Rockdale County High School's 2013 valedictorian is Jade Newton, left, and the salutatorian is Olivia Welch. Newton will attend Auburn University's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, and Welch will finish up her associate's degree at Georgia Perimeter College. Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
CONYERS --If anything, the top 2013 Rockdale County High School graduates can give credit to Georgia Perimeter College for giving them a head start on college life.
Even while taking rigorous dual enrollment classes for the past two years, Jade Newton and Olivia Welch managed to stay atop and earn the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.
"(GPC) is a lot calmer than it is (in high school)," Welch said. "It's nice to have your own schedule and not have classes eight hours a day."
Seventeen-year-old Newton said she wasn't surprised when she was named the 2013 valedictorian.
"I've been at the top of the class since rankings came out in 10th grade," she said.
Newton, daughter of Larry and Jo Newton of Conyers, admitted that her stubborn nature helped her stay on top.
"I had a B the majority of (this) year in physics, so I studied nonstop and pulled through and got an A," she said, adding that she passed up some dinners with friends, instead eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so she could study longer.
While in high school, she's also participated in the Y Club and the Interact Club, as well as chorus and drama.
This summer, she plans to visit the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., because she knows she will be even busier for the next several years while she attends Auburn University's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.
"I'm fitting it in while I can," she said.
There, she plans to study engineering and eventually have a career focusing in polymers, where she would work for a medical company.
She's been invited to the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and also received a $6,000 scholarship from Auburn.
Newton admitted that she's a little nervous about being away from home while in college, but added that Auburn felt like home to her.
"I'm sad for myself and my parents," said Newton, the youngest of three children. "They are already empty nesting, and I'm not even gone yet."
Seventeen-year-old Welch will get to stay at home a little while longer while she decides on what next steps she will take.
Welch, daughter of Myra Welch of Conyers and Corey Welch of Atlanta, will continue her studies at GPC to finish her associate's degree in psychology in the fall. During that time, she hopes to better determine her interests and will be finalizing college plans.
"I'm going to let deciding what I want to do dictate where I will go," she said.
For now, she's interested in a variety of topics -- ancient history, fashion merchandising and maybe even the psychiatry field.
She said she wasn't surprised she was one of the top few students of the school but was surprised when she learned that she was the salutatorian.
"Through my entire school career, I set higher standards for myself. I do my homework because it pains me to not turn something in," she said. "It makes me feel good to make good grades and it makes me feel like I have my life together. School has never been an issue."
She, too, has been invited to the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and also has been accepted in the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She's also the student editor at Creative License, a magazine at GPC.
This summer she plans to go on a Mediterranean cruise with her fellow Girl Scouts from Troop #21558. She's been a Girl Scout for 13 years.
She's also a member of the Dominy School of the Performing Arts in Conyers and works as a personal assistant for The Sketching Pad art studio and a hostess for Outback Steakhouse in Conyers.