By Kim Walter
Of the 127 graduates in Stonewall Jackson High School's Class of 2013, there are at least two shining examples of how hard work pays off.
Corey Harlow and Eduardo Juarez are both looking forward to the Saturday night graduation, since the accomplishment marks a different kind of "first" for both of them.
Harlow, the Class of 2013 valedictorian, decided during his sophomore year that it wasn't enough to earn a standard diploma. It was then that he began taking advanced placement and dual enrollment courses through Lord Fairfax Community College.
For the past two years, Harlow has maintained a full course load at the high school and had to devote his after-school time to the extra classes. Because of that decision, he will leave Stonewall Jackson with not one degree, but two.
Harlow is the first student in Shenandoah County to earn an associate's degree while in high school. When he begins his freshman year at Virginia Tech in the fall, he'll academically be a junior.
The schoolwork seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but Harlow said that once his mother and grandmother realized he could do it, there was no turning back.
"Neither of them have a college education, so it was kind of a big deal for me to take on the challenge," he said. "They're just really excited and happy for me right now."
Harlow plans to study political science at Virginia Tech, and get involved with student government. This past year he was the vice president of the school's student council and a member of the senior government council. He also participated on the debate team and was captain of the swim team.
Saturday night, Harlow's cap and gown will be a bit different from everyone else's, since he gets to wear a special cowl with the community college's colors.
During his valedictorian speech, the senior plans to focus on how much of a close group his graduating class is, and that the unity amongst them will never fade.
"You know, everyone always says it's so awful to go to a small town school, but I think it's better," he said. "You become so close with your friends and everyone you meet ... there are endless opportunities here, you just have to look for them."
Juarez's parents came to the area just to give those opportunities to their children. The senior will be the first male in his extended family to graduate high school, but he's not stopping there.
The soccer star has been chosen as a Centennial Scholar, and will receive a full ride to James Madison University. He said the desire to work hard has been engrained in him since he was young.
"I've always wanted to do my best, no matter what it is I'm doing," he said. "It started with AP classes and liking soccer, but that lead me to trying community service and other leadership roles."
When he started thinking about scholarships last year, it didn't take long for Juarez to realize that finding funding opportunities would not be easy. Plus he worried that even if he found a great scholarship, he wouldn't be the one chosen to receive it.
Juarez admitted he gave up early in the process.
However, thanks to two of the school's guidance counselors -- Aimee Miller and Charity Finks -- Juarez was pushed to keep applying and at least apply for whatever scholarships they could find for him.
"Thanks to both of them, I got the full ride and $5,000 in other scholarships," he said, smiling. "What they did for me, how much they pushed me ... I can't say or do enough to thank them. If it weren't for their help, I don't know that I would be able to afford college."
Throughout all the hard work, Juarez said he was most motivated by his family.
"My parents made so many sacrifices to give me the opportunity to succeed," he said. "It would be terrible to let them down after all they've done. Everything I do, I keep them in mind."
At JMU, Juarez plans to study nursing, and hopes that being a bilingual male nurse will one day open a whole new world of opportunities. For the time being, he's most excited about playing his last few soccer games and enjoying a relaxing summer.
"Graduating will be fun ... that's how it should be," he said. "It really all just makes me realize that hard work pays off."
Stonewall Jackson High School graduation will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the school's gymnasium.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org