Ryan Calhoun, like most valedictorians, will tell you the key to doing well in school is having discipline and managing your time wisely.
Sounds easy enough.
But for Calhoun, 18, he had to do a little more to endure. The son of divorced parents, he has lived in two homes most of his life.
His parents split when he was 18 months old. For four years, between third and seventh grade he moved back and forth between Minnesota and Garner to be with his mother and father. His mother moved back to Garner when he was in the eighth grade.
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He had two rooms and spent nearly equal time at both his mom’s and dad’s.
“That was the lowest time for me,” Calhoun said.
But with the support of his friends, and even his parents, he said, he got through it. Calhoun said even though his parents weren’t together, he knew they loved him.
“One of the main things that helped me get through it and get to where I am today, was the realization of the need for commitment,” Calhoun said. “Because through my parents’ divorce, I look back on it now as a lack of commitment. So I’ve made an effort to be committed to absolutely everything I do. I think it’s definitely shown in my academics and extracurricular activities.”
Doug Calhoun, Ryan Calhoun’s father, said his son’s ability to overcome adverse situations like that says a lot about him. He said it wasn’t always the best situation for him, moving back and forth, but he got through it.
“I’m very proud,” his father said. “I wish I had some of the drive he has got at his age. That is nice to see. He actually sets a good example for some adults.”
His mother, Tina Holbert, said the same.
“It says a lot about his strength and character,” Holbert said. “He didn’t let himself feel like a victim. And he did not let it be the focal point of his life or let it distract him from being who he is.”
Ryan Calhoun will finish high school with a GPA of 5.375, sitting alone at the top of his class. Calhoun has never received anything lower than an A as a semester grade in high school. Neither have some of his classmates.
Yet, Calhoun sits slightly ahead of them.
With AP and IB courses you can get six quality points for an A, whereas an honors class would give you five and a regular class would give you four quality points with an A.
There have been other students who have gotten straight A’s too, but what separates Calhoun is that after he finished AP Calculus BC, he talked to his teacher and convinced him to create a next level course, “Honors Calculus 3,” which would serve as an independent study.
He was the only person in the class.
“Math is definitely my favorite subject,” Calhoun said.
It kind of runs in the family, he said. Both of his parents are engineers and his grandfather was an accountant. On road trips, his mom would make up math problems for him to solve.
“My mom had me doing basic algebraic equations in the second grade,” Calhoun said.
Equations like “X+2=7. What is X?” and moving X around in the equation were the kinds of problems he was solving as a small child.
“Simple things,” he says.
Holbert, his mother, said she can remember two-hour car rides from Raleigh to Wagram, N.C., where her brother lives, and needing something to pass the time. So she made up some math problems.
He conquered the problems, so they eventually became tougher, until she decided to teach him algebra. Ryan was eight.
“I just tried to verbalize it and help him work his way through it,” Holbert said. “And he would do it and work it out in his head.”
Jon Sherwin, one of the IB coordinators at Garner High, taught Ryan Calhoun in IB Physics and Theory of Knowledge. He said what makes Calhoun a successful student is his drive.
“As a student he is probably one of the most driven students I have taught,” Sherwin said. “If he gets a 95 he wants to have a 97. He’s going to work until he has everything exactly right. Ryan has a personal standard for his work that is higher than most people set for themselves.”
He wanted to go to MIT, but was denied admission. He instead will go to N.C. State, which he says isn’t such a bad consolation prize.
“If there is one thing I taught him, it’s No. 1 that N.C. State is the best school,” Doug Calhoun joked.
Both his mom and dad also went to N.C. State and became civil engineers.
“MIT was the dream school, but State is a fantastic school, too, and I want to go into engineering,” Ryan Calhoun said. “It’s a good option, affordable and right down the road. I did kind of want to experience something new but I realize the entire college experience is going to be new. I’m looking forward to it.”
Ryan Calhoun wants to study mechanical engineering in the fall and hopefully study aerospace engineering in graduate school. But he’s not exactly sure about that yet.
He has to graduate high school first.