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Top student focused on education, not rank

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Whiteland Community High School’s valedictorian grew up knowing her parents never got the jobs they wanted.

Kristen Dyer’s father is a union carpenter but talked about wanting to be an engineer. Her mother works as a veterinary technician but wanted to be an accountant.

She knows her parents weren’t able to get the education they needed for the jobs they wanted. That motivated her to focus on school, and now she’s graduating at the top of her class.

Dyer will be headed to DePauw University in the fall to chase her dream job of becoming a research molecular biologist and working with genetics.


While she always has pushed herself to work hard to get the future she wanted, finishing at the top of the class came as somewhat of a surprise.

“I actually never thought it would happen. In middle school we made a list of who we thought would be in the top 10, and I didn’t include myself even in that,” she said.

She wasn’t really concerned with how well she stacked up against her classmates until her junior year, when her counselor noted that she was No. 1 in her class.

Dyer said she thinks she clinched the top spot with her 4.43 grade-point average only by taking one more weighted class than the salutatorian.

She always pushed herself because she realized her parents didn’t have that backing to advance their education. Her dad wasn’t able to push himself to take the necessary classes to become an engineer, and no one stressed the importance of higher education to her mom while she was growing up, Dyer said.

“My parents, they were not so focused on school when they were in high school, and they never got to do what they wanted to do. And kind of for them, I wanted to make sure I got to do exactly what I wanted to do,” she said.

While she has a hard time remembering history and never was strong in English, she can see

science every day in the world around her. She plans to major in biology and wants to eventually do research working with genetics.

In biology class, she’d watch videos about people with genetic diseases or disorders, and she decided she wanted to try to help figure out why they occur and look for cures. Genetic research could be a perfect fit, since Dyer breaks apart complex problems with ease, biology teacher Jan Fredbeck said.

“She can see the big picture when other students cannot and can tie ideas and concepts together to see how they affect each other. She is a great problem solver, and I am confident she will be successful in college and career,” Fredbeck said.

While sometimes she felt like studying consumed her entire week, Dyer said she was able to find time for other activities. She plays saxophone in her church

orchestra and played a role in the school’s fall plays for the past three years.

Memorizing a part in a play is like a fun type of studying, especially when you get to play a character like deaf housekeeper Gertrude from “The Matchmaker” and yell every line you have, she said.

The plays could have been preparation for the task of the valedictorian speech at graduation, about which she is a little nervous.

“I’m not good with public speaking, which should be fun for the speech at graduation,” she said.

Speaking in front of small groups is no problem, but a graduation-sized crowd is intimidating, she said. So she finished a draft of her speech several weeks ago.

Dyer won’t give any sneak peeks about what’s she’s going to say.

“I’d like it to be a surprise,” she said.

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