By FRED KRONER
Seniors Kaitlyn Chalfant and Nolan Pletcher have more in common than ranking atop this year’s graduating class at Mahomet-Seymour High School.
They both have done all of their schooling — thus far — in the M-S district, but will head in different directions to out-of-state universities in the fall.
Both were involved with sports — Chalfant in soccer and Pletcher in hockey — but gave them up several years ago to focus on other endeavors.
They both performed in the Marching Band — Chalfant as the section leader for clarinets for two years — and were members of the M-S state championship Math Team as sophomores and juniors.
Valedictorian Chalfant and salutatorian Pletcher will address their classmates and others during Friday’s 7 p.m. graduation ceremony at the Krannert Center, in Urbana.
“I spoke at Baccalaureate (last Sunday) and that was a good warmup,” Chalfant said.
Her speech will be based on the question, “if you could wish one thing for classmates going forward, what would it be?”
Both Chalfant and Pletcher had good experiences early in their educational voyage.
“I’ve always had awesome teachers,” Chalfant said. “In first and second grade, I loved both of my teachers.
“The support teachers gave me motivated me to do well.”
As she advanced to the upper grades, Chalfant appreciated that her teachers did more than instruct.
“I think all of my teachers were good at pushing me,” she said.
As Pletcher reflected, he said he enjoyed his time in the various classrooms.
“I can’t say I’ve had a bad teacher,” Pletcher said. “In second grade, I had Mrs. McMillan. She focused on math and helped me understand basic concepts.
“Math is my favorite subject and she had a big impact.”
In eighth grade, Pletcher took an Algebra class, which allowed him to enroll in honors geometry as a freshman.
“Mrs. Campion (his eighth-grade Algebra teacher) was great at explaining things,” Pletcher said. “She worked students through the concepts.”
This week, Pletcher has been taking the Advanced Placement college board exams, which he hopes will enable him to start college in higher level math classes.
“I hope to start with Calculus III in college,” he said.
That he could be prepared to do so, he said, is a credit to what has transpired in the past decade.
“I think this district has a strong math program,” Pletcher said. “They started early with difficult concepts.
“In second grade, I got a very strong foundation. The emphasis on math is very impressive.”
Chalfant didn’t wake up one morning and decide to become a serious student.
It is a practice she has followed for years.
“My mom taught us to get home and do your homework,” she said. “In high school, she never told me that, but I did anyway.
“I like to get it done and have time for something else.”
She estimated that most nights she had two to three hours of homework. Part of the reason is due to not having time during the school day to complete assignments.
“I never voluntarily took a study hall,” Chalfant said. “I wanted to push myself to take as many classes as I could.”
Becoming valedictorian was not an overriding goal.
“I never thought about it until last year,” Chalfant said. “It was not the most important thing the last couple of years, but was something I kept in my mind.”
While one phase of her life will conclude as she receives her high school diploma, another equally daunting journey awaits.
Chalfant has finished 13 years of schooling — counting kindergarten — and has another decade to go.
She will enroll at St. Olaf College (in Minnesota) in the fall as a biology major. Her plans are to go to medical school and eventually become a pediatrician.
She faces four years of undergrad work, four years of medical school and a two-year residency.
“Especially when I’m an upperclassman and in medical school, I’ll have more classes I am genuinely interested in and hopefully it will be fun,” Chalfant said.
Her career path has changed over the years, but it usually revolved around working with children.
“For most of my childhood, until eighth grade, I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “That seemed to be too stressful.
“At one point, I wanted to be a child psychologist. Then I took AP Biology (as a junior) and thought, “I Like this.’ “
One of Chalfant’s frustrations was giving up soccer — due to an injury — after her freshman season.
“It was hard,” she said. That’s the reason I was a manager my sophomore year.
“I had trouble letting it go and still wanted to be a part of it.”
She is now able to enjoy soccer from a spectator standpoint and is delighted by the success of the team last year and this year with back-to-back school records for wins in a season.
“I’m proud of all of them because I know how hard they’ve worked for this,” Chalfant said.
She had other ways to compete as a member of both the Math Team and the WYSE Team.
