After four years of late night studying, volunteering, sports teams and travel, this year’s valedictorians from central Maine are ready for the next step.

They will be heading to schools throughout Maine, as well as out of state schools such as Stanford or the United States Military Academy.

Many of the valedictorians will be leaving schools they have attended with the same classmates since kindergarten.

The top-of-the-class students said in recent interviews they were thankful for their small classroom experiences, which led to close-knit relationships with peers and teachers.

The trick to getting good grades? Working hard from start to finish, they said.

Kristin Bishop, Madison Memorial High School

While Kristin Bishop, 18, of Madison, said her career goal is to work for the government, she already has a head start toward her goal by serving the state and local government while in high school.

In fourth grade she wrote a school essay about wanting to be a “government lawyer.” After earning her bachelor’s degree, Bishop hopes to study constitutional law and eventually be a lawyer working in some capacity for the government.

She was in band, chorus, the civil rights team, National Honor Society, is “a very excited registered voter” and was elected student body president all four years of high school.

“I remember writing my speech freshman year to give to everyone that was collected in the gym,” said Bishop. “It was all stepping stones on a leadership journey.”

From there, she joined the Maine Youth Action Network, which organized a gubernatorial debate that she helped moderate, and held a local government internship with the Madison Town Office this year.

She also served for two years the Maine Board of Education as a student representative appointed by Gov. Paul LePage and approved by the Legislature.

“That was the best decision I ever made,” she said, looking back on filling out the application for the spot. “I loved it because I got to see all of the government process at work.”

Another thing that sparked her love of government was attending Girls State, an education program by the American Legion Auxiliary that runs a mock state government. From there, she was one of two girls from Maine chosen to attend Girls Nation in Washington, D.C., where she met the president and her representatives in Congress.

She plans to attend Bowdoin College this fall and major in government and legal studies with a minor in economics. If all goes well, she hopes to go on to earn a graduate degree in constitutional law.

For incoming freshmen, she advised not to shy away from leadership roles.

“Leadership is in all of us, and it’s so important to not be afraid to make mistakes and learn from those to better the lives of others with different interests and diverse backgrounds,” she said.

Bishop is the daughter of Frank and Vanessa Bishop.

Aaron Brown, Lawrence High School

While some students shy away from the harder classes, Aaron Brown, 17, said that his favorite subjects in high school were physics and calculus.

“They were both somewhat challenging, but I just found the courses interesting and I liked the way it applied to the real world,” he said.

Brown, of Clinton, who was the top of his class since his first year of high school, said he felt self driven to keep up his grades.

“I was always about getting the best grades I could,” he said. “My parents played a role in it too because they always encouraged me to do the best I could.”

In high school, Brown was a member of the history club and played on the basketball, golf and tennis teams.

In the fall, Brown plans to attend the University of Maine to study mechanical engineering.

“It really started when people always told me to be engineer, because my main interests have been math and a calculus class I took. I also took a physics class I really liked,” he said.

Brown is the son of Brandy and Mike Brown.

Lijia “Emma” Chen, Maine Central Institute

In the fall, Lijia Emma Chen plans to attend Michigan State University where she will major in accounting.

Chen, 19, of Chongqing, China, said she got her first experience studying business while at MCI in Pittsfield and said her mother also works in accounting at a family business with her father.

“We learned in the class about taxes in America and how to start a new business and research and how to target a market,” she said.

Chen was a member of the math team and rifle team, volunteered with Key Club and participated in cultural diversity club, which holds an annual international dinner.

She said the rifle team was a good experience, because she previously had never held a rifle and was able to learn to safely and properly use one.

“It was a new experience for me. In China we’re not allowed to have guns or to shoot. It was just a chance to learn. I was so excited,” she said.

She also received the American Society of Women Engineers Award and competed in the 2013 U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad Competition.

At MCI, Chen said she enjoyed having a mix of classmates from the Pittsfield area and from other countries such as Russia, Italy and Norway, whom she hopes to keep in touch with in the future.

“It is really nice to have a lot of friends in different areas, to be a tourist and learn all the new things,” she said.

Chen is the daughter of Yongmei Shen and Zhiguang Chen of Chongqing, China.

Steven Claybrook, Temple Academy

Steven Claybrook will be heading to Troy, N.Y., in the fall to study physics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“I find some facets of physics fascinating,” he said.

