AFTON— Afton High School senior James Walkingstick was awarded the honor of Academic All-State, making him the third Afton student to achieve this award in the last five years.
Walkingstick follows in the footsteps of his Afton Academic All-State predecessors, Austin Johnson (2012-2013) and Cole Gibson (2014-2015). His name will be added to the list underneath of the All-State banner in the high school gymnasium.
All-Staters will receive a $1,000 merit-based scholarship, a medallion and will be recognized at an award banquet on May 20, at the Renaissance Tulsa Convention Center.
“This award really means that I’ve tried hard,” Walkingstick said. “I’ve noticed in the past, Academic All-Staters from our school are not just focused on academics. They’re football players. They’re band members. They’re involved, and they have passion. I feel like being an Academic All-Stater is really a test of my passion. It helps define who I am.”
The top 100 public school seniors out of 68 Oklahoma school districts were chosen to receive the 2017 Academic All-State Award, which is the 31st to be selected by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence.
Unlike most students, Walkingstick was not turned off by the fact that only 100 students were chosen throughout the entire state.
“When I applied for it, I knew it was 100 students out of Oklahoma, and I’ve been against bigger odds than that,” Walkingstick said. “Looking at the past applicants who have won from Afton, I knew I was in that caliber. It wasn’t too much of a surprise, but being an Academic All-Stater, it’s really an honorable achievement. I found it a big honor to add to my list.”
To be nominated, students had to meet one of the following criteria: an American College Test (ACT) composite score of at least 30; a combined SAT evidence-based reading and writing and math score of at least 1340; or be selected as a semi-finalist for a National Merit, National Achievement or National Hispanic Scholarship. Walkingstick was able to meet two out of the three.
Seniors were nominated by their principals or superintendents and selected on the basis of academic achievement, extracurricular activities and community involvement, as well as an essay submitted by each nominee.
Afton High School principal O. Jay Bowen nominated Walkingstick. He said the administration tries to see the true potential in all students and encourages them to do their very best.
“I start looking at kids as soon as they get over here, who I think can achieve Academic All-State,” Bowen said. “James has been on my radar since he was a freshman and he has finally come around and made it.”
“I feel like I have a good connection with Mr. Bowen,” Walkingstick said. “If an opportunity pops up, he’s usually the first to tell me. He’s actually the one who recommended me to join the Student Advisory Council and Academic All-State. I’m glad he does that with me and other students, as well. A good faculty, I find, helps produce better students.”
Walkingstick is involved in a copious amount of school organizations. He serves as the treasurer of the National Honors Society, Student Council president, FCCLA district president, Academic Club president and band president.
In the community, he is involved in sporting events and recently helped create an oil pastel painting in honor of late school board member Tony Shepard. The artwork will be sold in the upcoming FFA labor auction.
“We had a school board member pass away recently in December,” Walkingstick said. “My friend, Denver Miller, and I teamed up, and we painted his pasture in his memory.”
Adding Academic All-State to the list, Walkingstick said his proudest achievements have been the positions he has held in school organizations and being chosen as a National Hispanic Scholar.
“When I first ran for student council president, it was a big struggle,” Walkingstick said. “My other achievement I’m really proud of was Student Advisory Council. I was inducted again, and it’s one of my higher honors because it’s hand-picked by the state superintendent. I think becoming a National Hispanics Scholar was one of my biggest achievements.”
Achieving the title of Academic All-Stater has been at the back of Walkingstick’s mind throughout his high school career.
“Academic All-state has been on my list to achieve for a long time, ever since I started high school, which was about the time we had our first Academic All-Stater,” Walkingstick said. “It’s a big honor because you’re put next to the Athlete All-Staters.”
During his last year at Afton, Walkingstick set goals for himself like applying for in-state and out of state colleges. He is currently on the fence between pursuing a degree in pre-med or pre-law.
“I told myself that I would take the ACT again and try to do above a 30 and unfortunately, only made a 30 when I took it,” Walkingstick said. “My other goals were to apply to at least five colleges, which I’ve done. I applied at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, University of Tulsa, Washington University and Harvard University.”
Walkingstick will be a first-generation college student in his family. He said his parents are the main motivators to help him succeed.
“My parents have been pushing me at such a young age, and I knew what college was before I got into school, almost,” Walkingstick said. “Neither of them graduated high school. They expect highly of me. I feel proud of myself. Looking back, they had tough stories growing up and learning from their experiences helped push me forward.
“If I had privileged parents, I don’t think I would be the same person I am today,' he added. “I like the phrase, ‘poverty has created more leaders than privilege.'”
Walkingstick hopes his accomplishment of being awarded Academic All-State inspires other Afton seniors to step up to the plate and carry the torch.
“I know a lot of good contenders that we have running right now,” Walkingstick said. “I want to push that number and make it a solid five awardees in 10 years. I want people to know it’s not unachievable.”