The Top 10 students in the Class of 2023 at Southern High School had amassed a slate of academic honors and personal accomplishments by the time they flipped their tassels at commencement earlier this month, and all of the students in the Top 10 are planning to start college in the fall.
Class valedictorian Koen Rohrer will be joined by four of his fellow Top 10 students when he arrives on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill in August. Two of the Top 10 students from Southern, salutatorian Kaley Miller and Greta Hessenthaler, will attend Elon University.
Rounding out the Top 10 students in Southern High School’s Class of 2023 are rising freshmen at Duke University, Meredith College, and North Carolina State University.
Southern High School’s Top 10 graduates for the Class of 2023 are:
Class Valedictorian Koen Rohrer, 18, is the son of Kevin and Carey Rohrer of Liberty. In addition to his high school diploma, Rohrer earned both an Associate in Arts and an Associate in Science degree with High Honors from Alamance Community College through dual enrollment.
“I plan to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall, where I will double major in Computer Science and Economics,” Rohrer tells The Alamance News. He has received multiple scholarships from the Veterans of Foreign Wars “Voice of Democracy” essay contest, as well as scholarships from the Better Business Bureau Education Foundation of Central and Northwest North Carolina.
“I had the privilege of encountering exceptional teachers at Southern High School, but if I were to choose a standout, it would be a tie between [Teri Rasa, who teaches social studies] and [Christi Fitch, who teaches science],” says Rohrer. “Both of them were exemplary role models who genuinely cared for and valued their students.”
Rohrer was captain of the varsity lacrosse team, which provided some of his most memorable experiences at Southern, he says. “The bus rides back to Southern after hard-fought victories on the lacrosse field … [and] the sense of camaraderie among teammates created an atmosphere that is unforgettable,” Rohrer recalls.
During his time at Southern, Rohrer was also a member of the D.R.E.A.M Team, a youth mentoring program, and National Honor Society.
“I attended North Carolina Governor’s School, which is a highly competitive four-week residential summer program,” Rohrer elaborates. “In my community, I volunteered at VFW Post 10607, where I independently organized a fundraiser, successfully raising $2,270. The funds generated from this event were used to support various initiatives benefiting local veterans.”
Rohrer also worked as a shipping and receiving clerk at Newton’s Fire and Safety in Graham during his junior and senior years of high school. “I am truly appreciative of the Newton family as they embraced me as one of their own and provided me with the necessary flexibility to maintain a balance between my academic endeavors and work responsibilities,” Rohrer tells the newspaper.
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Salutatorian Kaley Miller, 18, is the daughter of Crystal and Jonathan Miller of Graham. In addition to her high school diploma, Miller also graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in teacher preparation from ACC.
Miller is planning to enroll this fall at Elon University, for which she has been awarded multiple scholarships, including: an Alamance Scholars Engagement Scholarship ($5,000); a Dr. Jo Watts Williams Teaching Scholars Scholarship ($3,000); an Alpha Delta Kappa Tau scholarship ($1,000); and a Mary Morrow-Edna Richards Scholarship for Future Teachers ($2,500), among others.
Miller says her favorite teacher at Southern was Nancy Bare, who teaches English, “because she believed in me and saw my potential, even when I didn’t see it in myself.” She counts among her most memorable experiences at Southern as having been part of the Alamance Scholars program at Elon University, as well as Future Teachers of America, for which Miller says she was a founding member, and the National Honor Society.
“If I’m allowed to share a senior quote, this is mine,” says Miller, quoting the novelist Steven Chbosky, from his young adult novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower: “‘[You’re] a wallflower. You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.’”
Other Top 10 students, in alphabetical order, are:
Nathan Cheek, III, 17, who is the son of Elizabeth and Nathan Cheek of Graham, also will be heading to Carolina this fall, for which he has received a scholarship for Outstanding Citizenship from the Sons of the American Revolution.
Cheek says his favorite teacher at Southern High School was Kyle Rother, who teaches Advanced Placement (AP) literature, and says his most memorable experience in high school was “finishing out my senior tennis season with a singles win.”
In addition to playing on the men’s varsity team, Cheek was also a member of the National Honor Society.
Madison Clayton, 18, is the daughter of Angela Byrum Lowe and Philip Lowe of Burlington, graduated with her high school diploma and an associate’s degree in Criminal Justice from ACC.
Clayton also will be heading this fall to UNC-Chapel Hill, for which she has received a UNC grant for $2,828 and a Sylvan Ruritan’s Club scholarship for $1,200.
She says her favorite class at Southern was “criminal justice with Kyara Kimber because she was so fun, nice, easy to talk to, and caring.” Among her favorite experiences in high school was senior skip day “because it was a chance to escape for the day and hang out with people I haven’t in a really long time.”
Clayton was a member of the Patriot’s volleyball team; vice president of the National Honor Society; and a member of the D.R.E.A.M. Team and Young Life clubs, both of which are mentoring programs for younger students.
Emma Evans, 18, who is daughter of Leigh and Anthony Riley of Haw River, graduated with her high school diploma and several certifications through the Future Farmers of America.
Evans is also heading this fall to Carolina, for which she has receive multiple scholarships, including an Eli Whitney Ruritan Scholarship ($500); a Farm Bureau scholarship ($500); a Steven C. Walker Scholarship ($1,000); and an Alamance Cattlemen’s Association Scholarship ($1,000), along with more than half a dozen others.
