EARLY — Throughout their high school days, multiple members of Early High School’s Class of 2017 held the position of highest-ranking student. When graduation takes place at 6 tonight at the Brownwood Coliseum, Courtnie Smith will walk the stage as valedictorian while Bethany Kirk secured the honor of salutatorian.

“Coming into my junior year I was fourth, but recently the two of us have been really back and forth,” Smith said. “We have a really competitive class so honestly this could have been anybody.”

Kirk made her climb in the class standings a year ago as well, thanks to an expanded workload. “It was my junior year when I got to No. 2 and I had been around 5 or 6,” she said. “I did dual credit so I guess that jumped me up.”

As for earning the distinction of valedictorian, Smith said, “It shows how hard I’ve worked over the past four years. Even in middle school, too, I worked really hard to prepare myself for my first steps in high school.”

Smith, who has partaken in possibly every aspect of music available in high school, will pursue a degree in music at Tarleton State with aspirations of becoming a high school band director.

“I want to be a band direction for middle school and high school aged kids,” Smith said. “I’ve been drum major, drill instructor, uniform captain, section leader, I’ve done it all in band. Through PALS and leadership opportunities in band I’ve become passionate about high school aged kids. Some of the kids I mentor has really shown me a lot.”

Smith’s love for music began at an early age.

“I’ve been passionate about music since I was really young, it’s something I grew up with,” Smith said. “For me it’s a really good way to express myself. I thought about going in a different direction with my career, but ultimately I was more passionate about music than any other thing I can think about.”

Kirk has served as a tutor to elementary students and also traveled abroad with Coggin Avenue Baptist Church on trips to Uganda. Both experiences enlightened her to the importance of a solid education.

“I tutored a second grade girl this semester and that’s when it hit me how important it is to value your education,” Kirk said. “I couldn’t help her and encourage her to try hard if I wasn’t doing the same thing. And going to Uganda this past spring break and the one before that, there it’s a privilege to get to go to school for them.”

Kirk will continue her education at Mary Hardin-Baylor with plans for a major in Psychology and a minor in Exercise Sports Science.

Regarding her career plans, Kirk said, “I’ll probably go into occupational therapy. I’m really passionate about helping people any way I can. With psychology, I’m very interested in how the mind works and why we do the things we do. It’s a good career path for me and I can work with different ages.”

Both students will carry fond memories from Early High School with them into the future.

“There were a lot of crazy times in band, and a lot of hard times that have meant a lot and helped me a grow,” Smith said. “Being around friends and being able to see how some of my younger friends have grown means a lot to me.”

Kirk added, “The teachers are definitely a big part of why I have loved Early. There’s a lot of good Christian teachers who have impacted me outside of the classroom.”

Smith is the daughter of Julie Smith, while Kirk is the daughter of Kevin and Lauren Kirk.