As their seniors head toward graduation this weekend, the principals of Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne high schools have nothing but rave reviews for their final year in Worthington Schools.
A projected 720 students will walk in commencement ceremonies Sunday, May 20, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, 400 N. High St. in downtown Columbus.
According to district spokeswoman Vicki Gnezda, 294 Kilbourne students and 426 Thomas students are expected to graduate.
Unlike many districts, Worthington does not have valedictorians, largely because district leaders see the negatives in ranking students, said Thomas Worthington principal Pete Scully.
"We tend to have a glut of people toward the top and it almost skews high," Scully said. "It's probably wealth-related more than anything.
"So if you do valedictorians, you have to rank kids. And if you rank kids, you have to push some of really high achievers into places where they lose scholarships. ... If you do away with class rank, you don't eliminate kids from scholarship opportunities."
Worthington Kilbourne's commencement will begin at noon.
Principal Aric Thomas has only been at the school since last May, but he has been stunned by how he was received by the senior class, he said.
"They have been very welcoming to me, even from the very beginning," he said. "They've reached out asking if I wanted to participate in a 5K or be part of news broadcasts at school. I feel like they've tried to bring me in and connect me to them as quickly as possible."
A moment that will stick with Thomas was at a football game late last year when the students invited him to their section to watch the game and made a major impression on him, he said. The students were wearing orange and he was wearing blue.
"Someone snapped a picture of it, and I saw it the next day and I looked like a sore thumb in a sense," he said with a laugh. "But instead of me standing out, they really embraced me – maybe more figuratively embracing me. But it was really nice. I felt that connection there."
As far as classroom-related activities, Thomas said, he will remember a highly accomplished group of seniors.
He said he realized at a recent awards ceremony how many of his students are going into engineering-related studies or careers, which he interprets as a good sign.
"I feel like it takes a certain student to be a problem solver and to want to improve systems and think critically about issues and how to make improvements and things of that nature," he said. "I was like, 'Wow, we have a lot of kids going to (the University of Cincinnati) for engineering.'"
And at Kilbourne's annual senior recognition night, Thomas said, he realized that it was far from just engineering students who were impressive.
He said 191 of the school's 294 students were recognized for accomplishments – from athletics to scholarships to other honors – which blew him away.
"That number was staggering to me," he said. "I didn't really know until I got there and saw how many kids were there and I thought, 'Wow, that's almost the entire senior class.' "
For seniors at Thomas Worthington, which will hold commencement at 4 p.m. after Kilbourne's concludes, a recognition night might not have been as interesting.
Scully said that although the 2018 class is accomplished, he has seen them defer to the group rather than focus on individual honors.
"This class has been one of the kindest and calmest groups of kids we've had in a long time," he said. "They're leaders, but they're not necessarily about individual recognition. So they're kind of like the silent leaders behind the scenes."
That makes it difficult for Scully to recall a particular moment or example of their work, he said, because it wasn't he same few faces over and over.
Instead, he said, their accomplishments largely were group efforts.
"That's the hard part about them: They're not showy," he said. "Sometimes with a class, you have individuals who are kind of outspoken and really clear leaders across the board. This group, they just have individual kids who spearhead some efforts, and then at the next event, it will be someone else."
Last June, 16-year-old Thomas Worthington student Franklin "Eric" Clark died after drowning in a swimming accident in South Carolina during a basketball-team training camp.
Scully said that was a "big deal" for his students and always would remember how they responded.
Perhaps the way the school's students came together after Clark's death contributed to their overall demeanor, which contributed to "a great year," he said.
"They all just led in their own way," Scully said. "They're really positive and really eager and easy to work with."
Both ceremonies are considered formal events, but no tickets will be required, seating will be general admission and parking will be available at local lots and garages for $8 to $15, according to the district's website.
For more information about Worthington's commencement ceremonies, go to worthington.k12.oh.us and use "commencement" as a search term.