieve he has.

Garney, an All-American Scholar, ranks first in his class with a 4.14 grade point average. A perfect scorer on the SAT-Math I test, he is currently enrolled in nine hours of calculus at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and is president of his senior class and the Beta Club. Garney has succeeded in almost every area of academics. He has won a National English Merit Award and, according to his principal, Lynda Williams, “his literature, language and composition talents are superlative, and he has an uncanny knack for cutting to the heart and soul of meaning in literature.” In addition, his chemistry instructor, Richard Guill, declared him the “finest overall science student.”

Garney has not forgotten his own rough start and remembers those in need. He initiated an Adopt-A-Family program, and he actively participates in canned-food drives, visits in nursing homes and works “tirelessly on projects that support research of pediatric cancers,” according to Williams.

Garney also serves as a tutor, helping students before, during and after school. Williams says she “has seen him support quiet and shy students in ways that the boost in their self-esteem was physically noticeable. He loves people and is, likewise, loved by many.”

Garney plans on attending medical school.

Age: 18
Hometown: Camden
High school: Camden Fairview High School
Parents: Kenneth and June Kirtley
College Plans: Ouachita Baptist University, chemistry

John Clay Kirtley has had a wonderfully diversivied academic career at Fairview High School at Camden. Among his school-related activities, he’s a singer, actor, state champion trapshooter, and soccer team captain, and he teaches an occasional Saturday morning class on rocketry to fifth and sixth grade students at Southern Arkansas University Tech.

He was a four-time all-region choir member (he’s a bass-2), and had lead roles in class productions of “Bye Bye Birdie” and “South Pacific.” Astronomy, French, biology and computer studies are among his other favorite academic pursuits, and he recently became an Eagle scout. He is president of National Honor Society chapter at Fairview, and has been the school’s Outstanding Chemistry Student, and Outstanding Male Student. He was the school’s first-ever National Honor Roll nominee.

John works part-time in one of Arkansas’s most curious retail establishments–Banks’ Sewing & Vacuum, which is half a sewing center and the other half pawn shop. John repairs vacuum cleaners there between stints of selling guns and gold jewelry. He is a recognized firearms expert.

“A fairly amazing kid,” his principal said in recommending him as an Academic All-Star.

John’s mother and father, June and Kenneth Kirtley, are both school teachers at Camden–she teaches 10th-grade English at Fairview, and he teaches building trades at the Camden Career Center. John will attend Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia this fall to study chemistry and pre-med, and intends to go on from there to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock to prepare for a career in internal medicine or surgery.

Age: 18
Hometown: Marianna
High school: Lee High School
Parents: Mr. and Mrs. James E. McCoy
College plans: University of Central Arkansas at Conway, politics

Look for Daven McCoy to be governor some day. That’s what his counselor, Michael Rodriguez says. “Without a doubt. Governor. President. Whatever.”

That’s because McCoy is a communicator, “a natural.” And a hard worker, with a 4.3 grade point average and an interest in history and political science.

But before he makes that run for office, McCoy will spend the summer working in the governor’s office as an aide. In the fall, he’ll head to UCA, on a full football scholarship.

McCoy, who attended most of his senior year classes at Phillips County Community College, has been active in the community as well as the classroom. He presides over Lee County High’s Punditical High Dreamers (PHDs), which has adopted a local park “in a really bad neighborhood,” he said, and is cleaning it up.

McCoy’s desire to improve life in his Delta community accounts for his interest in politics, he said. “I’ve always said that whatever I do, I would try to come back in some form or fashion to try to help (Lee County).” He says he’s learned a lot from being able to leave Arkansas and see other places–places like Atlanta, where he went as as a guest of Coca-Cola, which is considering him for a special scholarship, and Washington, D.C., which he visited as a junior commissioner for the Martin Luther King Commission.

