Glenda S. Jenkins
For the News-Leader
There were moments when the valedictorian of this year’s Yulee High School graduating class was so bored during her schooling that she drew flowers to pass the time.
Allison Wetmore also memorized the periodic table and learned a formula for predicting any date’s day of the week, the senior said about her disinterest in class on some days.
“When I got to high school, it got a little bit better because I was able to sign up for AP classes,” she said about the advanced placement program. “I still got bored sometimes with the repetition of the same concepts.”
Elementary school teachers noticed that Allison was underwhelmed by the educational process, according to her mother, Ann Wetmore. By middle school, her gifted teacher suggested Allison take online classes.
Allison would “look outside of the box to take an advanced class,” her mother said. In high school, when YHS course offerings fell below her ability, Allison’s guidance counselor and principal, Natasha Drake, “worked with her” to accommodate Allison’s online studies during the day.
“They did not want to hold her back,” Wetmore said. “She’s not happy unless she’s challenged. She just loves to learn.”
With the problem of Allison’s lack of intellectual stimulation solved, her path to the top academic spot in her class was set in motion.
“I probably realized around sophomore year that (becoming valedictorian) would be possible,” Allison said.
“She just has a drive to learn,” Wetmore said about her daughter. “If she didn’t understand something or grasp a concept, she would take it on herself to figure it out.”
Allison earned the top spot “probably just being determined,” she said. “I feel like I’ve always been that way.”
“We’re proud of her, of course,” Wetmore said, speaking for herself and her husband, David, about Allison earning YHS top honors. “Her hard work paid off for her.” Wetmore earned a 4.913 grade point average in her senior year.
Allison, 17, and 16-year-old Emily Joinville, who was named class salutatorian for earning the second highest academic spot, have set a high standard among their peers for scholarship and civic involvement.
Emily is Yulee High School’s first black salutatorian. Like Allison, her journey to becoming a high-achieving scholar came with obstacles.
“I always liked being a good student, but I didn’t enjoy the studying,” said Emily, adding, “This wasn’t my school dream to have this ranking.” However, she explained, because “I am very ambitious” and because “my parents always expected excellence,” she became salutatorian by the “sheer will of trying to be the best.” Joinville earned a 4.889 GPA in her senior year.
Emily admits there was “some pressure” to live up to her father’s expectations and to prove “that I was as smart as he said I was.” Yvon Joinville has served as YHS assistant principal since 2013. He will begin the 2020-21 year as the school’s new principal.
“Emily has always been determined,” said her mother, Victoria Hoff-Joinville. “She takes her time to think things through. You can’t persuade her if her mind is set. She loves to dissect a topic.”
Emily, who skipped 10th grade, is a “born leader … who brings people together,” Hoff-Joinville said. “She’s very dynamic. Whatever she focuses on, I expect to be very proud of her.”
Emily takes pride in being the school’s first black salutatorian because “it’s not normalized in this society,” she said about the perceptions of African American academic excellence.
“We’re the biggest school in the county. To see one to two other students looking like me in my classes was disheartening,” she added. “That’s why it’s a big deal.”
Allison and Emily will attend the University of Florida, and both will receive Bright Futures scholarships.
Allison intends to major in biology on the pre-med track with the goal of becoming a trauma surgeon and, eventually, a researcher in biology or biochemistry. She also looks forward to serving in the Peace Corps one day.
Emily, following her mother’s path into the health care field – Hoff-Joinville is a physician – intends to major in psychology and become a psychiatrist to bring greater mental health services and awareness to communities of color. She also plans to earn a law degree and practice malpractice law.
Born in Savannah, Ga., Allison at age five moved with her family to Yulee. She is the youngest child of three siblings. Emily was born in Jacksonville and grew up in Yulee as the eldest of three children born to her immigrant parents.
The two students both succeeded in balancing academics with extracurricular activities and leadership roles. Allison serves as senior class vice president and secretary of the Rotary Club in addition to being a varsity cheerleader and active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Student Government Association, among other clubs. Emily serves as Black Student Union president and a University of the US Student Ambassador. She was the leader/head of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, served on the Dean’s Council, and is a member of Mensa, a high IQ society. Both students are members of the National Honor Society.
In addition to leadership responsibilities, Allison works as a lifeguard for Fernandina Beach Ocean Rescue. Emily tutors math and plays a primary role in supervising her younger siblings.
Allison and Emily represent an ethnically diverse population of citizens who will emerge as better educated than previous generations, researchers believe. The oldest members of Generation Z, as sociologists refer to this segment of the population, were born after 1996.
“Members of Gen Z are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and they are on track to be the most well-educated generation yet,” wrote the authors of a May 14 Pew Research Center report available at https://pewrsr.ch/2zY81Sa.
Gen Zers are more likely to have a college-educated parent than are previous generations, the report concludes, and “… are also digital natives who have little or no memory of the world as it existed before smartphones.”
“We’re the generation of social media,” Emily said. “Our generation is adaptable and I think we are about change. We have a large reach. … Instead of arguing with the person across the street, you can argue with a person in Oklahoma.”
Most of the 2020 high school graduating class began first grade at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year. They were young children during the century’s first economic recession, the election of America’s first black president, and the legalization of same-sex marriage. They grew up as school shootings became a national crisis, participated in shooting drills, and became politically aware with the rise of the climate debate, Me Too, and Black Lives Matter movements.
Although Allison remembers some of these events, “I feel like I was too young to understand what was going on,” she said.
Now, in the aftermath of protests over some governors’ refusal to end quarantines during the coronavirus pandemic, while currently in the midst of racially-motivated unrest, how will the social issues they are living through impact their generation?
Allison and Emily envision a future in which their generation will be more flexible than previous generations in creating solutions to address social problems.
“I’ve never been held back for being a girl,” Allison said about the current debate over gender inequality. “I’ve never been (in a situation) where boys were held to a higher standard than girls.”
“The older generation thinks with experience, but I don’t think they are realizing society is changing,” Emily said. “We will try our best to make our world look the way we see it.”
“I feel like a lot of us are less judgmental than the older generation,” said Allison. “(We are) more accepting of people for who they are.”