CLEVELAND — Becoming valedictorian was never her high school goal. But since her goal was getting into Duke, it probably wasn’t a bad idea.
“I kind of wish I wasn’t valedictorian because I have to do a speech now,” Libby Dotson said before graduating.
Dotson graduated from Cleveland High School Friday at the top of her class, and will begin a new adventure next year at Duke where she plans to study global health with a concentration in environmental sciences.
Dotson, who took 10 AP classes during her high school career and finished school with a 5.17 grade point average, didn’t know what exactly she wanted to do when she got to Duke until her sophomore year in high school.
“I always knew (I wanted) to do something with the environment but I didn’t know what,” Dotson said.
That year she read a book called Mountains Beyond Mountains, a book about the travels and efforts of infectious disease specialist Dr. Paul Farmer, written by Tracy Kidder. In it the author documents Farmer’s work to alleviate the toll taken by disease in a multitude of developing and underdeveloped countries. It helped her hone in on something she’d like to do: positively affect the health outcomes in different, often-overlooked countries.
“I would like to be a consultant for different companies, to find out if certain products are doing bad things to the environment,” Dotson said. “It would be largely a research job.”
She said she’s always had a passion for camping and the outdoors, and the fit just made sense.
Despite her interests in the sciences, she named AP language and composition as her favorite class, and her senior English teacher Kimberly Livaudais as her most influential teacher. She said she loved the big group discussions that got beyond the literature studied, in particular.
Meanwhile, she called AP physics her hardest.
Aside from school, Libby got into sports briefly, running cross country and track her first two years. She then stopped to get a job, working at Golden Corral and Marco’s Pizza.
She also put a lot of time in at the Boys & Girls Club of Selma, which she described as her biggest out-of-school effort. She also worked particularly closely with teens who had aged out of the club starting her junior year.
Now she looks forward to the next chapter, leaning toward the “sweet” side of “bittersweet” some associate with leaving high school.
“It’s not that sad for me,” she said. “I’ve used everything I can through high school and done the best I can, and now I’m moving on. I’m excited.”
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland