SOUTH KINGSTOWN – This year’s valedictorian and salutatorian at South Kingstown High School consider themselves to be typical high school students.
Valedictorian Sam Spink likes sports, playing basketball at the park and hanging out with friends. He even co-founded the Frisbee club and paints classrooms with the school’s Habitat for Community group.
Salutatorian Max Grear enjoys playing jazz on upright bass, plays guitar and has been tasked with painting his house this summer.
He is in a band and participates in Project Venue, which hosts open mic and other “artsy” events for local kids.
Despite their insistence that they’re average teenage boys, they’ve found themselves at the top of their class, though they admit they didn’t really compete to get there.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about my college plans throughout all of high school,” Spink said. “So that’s probably one of the motivating factors for me, being aware the whole time that there’s constant steps you have to take. You can’t just be thinking about now, the future is just as important.”
Spink said while he valued academics, he never really put much pressure on himself to be number one, though others did.
“Lots of other people like to talk about rankings numbers and that kind of thing,” he said. “I liked it a lot better when no one really knew for a few years in the beginning because I felt like there was more pressure from my friends, like they liked hearing about me being number one more than I did because if I were to fall a few spots I’d be OK with that. I’d be more disappointed with the fact that I would have a bunch of friends telling me I fell down a few spots.”
Grear said he thought he might be somewhere in the top 10 of his class, but not necessarily number two.
“I vaguely figured I’d be in the top 10 or something but I never really thought I would be at the top of the class,” he said. “I just kind of I moved up a spot each year, just by accident I guess. I’ve never really tried to compete with other people at the top of the class.”
He continued, “A lot of people are kind of surprised I’m number two, which I guess is kind cool that they don’t think I’m a nerd,” he said. “But it’s not that surprising, is it?”
Spink and Grear said they never really competed against each other for the top spots, but are friends taking the same Advanced Placement Spanish class.
“I never really tried to compete with Sam because I always figured he’d beat me out, but that wasn’t really like a goal I had,” Grear said.
The boys laughed.
“I just think it’s kind of cool because we’re in the same Spanish class, which is pretty small and it’s just like I kind of feel a certain pride of AP Spanish beating out AP French,” Grear said.
Spink agreed that there was never much competition between them. They said there is much more competition in the rising senior class.
“Their class has a lot more [competition],” Spink said. “They’re always wondering what the other students are doing, while with this one, I don’t think Max and I ever asked each other what our GPAs are, like once, the whole time. I like that a lot better too.”
Spink added, “It feels like almost a duo, like some sort of awesome tandem of friends as opposed to enemies.”
Together, Spink and Grear have trekked through a host of AP classes including calculus, biology, Spanish, chemistry and U.S. History.
Now, they’re about ready to go off to college.
“I’m excited, a little nervous,” said Spink, who will attend the University of Rhode Island in the fall. “But I don’t know, I feel like the transition shouldn’t go too poorly.”
Spink said he plans to study engineering. Right now, he’s thinking biomedical.
“But that’s subject to change,” he said.
Grear, on the other hand, isn’t sure what he’s going to study.
“I’m not really decided,” he said. “Either English or at Princeton, that’s where I’m going, there’s the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and that has to do with civil service and stuff like that. I figure I can kind of decide which path I’m willing to go down once I’m there and taking classes and all that. I’m interested in journalism. I feel like one of the other will help either focusing on how to write or what the current issues are.”
The seniors fished classes last week and the only thing standing between Spink and Grear and the summer are the speeches they must give at graduation June 17 at URI’s Ryan Center.
“I don’t really mind speaking that much,” Spink said. “It’s more just getting something down, than the actual delivery.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “Yesterday, I just kind of sat down at my computer and banged out a speech, which I think is pretty good. But I don’t know. It will be a pretty big place … that will be the only intimidating thing to me. I can’t imagine giving a space at the Ryan Center giving a speech to this vast stretch of seats. If you say a joke, can people hear you? Are you going to sense the laughter in the room or is it just going to be an awkward silence. Even if it’s successful, how do you know?”
Spink added, “A failed joke would suck.”
He continued, “For me the worst jokes seem to be the planned out ones that I write ahead of time because those just seem kind of corny. So I don’t know if I want to improv a little bit or get it all down. Because with speeches I like to have some room to change things or else I feel like I’ll sound too scripted. The best way to perform without reading off the paper is to not be reading off the paper. I need to write something. I still haven’t started mine. I plan on procrastinating that a little bit. I definitely want to leave some area to just adlibbing in some parts.”
While Spink had yet to put pen to paper, Grear said he came up with a pretty good idea.
“It’s kind of like a list type thing,” he said. “It relates to SK but I don’t want to give away the details. It should be the kind of thing where certain people who went to SK will recognize what I’m talking about.”
After graduation, Grear said, aside from painting the house this summer, he hopes to book more jazz gigs with his brother, who plays piano, and their trumpet-playing friend.
Spink has a summer job working the breakfast shift at Jim’s Dock Restaurant in East Matunuck, meaning he has to wake up at 5:30 a.m.
“It’s not that bad,” he said. “It’s pretty good hours but it takes up a lot of mornings and a lot of sleep.”
Spink and Grear will deliver their speeches Monday, June 17 at South Kingstown High School Graduation, which will be held at 6 p.m. at URI’s Ryan Center.