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Valedictorian turned academics around

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In stark contrast to her top ranking at her school, the teen remembers just a few years ago getting C’s on assignments and not turning in homework.

But that was in middle school, before Catherine Morgan realized she could get good grades when she was challenged more and was interested in her classes.

Now, Morgan is graduating at the top of her class at Whiteland Community High School, beating out yearlong rival and friend Emily Zietlow to earn the valedictorian title. She will head to Indiana University on a full scholarship in the fall. She plans to start taking classes and then deciding later whether she likes medicine or law better.

In middle school, Morgan got C’s in classes until her dad, Thane Morgan, pushed her, saying she had no excuse for not finishing homework or not turning in assignments.

“He knew I could do so much better,” Morgan said. “I can remember not really trying. The classes weren’t interesting.”

Her father took her to work with him in Fishers, where he was information technology director for the town, and would answer her questions about how the computer servers worked.

He knew that because she could understand his explanations, she was capable of doing far better in school, Morgan said. He also had her think through math problems when they were traveling, telling her to calculate the amount of time it would take to get to her grandmother’s house, for example.

When she did the math and understood the computer processes he described at work, her father knew she could thrive in school — regardless of grades and standardized test scores that suggested otherwise, she said. Thane Morgan thought she was bored and needed to be challenged.

So he talked to school administrators and got her into Advanced Placement, or college-level, classes in high school.

She started those classes her freshman year and realized she could do better than she’d imagined. She stopped hiding her report cards from other students because she wasn’t embarrassed about her grades anymore.

In her first semester, she earned a B, and then in her second semester, she got an A-minus. Soon after, she set goals for catching up with her peers who had been taking classes for gifted students for years. That meant taking geometry and precalculus classes her sophomore year, doubling up so she could take calculus her junior and senior years with the other Advanced Placement students.

Because she was working with students who were excelling, her competitive nature kicked in — something she also utilizes as a captain of the tennis team.

“If my opponent isn’t very good, I usually don’t play very well because I know I’m going to beat them,” she said.

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