October 26, 2020

Valedictorian Michael Payton to lead Class of 2020 during Saturday ceremony

(Franklin, GA) — Heard County High School’s live graduation ceremony will take place 64 days later than anticipated when the Class of 2020 finally comes together for the commencement ceremony at Staples Stadium Saturday morning.

The 9:00 AM event will look a lot different than in years past with social distancing guidelines in place but one thing that will not change is the person that will lead the way, Valedictorian Michael Payton.

2020 Heard High Valedictorian Michael Payton

The senior Brave is one of the most decorated students to make his way across the graduation stage in recent years at Heard High.

The honor graduate with a GPA of 4.0 tallied a long list of academic and extracurricular accolades while at HCHS.

Those accomplishments include being named President of the Future Business Leaders of America, earning the Georgia Seal of Bi-Literacy in Spanish, and serving as captain of the Academic Bowl team.

Michael was also active as part of FCA, Debate Club, the WarCry, and he was the District Spelling Bee Champion as an eighth grader.

There was little doubt Michael would be class Valedictorian as he finished a the top of his class for the last seven years.

The dual-enrollment student earned an impressive score of 33 on hist ACT entrance exam — the highest score in school history.

Michael says earning the Spanish Bilingual Certificate is his most treasured accomplishment as a student. Former Heard High Spanish teacher Lee Burson was quick to rave about Michael and the difficult accomplishment.

“Michael has an uncanny ability to create complex ideas and thoughts using the language that he knows. He is a thinker with a sense of humor which can be a challenge to convey those thoughts in a second language, but he figured out ways to do that in Spanish as well,” says Burson.

“He could also memorize advanced poems in Spanish and then present them with ease at declamation contests in the region. Michael is among the few at Heard County who has achieved this honor.”

As far as his most memorable moments during his school career, Michael says it is hard to beat the opportunity to appear on Atlanta television late last year.

“I have too many favorite moments to list them all, but one was back in December, when I and the rest of the academic team went on WSB-TV for the High Q show. We lost by quite a bit, but the experience was great, and it was the climax of eight years of playing in Academic Bowl,” Michael says.

Michael will next be heading to Georgia State University in Atlanta where he plans to major in Computer Science.

“I always had an interest in and an aptitude for technology, so I thought I would get a degree in what interested me the most. I went with Georgia State because of its closeness to home, but also because it was the only school I was accepted to that I could afford.”

Michael is still weighing his options on his career choice after college, but plans to “go where life takes him.”

He says a number of people inside the school system that helped motivate and push him to remain at the top of his class.

“Through my 12+ years in school here in Heard County, there was an abundance of teachers and staff who brought out the best in me and inspired me to go beyond what I thought I could, more than I could name,” states Michael.

“Another motivation was my peers, although indirectly. I always had a competitive streak in me, so once I knew I was on top of the class, I treated it as a contest to stay on top and achieve as high as I could.”

Michael say outside of school he has no doubt about his biggest inspiration in becoming Valedictorian.

“Outside of HCHS, I know the person who inspired me the most to become Valedictorian was my mother, Cindy Richardson. She was always there when I needed her, served as a role model for 18 years, and cared for me every step of the way.”

When asked about advice to younger members of the Brave Nation hoping to be Valedictorian of their respective classes someday, Michael offered the following advice:

“To any kid who wants to achieve high like I did, I have one word — Focus. Whenever you set a goal like that, or even for tasks in general, focus on what you need to get done and do not let up until you succeed. Getting distracted is a very easy path to failure, as I can testify. I have always been easily distracted, and it nearly cost me greatly in the past. But with the right amount of dedication to your work, you can go as high as you want in life.”

The Class of 2020’s academic leader says the COVID-19 situation has been tough to deal with after so many eagerly anticipated moments and events were lost forever.

“Personally, I feel that the most iconic thing my class missed due to COVID-19 was the last month of school, when all the fun, memory-making events happen. Prom, commencement, Senior Week, the dozens of other things we could have done this May and a thousand memories – gone forever, with no way to make up for them, even with this graduation ceremony coming up this weekend.”

Saturday’s ceremony at Staples Stadium is slated to begin at 9:00 AM. See the video below for more details from Heard High Principal Mike Wahl.

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