Entries in Valedictorian (6)


Homeless Teen Is High School Valedictorian

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga.) -- Becoming the valedictorian of your high school is a difficult and impressive feat in itself, but it's even more impressive for a Georgia teen who did so while her family was homeless.

Chelesa Fearce has a GPA of 4.466 and scored 1900 on her SATs, even though she and her family were without a home for most of her high school years. Sometimes they lived in shelters or inside her mother’s car. Fearce says it was tough at times.

“You'd be worried about your home life and then worried at school,” she said. “Worried about being a little bit hungry sometimes, go hungry sometimes.”

Still, she persevered. “I just had to open my book in the dark and just use a cell phone light. Just do what I had to do,” she said.  

Fearce is graduating with top honors at her school in Clayton County, Ga. She will be attending Spelman College in the fall, but already has enough credits that she’ll be a college junior.

Her message?

“Don't give up,” she said. “Do what you have to do right now so that you'll have the future that you want.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Valedictorian Murder Trial: Jeffrey Pyne Found Guilty of Killing His Mother

Hemera/Thinkstock(HIGHLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich.) -- A Michigan jury Tuesday found Jeffrey Pyne guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his mentally ill mother.

Pyne, 22, a former high school valedictorian, star athlete and University of Michigan biology student, had been accused of killing his 51-year-old mother, Ruth Pyne, in the family's Highland Township, Mich., garage on May 27, 2011.

Ruth Pyne had been bludgeoned and stabbed 16 times.

The trial began on Nov. 16. Pyne never took the stand, and his defense did not call any witnesses to testify.

When the verdict was announced in court Tuesday, Pyne appeared to be taken aback. Reacting to the verdict, he tilted his head slightly and blinked rapidly.

He had been charged with first-degree murder but the unanimous jury found him guilty of the lesser second-degree murder charge.

Pyne was well-liked in the Highland Park community, and many people did not believe he was responsible for his mother's death.

Prosecutors said he had been fueled by pent-up rage after years of abuse at the hands of his mother, who spent time in jail for assaulting him in 2010. Charges were dropped when she was treated at a hospital and promised to stay on her medication.

But Pyne's defense had said he was not involved in any way with his mother's death, claiming a stranger or strangers likely attacked Ruth Pyne.

The prosecution's case had been largely circumstantial. There was no physical evidence linking Pyne to the killing, but prosecutors did present photos taken shortly after the killing that showed Pyne's blistered hands.

Pyne has said the blisters came from throwing a wooden storage pallet at his job on a local farm.

Speaking to reporters outside the court Tuesday, Pyne's father, Bernie, said he was surprised by the verdict.

"I believe in my son's innocence and I wasn't able to get him home for his sister for Christmas, so it's not been a good year," he said, according to ABC News Detroit affiliate WXYZ-TV. "I have to go tell Jeffrey's 12-year-old sister that it's just her and me now."

Jeffrey Pyne's ex-girlfriend, Holly Freeman, had testified during the trial that Pyne's mother was dangerous, delusional and off her medication. Freeman said Ruth Pyne would often assault her son, adding that Jeffrey Pyne was fearful of his little sister, Julia, being left alone in the house with their mother.

Ruth Pyne's sister said the guilty verdict provided "some justice."

"She was not the monster the media portrayed her to be," Linda Jarvie told reporters. "I am deeply saddened by my sister Ruth's senseless death. This was a heinous crime. Ruth Pyne was a victim."

James Champion, Pyne's attorney, also spoke after the verdict was read, saying: "I told him last Christmas that that was the last Christmas he'd spend in jail, and I had every intention of making that promise come true but we didn't get it done, so tomorrow we'll pick ourselves back up and figure out how to move along."

Pyne will be sentenced on Jan. 29. He faces a possible sentence of 7 ½ years to 12 ½ years in prison.


Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Valedictorian Murder Trial: Dad Defends Son

ABC News(DETROIT) -- Bernie Pyne has publicly defended his son Jeffrey Pyne just as the case against the former high school valedictorian accused of killing his mother is expected to go to a jury on Friday.