McCoy credits his success to family competitiveness: His sister, a Spellman College graduate, is working on a dissertation at the University of Maryland; his brother, a former Razorback, is an engineer. Both parents work in school-related jobs, his mother as director of nutrition for the Little Rock School District; his father as principal of the alternative school in Marianna. “I guess it’s a family rooted deeply in Christ,” McCoy said. “My mom and dad do all they can to pave the right road for us.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Sylvan Hills
Parent: Royce Dianne Ollison
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, journalism and English

Last summer, Rashod Ollison enrolled in a street-witnessing class at Liberty Hill Baptist Church. “Our class went out and witnessed to people who lived in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Little Rock,” Rashod said. “I got great satisfaction witnessing and fellowshipping with an elderly woman named Mrs. Margaret. She has been a widow for 30 years and had so much history to share. I learned biblical scriptures and folklore from her and she learned some things from me.”

Most people could learn some things from Rashod, who has a 3.72 grade average at Sylvan Hills, where he is editor of the newspaper, president of the African American Culture Club, vice president of the Beta Club, a student government representative, and a member of the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta math society. He finished second in creative writing at the 1995 state Beta Club convention.

Rashod has served food at Our House, a shelter for the homeless, and tutored children in English at his church. He is a member of the Mercantile Bank Student Board of Directors. In the afternoons, he works at the downtown branch of the Little Rock Public Library. He has organized poetry readings and workshops, and every year during Black History Month he reads his own verse at public libraries in the area. He learned to cook so that he could have a hot meal ready for his mother, a single parent, when she comes home from work.

Rashod plans to major in journalism and English at Fayetteville.

Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Parkview Arts-Science Magnet
Parents: Jerome and Earnestine Strickland
College plans: Washington University in St. Louis, biology

“Politics. That’s where Jerome will be.” So predicts Mary Ann James, Parkview Magnet guidance counselor, and one of a legion of Jerome Strickland fans.

Since Jerome enrolled at Parkview as a sophomore, he has begun each day with a hug for everybody in the guidance office. As president of the student council, he brings verve, and often even wears a costume, to make morning announcements. He’s known for using everything from trivia questions to humor to stir morning-befogged classmates. He can juggle, sing, play the piano, drums and even the harmonica, on which he blows old folk songs and blues. If the friendly approach fails, Strickland can fall back on a black belt in taekwondo.

When Jerome was asked to make a report to the PTA recently, instead of a dry speech, he did the presentation by cartoon, displayed with an overhead projector. “He just has a knack for making things interesting,” says counselor James.

Jerome has a politician’s smooth tongue, too. He won first place in the Optimist Club oratorical competition, and he’s put his skills to use at Boys State, Governor’s School and the National Young Leaders Conference.

But there’s more to Jerome Strickland than a slick exterior. He’s compiled a 3.9-grade point in Parkview’s demanding science specialty area, good enough to rank 7th in a class of 260. He’s won science fair awards in both microbiology and physics.

Jerome shines outside school, too. He’s volunteered at Our House, the shelter for the homeless, in the Paint Your Heart Out campaign and at Riverfest, where he works in the children’s area. At St. Matthew Church of God in Christ, he’s an organist, youth minister and Sunday school teacher.

“Having God or some kind of religious direction in your life helps a kid succeed, so does the inner drive to keep going,” Jerome says. He’s going to Washington University, on scholarship, to study biology and prepare for medical school. And maybe politics, too.

Age: 18
Hometown: North Little Rock
High School: North Little Rock High School
Parents: Tom and Wendy Wood
College plans: Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

The best description of Michael Wood is true Renaissance man.

So says Kathryn H. Smith, his advanced placement English teacher, who characterizes him a poet, scholar, musician and philosopher.

“Michael brightens my life every day,” she says. “He has got the brightest mind I’ve ever encountered. He’s brilliant.”

A National Merit Finalist, Michael is also a champion debater and a talented actor who has directed the school production of “Crazy for You.”

Tall, lanky and “just a wreck to look at” with extremely baggy pants and unkempt hair, Michael is anything but a wreck in Smith’s class, where he often scores the highest mark on a test or writes the top paper.

