Plymouth High School’s top two students of the Class of 2020 are Fernanda Cortes and Hugh Smith. They end their outstanding high school careers earning a 4.13 GPA, therefore both Cortes and Smith have been named PHS 2020 co-valedictorians. Principal Jim Condon said, “I cannot be more proud of Fernanda and Hugh for all their academic, social and community achievements.”
Fernanda will continue her education at Indiana University Bloomington this fall, majoring in accounting at the Kelley School of Business and minoring in Spanish.
Cortes admits achieving the honor of being named valedictorian wasn’t one of her initial goals in life, until the end of her freshman year. “I believe that at the end of my freshman year, I started to think about the possibility of obtaining this honor. Ever since then, I have always kept that thought in the back of my mind. Now that I have achieved this honor I would like to thank my friends, teachers, and family, especially my parents, for being so supportive.”
She is the daughter of Jose and Olivia Cortes, and she garnered the co-valedictorian designation by virtue of earning a 4.13 grade-point average, and 51 dual credits by completing six Advanced Placement courses along with a plethora of college-level courses.
Cortes is a recipient of the IU Cox Civic Scholarship, the Hudson and Holland Scholars Program, and the Uppaluri In-State Scholarship.
She said, “My proudest accomplishment throughout my high school career would be receiving the IU Cox Civic Scholarship since it helped financially secure my education at Indiana University.”
As a senior, she received the Ivy Tech Statewide Transfer General Core Diploma which allows her to transfer her college credits to all public four-year colleges in Indiana and start as a sophomore. This year she also received a PHS Academic Excellence Award, which is given to seniors who academically make up the top 5% of their graduating class.
As a junior, Cortes was one of three Plymouth High School students chosen as PHS Indiana Association of School Principals Rising Stars of the Indiana Class of 2020. She was also one of three students chosen to represent PHS at the 2019 American Legion Auxiliary Hoosier Girls State.
For all four years of Cortes’ high school career, she was an active member of the PHS student council; she served as the vice president of the senior class this year.
Cortes was a PHS cheerleader for all four years of high school; her freshman year she was a squad captain and during her senior year she was a co-captain of the varsity squad. She was also a proud member of the Plymouth High School tennis team during her entire four years of high school.
Cortes was a member of the Key Club for all four years, during her senior year she was the club’s president. She was inducted into the National Honor Society at the end of her junior year and this year she served as the secretary for the PHS chapter. Cortes was on the PHS speech and debate team for all four years as well as a dancer for the PHS annual dance marathon. During her junior and senior years at PHS, she was a member of both the Spanish Club and the Multicultural Club. She also served as one of the Multicultural Club’s officers during her junior year. During her senior year, she was a member of the Business Professionals of America PHS chapter.
In addition, she has volunteered her time in 2019 as a student ambassador for a Hispanic college preparation summer program called Project Stepping Stone.
Outside of high school extra-curriculars for the past two years, Cortes worked at Arby’s in Plymouth as a cashier. This summer she is interning in the accounting department for U.S. Granules in Plymouth.
Cortes’ favorite memories during her time at Plymouth High School stem around athletics and school spirit. “My favorite memories involve attending all the different sporting events and of course, pep rallies. In general, I can definitely say that the last four years here at PHS have been extremely memorable. I created so many memories with my amazing friends, and had the best teachers ever,” she said.
As she closes this chapter in her education, her advice for incoming high school students is straightforward. “Try your best in all your classes while making as many memories as you can because trust me – it’ll be over before you know it,” said Cortes.
Plymouth High School announced Hugh Smith as the Class of 2020 co-valedictorian. He is son of Dr. Timothy and Sarah Smith. He will continue his education at the University of Notre Dame this fall majoring in biochemistry or physics. Smith tied for the top spot of the Class of 2020 by earning a 4.13 grade-point average. He graduates with 47 dual credits by completing Advanced Placement and college-level courses. Smith was awarded an Advanced Placement Scholar Award by the College Board for demonstrating exemplary college-level achievement on his AP exams. He also scored a perfect SAT math score of 800.
Smith said, “I always thought that it would be very cool to be the valedictorian of my class, but I never considered it to be a realistic expectation until I was pretty far into high school. It became a goal of mine when my sister graduated. So I felt challenged to do my best in high school and try and go for that elusive valedictorian.”
Smith was the Marshall County sole recipient of the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship for 2020. As a Lilly Endowment Community Scholar, Smith receives full paid tuition to attend the University of Notre Dame. He also received the Richard F. and Betty J. Heiser Scholarship. As a senior, Smith received the Ivy Tech Statewide Transfer General Core Diploma, which would have allowed him to transfer 30 earned Ivy Tech college credits to a public four-year college in Indiana and start as a sophomore. This year he received a PHS Academic Excellence Award, which is given to seniors who academically make up the top 5% of their graduating class. He was the sole senior student recognized by two Weidner School of Inquiry at PHS departments, social studies, and mathematics, to be inducted into the 2020 Plymouth High School Academic Hall of Fame. Hugh was named as an Indiana Association of School Principals 2020 Indiana Academic All-Star. The Academic All-Star distinction recognizes Indiana seniors who excel in the classroom and are actively involved by holding leadership roles in their schools and communities. As a junior, Smith was one of three Plymouth High School students chosen as PHS Indiana Association of School Principals Rising Stars of the Indiana Class of 2020.