"It's a tough thing to go through," Bernie told reporters outside a Michigan courthouse on Thursday.  "All I can tell you is that I know my son, my son would never harm his mother.  He would never harm her."

Jeffrey, 22, a former star athlete and University of Michigan biology student, is accused of killing his mentally ill mother, Ruth Pyne, 51, who was beaten and stabbed 16 times in the family's Highland Township, Mich., garage in May 2011.

The case against his son is not rooted in fact, Bernie told the reporters, despite what prosecutors had said in court only a few hours earlier.  They accused Jeffrey of using a board in the family's garage to beat his mother repeatedly before stabbing her to death.

"When he is going to get that board, you can infer from that he has the intent to kill her, when he goes to get the board, there is no other reason to go and get that board," prosecuting attorney John Skrzynski told the court.

Defense attorneys say Ruth was mentally ill and abused her son for years.  She spent time in jail for assaulting him in 2010.  Charges were dropped when she was treated at a hospital and promised to stay on her medication.

"The trail has largely been circumstantial," Lori Brasier, a criminal justice reporter for the Detroit Free Press, told ABC News.  "They don't have any physical evidence."

Prosecutors do have photos taken of Jeffrey's blistered hands, taken shortly after the crime.  Jeffrey says the blisters came from throwing a wooden storage pallet at his job on a local farm.

"They have a lot of medical testimony that his story of how that happened is unlikely," Brasier said.

But the community that has supported the former biology student remains skeptical about his involvement in the killing.

"I still feel very confident that Jeffrey is innocent, and that the jury will see it my way, also," Donna Gundle-Kriag, a family friend and Jeffrey's former teacher, told ABC News.

So does his father, who believes the jury will absolve his son.

"We're going to trust that the system works," he said.  "He has a 12-year-old sister who wants him home for Christmas, and that is our prayer."

The defense will make its closing argument on Friday, maintaining that Jeffrey was not involved in his mother's death.  The jury is expected to get the case Friday afternoon.

If convicted, Jeffrey faces life in prison without parole.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Jurors Watch Interrogation Tape in Valedictorian Murder Trial

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- For the first time in his first degree murder trial, jurors, along with the community that continues to stand behind him, heard from Jeffrey Pyne, the former high school valedictorian who is accused of bludgeoning his mother to death in the family's garage.

Pyne, a former star athlete and University of Michigan biology student, is accused of the murder of his mentally ill mother Ruth Pyne, 51, who was viciously beaten and stabbed 16 times in the family's Highland Township, Mich., garage in May 2011.

On Wednesday, the court first heard from Jeffrey, 22, viewing tapes of interviews with him taken by police after his mother's murder.

"Someone killed your mom.  It's not an accident," Detective Sgt. David Hendrix is heard saying on the tape, as Jeffrey is seen putting his hands over his face.  When Hendrix asks Jeffrey if he did anything that day to hurt his mom, Jeffrey says, "No … no."

Friends and neighbors in the tightly-knit Highland Township community refuse to believe Jeffrey killed his mother.  But prosecutors say he had motive and opportunity.

"She got home from grocery shopping.  I helped her bring the groceries in," Jeffrey said when being questioned.  Through tears, he later said, "I'm having a hard enough time … She's always been a really nice lady."

Prosecutors suggest that was a lie, and that Ruth had a history of mental illness, and was often violent toward her children.  In 2010, she was arrested and held in jail after attacking Jeffrey.  Charges were dropped when she was treated at a hospital and promised to stay on her medication.

"I graduated high school and she just went manic … it was a change … she wasn't depressed anymore, she [was] just crazy," jurors heard Jeffrey say on the tape.

The day of her death, Jeffrey told investigators things had been getting better with his mother, telling investigators, "We didn't even argue today."

Sitting in court Wednesday, Jeffrey showed little emotion -- a stark contrast from the man jurors watched in the police interrogation video that was shot just hours after the murder.  Jeffrey says he was at work at the time of the killing, and maintains he is innocent.

