When Riley Beckwith got the results of the Preliminary SAT test she took as a sophomore, she made a determination.
Scoring in the top 97 percentile, she decided to shoot for the prestigious National Merit Scholarship, which is awarded to students who score in the top 1 percent of their state, along with other qualifications.
“I thought, ‘I can get that,’” she said. “So I just studied.”
Her efforts paid off as she was awarded the National Merit $2,500 Scholarship, along with the school-sponsored National Merit Finalist Scholarship offered by the University of Dallas, where she will attend in the fall. The full tuition scholarship is valued at over $120,000.
Beckwith, 18, received her diploma Thursday as valedictorian of Dayton High School’s Class of 2013.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’m excited to do other things.”
But, she said, her time at Dayton High has not been solely about academic achievements.
“It’s been really good,” she said. “I think I really came into my own. I think I figured out what I like and what I’m good at. I’ve become more confident in my abilities. I took drama, and that helped.”
Principal Tim Logan said he’s seen all 158 graduates mature.
“It’s been fun to see them grow over the last four years,” he said. “You start out with some immaturity, and you end up with some good young men and women, ready for society.”
The students earned more than $1 million in scholarships and 80 percent of them were accepted into colleges, universities or trade schools.
Chanze Elder, 18, plans to study at Western Nevada College to become a firefighter.
“I’m shocked that it’s over,” he said. “It went by really quickly.”
Salutatorian Aubrey Hunt likened graduation to a child’s new Christmas present, when the excitement wanes after the initial surprise.
“This graduation ceremony is like the greatest gift you have been waiting for,” she said in her address. “The excitement will wear off, and you’ll be on to your next goal. Tonight, appreciate this gift you have earned.”
In her address, Beckwith urged her classmates to worry less about success in life and more about enjoying the moments along the way.
“This class is diverse and funny and talented,” she said. “It has been a real pleasure to spend my high school years with you.”