While juggling the rigors of academics, Smith also found time to be active in athletics. He played tennis for Plymouth High School during all four years and held the role as a co-captain while he was a freshman through junior. During his senior year, he was a team captain. For the past three years, Smith has been a swimmer on the varsity swim team. He served as a co-captain during his sophomore and junior years and this year he was a captain for the team. Smith also was a manager for the PHS girl’s tennis team while he was a sophomore through senior. During his freshman year, he also played golf and basketball. Smith said, “My proudest accomplishments throughout high school involving athletics would be when I received the honor of swim team MVP and was chosen for both the Academic All-State teams for tennis and swim.” He received the Plymouth High School Scholar-Athlete of the Month award in September of 2019. One of his fondest high school athletic memories he said is, “Beating Warsaw my senior year at two doubles when the match came down to our court and winning 7-1 in a tiebreaker, to be exact.” Another fond memory involving athletic camaraderie and school spirit Smith is proud of he said is, “Coming up with the idea and investing in a truck horn for pep rallies to make our section obnoxiously loud.”
All four years Smith was an active member of the Key Club, Spanish Club, and participated in the annual PHS Dance Marathon. He was also a member of the Business Professionals of America and served as the club’s president during his junior year and vice president this year. He said one of his proudest accomplishments throughout high school was, “Being a BPA national qualifier in 2017, 2019, and 2020.” Smith was active on the PHS Spell Bowl team during his last two years of high school. He was inducted into the PHS National Honor Society at the end of his sophomore year and maintained his status as a member ever since. At a young age, Smith learned how to play the cello. One of his proudest accomplishments throughout his education was being a member of the orchestra and earning Indiana State School Music Association State Gold Medalist awards during his time in junior high at Lincoln and during both his freshman and sophomore years at Plymouth High School. Being a voice for the student body was a role Smith also immensely enjoyed his entire high school career and one of the main reasons he served for all four years as the class vice president. As a junior Smith was voted the 2019 Basketball Homecoming Prince by his peers and the PHS staff.
Outside of school, Smith was a proud member of the Plymouth Mayor’s Youth Council for the past six years. During his sophomore and junior years, he served as the council’s secretary, and this year he served as the vice president. He enjoyed being active with community service by giving back to the community by participating in activities such as helping with the flood relief during the spring of 2018 and more recently helping in the process of revitalizing the Rees Theater. “Being involved in this project started in eighth grade with brainstorming revitalization options and it continued with actual physical labor helping with renovations over the past couple years,” he said.
This summer Smith is staying busy working for Surf Broadband Solutions, an internet company based out of LaPorte. During the summer of 2018, he taught summer tennis lessons. He said, “Last summer I spent the summer on a seven-week study abroad program in Spain, which prevented me from being able to have a job.” He was part of the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages IUHPFL where he lived with a host family and was immersed in studying the Spanish language, history, and culture in every sense of the word. Smith said being an IUHPFL graduate of this all-encompassing life-changing learning excursion was one of his fondest milestones throughout his education career.
“The last four years of high school have been a blur; when you really give time to think back and reflect on experiences, it is crazy to notice how quickly they have gone by. We take for granted these experiences in our lives, but as quickly as they begin, they end. As we pass through high school, it prepares and develops us for our future in college, technical schools, and the workforce. We not only learn different topics, but we developed habits, productivity, and figured out how best we work. Working from home during quarantine taught us the same, but for when working from home, I for one learned that I had to uphold a much higher level of personal accountability to get my work done for school from home. It is very possible in the coming decades, much work will begin to happen from home to protect from the next pandemic, the next world issue that comes up, and we all will have to make sure that we are capable of exercising productivity, regardless of where we are,” said Smith.
He said he is grateful to the countless Plymouth Community School Corporation coaches, counselors, and teachers who helped guide him in this education. “I will never be able to thank all of my teachers over the course of my education enough for challenging me, enabling me, and making me who I am. I am deeply grateful for the relationships I have developed with many of the teachers at PHS, Lincoln, Riverside, and even Menominee.”
Smith’s advice for those still in high school or just entering is powerful when you reflect on all of his accomplishments during his high school career. He said, “I leave you with this – give high school all of your attention, your effort. The worst feeling in life is to look back on a missed opportunity, and if you give all of your effort in school now, you will not have to feel that later. Every class matters, whether it is PE or physics. Make sure you give your all in everything you do.”