COLLINS - The top five students at Western Reserve High School believe the chance to grow up in a small, close community is an advantage that will help them succeed in a wide variety of careers.
Valedictorian Maria Zimmerman, daughter of Judy and Steve Zimmerman, said growing up in a small community has helped her succeed.
"I like the small town atmosphere that Westerm Reserve created," she said. "Everybody knows each other and we all push each other to do their best. It is nice to know that you live in a community that cares and that will have your back."
Zimmerman said her greatest accomplishment was starting the 4-H band as a special project last year. She also has wonderful memories of the class and extracurricular trips she has taken for academics, band and Future Farmers of America.
Zimmerman heads to the University of Akron for public relations and marketing. After her college graduation, she hopes "to be working with a respectable company and starting to settle down and build a family."
Salutatorian Beckie Linder, daughter of Ed Linder and Christine Cammarn, said knowing she had the support of the Western Reserve community made a big difference to her.
"They all treat you like you are a part of their family," she said. "You don't have that in bigger towns. It's nice to know that people look up to you and support you within the community."
That community support has enabled to Linder to succeed in academics and also be involved in many extracurricular activities.
"I have very high expectations of myself and it is definitely a challenge to be involved in so many extracurriculars, sports and even maintain a part time job, all while having good grades," she said. "It makes me proud to know that I can accept that kind of challenge and have such a rewarding outcome."
Linder will attend Notre Dame College in South Euclid to major in nursing.
"I have always had a thing for the human body and learning how it works, so nursing just seemed like the right field of choice," she said, adding it also one that will provide future opportunities.
"In the future, I hope to settle down somewhere on the East Coast," Linder said. "Once I am financially secure, I would love to travel the world and see all it has to offer."
Kristen Todd, third in her class and the daughter of Ann and Jim Todd, also appreciates the advantage of growing up in a small community.
"It is so special to live in a rural area because everybody can rely on others for help when they need it and nobody refuses to lend a hand to a neighbor when they need help," she said. "I have been fortunate to grow up around people that work extremely hard and people that know that they can get through any situation with hard work, determination and love and support from family and friends."
As a standout in music, Todd especially appreciates her involvement in the band.
"My most memorable events in high school involve marching band rehearsals, especially those long, hard hours put in at band camp," she said. Competing on the academic challenge team in the Firelands Challenge program was also a highlight for Todd.
She will attend Capital University in the fall to earn a degree for a career in the music industry.
"I hope to either become a band teacher or get involved in the music business" by working with record labels or concert venues, she said.
Jeff Rennert, son of Shelley and Jim Rennert, said moving from Norwalk schools to Western in his eighth grade year was a big change, but a good one.
"The community is so close and it was always fun to go to school," he said. "The teachers, staff, students and community helped to make Western like a big, fun, close-knit family."
Rennert's most memorable moment involve both basketball and academics - "All the tournament runs and the three-peat of Firelands Conference championships. Then there is also the surprise of being ranked fourth in my class," he said.
Rennert is headed to the University of Akron for an honors program majoring in accounting and he has big plans after his next graduation.
"In 10 years I see myself as either an executive of a successful accounting firm or as the owner of a successful athletic store business," Rennert said.
Shannon Erskine, daughter of Kevin and Linda Erskine, said her family, teachers and church members have all supported her.
"I moved here in second grade and they welcomed me with open arms and an open heart," she said. "I am lucky to have grown up in such a caring community."
Erskine's most memorable moment in life so far has been traveling to Europe as a People To People student ambassador.
"It was one of the most rewarding and educational experiences of my life," she said. "I met some amazing and influential people that I still keep in touch with today."
A highlight at school was the musical earlier this year.
"It was my first time being on the stage doing anything with drama," she said. "The whole experience was amazing because I became close to many different people and it was so much fun."
Erskine is heading to The Ohio State University to study pharmacy. She plans to continue to earn a PhD within eight years and enter the pharmacy field.
The students may be headed in very different directions, but the years they spent together at Western will make a big difference in their future.