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Valedictorian thankful for gift of life after house fire

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The Center Grove High School valedictorian’s devotion to his schoolwork led him to finish at the top of his class, but he says the accomplishment is his way of thanking God for his life.

Ian Kenney might not have made it to his high school graduation without the divine help he felt when he woke up in a burning house two years ago.

“I never thought I would be the valedictorian. I consider it a way to glorify God,” he said.

In May 2012, a window air conditioner in a friend’s house caught fire during a sleepover, filling the home with flames and smoke so thick he could barely breathe. He thought he would die.

But with God as his guardian, he said, he was able to escape the house and pull a 4-year-old boy out of the burning home before firefighters arrived.

Since then, Kenney found the motivation to continue excelling, to squeeze the most of his talent and his ability, as a way to praise and thank Jesus Christ for his life, he said. God gave him many more years by helping him out of that fire, so he wants to make sure he remains humble and put his gifts to the best possible use, Kenney said.

“I think God is my guardian angel. I want to do something in my life that is pleasing to him,” he said.

That motivation allowed him to push himself to the top ranking in his class. Now, he plans to study biomedical or electrical engineering at Purdue University, so he can gain the skills he’ll need to help solve global problems, such as finding new energy sources, creating crops that could thrive if irrigated by saltwater or developing synthetic organs for the sick.

Whatever his career turns out to be, he wants it to be something where he can help people, Kenney said.

His high school days have been packed. At night, after getting out of any of his multiple extracurricular activities including cross-country, track, robotics club, French club, quiz bowl and Scouting, he always would set aside time for homework and studying to stay on top of his classes.

He’s made plenty of friends in high school, but his schedule doesn’t leave much time to hang out and goof around with other people his age. Outside school, he volunteers to play hymns for residents of a local nursing home. He also enjoys chatting with seniors in the community to learn about their lives, the jobs they had, the struggles they overcame and what they learned from them.

Kenney draws upon those stories to understand what problems people have faced so he can see how to approach problems he’ll face in his own life. He also has a fascination with past decades, from his favorite 1970s leisure suit, to the leather briefcase he carries passed down within his family, to his collection of about 200 LP records he plays while working on his homework.

“I think it’s God-given wisdom, and wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold,” Kenney said.

He wants to use that wisdom and his college education to solve at least one world problem in his life. He doesn’t know where the future will take him but wants to make sure that he’ll be giving back and helping people, such as by donating to local charities, volunteering with a Third-World medical mission, such as Doctors Without Borders, or even becoming a Catholic priest and spreading the faith, he said.

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