It was a bit later than usual, but Walton County’s top students were honored Monday night at Walton County’s 63rd annual STAR Banquet.
The event, sponsored by the Walton County Chamber of Commerce and held at 1025 Church, paid homage to the STAR Student from each high school, chosen by achieving the highest score on the SAT for their senior class.
Each student, in turn, chose a STAR teacher, an instructor who influenced them in some way to become a better learner.
Normally held in February, the event was postponed until May due to coronavirus but a live ceremony went forward, nonetheless, to honor all the students in person.
The event kicked off with Anderson Holcomb, STAR student from Loganville High School. Holcomb selected Tonya Pohlel, his Advanced Placement language instructor, for his STAR teacher.
“She helped me find my passion for reading again,” Holcomb said. “She helped me develop into a more seasoned writer and inspired me to be kind to others. She has such a gentle spirt.”
Pohlel, in turn, said Anderson was a wonderful student to teach.
“He managed to make it look easy,” she said. “He’s really mind-blowing. He’s always smiling and offering encouragement to others.”
From Monroe Area High School, Alexis Edwards took the honor, naming history instructor Nathan Gray as her teacher.
“He made me feel welcome,” she said. “I’m really thankful for all he did for me. I believe in myself now as much as he always believed in me.”
Gray was unable to attend due to a family emergency, but MAHS assistant principal Jamie Nichols read out his remarks on his prize pupil.
“She easily taught him as much he taught her,” Nichols said. “There’s no doubt she could have taught herself all he taught her. He saw her do it all. He still believes in her now.”
Amanda Cowan was the STAR student for Walnut Grove High School, choosing chemistry and engineering teacher Chris Wheeler as her honoree.
“He helped to reignite my love for science and math,” Cowan said. “He taught the material in a way I could grasp it. I am thankful every day to have his class.”
Wheeler was full of praise for his student.
“Amanda is a brilliant young woman,” Wheeler said, talking about he not only convinced her to join the Technology Student Association, but take on the project to build a working small aircraft.
“I knew if I could get her to start, she’d get it done,” Wheeler said. “I didn’t know how to build a plane, but I’d never done it before, but I knew she could do it. There were a lot of broken wings and crashes, but it flew.”
Wheeler said he was honored to be chosen for the STAR teacher role.
“It’s an honor to be chosen,” he said. “Thank you for letting me be a part of your dream, Amanda.”
At George Walton Academy, Claire McNulty was the STAR student this year. She chose her AP literature teacher, Peter Van Wyk.
“Never before had I had a class where we were so encouraged to bring our own ideas to the floor,” she said. “It really helped built my confidence in literature.”
Van Wyk said he’s not the same teacher he was before he had Claire in his class.
“She made me a better teacher,” he said. “She exudes curiosity and a drive for excellence. She’s also extremely kind. It has been a privilege and honor to teach Claire.”
Paul Hutchison was the STAR student for Loganville Christian Academy, selecting English teacher Jennifer Smith.
“She was a great teacher,” he said. “She was tough but fair as she pushed us. She’s been an important support this year.”
Smith said she was proud to have had Hutchison in her class.
“I enjoyed getting to know him this year,” she said. “He kept me on my toes but he was a delight to teach. Paul is made for learning. I’m proud of his success and am excited for his future.”
At Social Circle High School, Connor Mason was the STAR student, chosing his French teacher, Tamarra Soto, although he admitted it wasn’t for his success in the class.
“I know about enough French to say I don’t speak French,” Mason said. “But she was one of the kindest teachers I’ve ever had. It was a pleasure to be in her class.”
Soto said she was pleased with Mason’s success.
“He’s always been a gifted student,” she said. “He has a brilliant mind. He always kept me smiling.”
Finally, Victory Baptist School’s STAR student was Jason Dalton, selecting his teacher Victor Huff, instructor in Bible, art and physical education alike, as STAR teacher.
“He’s been a great influence on my life,” Dalton said. “I’ve always looked up to him a lot. He’s like a mentor to me.”
Huff said he was proud to receive the title of STAR teacher, particularly by Dalton.
“Jason puts others first,” he said. “He will always do the right thing. This event celebrates academic excellence, but it’s Jason’s character I truly admire.”
Finally, the overall STAR student, with the highest SAT score in the county, was announced as Anderson Holcomb, of LHS.
“I feel very honored and humbled,” he said of the title.