IWA valedictorians offer their words of wisdom

Published 9:44 am Friday, June 20, 2014

Jessica Atkins delivers her farewell address. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Jessica Atkins delivers her farewell address. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

ISLE OF WIGHT—Promoting academic excellence at Isle of Wight Academy is one of the school’s major goals. An example of that was witnessed earlier this month during the 2014 commencement ceremony when two graduates were named co-valedictorians: Jessica Atkins and Ben Hickman.

“We both have the same GPA and took a lot of the same classes,” said Atkins, who added that the two of them had each earned a 4.25.

Nor was this the first time that more than one IWA senior got to share the honor of bidding farewell to classmates and faculty.

“It’s the discretion of the faculty who gets to be valedictorian,” she said. “Last year there was another three-way tie for valedictorian.”

Coming from a class of only 48 students, Atkins was able to personalize her words.

“I just recognized something that I’ve learned from each of them that I would carry with me,” she said. “One of my friends plays softball, and my address to her is that the team that plays together, wins together. Another who plays basketball wasn’t going to play in college. I told her that there’s a time to work hard and a time to stop and enjoy what you’ve worked for.”

The only child of Gretchen and George Atkins of Ivor, she’s headed to the University of Richmond this fall. She did consider the University of Virginia and The College of William and Mary, but UR was her first choice.

“I plan to major in history and economics. I’m thinking of becoming either a teacher/professor or a lawyer,” she said, and also credited her government/U.S. history teacher, Jack Reynolds, for his positive influence.

“I had good experience as his student,” she added.

When it came to handling the school work, Atkins made sure to plan and work ahead.

“I probably devoted about an hour or two per night [to homework]. I stayed ahead and wrote essays a week in advance,” she said. “I did have friends who waited to the last minute.

“I’ve had so much on my plate and I tried to take care of homework as it came.”

In addition to academics, Atkins got to serve as a secretary for the 4-H Center in Wakefield.

“It’s really helped my interpersonal skills. I know how to walk into a room and introduce myself. I’ve gotten more confident,” she said.

Other extracurricular activities included volunteering at the animal shelter and serving as cheerleader captain. “I’ve cheered since the 7th-grade.”

Though she just plays piano now for fun, Atkins used to do so for her church, Ivor Methodist.

“I had to keep up with that as well — play piano and volunteer,” she said. “I can’t just sit around and do nothing.”


Ben Hickman receives an academic award on graduation night. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Ben Hickman receives an academic award on graduation night. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

For his speech, Ben Hickman urged his classmates to advance in life after graduation.

“It was about — I guess it sounds corny — setting goals for yourself or finding that one thing you’re passionate about. That one thing that keeps you moving forward.”

Part of the inspiration for his words of wisdom are found in his own passion: video games.

“I’m a gamer by nature,” said Hickman. “In a lot of video games, there’s always something to keep you going. The video game industry has always been very diverse. There’s always something there to grab my obsession for however long it may last. There’s always something new out there or a new take on something old.”

He’ll take that passion into higher education.

“I have been accepted into the engineering at North Carolina State, and will major in computer engineering or computer science. I want to make video games for a long time,” said Hickman.

Going to IWA started as far back as pre-school.

“That was my parents’ choice,” he said. “I was enrolled when I was in Kindergarten. Maybe because it was safer than a public school.”

His parents, by the way, are Laura and Thomas Hickman of the Driver area in Suffolk. His brother, Christopher, is a rising senior, and sister Abigail is a rising sophomore.

Reflecting on highlights of the time at IWA, Hickman singled out music. He said he was the drummer in the pep band.

“This was my last year as drummer and I loved doing that. I was 8 years in the band,” he said. “Guitar is a side hobby, but drums are primarily my thing.”

Thinking back on favorite teacher, Hickman immediate named Yvonne Bradshaw, who taught math courses such as algebra II and calculus.

“She was very nice and very supportive,” he said. “My other favorite was the late Mrs. Sandra Crocker, who taught 9th-grade English. I’d get a B and be ecstatic. It was one of the hardest classes, but she was one of the sweetest teachers. I learned something.”