Claybrook, 17, of Belgrade, said that along with RPI, he was accepted at three other universities. However, he said that while he is “not always partial to change,” he thought it would be more adventurous to attend an out-of-state school.

“I figured it would be the more ambitious choice,” he said.

He said his favorite classes were math and science classes, including a calculus class he took this year.

“I have a bit of an odd attitude toward math,” he said, acknowledging that many of his peers are not fans of calculus. “I enjoy it because of how logical and conceptual it is.”

When he leaves for school, Claybrook said it will be strange to leave the private Christian Waterville school — the only school he has ever attended.

“It feels a bit odd now that I’m about to exit something I’ve been doing for a good 12 years,” he said of Temple.

Claybrook is the son of Russell and Susan Claybrook.

Delaney Curran, Skowhegan Area High School

From school to sports, Delaney Curran said she enjoys competing and seeing personal improvement.

Curran, 18, of Skowhegan, said she participated in dance from first grade, starting when her mother signed her up for dance camp. As she progressed in the program, Curran signed up for as many dance classes as she could take. She said one of her favorite parts of dance was learning new things and improving her skills.

“I like getting to improve,” she said.

Along with dance, during high school Curran worked as a tutor after one of her math teachers set up her and other high school students to work with third and fourth graders in Bloomfield Elementary during study halls.

“I like teaching math, and my math teachers growing up showed me there is a way to teach math so people understand it and to make it fun,” she said.

Her drive to keep up her grades and balance school with extracurricular activities came from wanting to do the best she could.

“I like competition and I always had to be the best,” she said. “I was studying hard.”

In the fall, Curran plans to attend the University of Vermont in Burlington and major in biochemistry with a pre-med focus. Curran said her mother is a doctor and father is a nurse, so it fit for her to consider the medical field. That and the medical field being “one of those really competitive things,” she said.

Curran is the daughter of Michael and Karyn Curran.

Hailey Davis, Mount View High School

When Hailey Davis graduates this June, she’ll have a short break before heading off to the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

Davis, 18, of Liberty, said her brother currently attends West Point, and she remembers the academy campus as beautiful when she visited.

“I hear when you get out there and you’re in the academy that you stop noticing how beautiful it is, but there’s a lot of good opportunities to travel without it costing a lot,” she said. “And I like to stay busy, so I think I’ll like it.”

While in high school, Davis said she stayed busy with track, student council, National Honor Society, prom committee, library club, youth group, and the Mount View Chamber Singers.

“School was kind of my second home. I feel like I was here more than I was home,” she said.

One of her favorite groups was field hockey, where she eventually served as captain.

“It was awesome. I just loved my team so much,” she said.

While Davis said she enjoyed staying busy, she encourages incoming freshmen to make a primary goal of developing meaningful relationships.

“I’d tell people to not do so much achieving and achieving more, but to develop meaningful relationships that make you happy,” she said. “My grandparents (Tony and Laurel Baumann) have been a huge influence on my life, and I think that it is really important to find relationships that are stable.”

With graduation approaching, Davis said she is excited, but it also feels “surreal.”

“Once you get there, you wonder if you are actually ready,” she said.

Davis is the daughter of Jeff and Jamie Davis.

Troy Dunphy Jr., Carrabec High School

Throughout high school, three days a week at 5:30 a.m., Troy Dunphy Jr. was at the high school, lifting weights through the school’s Will Power program.

“It took lots of time management and self discipline,” he said.

Dunphy, 18, of North Anson, said succeeding in high school requires that self discipline to keep everything in balance, which included soccer, basketball and baseball for all four years.

At the same time, he said he would advise incoming freshmen “to not take everything so seriously.”

“Try not to get overwhelmed or make a big deal out of anything that is not huge,” he said.

After high school, Dunphy plans to major in business at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., where he said he hopes to learn not only about business but about independence by living out of state.

“Next year is going to be a big learning experience,” he said.

Dunphy said he has been interested in business in part because his dad, Troy Dunphy Sr., owns his own trucking business.

“Because my dad is a business owner, that always seemed to interest me because it was familiar,” he said.

He said while he was glad about the bonds he formed with his classmates and teachers, he is ready to graduate.

“I think it’s ending at the right time, and I feel ready to leave and ready for the next step,” he said.

Dunphy is the son of Judith and Troy Dunphy Sr.