Michael rarely gives Smith all his attention in class, choosing instead to read books of his choice—his favorite author currently is Jack Kerouac—and listen to Smith at the same time. Even so, she can’t trip him up, Smith says.

“I have abandoned trying to get him to take notes in class as the rest of my English students do. Michael is not like the rest of my students. He is a sponge, he absorbs everything—from Flaubert to Dostoyevsky. Nothing slips by him.”

A talented pianist, French horn and guitar player, Michael has been active in the school band and plays in a punk-rock band, Soophie Nun Squad. He has been a contributor of poems and short stories to the high school literary magazine, has volunteered at radio station KABF and has been a news director for the high school television station. At the same time, Michael has excelled in math and science, knows French and initiated a school recycling program.

“No boundaries exist for this young man; he will leave the rest of his comrades in his proverbial dust,” Smith says.

Michael has a 4.03135 GPA and scored 31 on the ACT. He plans to attend Northwestern University and study English or theater and plans a career in writing or music or in academia as an English professor.

Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Mount St. Mary Academy
Parents: Alois and Isabel Adams
College plans: Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., sociology

It would be easy to describe Sara Adams’ commitment to excellence based strictly on what she has achieved in the academic world–her No. 1 rank in her class at Mount St. Mary Academy, her 4.0 grade point, her 1540 on the SAT, her 32 on the ACT.

But focusing so tightly would be selling Sara short. Her achievements outside the classroom are equally impressive and reveal a young woman that Mount St. Mary guidance counselor Sarah H. Wilkinson describes as “one of the most outstanding young women that I have ever known … exceptionally talented and very gifted.”

Sara seeks balance in her life and complements her mental endeavors by running cross country for her high school team. She also is an active and avid volunteer, “evidence of her personal commitment to serve others and indicative of the balance she brings to all areas of her life,” Wilkinson says. Sara has spent more than 300 hours working as a volunteer at Camp Aldersgate, which each summer plays host to youngsters with special physical and emotional needs.

“Working with the handicapped kids, I admired their hope and their spirit,” Sara says. “They’d had such hard lives, but theirs were happy.”

One of Sara’s more adventurous volunteer stints came in the Mexican border town of Las Milpas, Texas, where she spent a week working with children in a literacy project.

That, too, gave her perspective. ”It was pretty eye-opening, seeing the neighborhoods of extreme poverty,” she says.

Maureen Stover taught Sara three years of Latin and has had her this year in senior honors English. Throughout, Stover has been impressed that “Sara’s intellect is complemented by her work ethic, her determination to succeed and by a real desire to learn. … I have great confidence in Sara as a person and believe she is he type of young person whose character shows promise for the future.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Springdale
High school: Springdale High School
Parents: Dr. and Mrs. Murl Baker.
College plans: Wellesley College, biological sciences

Katherine Baker is first in her class of 486 at Springdale High, carries a 4.17-average with four advanced placement classes and also makes nothing but As in intermediate French classes at the University of Arkansas, where she spends idle hours E-mailing penpals en Francais.

Katie has, says guidance counselor Connie Williams, “a maturity that others seek to imitate.”

Never was that maturity and grace under fire more evident than the fall of her junior year. Heading home after cheerleading at a football game, Katie was abducted by a man who had hidden in the trunk of her car. She was blindfolded; she never saw her abductor.

Katie kept calm. She talked to her captor. After an hour or so, he relented. He dropped her off near her home, physically unharmed. For the next eight months, she lived the life of prey, not knowing if or when he might strike again. But she says, “I didn’t let myself think about it. I didn’t want to dwell on it. I tried to get on to other things.” The abductor held three other Springdale High School girls captive before he was caught stalking a fourth. Katie Baker, says counselor Williams, sustained and supported the others until the day a former classmate was shipped off to prison.

This grown-up high schooler still has a bit of the little girl in her, too. When the stress gets high, she retreats to Katie’s Place, a backyard swing at her home where she swings her worries away.

The wonder is where she finds time, between class work, and volunteer activities. She’s been a Big Sister, a volunteer with Meals on Wheels, the Bloodmobile, the AIDS Task Force, and with other community service groups.

