Editor’s note: This story is one in a longstanding annual series in the MDJ spotlighting the county’s best and brightest as they graduate high school. The recognition takes on new meaning with the loss of many senior activities due to the coronavirus pandemic.

MARIETTA — Alison Vaughan, a recent graduate of Mount Paran Christian School, says being named her class’s valedictorian was the culmination of four years of work toward that goal.

Vaughan received nearly perfect scores on both the SAT and ACT, completed 15 advanced placement courses in her four years of high school and finished with a 4.63 GPA while balancing student government, varsity tennis, mock trial and various clubs and honor societies. She also received offers for more than $100,000 in scholarships.

Vaughan is headed to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, in the fall and says she’ll pursue a career in commercial law.

The graduate said the key to her academic success lies in balance and knowing her limits. She pushed herself to do as much as she possibly could while also having realistic goals.

“It’s all about priorities. You kind of have to decide, ‘Today, school is my priority,’ or, ‘Today, hanging out with people is my priority,’” she said, noting that it’s important to spread time between social and academic opportunities to ensure well-rounded development. “You have to shift that around, so you don’t just focus on one area.”

For Vaughan, that meant there were many late nights spent working.

“I’m not a good morning person. If I tried to get up early and do my work, I’d sleep right through it,” she said with a smile.

The Mount Paran STAR Student said her experience in mock trial in high school led to her interest in law.

“As a freshman, I thought, ‘You know, maybe I’ll be good at this,’” Vaughan said. “I liked public speaking, problem solving, writing, presentations, just that whole atmosphere. I think that’s just something I can do long term.”

Martha Troutman taught Vaughan in multiple honors and advanced Spanish courses in high school. Troutman said it’s almost hard to believe how well-rounded her student was.

“She’s just an amazing, well-rounded young lady,” Troutman said. “She just doesn’t fit in the regular category. She’s athletic, funny, social, she’s intellectually curious without being somebody who just wants to get that top grade.”

And what makes the student so special, she said, is her love of learning. She didn’t come to school to simply complete her assignments, Troutman said, she came to learn and to widen her understanding of the subjects at hand.

Jill Vaughan, Alison Vaughan’s mother, echoed the compliments of her teacher. Jill Vaughan said she and her husband did not to push their daughter to achieve at the level she had — she took that upon herself.

“She’s just been so focused on doing the best she can and setting goals and attaining them. This has been quite a culmination ... that you were able to crown (high school) with the valedictorianship,” the student’s mother said, casting admiring eyes at her daughter. “She stays on top of things herself very well.”

Like many other seniors from the class of 2020, Vaughan said she’d miss most the friends and teachers she’d known for so long, especially since COVID-19-related school closures meant she never got a chance to properly say goodbye. And, she said, that stings even more since she’s been attending school at Mount Paran since pre-K.

“Even without (the closures), I would’ve said (I’d miss) the people. But given how 2020 ended, even more so, because those last cathartic moments that we were supposed to have as a group — senior day and senior breakfast, stuff like that — we never got to experience,” she said. “So it’s almost like there wasn’t really an end to senior year. We were just there and then we weren’t. There’s no sense of closure with the people that I’ve gone to school with for the last 14 years.”

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Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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