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ECHS grads make it through difficult year
0527 ECHS Val sal hon
Valedictorian Bridget Devlin, honorarian Mallory Burks and salutatorian Christina Hillman will lead a class of nearly 440 graduates from Effingham County High School on Saturday night. - photo by Photo by Calli Arnold

As the Effingham County High School class of 2011 finally sees the light at the end of this school year, its top three students reflected on the highs and lows of the year but are ready for the next chapter.

“I’m happy to say I was a part of this high school,” said Mallory Burks, ranked No.3 in the class, and who will serve as the honorarian of 2011. “It’s that moment when we’re not kids anymore — it’s time to step forward into the world.”

The ECHS class of 2011 has been devastated by tragedy over the past year as three of their classmates were killed in car accidents.

Burks said that although the experience was terrible, it brought the class closer.

“It really tore a hole in our hearts, but it brought the school and our class together,” she said.

Burks said she is relieved that her duties as honorarian only require her to say the pledge of allegiance and that the comfy chair is a bonus. To her right will be the top two academic performers in the class, salutatorian Christina Hillman and valedictorian Bridget Devlin.

“I was very excited,” Devlin said of learning her final rank as No.1 in the class. “It was pretty close between all three of us, and I worked really hard.”

Devlin won an athletic scholarship to play softball at Armstrong Atlantic State University, where she will study engineering in hopes of entering the biomedical engineering industry one day.

“It hasn’t really set in yet,” she said of their Saturday graduation. “It probably won’t until after everything is over.”

All three of the top students were involved in Calculus Club as ECHS, and Hillman and Burks were in the National Art Honors Society together as well. Hillman was highly active in SkillsUSA and served as the state president for the organization and will be competing at nationals this summer. Burks was also involved in Beta Club, Tri-M and the Rebel Regiment marching band, where she took part in all ensembles.

Hillman, this year’s STAR student for her school and the county, earned a scholarship to Pratt University in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she plans to study graphic design.

“I can only bring so much stuff,” she said. “It’s going to be really hard leaving everyone behind and no one is going up there with me.”

She said her STAR teacher, Kim Larson, was the most influential in her years at ECHS, as well as her father, Russ Hillman who teaches at the Career Academy and at ECHS.

Devlin said that math teacher Jessica Jarman had the biggest impact on her, and she and Burks both singled out guidance counselor Lue Healey as their biggest supporters.

“I’ve matured a lot these past two years,” said Burks, who also works part-time at Rue 21 in Rincon.

“It’s difficult. Sometimes I wouldn’t get off work until 10 p.m. and wouldn’t get home until 11,” Burks said. “I really learned a lot about time management.”

She said that Healey, advanced placement literature teacher Keri Morgan and band director Matt Leff each played a large part in her achieving her goals and making it through a strenuous and formidable time in her life.

“I wouldn’t have made these past two years without all three,” she said.

Burks will major in mathematics at the University of Georgia and said her dream job would be working as a mathematician for the National Security Agency.

The ECHS class of 2011 commencement ceremony will be Saturday on Rebel Field beginning at 7 p.m., and more than anything these young women hope that it won’t rain.

“I’m excited,” Hillman said. “I just hope it doesn’t rain. I’m ready to get it over with.”

Devlin’s parting words to her classmates would be to “always work hard and never give up.” Hillman said, “Just do what you love.”

As for Burks, the severity of the class’ last year stays in the top of her mind.

“Be safe,” she said Tuesday. “We’ve learned a lot about safety this year. Your future isn’t guaranteed. Graduation is in four days, and you still can’t guarantee it.”