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Positive outlook takes PHCS valedictorian Harper to the top

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PARISHVILLE - Dana Harper’s grandparent’s began giving her a dollar for every A she received on report cards when she was just a little girl.

As Ms. Harper has been named valedictorian of Parishville Hopkinton Central School’s graduating class of 2013, it is obvious that this tactic proved successful.

Ms. Harper did not initially consider the importance of attaining the spot at the top of her class.

“It was kind of natural. My best friend (Jenna Converse), she was salutatorian. We were right up there together all along. Then, my other friend, co-salutatorian (Shauna Wheeler), I knew she was coming up to our grade, and I knew she was really smart too. I wasn’t ever really sure if I’d get it. It was a goal, but I focused more on just getting good grades. That was most important to me,” she explained.

Ms. Harper found great influence from her parents, Dale and Robin Harper. From an early age they taught her how to maintain a positive outlook. As Ms. Harper described, “I really just focused on doing my best. My parents always said, ‘Do your best, that’s all we can ever expect.’ So if I got a low grade on a test, it was okay, as long as I tried.”

They also made sure she stayed on track, and kept her from procrastinating.

“They’d be like, ‘Do you have everything done? Is there anything you should be working on?’ They really helped me with that,” Ms. Harper noted.

She emphasized the importance of balancing her social, academic and extracurricular life. She attributed the support of her friends as another large influence on her success. “I had a lot on my plate this year, but when I got my homework done, I’d go hang out with my friends for a few hours. You have to give yourself that break. It’s how I kept my sanity.”

She further found peace in enjoying hobbies outside of school. “I like to read a lot, so that’s also how I would take a break from everything – get lost in a book. And I love music, too. I’d lose myself in the music or the words in the book.”

Ms. Harper also credited the staff at Parishville-Hopkinton.

“I went to a small school, so you’ve been with the same teachers since seventh grade. They help you stay in line,” she said.

She noted two of her teachers who stuck out along the way.

“My math and physics teacher, Mrs. Learned, she pushed me to try really hard. She took me to the St. Lawrence University Pi Mu Epsilon math competition every year and that made me work harder. And my English teacher, Mrs. VanLuven, really helped me out with college. She gave me the idea of SUNY Oswego, and I fell in love with it,” she said.

Mellissa VanLuven, Ms. Harper’s English teacher, was not surprised to see her named valedictorian. “Dana’s a wonderful student, just a wonderful girl to have in class. I’ve been her English teacher for three years, and she’s always been a pleasure to have in my class. We’re fortunate here in Parishville that the community provides us with great students like Dana.”

Ms. VanLuven pointed to Ms. Harper’s strong work ethic. “She’s very dedicated, a very hard-worker, and she has a drive that will be a great asset as she continues on to college,” she said.

Likewise, Janet Learned, Ms. Harper’s math and physics teacher, felt Ms. Harper was a standout student. “Dana is characterized by a very steady, cheerful demeanor, careful attention to her work, an ability to recognize and focus on the important characteristics of any situation or problem, a natural aptitude for academics, and a very positive attitude.”

Ms. Harper plans to attend SUNY Oswego in the fall, but she’s still undecided as to what she will major in. She remains level-headed and open to determine what she will pursue.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll choose something in the science field, but I’m not sure—I’m so young. I’m thinking maybe geology or anthropology. But, I was accepted to the school’s honors program, so I’m going to focus on that… getting my feet wet and getting used to college. I want to travel, and those jobs would give me the ability to travel,” she said.

Beyond being accepted into the school’s honor program, she also is the recipient of SUNY Oswego’s Presidential Scholarship.

When asked of her dream travel destinations, she also was very open, but had a few specific locations in mind.

“I’ve heard Ireland is really beautiful, and I have a teacher from the Netherlands. I’ve seen her pictures from there, it’s very pretty, so that’d be awesome as well,” she said.

Ms. Harper found her own willpower to be a large determinant of her accomplishments as well.

“If I had a full plate, like I did at the end of this year when things got kind of crazy with final projects and college stuff, I would make a list of the most important things, prioritize them and check them off as I went,” she said.

She admits some of her success stems from her natural abilities. “Last year, chemistry was really hard for a lot of us. When it came time for the Regents, I kind of led the group because I have a really good memory, and it really helped me out because it came easily for me when it came time for tests.”

On campus, Ms. Harper participated in numerous groups, including in the National Honor Society, Student Council and Foreign Languages Club. She has also been an active volunteer at Northern New York’s Special Olympics, participated in four PHCS Follies’ productions and participated in St. Lawrence University’s Pi Mu Epsilon math competition during her sophomore and junior years.

During her junior year, she successfully completed a course in Music and American History since the Jazz Age through St. Lawrence University’s Scholars Enrichment Program.

Ms. Harper preaches the importance of enjoying life and always putting in one’s best effort.

“Stay focused, and try your hardest. That’s all you can promise yourself. Even if your best isn’t valedictorian, as long as you can look back and say ‘I tried my hardest’ that’s what matters. Don’t only focus on academics. You have to find that balance, and enjoy life while you’re still young.”

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