“My favorite classes in high school were AP environmental science and any [agricultural] classes,” Evans tells the newspaper. “My most memorable experience was placing first in the state in my agricultural sales career development event with my FFA chapter and getting the opportunity to compete at the national level in Indianapolis, Indiana.”
Evans has been a member of the National Honor Society; president of the Junior Civitans club; vice president of FFA; and captain of the girls’ varsity soccer and golf teams.
Greta Hessenthaler, 18, is the daughter of Walter and Wendy Hessenthaler of Liberty. She has been accepted to attend Elon University on a softball scholarship, in addition to receiving an Elon University Presidential Scholarship ($7,500); a Tracy McPherson Councilman Scholarship ($1,500), along with several other scholarships.
“My most memorable experience in high school was winning the 3A Softball State Championship my sophomore year,” Hessenthaler recalls. In addition to playing varsity softball, she also played on the Patriots’ varsity volleyball team and Link Crew and was a member of the National Honor Society, student council, FFA, D.R.E.A.M. Team, and two other extracurricular clubs at Southern.
Shea Kirkpatrick, 18, who is the daughter of Graham Tripp and Teresa Kirkpatrick of Burlington, will head to Raleigh this fall to enroll at North Carolina State University, for which she has received a $500 Bureau Women’s Committee scholarship.
Kirkpatrick points to Southern High School teacher Nicholas Anders as having the most formative impact on her high school education. “He offered many opportunities through FFA, and I learned so much from him,” she recalls, and attending a National FFA Convention was one of her most memorable experiences at Southern, which she also notes was her first time riding in an airplane.
Kirkpatrick has been a member of the student council, National Honor Society, an FFA officer, Link Crew, and participated in numerous horseback riding competitions while at Southern.
Clare Meehan, 18, the daughter of Kevin and Kimberly Meehan of Graham, will head in August to enroll at Duke University, for which she has received two full four-year scholarships, from QuestBridge and a B.N. (Benjamin) Duke merit scholarship. She has also received a $1,500 scholarship from the North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM) Alumni Association and a $500 Robert M. Panoff scholarship.
Meehan says her favorite class at Southern was AP Physics 1 with Frank Henson, Jr. “I absolutely loved the class and found the material fascinating,” she elaborates. “I loved setting up and solving the problems and it really cemented that I wanted to study physics in college.”
Meehan has been a member of Southern’s Physics and Astronomy Club and Culture Shock Club, in addition to serving as a coach in the Special Olympics cycling competition and participating in the Haw River Watch Project.
“For junior and senior year, I was in the NCSSM Online program,” Meehan notes. “Through NCSSM, I took fascinating math and science classes and participated in a research mentorship program.”
Nathalie Russell, 17, who is the daughter of Beau and Allison Russell of Graham, will head to Raleigh to attend Meredith College, where she plans on majoring in Biology with a Pre-vet track.
Russell has received multiple scholarships, including: a $27,000 yearly merit scholarship; a $4,000 annual Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) scholarship; a $1,500 yearly Thomas Meredith Baptist Heritage Scholarship; and a $1,500 annual William David Vaughn Scholarship.
Russell was involved in numerous extracurricular clubs at Southern, including: the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, FFA, National Honor Society, and D.R.E.A.M. Team. She also played on the girls’ basketball and varsity teams, and ran track. She was named all-conference in basketball during her sophomore year; basketball all-conference honorable mention during her junior year; and volleyball all-conference during her sophomore and senior years, among other athletic accolades.
Sofia Soto, 18, is the daughter of Jorge and Laura Soto of Graham. In addition to her high school diploma, Soto received her certification in CPR through the American Red Cross.
Like her fellow Top 10 students at Southern, Soto will be enrolling this fall at UNC, for which she has received a Burlington Women’s Club scholarship ($2,000); an Elite Cruzers Motorcycle Club scholarship ($1,000); an Eli Whitney Ruritan Club scholarship ($1,000); and an Amie and Clyde Pike Alamance Civitan Scholarship Principal’s Leadership Scholarship ($300).
“My favorite class [in high school] was AP Biology with Mrs. Karla Moore,” Soto tells the newspaper. “I have always been extremely interested in science and that class was extremely educational while also being fun. Mrs. Moore always had interesting labs for us to do such as dissecting animals or testing the resistance of bacteria. In addition to the content of the class, my friends and I would talk to Mrs. Moore about our lives and have very funny and happy conversations.”
Soto says there are so many memorable experiences from her time at Southern High School that it’s hard to pick one standout, but among her favorites was being on the student council.
“There was always something crazy fun that the student council would do that my friends and I could participate in,” Soto says. “Homecoming, the student council lock-in, and trunk or treat [at Halloween] are just some of the few events that I had a blast doing. Additionally, our student council leadership class made everyday fun and exciting. I truly had an amazing and memorable time through many student council events throughout high school.”
Soto served as student body president at Southern for her senior year; student body secretary during her junior year; sophomore class president; and was a member of the Link Crew and secretary of the National Honor Society. She also attended the North Carolina Governor’s School; participated in Young Life and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; and ran Cross Country Track and Field, among other extracurricular activities. “I have won several awards,” Soto adds, “including the Superintendent’s Award of Excellence and the AP Scholar with Honors award.”