She’s a student of kung fu, a dancer and a budding actress, one of a dozen or so American students chosen to study Shakespeare in Italy this summer.

Don’t try to pin Katie down on her future just yet, though med school, French and journalism bubble up as favorites. “I like so many different things, I don’t want to focus just yet.”

Hometown: Harrison
High School: Bergman High School
Parents: Tom and Liz Creamer
College Plans: Central Baptist College, Conway, business administration

At Bergrman High School, Amanda Creamer is known for getting the job done.

Guidance counselor Kathy Dickinson describes Amanda as the school’s single most dependable club member, the one sponsors can count on. “She actively works for the organization, serving on virtually every committee,” Dickinson says.

Among them: Senior Day Committee, Prom Committee, Graduation Committee, class fund-raising committee, vocational and honors banquet committee, Future Business Leaders of America fund-raising committee. Plus, she is FBLA vice president and Senior Beta treasurer, finds time to manage the school basketball team, fund-raises for the March of Dimes and Arkansas Children’s Hospital and is active in her church youth group.

“She is an extremely hard worker,” agrees FBLA sponsor Deborah Martin says “She is not the type of student to be involved in an organization just to say she is. She’s usually the sponsor’s right-hand man.”

There is something else Amanda’s two cheerleaders think worthy of mentioning: Amanda has spina bifida, a spinal column disease that has caused paralysis from the waist down. She must use crutches to help her walk, though she could opt for a wheelchair.

But those crutches, nor steep school stairs nor a nearly-out-reach locker have ever prompted Amanda to seek special treatment at school.

“She is such a strong and self-motivated young lady who serves as an inspiration to all of us here at Bergman Schools,” Dickinson says. “Amanda is so motivated and self-determined to succeed that it is really difficult to think of her as handicapped in any way.”

Amanda is often among the first to arrive at school and the last to leave. This year, she and 11 other seniors arrive at 7 a.m. three days a week for an honors English class.

“I think she’s amazing,” Dickinson says.

“She is very, very independent; she wants to do things herself,” says Martin. “She is very sincere. I have never heard her speak disrespectful of anyone.”

Creamer ranks sixth in a graduating class of 57 and has a 3.77 GPA. She plans to attend Central Baptist College in Conway and continue her studies at the College of the Ozarks at Point Lookout, Mo. She plans to major in business administration and minor in hotel and restaurant management.

Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Central High
Parents: Ahmed and Rokhsaneh Golzar
College plans: Wellesley College (tentative), undecided

If you want to know the real Yasmeen Golzar, forget about the 1380 on the SAT and the six AP courses she aced in one term. Follow her to the public library.

For several years, Yasmeen has been a faithful volunteer at Lion’s World Services for the Blind, and the library is where her magic begins. In her spare time, Yasmeen records books on tape for the patrons of Lion’s World Services.

“It was just incredible to me to know that by doing this, I was helping people become independent,” she says. “I love reading myself, so it’s sort of a selfish thing. The first book that I read was a biography on their founder. That was really inspirational. Most of the books have been textbooks, like psychology books.”

Yasmeen, who is Iranian, also has been active in Accept No Boundaries, a Central High group that fights prejudice, and recently completed a two-year term as vice president of Muslim Youth of North America.

“My grandparents were born in Iran, and they migrated to India, where my parents were born,” Yasmeen said. “When I was in the fourth grade, there was talk of underground murdering of Iranians going on in the United States. I was told by people that we shouldn’t say that our family is Iranian. That’s really hard. I realized then how stupid racism is. So I’ve always just done stuff like speaking up when someone makes a racist comment.”

Last year, Yasmeen became the first junior at Central to win the Century III Leaders Award, and she was later elected secretary of the senior class. She works part-time at Ali Baba’s Restaurant in Little Rock, which is owned and operated by her family.

Yasmeen’s favorite subjects are English and European history, and she hopes to attend Wellesley College, where she has been accepted.

