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A quintet of Buckaroos achieved the highest academic standard at the tiny Marion County school

 - St. Paul High School's valedictorians are (from left) Rachel Vela, Megan Tuck, Wyatt Bean, Taysha Veeman and Emma Connor.

Among the graduates of St. Paul High School this year are five standout valedictorians, many of whom are student-athletes and find themselves involved in other extracurricular activities.

Wyatt Bean, Emma Connor, Megan Tuck, Taysha Veeman and Rachel Vela all received valedictorian honors for the 2019 graduating class and we reached out to each to collect their views on their accomplishments.

Valedictorians' impact on the school is clearly evident

Tuck said the valedictorian achievement came as a result of "a lot of hard work and support." She pointed to the community as her primary motivator for academic success.

Tuck plays volleyball, basketball and softball and is involved in Future Farmers of America, DECA, Key Club, National Honor Society and the student council.

"I really could not have done this without the community here in St. Paul," she said. "They have been so supportive and always push you to do your best no matter the circumstances. St. Paul has high standards when it comes to academics and I think that's why there are five of us. We have all been encouraged to do our very best and have been challenged in the classroom."

Tuck was part of undefeated, state championship teams in volleyball and basketball during her senior year. Some of her teammates are among the valedictorians, including Veeman, Connor and Vela.

Tuck said her parents kept her learning and motivated throughout high school, as did her coaches and teachers at SPHS. Balancing school and sports taught her to manage her time, she said, and kept her centered.

"My favorite memories at St. Paul are hard to pinpoint just because we have so many opportunities to be involved," Tuck said. "But sports has provided me with so many great memories and helped build many new friendships. I'm very lucky to have been a part of some great teams and I would say they've made the past four years something I will remember forever."

Vela agreed with Tuck about the support system in place in St. Paul. From teachers to administrators to coaches, there was always someone there – Vela said – to lift them up and provide necessary guidance.

"I think I was able to have success academically because of the support of the teachers here at St. Paul," Vela said. "They don't hesitate to spend extra time with you on a concept if you don't understand it. Their help motivated me to put in extra work."

Vela is in the Salem Youth Symphony, participates in DECA and key club and competed in cross-country, track, basketball and softball. Among her biggest influences were her mother and language arts teacher Mariko Walsh.

Some of her favorite memories, like the others, involve sports. Being part of elite teams and winning key races in her various sports are moments Vela said she won't forget.

Veeman joined Vela on the track, softball and cross-country teams. She participated in FFA, key club and choir as well.

She said her parents got her to this point, achieving something she's been working toward for a while.

"I was extremely excited about being named valedictorian because it meant that I had accomplished a goal that I set for myself at the start of high school," Veeman said. "I was able to achieve high academic success through working hard throughout high school and focusing. Some of my favorite memories are hanging out with my friends after school and very soon it will be getting to graduate with everyone."

Connor played volleyball, basketball and track and found herself involved in DECA, Key Club and ASB. She said traveling around the state for sports and academic competitions will be what she remembers most.

"Being a valedictorian is a great honor and one that I've worked hard to achieve and am very proud of it," Connor said. "I have been heavily influenced in my academic life by my teachers and parents. They have always motivated me to strive for success and offered me all the tools that I have needed to achieve it."

Rounding out the group of valedictorians is Bean, who participated in cross-country, basketball and track during his four years at St. Paul High School. He was also an officer in Future Farmers of America, participated in DECA, International Club, Health Occupations, Key Club and Advanced Band.

Bean said above all else, the bonds he created with teammates and friends outside of school will be what he remembers most about high school. Achieving the honor of valedictorian is nice, he said, but those connections will "last a lifetime."

"Without the support from my family and friends, as well as the hard work I put in over the last four years and dedication to academics, I wouldn't have been able to achieve this goal of becoming valedictorian that I have had for the majority of my life," Bean said. "My parents have always been my biggest influencers, as they have always set the standard for working hard in whatever you do and putting your full effort into your passions."

Graduation ceremonies were held Friday.

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