ASMSA GRADUATE … Payton Henson of Glenwood stands with Bob Gregory, Dean of Academic Affiairs, after receiving his diploma.
HOT SPRINGS – The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts identifies students with potential, creates an opportunity to develop that potential and provides them the opportunity to celebrate success, said Eric Jackson, general manager of Oaklawn Park, said during the school’s commencement ceremony for the Class of 2015.
Jackson was the featured speaker for Saturday’s ceremony that was held in Horner Hall at the Hot Springs Convention Center. He spoke about how horse racing can be broken down into finding horses with potential, development of that potential and celebration of success.
ASMSA operates much the same way, he said. The school seeks out students who have potential to succeed in its academic program from across Arkansas, including small rural school districts, he said. It creates an “unbelievable learning environment where potential can be developed,” he said, leading students to successful educational careers.
Jackson continued with the parallels between horse racing and ASMSA. Every year about 30,000 horses are born, and each year about 30,000 students graduate from high school, he said. Of those racehorses, only about 100 eventually rise to the top. It is the same for high school seniors – only a few rise to the top. “And I also know 102 of them are sitting in this room right now,” he said.
Each year, there are about 40,000 races across the country. The very best are awarded what’s called Grade I status. There are only a handful to earn that status, Jackson said, including the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
Similarly there are about 40,000 high schools in this country. The very best are awarded the equivalent of a Grade I status, he said, including ASMSA which was ranked No. 10 in the nation by The Daily Beast in 2014.
To succeed, however, the support team is critical. The horses have to have good people around it to develop its potential. By the time a horse gets to the races, 81 people, including trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, veterinarians and many others have had a hand in its development, Jackson said.
While he could not be sure of the number of people involved in each graduates’ success, he said he would not be surprised if that number was at least 81 when parents, teachers at all levels, counselors, neighbors, coaches, family members and many others are included.
And just as in horse racing, it helps to be in the right place, he said. Being able to say that you graduated from the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts is an important distinction from other high schools, he said.
In the end, however, the students’ ultimate success is up to them, he said.
“If you really were racehorses, you’d be the heavy favorites. So the question is not if you’ll be successful; the question is when and where. And that may come down to what is your personal definition of success,” he said.
Jackson shared examples of several of his friends. One is a successful CEO of a big business. Another is a physician who runs a free clinic in his spare time. Yet another used to have a professional career that he gave up to run a ministry in a low-income neighborhood.
“Whatever it is, you’ll have to define your own definition of success. I’m pretty sure if it involves being challenged, being fulfilled, being engaged and being personally satisfied, you will have found your success,” he said.
He said his personal hope was that they would find their success in Arkansas. It is the people of Arkansas who made ASMSA and the students’ opportunity to attend such a school a possibility, he said, adding that if they find success in Arkansas, the investment in the school and them is rewarded.
“Because truth is, Arkansas needs you. The best way for our state to develop its own potential is if the best and brightest among us help lead us. And you are our best and brightest,” he said.
The Class of 2015 included 102 graduates who were recognized during Saturday’s ceremony. As a class, the students earned $14.6 million in scholarship offers from colleges, universities and other sources.
Corey Alderdice, ASMSA’s director, encouraged the students to “not feed the trolls.” In an online commentary environment, a troll is a person who meets any attempt to communicate or reason with them with negativity, often antagonizing other commenters. But trolls are not limited to the Internet, Alderdice warned, and many of the graduates will encounter trolls in the future, whether it is classmates, coworkers or sometimes even their own doubts.
He encouraged the graduates to not give their time, energy and attention to the people who say, “you are not enough.”
“You cannot control the trolls. But you can control how you handle them. When you make the decision to not feed the trolls — when you decide to focus your time, attention and energy on affecting positive changes on the journey ahead of you — you will go farther (and) faster than you ever dreamed possible,” he said.
The following local students (listed by county) were recognized during the ceremony:
Garland: Andrew Beard of Hot Springs; Laura Beth Durham of Hot Springs; Saray Miller of Hot Springs; Kelsey Myers of Pearcy; Darbe Powell of Hot Springs; Mary Staton of Hot Springs
Hempstead: Deisy Abarca of Hope; Brooke Blackwell of Hope; Chandler Stroud of Hope
Hot Spring: Eli Balding of Malvern; Jason Fulbright of Bismarck; Beau Hunter of Malvern
Pike: Payton Henson of Glenwood
Polk: LaShawna Hanes of Mena; Lizzie Sutherland of Mena
Sevier: Victoria Antley of Lockesburg