Brianna Hall, Rangeley Lakes Regional School

Brianna Hall will be heading off to Washington, D.C., for college this fall, but not before visiting Denmark to brush up on her Danish and reunite with her former host family.

Hall, 18, of Rangeley, studied abroad in Denmark during her sophomore year of high school in order to get in touch with her Danish heritage.

“That was life-changing and one of the best experiences I ever had,” she said.

She said her mother’s Danish-American family has lived in the U.S. for five generations, passing down the tradition of speaking Danish. Along with connecting with her Danish roots, Hall said she connected with her host family and is eager to reunite with them for the summer.

“It really inspired my major,” said Hall, who plans to major in international studies with a minor in marketing at American University.

“My mom is really excited,” Hall said. “She supports me going wherever the best fit for me is, and it’s world renowned.”

Along with her travels, during high school Hall was a varsity cheerleader and participated at Lakeside Dance Academy for 10 years. She started with ballet and grew to include hip hop and pointe classes.

Hall said she is thankful for attending a small school where she was able to get to know her teachers.

“Being such a close knit community, the teachers really understand and they make it easy to work with our challenging courses,” she said.

Hall is the daughter of Heidi Sorensen and the late Larry Hall.

Ursula Hebert-Johnson, Waterville Senior High School

When starting out in high school, Ursula Hebert-Johnson said she would advise students to do what they enjoy “rather than just trying to do what colleges would want for you.”

For Hebert-Johnson, those pursuits were math and music.

Hebert-Johnson, 17, of Waterville, played violin from fourth grade to high school and participated in the pit orchestra for school plays. She also played with the Tri-M Music Honor Society that volunteers to play music at events.

Along with violin, Hebert-Johnson is an avid lover of mathematics. She competed on her school’s math team, tutored younger students in math and took more advanced classes at Colby College. She did research in linear algebra at Colby College in Waterville as part of the college’s Jan Plan program.

“It’s my favorite subject. I’ve always loved it since like preschool,” she said.

For a month during the summer after her junior year, she attended a math camp at Stanford University where she and about 40 other students learned abstract algebra.

“I saw it seemed like an amazing camp, and it turned out to be even better than my expectations,” she said. “My expectations were really high, but I just learned so much.”

Hebert-Johnson was also named a United States Presidential Scholar as part of a program that honors about 120 seniors from across the country for their achievements.

She was accepted at Stanford, where she plans to study mathematics and biology in the fall.

Hebert-Johnson is the daughter of Michele Hebert and Russell Johnson.

Emma Houston, Mt. Abram High School

Emma Houston said when she starts at the University of Maine in the fall studying environmental science, she will be following in her father’s footsteps.

“I just love science and I also really care about the environment,” said Houston, 18, of Kingfield.

Her parents are both teachers, and her dad was involved with the Natural Resources Council of Maine and now the National Wildlife Federation. She said that she and her older sister, a senior in college, have been following in their footsteps with her sister studying to be a teacher and she going into an environmental field.

“It’s kind of funny. We’re both following what they do,” she said.

While in high school, Houston played varsity soccer and participated in Nordic skiing and track and field. Along with sports, Houston balanced her time with student council, National Honor Society and French Club.

“It was a lot of hard work going forward,” she said.

Houston said she would advise incoming seniors who go to small Maine high schools to take advantage of the close-knit relationships that students can have with teachers. She said her friends that go to larger high schools might have more resources, but they also miss out on the benefits of small class sizes and close relationships.

“A great thing about Maine is that we have a lot of smaller high schools,” she said. “Seek out your teachers and create strong relationships with them. Every teacher I had was ready to help me reach my goals.”

After she graduates, Houston said she can picture herself traveling or living out of state, but hopes to eventually return to the area.

“I would love to explore and travel, but I always just kind of see myself coming back, if not to the Kingfield area, then coming back to Maine,” she said.

Houston is the daughter of Kathy and Bill Houston.

Kirsten Mathieu, Upper Kennebec Valley High School

Between balancing her busy sports schedule, clubs and keeping up her grades, Kirsten Mathieu said high school was often a hectic time.

“At times it was a lot, but I figured I would just do what needed to be done,” she said.

Mathieu, 18, of Moscow, played softball and basketball for all four years of high school and was soccer manager for three years, she said.

While she will be attending a Division 1 school, Mathieu said she is interested in continuing to play sports through an intramural league.

