Distinct Honor: This year's Morgan County
by Kathryn Schiliro • photos by Angelina Bellebuono
They've been in the same classes at Morgan County High School, plan on attending the same post-secondary institution come fall, and have the same goal for their life—to give of themselves in an effort to aid others.
They even have the same haircut.
Even this year's valedictorian and salutatorian themselves—Emily DeJarnett and Elizabeth Rogers, respectively—admit that they're practically the same person, just 0.159 of a GPA point apart.
"TOK" is OK
Emily and Elizabeth are both part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at the high school; therefore, part of that program, both have been exposed to the "Theory of Knowledge" class (TOK), a requirement in the IB curriculum.
Asked individually, both were quick to say that TOK has been the favorite class of their academic career thus far.
"It's unlike every other class in that it pulls everything [every subject] together," Elizabeth said. "It teaches you to think differently."
According to both Elizabeth and Emily, the class teaches philosophy and ethics, and how to see the bigger picture, support an opinion, and reconcile what is known to be true.
"I love that deeper level thinking," Emily said. "I'm not a black-and-white person; I'm a shades-of-gray person. TOK opens your eyes to all different colors of gray. It opened my eyes to everything; it changed my life. It makes you feel better about what you believe because you can support it."
This fall, both Emily and Elizabeth are set to become Georgia Bulldogs.
Emily plans to pursue a degree in Psychology, while Elizabeth will study International Affairs.
Emily's strengths lie in her passion for relationships, and she knows that.
"I know it's cliche, but I want to help people," Emily said. "I know that I'm a very relational person. Relationships are very important to me. I want to help people handle problems and build better relationships."
Emily's love of children may color her future endeavors; she admits being drawn to family psychology and child psychology, and would like to practice in a hospital or school setting.
But she isn't ruling out the possibility of medical school following graduation, nor is she ruling out joining the Peace Corps (she hopes to spend time in Africa).
"I want to get out of the bubble," Emily said.
Through programs like Georgia Youth Assembly and mock Congress, and experiences like lobbying for SB 360 ("Caleb's Law") at the state Capitol two weeks ago, Elizabeth learned she was interested in law.
On a recent mission trip to Haiti (this will be her second), Elizabeth saw United Nations (UN) troops working with the Haitian people—"They [the Haitian people] went from having nothing to having less than nothing," she said—and came to the realization that international law might be a career avenue she wanted to pursue, perhaps with the end result of becoming a UN ambassador.
"It's the happiest I've ever been," Elizabeth said, of her time in Haiti. "It just kind of changes you."
How to tell them apart
The sole place Emily and Elizabeth differ? Hobbies.
Both the valedictorian and salutatorian are involved, but it is how they spend their free time makes them unique.
Much of Emily's time is taken up with her involvement in Madison Community Theater (MCT); in fact, over the past nine years, she has been in 25 shows.
"In my last show, Number 25, my character died, so I thought that was a good way to end my career in Madison," Emily said.
Her favorite plays? "Once on this Island" and "Godspell," which she called a "spiritual experience."
While her involvement in MCT was a time commitment, she was always excited about acting.
"It never felt like I was working," Emily said.
Emily also keeps a job three days a week at Pure Bliss Spa & Shop.
Elizabeth has spent her high school career on the volleyball team. But the decision to take part in that sport was made for her, she said.
"PT [Coach Pam Hooten] would always come up to me when I was in middle school and say, 'You're going to play volleyball,'" Elizabeth said.
Well, PT was right. Elizabeth spent her last year on the court this fall.
Otherwise, Elizabeth spends time with friends and with books.
Her favorite tome? "The Shack" by William Paul Young.
"I just read it Sunday," Elizabeth said. "It kind of relates to TOK in its view of religion."
She also likes Hermann Hesse's "Siddhartha."
The IB program, however, teaches time management, so both Emily and Elizabeth found themselves able to keep up with their studies and participate in what they're passionate about.
"The busier you are, the more focused you are," Emily said.
"My grades were always higher during volleyball," Elizabeth said.
Exactly how close are Emily and Elizabeth?
"It didn't really matter which of us was which [valedictorian and salutatorian], we just wanted to be here," Elizabeth said. " I think both of us were glad it's the two of us."
Both are proud they made it to the top of their class, but Emily and Elizabeth both think that what they did outside of the classroom was more important.
"This is definitely a proud accomplishment for me, but I am really proud of the philanthropic things I got to be a part of," Emily said. "We pushed the bar. We did things other high school students don't do."
"It's nice," salutatorian Elizabeth Rogers said, of the honor. "But the more important stuff we've done has been outside the actual schoolwork."
Emily and Elizabeth both credited their parents with contributing to their success.
"Our parents really do deserve credit too," Emily said. "They pushed us even when they didn't have to."
"Their part came at the end; they pushed us to finish strong," Elizabeth said.
Both were very honored that they were named this year's Morgan County valedictorian and salutatorian. It's proof that hard work does pay off, Emily said, but it also provides as a reminder of something else.
"Now graduation is almost here," Emily said. "It made it real."