VALDOSTA -- Tuesday night in the Performing Arts Center, Valdosta High School's Katie Klimko learned she had achieved a special recognition. She was named the top graduate of the Wildcat Class of 2004, the valedictorian.

"I have been working towards this moment since I started high school," the daughter of John and Liz Klimko said. "It's really exciting. It's such a surprise and a huge honor."

Boasting a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, Klimko is no stranger to high academic achievements. Throughout her high school career, she has been named Valdosta High School's STAR student, a senior superlative, a National Merit Program finalist and scholarship recipient, a Georgia Scholars nominee, and most outstanding student in biology, geometry, English, economics, physical science, algebra, trigonometry, advanced placement literature and composition, and Spanish.

Klimko placed second in the state on the American High School Mathematics Examination for the Mathematical Association of America, first in Valdosta State University's Sonia Kovalevsky Day Math Competition, second in Valdosta State University's High School Math Competition, and second in the Georgia Math League Contest for Valdosta High School. She has been nominated for the Governor's Honors Program in math and science and selected for Who's Who Among American High School Students, the United States Achievement Academy, and the National Honor Roll.

Klimko has represented her school as vice president of the Senior Class, president of her Junior Class, treasurer of her Sophomore Class, a Mat Girl, and a member of the Tennis Team, School Improvement Team for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Managing Pressures Before Marriage Team, Math Team, Beta Club, Student Senate, Art Club, Academic Bowl, Interact Service Club, and Y-Club.

In her spare time, Klimko attends Central Avenue Church of Christ, dances with Gerlock Dance Studio, and volunteers with the Soup Kitchen, Special Olympics, Coastal Plains Headstart, and American Red Cross.

Klimko plans to attend Valdosta State University this fall where she will double major in mathematics and mathematics education. Her dream is to become a teacher.

Using report card grades, only a fraction of a point separated Klimko and the class of 2004's salutatorian, George Lazari.

"I have worked hard to keep my grades up and maintain all A's throughout all four years of high school," he said.

Unable to attend Honors Night Tuesday, Lazari learned of his special recognition through a cellular telephone call from his parents, Andreas and Sara Lazari. He was on his way home from the Atlanta area and the first round of high school soccer playoffs.

"I'm very happy," Lazari said.

A world traveler -- he's been to France, England, Egypt and Greece -- Lazari is an Eagle Scout, a Governor's Honors Program participant for mathematics, a Georgia Certificate of Merit Winner, an Erskine Fellow, history and science student of the year. He placed first in the regional Science Bowl, was selected for Who's Who Among American High School Students, and was nominated for the United States Achievement Academy's English Award and Student Council Award.

This year, Lazari is president of the Science Club and Math Club, a Student Senate representative, captain of the Academic Bowl Team, patrol leader for the Boy Scouts, a member of Beta Club, and a participant in the Medical College of Georgia's Outreach Program.

Lazari attends Christ Episcopal Church, where he is a member of the Episcopal Young Churchmen, an acolyte, a lay reader, and president of the youth group. He has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, America's Second Harvest of South Georgia, Salvation Army, Ashley House, Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta, and Lowndes Youth Leadership League.

Lazari will attend the University of Georgia this fall, where he plans to double major in psychology and political science. His plans include medical school and a career in psychiatry.

Klimko and Lazari will lead their fellow graduates during Valdosta High School's commencement ceremony at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 27, at Valdosta State University's Physical Education Complex.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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