Age: 17
Hometown: Benton
High school: Benton High School
Parents: Ray and Sandra Henrichsen
College Plans: Brigham Young University, Provo, animal science

Sonnet Henrichsen’s success in academics is no surprise, since she comes from a large, supportive family that stresses excellence.

An active participant in the Future Problem Solving Club, Sonnet, who comes from a family of nine children, says that large family has been a major influence on her wide-ranging interests, activities and successes.

“They have always encouraged me to do my best,” Sonnet says.

Sonnet, a National Merit Finalist who graduates with 4.25 PGA and ranks first in her class, is the editor of her school’s yearbook. She is also active in the Spanish, math and science clubs as well as Future Business Leaders of America.

A Girl’s State delegate, Sonnet spends many Saturdays volunteering at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where she helps cheer up children and give the parents a break. And, with all of her leftover free time, Sonnet enjoys tutoring students at her school, and stays even busier with church activities.

Sonnet’s family moved to Arkansas from New York in July 992, so she has had plenty of time to adjust to Arkansas and Southern culture. It took her ears a little longer to adjust to Southerners’ exaggerated speech pattern, and she’s still trying to remember to say “y’all” vs. “you guys” as a collective noun.

Sonnet has a deep love of animals and plans on attending veterinarian school.

Age: 17
Hometown: Morrilton
High school: Morrilton High School
Parents: Gloria Leapheart
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, engineering

Kristy Leapheart is the student body president at Morrilton High School. She ranks first academically in her class of 150, having maintained a perfect grade-point average–this while holding down a part-time job at a fast-food restaurant to help support her family. “She has overcome more personal hardships than anyone I know,” her MHS guidance counselor says. “And she has broken more color barriers here than anyone. She’s been elected to every leadership position she’s tried for, and she’s done it on the strength of her personality and character. Everyone just loves her.”

Kristy is student council president, captain of the drill team, and a member of the track team. She’s the daughter of Gloria Leapheart of Morrilton.

She will attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and major in engineering.

Age: 17
Hometown: Fort Smith
High school: Northside High School
Parents: Mr. and Mrs. Paul Phounsavath
College plans: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, international business or law

Don’t let Alexandria Phounsavath’s ready laugh fool you: She’s a serious-minded teen-ager who’s known what it’s like to have a job since the tender age of 8. Now, this native of Laos who’s devoted a part of her time to the Cultural Ambassadors program, teaching Fort Smith children about the country her family fled, is headed to a prestigious East Coast college to study international business or law.

“I want to travel around the world, maybe work for the U.N.,” Phounsavath said. Her interest in different cultures has been perpetuated, she said, by her experience working in her parents’ coin laundry, “where all kinds of people come.”

Phounsavath’s counselor, Brenda Danley Partin, described the teen-ager as a “beautiful” girl who’s set apart from the rest by intense inner drive. “She’s pushed herself to the top,” Partin said. “I would bet any amount of money on her that she will be successful.”

Phounsavath acknowledges that when she’s not studying or working, she often likes to “be by myself at home, relaxing.” But she’s not all cerebral: “I absolutely love to dance and perform,” the drill team member says. One of the reasons she chose Bryn Mawr is the variety of dance she can study there.

Phounsavath’s most admired person: “My father. He has an iron will to pursue his dreams.”

Age: 17
Hometown: Hot Springs
High school: Lakeside High School
Parents: Mr. and Mrs. Paul Rothert
College plans: Harvard University, Cambridge, undecided

During the first week of this school year, a course Caroline Rothert had planned to take at Lakeside High School was dropped. She compensated that night, by enrolling in a philosophy course at Garland County Community College. “I don’t want any downtime,” she said. Evidently.

She runs literally — on the cross country team and the track team (mile and two-mile) — and figuratively. She is secretary of the Student Council, president of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Club, works on the school newspaper, and is a member of Mu Alpha Theta math society, Future Problem Solvers and the Quiz Bowl team. She has a 4.47 gradepoint average and posted near-perfect scores on the college aptitude tests. She was chosen for Arkansas Governors School, and was a National Merit Finalist and a Presidential Scholar candidate.

