Two young women took their own paths to the top of their class at Camden Hills Regional High School, 2020 Valedictorian Robyn Walker-Spencer and Salutatorian Sophia Campbell.

Valedictorian

Walker-Spencer went through high school always trying to find meaning in whatever she is doing. "When I'm interested, I'm more motivated," she said. She applied this to classes across the board. If at first a class was not very interesting to her, she worked to change that for herself. "I don't see the point if you can't find ways to make things interesting, meaningful and enjoy things along the way," she said.

Hard work and striving to do her best is something she learned from her parents, both teachers. Applying those traits, along with her creative drive, is her recipe for success.

Interest in marine science

Taking classes with teacher Ken Vencil sparked Walker-Spencer's passion for marine sciences, and brought together interests she explored throughout high school.

During junior and senior years, she took an advanced marine ecology class created for Camden Hills students by Vencil and a University of Machias professor.

"It was one of the most influential experiences of high school for me," she said. She spent a summer in Machias, exploring mudflats and conducting experiments out in the field. Then, she used skills learned over the summer in the lab. The next semester involved designing original research projects, conducting her own research at Beauchamp Point in Rockport and presenting work for review.

The course enabled her "to take on the life of a scientific researcher. Going into this I was unsure it might be a life path, but it confirmed it was amazing and so much fun." She credits Mr. Vencil for being a fantastic support along the way.

She discovered an interest in acquaponics during freshman year, which she was able to develop through all four years of high school. Through different classes and working with multiple teachers, she designed and built her own aquaponics system, which grows tilapia, and uses fish waste as nutrients in water to grow lettuce and basil.

Her acquaponics system, along with extracurricular science, math and technology classes, was the culminating project for a STEM endorsement, that becomes part of the high school transcript.

For Walker-Spencer, who likes hands-on projects, "It was really rewarding seeing something I spent multiple years thinking about, designing, and building come to fruition, and grow plants and fish for an actual meal."

Theater, music

Walker-Spencer's creative side has been seen by audiences at many high school musicals and plays. Theater, musicals, singing and playing guitar are a big part of who she is. She loves creating something beautiful with other people.

"It's so grounding," she said. "I don't think my high school experience would be the same without it."

Music has also been there for her at a time when school is closed and she is home due to coronavirus. "It's helpful do something I love so much and feel normal,"

She has also discovered while taking a choral class remotely, that "being able to make music virtually is really cool. Hearing the harmonies of the virtual chorus come together reminded her of one of the reasons she likes music so much. "It's really important to play music or come together with friends and create something," she said.

Walker-Spencer plans to major in biology at Bowdoin College. The school offers her opportunities she is excited to explore, research opportunities and a coastal studies center located on the Penobscot Bay, as well as a liberal arts experience.

Salutatorian Sophia Campbell

Campbell lives in St. George, which has an independent K-8 school system, and offers students a choice of five high schools. She always knew she wanted to go to Camden Hills, she said.

Planning and looking ahead comes naturally to her and is something that runs in her family. She said family members have been her biggest supporters from day one.

While there have been a lot of things she has loved about high school, two rise to the top.

Internship

One favorite high school experience is the internship program for upperclassmen. She wanted to be part of that program, since she first heard of it and connected it with her interest in veterinary medicine.

As a junior, her internship rotated weekly between the Camden Hospital for Animals and PenBay Veterinary Associates. Senior year, she continued the internship with DVM Kate Pierce at PenBay Veterinary. Campbell said she has gained experience, sitting in on appointments and surgeries and helping with routine procedures.

"I've gotten a lot of hands on experience. It's great to have that before I go to college," she said.

She has always been interested in animal biology. In school, she took honors biology junior year and advanced placement biology senior year, with Mr. Vencil. She said she learned so much over the past two years, and having a great teacher has made all the difference.

Sports

Cambell's love of field hockey, her number one sport, and lacrosse, helped ease her way into a new school, and led to leadership opportunities later on.

She didn't know anyone at Camden Hills, before she started field hockey, which begins in the summer. The field hockey team "was such a welcoming environment. All the girls were so nice. I made so many friends right off the bat," she said.

She played varsity field hockey all four years, and was captain junior and senior years. She feels lucky to have had her senior year field hockey season, especially as lacrosse has been cancelled.

Her family was there, supporting her in the stands, for all of her games. Seeing their faces, especially when she was field hockey captain, was important to her, she said.

Her classmates have also been a motivating factor. "It's great to see how involved kids in Camden are in the community and sports, and that did have an impact too," she said.

Before coronavirus, she loved spending time with her friends. Now she stays active by going on hikes and walking her two dogs. At this point, she is thankful her parents are safe, and her priority is keeping her grandparents, who live with her, healthy.

She will attend Northeastern University, in Boston, where she plans to major in biology on a pre-veterinary track. Coming from a small town, living in Boston, going out to eat, seeing concerts and sports games, is also something she wants to experience.