“It was something different than what I experienced in the classroom and further pushed my academics,” she said. “It was a different outlet to enjoy with my friends.
“We’d go to competitions and I could let out my competitive side.”
Among the high school teachers whom she found inspiring were Eric Potter and Dan Ryan.
Potter coaches both the Math and WYSE teams, but Chalfant said, “this is the first year I had him for a (classroom) teacher.”
She was in Ryan’s freshmen geometry class, and as a junior in his pre-calculus class.
“I still go and talk to him,” she said. “He’s insightful and knows what I need to hear.”
Ryan was the teacher who helped guide Chalfant to a topic for her graduation speech.
Chalfant has had a memorable final month of high school. In addition to earning valedictorian honors, she was voted Prom Queen last month.
“It was unexpected,” she said. “My legs were shaking.
“There was one couple I thought it would be. They are awesome all-around. I was surprised.”
Not surprising was her class rank.
Since entering high school, Chalfant earned all A’s except for one A-minus for one semester of AP U.S. History, which was responsible for her unweighted grade-point on a 4.0 scale winding up at 3.99.
Pletcher can trace what he hopes will involve his future with the fun playtime of his past.
“I played with Legos a lot as a kid,” he said. “I would build things. It was something I loved.
“Legos sparked my interest in engineering.”
He evolved from creating with Legos to working on a computer screen.
“My dad (Adam) is one of my influences,” Pletcher said. “I got a lot of inspiration from him.
“He works for a company that does video games and helped me discover my love for programming. I programmed some small games to learn how programming works.”
When Pletcher starts college at Virginia Tech in the fall, it will be as a computer engineering major.
“I’d love to work at Google on smartphones or self-driving cars,” he said.
He didn’t envision the way the end of the school year is working out.
“I never could have imagined being salutatorian,” he added. “There are so many other really intelligent people and hard workers.
“I thought it would be nice to be in the top 10. That’s a big thing for colleges to see.”
Pletcher has been up for numerous challenges. He wasn’t always immediately successful at his first pursuit.
In fifth grade, he began nurturing his interest in music.
“I wanted to play the trombone,” he said, “but it turned out I wasn’t very good at it.”
He was still able to be part of the band.
“Mr. (Michael) Stephens said I’d be good at the tuba,” Pletcher said.
He has honed his skills on the tuba or sousaphone now for eight years.
Pletcher, the oldest of three siblings, has an idea of what to expect from college based on his transition from junior high to high school.
“I worked a lot harder in high school than junior high,” he said. “The level of difficulty is a lot higher.”
He didn’t seek an easy path.
Taking his first Advanced Placement (AP) class as a sophomore, Pletcher wound up taking all but one of the AP courses offered by M-S. He skipped French because his foreign-language emphasis was in Spanish.
“A lot of people have study halls, but because of the AP classes, I didn’t have time for study halls,” Pletcher said.
This year, his class load included five AP classes.
That often meant homework that required three to four hours nightly to finish.
A goaltender in youth hockey, Pletcher left the ice sport after eighth grade.
Throughout high school, he has been part of a non-school affiliated Robotics Team and was also active with the M-S Math Team.
“On the Robotics Team, I did wiring and electronics work,” Pletcher said.
One of Pletcher’s favorite parts of Math Team competitions was participating in two-person oral presentations.
“You’d work out problems on the fly, with critical thinking,” said Pletcher, whose partner was Anna Taylor.
He has also found time to be active in the Freshmen Mentor Program the past two years.
“It’s cool connecting and knowing you’re making an impact, he said.
Groups consist of four or five junior or senior mentors who have around two dozen freshmen they work with.
“We give them advice, or do activities,” Pletcher said. “I still talk to some of the mentors I had as a freshman.”
For his graduation address, Pletcher plans to look ahead.
“Some are eager to get high school over with,” he said, “and move on to a new experience.
“I don’t think anyone can be truly ready. If you were truly ready, it wouldn’t be any fun. We don’t know how the future will turn out, and that’s what makes it exciting.”
If Pletcher’s future resembles his past, it will continue to be a successful venture.