What she does away from school is, if anything, even more impressive — she works with AIDS patients as a care-giver in the RAIN program. She said her interest was aroused after a panel visited the school a few years ago. She also does volunteer tutoring and teaches a church school class.

“She does not make others uncomfortable with her intellect, but is sensitive and tactful and helpful,” says Frances D. Lancaster, a counselor at Lakeside. “Caroline is a sensitive, serious person who possesses great determination and is driven by deep, inner humanitarian spirit.”

Caroline is undecided about her major at Harvard.

Age: 17
Hometown: North Little Rock
High school: North Little Rock High School
Parents: Helen and Philip Stegall
College plans: Northwestern University, Evanston, theater, microbiology or environmental sciences

Elizabeth Stegall is the kind of person who takes charge. If she’s involved with a play, for example. She’s probably the director. If its a recycling project, she’s probably the organizer.

“I think a lot of it is because I get a vision for a project in its entirety,” she says. “I am a control freak.”

Recently she wrote a reader’s theater about heroes, then she cast the production, directed it and took to competition.

She also co-anchors the high school television station with Michael Wood, another of our 1996 Academic All-stars. Elizabeth says she enjoys the television work, but gets frustrated when she’s on the air and Michael makes funny faces at her from off-camera.

Elizabeth’s interests are balanced between theater and speech on the one side and science on the other. She has been cast in a number high school plays, ranging from “Bye Bye Birdie” to “Forest of Fables,” and has competed in speech tournaments, placing first in extemporaneous speaking, improvised duet acting and reader’s theater, among other areas. She has also placed in regional and state science fairs, and is one of North Little Rock’s top students in AP calculus and biology.

One of Elizabeth’s real joys is volunteering through her church. Through Ozark Mission Project, a Methodist outreach program, she spent a week over two summers making home repairs for the elderly and for those who live alone. On the ministry team, she also helps put together a program every week for her church youth group.

Elizabeth carries a 4.06 grade-point average, and scored a 1330 on the SAT and a 31 on the ACT. At Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., she plans to study theater. “But I may change to radio/TV/film,” she says, and take a second major in microbiology or environmental sciences.

“I know that I want to direct at some point,” she says, “whether it be in theater or film.”

Age: 18
Hometown: Fort Smith
High school: Southside High School
Parents: Rex and Ginger Terry
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, bacteriology

All the Academic All-Stars provoke superlatives from their school officials and friends. But Anna Terry, 18, is described by her guidance counselor Dianne Jeffery as “the most studious, intelligent student I’ve ever had contact with. … She is a very special young lady.”

Terry–who was home schooled by her mother until seventh grade–will attend the U of A on a Sturgis Fellowship. That honor’s not surprising, given that she scored a perfect 1600 on her SATs and has a 4.4 grade point average. But what does surprise is that rounding out Terry’s brainy side is the fact that she’s a violinist–one of the top four in the state, her teacher says. And she’s passionate about music, declaring J.S. Bach to be the individual she most admires. “He changed the rules [about composition] single-handedly. He’s very complex.”

It wasn’t just the “full ride” the Sturgis offered her that persuaded Terry to choose the U of A over other schools that beckoned–Rice, Baylor, Washington University and Vanderbilt. It was the more intimate size of Fayetteville. And this well-rounded and academically tops student spurned the Ivy League, she said, because … “well,” she said, “let’s just say I’m an eighth-generation Arkansan.”

Though she loves music, “I don’t want to be forced to try to make a living out of it,” Terry said. Instead, she’ll play the professional field. “I think it would be fun to do something high risk, like brain surgery or heart surgery. But I also like more research-oriented fields. I’d like to have a job where I could do both … like bacteriology.”

She’s got a symphony of talents to draw on, Terry’s counselor Jeffery confirms. “When considering Anna Terry as a total package,” Jeffery writes in her nomination letter, “she seemingly would appear as ‘too good to be true.’ The good news is that she is exactly the person she purports to be.”