She was also involved in yearbook and drama at her high school.

Mathieu plans to attend the University of Maine and study human nutrition, a subject she has long been interested in.

“I’ve always been interested in eating right and how you keep healthy and keep viruses away,” she said

Mathieu said since kindergarten, her class has had two students join, and she said the small classroom experience makes her upcoming graduation more meaningful.

“It’s more emotional because you’ve seen everybody grow up and you know all their accomplishments,” she said.

Mathieu is the daughter of Jimmy Mathieu and Charlotte Howes.

Dana McNally, Forest Hills Consolidated School

Keeping up her grades throughout the years was not always easy, said Dana McNally, who was surprised when she was declared valedictorian at the beginning of this semester.

“I kind of just wanted to beat my brother, who was salutatorian,” she said. Her brother, who graduated from high school in 2011, told her he was proud of her getting the top rank, McNally said.

McNally, 18, of Jackman, said there’s no big secret to success in high school as long as you study, do the work, attend class and manage your time.

“My mom is a really good time manager so I think I get that from her,” she said.

McNally played basketball for four years in high school and was on the softball team since eighth grade.

Math and science were probably her favorite subjects, she said, and she plans to continue those classes by studying nursing at the University of Maine this fall.

“I think because I like people, and I liked all my science classes,” she said.

She said out of the 11 students she is graduating with, all but one have been her classmates since kindergarten.

“A lot of us went to preschool together too. It’s bittersweet,” she said. “I think it helps because we help each other and we study together.”

McNally said she thinks after school she will go out of state but hopes to eventually end up back in the area.

McNally is the daughter of Rhonda and Jay McNally.

Sara Packard, Nokomis Regional High School

While in high school, Sara Packard said she was grateful she was able to job shadow the University of Maine athletic staff.

“I really enjoyed all my experiences. I worked at a women’s ice hockey game, and I learned a lot just by watching,” she said.

After she learned about their profession, Packard, 18, of St. Albans, said she decided to pursue athletic training as a career.

This fall, she plans to attend the University of Maine at Presque Isle and study athletic training.

“Their main job is to basically maintain overall well-being of athletes. They’re dealing with sports with their injuries, and they help them recover,” she said.

While in high school, Packard played on the school’s soccer, basketball and softball teams. She also was a member of Key Club, Latin Club and the National Honor Society.

“There was some late nights of doing homework, but it was all worth it,” she said.

One of her favorite activities in high school was the music program, she said, where Packard played in the jazz band and the concert band.

“My older sister was in the music program, and I started in the fourth grade and I just fell in love with it,” she said.

Packard said she isn’t sure what it was that drove her to balance all the club schedules, play three sports and take five Advanced Placement courses.

“I just have this drive in me, and I just want to push myself and be the best I can be,” she said.

Packard is the daughter of David and Vickie Packard.

Marissa White, Erskine Academy

When Marissa White attends the University of New England in the fall, she will be majoring in medical biology with the goal of eventually studying osteopathic medicine.

“It’s more of a holistic medicine. You’re looking at the whole person and not just the area that is bothering them,” said White, 17, of Jefferson. “I always knew I wanted to do something medical.”

Between watching her grandfather being cared for by doctors to going through two surgeries herself, White said she saw the way doctors helped people and became interested in the field herself.

Her mother also attended UNE where she studied physical therapy. While White didn’t end up choosing the same field, she said her mother is happy for her future career after some good natured teasing about changing her career plans.

“She always backed me up with everything,” she said. “I’m not going to lie, my mom is a pretty awesome mom.”

In high school White ran cross-country for four years and will continue to run with the UNE team in the fall.

“I don’t think I could ever give up cross-country,” she said.

She also played basketball her freshman, sophomore and junior years and swam her senior year. Along with sports, White performed community service projects with the TLC Club at her school.

She participated in the American Field Service program, a club that works with foreign exchange students and community service outside of the United States. In November, the group went to Costa Rica, where she helped build a house.

“When we were in Costa Rica, we were in the residential place where the everyday people are. It wasn’t a vacation, but it was great,” she said.

White is the daughter of Marion and Raymond White.

Messalonskee High School in Oakland and Mt. Blue High School in Farmington do not announce the top student until all grades are finalized. Winslow High School does not have a valedictorian, but previously published its top ten students in the Morning Sentinel.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 | kschroeder@centralmaine.com