Paul Leavy/The Valdosta Daily Times Valdosta High School top honor students Amber Rickman and Nikki Lunsford out in front of the school.

VALDOSTA — Valdosta High School has named Amber Rickman and Nikki Lunceford valedictorian and salutatorian for the 2007 school year.

Amber, the daughter of Pamela and Barney Rickman, has overcome extreme circumstances to stand at the top of her graduating class. Just last year, an unexpected illness left her nearly paralyzed.

“In the fall of my junior year, I found out that I had a stomach disorder, and the medications I was given caused a severe reaction, which left me paralyzed,” Amber said.

For six weeks, as her classmates worked on their daily lessons, Amber relearned to walk.

“I was at Shands for several months and in a wheelchair when I returned home, and my parents helped care for me because I could only feed myself. Throughout it all though, my parents, my friends, my teachers weren’t going to let me give up. This honor means even more to me because of all I had to go through.”

Because of the length of her recovery, Amber had to miss several days of school.

“During my health issues, my teachers were extremely supportive, and they would send my class work, and they kept encouraging me not to stress, but to focus on getting better,” said Amber. “My friends always made a big point of showing me how much I meant to them. I went to prom in a wheelchair, and they were all there for me. I could stand up, but I couldn’t walk, so all my guy friends were there to make sure that I had someone to dance with, and the girls would get on both sides of me and hold my hands to keep me stable. My friends took turns holding me up so that I could dance.”

Looking back today, from the top of her class, while holding a 4.0 grade-point average, Amber has learned a great deal from her past experiences, and hopes to one day encourage her future students to also never give up.

“This experience taught me that everybody is important to at least one person, even if you don’t think so, and that you can’t give up — you have to remain determined,” Amber said.

In the fall, she will major in history at Berry College, with the goal of becoming a secondary education teacher.

At VHS, Amber is vice president of the VHS Science Club, Science Bowl captain, a member of the academic bowl, math team, Beta Club, Literacy Cats, and is also very active with her youth group at St. John Catholic Church.

Salutatorian Nikki Lunceford also holds a 4.0 GPA, coming in just three hundredths of a point under her classmate Amber.

The cheerful senior has received a scholarship to attend Mercer University this fall. While undecided on a major, she has considered journalism and biology, and has also thought of becoming a counselor or possibly a teacher, while working closely with an inspiring group of children through her church, Northside Baptist.

“I help with the special-needs ministry at my church, and I really enjoy it. It’s beautiful to see how much they appreciate things,” Nikki said. “The things that are seemingly small and insignificant to others, mean the world to them.”

Reviewing her time in school and the experiences many teens face while seeking acceptance from their peers, Nikki recalls her transition into young adulthood.

“There were times when people used to make fun of me because I paid attention in class and because I study to learn, not just to pass. Sometimes, I didn’t want to do good, and I didn’t want to tell them what grade I made when we got our tests back,” Nikki said. “Over high school, that mentality changed, and if I could encourage freshman students, I would tell them to go for honors and AP classes. There is such a different perspective on how to study, how to learn and how to stay focused.”

Nikki continues a three generation legacy of VHS graduates in her family, following her grandmother Wilma Wilkerson in 1942, and her mother in 1973.

She says that her parents, David and Carla Lunceford, have been the greatest source of support throughout her education. “My parents have always been there for me, pushing me to succeed, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Nikki said.

Nikki also has valued the support of family friend, Judy Blanton, and said, “She’s kind of like my aunt, and has always been there for me to talk to about anything,”

Within her VHS school family, Nikki is grateful for the inspiration of one of her teachers.

“At school, Mrs. Narci Drossos has been so much to me. She’s been my teacher in some way or another for the past four years, and she’s just a source of information and comfort. And she’s always there for a good laugh — especially in journalism, which I’ve also been considering as a major.”

Following her graduation from college, Nikki hopes to return to the area she calls home, and continue supporting the Valdosta community and the Wildcat tradition.

“I would not trade my time at Valdosta High for anything else, and I’ve always been and always will be a Valdosta Wildcat,” said Nikki. “It’s such a fun place — you can’t trade the football games, you can’t trade the teachers here, because they are amazing. It’s just a great place to receive an education.”

Outside of the classroom, Nikki serves as the editor of the VHS yearbook staff, is Interact Club president and secretary of the student senate. She is a member of the Science Club, soccer and swim teams, and also serves on the First State Bank Student Advisory Board. Nikki was also selected Best All Around Senior and received the principal’s leadership award.

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