In the tape, police can be seen checking Jeffrey's body for signs of a struggle.  Officers photographed injuries on his hand, blisters Jeffrey said he got lifting wooden pallets at his job.  Jeffrey had explained the wounds to his boss, who testified, was the results of throwing a shipping pallet.

"It did seem odd to me," his boss, farmer William Cartwright said.  "I expected more of a splinter or scrape than what looked like rope burns."

It is still not clear if Jeffrey will take the stand during his trial.  If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Oklahoma Valedictorian Denied Diploma After Using 'Hell' in Her Speech

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(PRAGUE, Okla.) -- The father of a recent high school graduate in Oklahoma who has been denied a diploma because she said "hell" in her valedictorian speech has accused her principal of bullying his daughter.

"She became a senior and he constantly picked on her," Kaitlin Nootbaar's father, David, said of Prague High School principal David Smith. "I thought bullying wasn't supposed to be allowed in school."

Neither Smith nor superintendent Rick Martin responded to messages asking them to comment.

In her speech, Kaitlin, 18, told her Prague, Okla., audience about how she has changed her mind numerous times about potential career choices, her father said.

He said Kaitlin spoke of how she once wanted to be a nurse when she was younger, but then wanted to become a vet. She summarized her dilemma, her father said, with, "How the hell do I know? I've changed my mind so many times."

The teen told her parents she drew inspiration for her speech from the movies Eclipse, which is the third installment of The Twilight Saga film series, and The Hunger Games.

Eclipse includes a graduation scene in which the speaker says, "Who the hell knows."

Kaitlin's speech was met with laughter and applause, her father said. The class valedictorian walked the stage and graduated along with the rest of her class.

Her transcripts were sent on to Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford and life went on as usual until she and her father went to collect her diploma from the high school office last week.

"The principle shut the door on us," David Nootbaar said, "and told us she [Kaitlin] will type apology letters to him, the school board, the superintendent and all of the teachers," in order for her to obtain her diploma.

Kaitlin has told her parents she does not intend to write the apology letters but, her father said, still believes she is entitled to the diploma.

The straight-A student who has "never received a B in her life," her father said, is now enjoying her first days at college at Southwestern Oklahoma State.

She has decided to major in biology, her dad said, to become a marine biologist -- for now.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Woman Denied Sole Valedictorian Status Because of Race, Lawsuit Says

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MCGEHEE, Ark.) -- A black Arkansas teen who graduated at the top of her class is suing her high school for racial discrimination after the principal decided to name a white student with a lower GPA as co-valedictorian.

Kymberly Wimberly, 18, told ABC News she always dreamed about being at the top of her class at McGehee High School.

"When I found out I was valedictorian, I was ecstatic," she said.

That soon changed when Wimberly's mother, Molly Bratton, who works at the school as a media specialist, overheard school officials saying they wanted to avoid the "big mess" that would happen with Wimberly as valedictorian, the teen said.

The lawsuit alleges there was a "pattern and practice of school administrators and personnel treating the African-American students less favorably than the Caucasian ones."

"I told [the co-valedictorian] this isn't fair. This is an administrative decision," Wimberly said, saying she told the student: "We both know if the tables were turned, there wouldn't be a co-valedictorian."

She said the other student agreed.

Wimberly, who took Advanced Placement and honors courses, managed to maintain the top GPA, even though she gave birth to a daughter during her junior year.

"I'm not going to say it wasn't difficult," she said. "My teachers thought I'd fall flat on my face, but I kept trying to succeed."

Her lawyer, John Walker, said discrimination is unfortunately still present in the school system.

"There's a history of oppression where people don't speak up for themselves," Walker said. "White students are elevated ahead of black students in order to allow that position to be maintained by white students."

The McGehee School District did not respond to ABC News' request for an interview.

Wimberly said she will be attending the University of Arkansas beginning this fall and plans to major in biology.

She is asking for punitive damages and for the school record to be changed, reflecting her as the sole valedictorian for the class of 2011.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio