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Valedictorians end journey started 13 years ago

by Christina Nelson

Four Douglas High School students are anxiously awaiting the announcement of the class of 1999 valedictorian while they stress about finals and papers during their last week of school.

Julie Robison, Rebecca Rippee, Heidi Alder and Phil Gorrindo are all competing for the number one spot, and will not know the results until graduation this Friday. If the past has set any sort of precedent, they will all receive the honor.

The recipient must have the highest grade point average and a minimum of 10 semesters of honors or advanced placement classes. Because DHS eliminated weighted grade point averages last year, students often share valedictorian and salutatorian positions.

Competition between the four Douglas High School students has been fierce, but it never got in the way of friendships that date back to before they even knew the meaning of the word valedictorian.

All four students have attended Douglas County schools since kindergarten.

Gorrindo, Rippee and Robison went to Gardnerville Elementary School together and were in the same 1st, 2nd and 6th grade classes. The three also had the same babysitter and attended the same pre-school. Their parents are all teachers.

“It’s really thrilling to see young people reach their potential and see that they have a lot more potential,” said Jan Sullivan, a former 2nd grade teacher and vice principle at GES. She also said that even as early as 2nd grade, she could see a spark of competition among Rippee, Gorrindo and Robison.

“If one could succeed at something, the others could, too. Competition can be positive,” she said.

All four finally joined up at Carson Valley Middle School in 7th grade. In 8th grade, Robison and Alder transferred to Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School where they were probably the two most competitive students.

“She won the English award and I was so mad,” Alder said, laughing at their 9th grade rivalry. Despite the competition, Alder and Robison often called each other to study for tests and to help each other with homework problems.

Alder said the group never started thinking about who was going to be valedictorian until their junior year, but Robison said it’s something she’s been aiming at for as long as she can remember.

“There was never any time where I didn’t think I could do it,” she said. Though supportive of everything she’s done, Robison said her parents never believed she would accomplish her goal.

“Valedictorian is the one thing that I’ve been able to do that nobody else (in her family) has done,” said Alder, who is the seventh of eight children. Getting good grades to earn the scholarships necessary for her to go to college was part of Alder’s motivation in school.

Being the only male representative among the valedictorian candidates, Gorrindo represents the gender split among advanced placement students at DHS. Out of 20 total, he is one of five male students in his AP English class this year.

“When you think of smart guys at our school, you think of Phil,” Rippee said.

Leaning toward the sciences, Gorrindo said his major changes every week. He will attend Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

Gorrindo said he does not feel like he has worked hard to earn his perfect 4.0 grade point average because his effort level in class has not changed.

“I think (getting good grades) was just expected of me when I was younger,” he said.

Rippee plans to major in biochemistry at the University of Nevada, Reno and eventually attend medical school to become a pediatrician.

“I’m looking forward to just being able to pursue my goals and my dreams that I’ve been talking about these last couple of years of high school,” Rippee said.

Robison will also head to Reno this fall as a broadcast journalism major.

Alder plans to major in English at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

“I think it’s awesome that four of us could have done so well,” Alder said. “I don’t think that sharing it should take away from our individual accomplishments.”

DHS government teacher Randy Green taught all four students this year in his AP classes.

“They all are excellent students,” Green said. “All of them are meticulous about what they do. That’s really what sets the AP student apart. I don’t think the grades are as important as the quality of people they are.”