Q&A with HK's Valedictorian and Salutatorian

Clayton Rountree is headed to USC, while Jill Griswold will attend UConn.

With just days left before graduation, Haddam-Killingworth High School Valedictorian Clayton Rountree and Salutatorian Jill Griswold, both of Killingworth, took time out to reflect on their achievements with Patch.


When did it become your goal to graduate at the top of your class?

Griswold:  I have always been pretty self-motivated to do well and get good grades.  However, as I became older I realized how important it was to do well as more opportunities will surely come your way if you do well. It was very satisfying to see my four years of hard work pay off.

Rountree: Well, I remembered my sister striving to reach the top 10 of her class, (she ended up 10th) and thought it would be cool, that was in seventh grade, and by freshman year, I had decided that I wanted to be the valedictorian.

What inspired you?

Griswold: I have always had many friends who are upperclassmen and seeing them work hard and achieve great things and go off to great schools showed me that hard work pays off and inspired me to do my best.

Rountree: My family, my faith, my friends, and my personality all motivate me.  I am inspired by those who succeed despite adversity.  My sister led the way for me, showed me how to succeed in high school, all I had to do was follow her example, then improve on it.  My faith in God inspires me to do my best.  What inspired me to be top of my class? Well, once again, I have to mention my sister.  I remember watching how hard she worked, and then I remembered the rewards she reaped her senior year, receiving scholarships and awards and recognitions.  I saw the satisfaction she was able to enjoy in hindsight, looking back at her high school year, knowing she had done just about everything she possibly could have fit in, and I knew I wanted that too.  I tried to do as much as I could in my time at HK, to enjoy the experience to the fullest.  

How did you set about achieving your goal?

Griswold: I worked myself very hard over my high school career. Oftentimes this might have meant missing the football game or not being able to go out with my friends, however, it paid off. I took challenging classes, studied hard, and the time and effort I put back proved to be very rewarding.

Rountree: I made sure to schedule myself the most difficult schedule each year that I thought I could manage.  For example: freshman year, I had all honors classes except for Health and PE1 which are required, and Personal Finance. Sophomore year, I took 2 AP classes, and had 1 elective (PE 2) out of 8 blocks. I always worked hard to do my best, and my diligence paid off.

What do you like least/most about school

Griswold: I love all the opportunities that HK has to offer. At HK, students have the option of taking Advanced Placement courses, courses at Wesleyan and Middlesex, and more. Plus there are so many fun and interesting classes to take like TV, Foods, and Forensic Science. Also, there are so many amazing and fun teachers. However, I am excited for the freedom of college. High school is so structured and I am ready to be independent.

Rountree: I probably like the new schedule the least.  It is annoying and inefficient.  It limits the potential for HK students.  It restricts scheduling, makes lectures and lab experiments difficult, etc. I probably like most the fact that HK's unique Lunch/Activity 40-minute block allows students to participate in clubs and co-curricular activities, while still doing sports or drama activities after school.  At most other schools, you have to choose one or the other, since they are both after school.

What is your favorite subject?

Griswold: I have two favorite classes-one academic and one elective. I have enjoyed Spanish class ever since middle school. I especially had fun taking Advanced Placement Spanish with Señor Vazquez my junior year. My other favorite subject would have to be Chamber Choir. Singing has been a passion of mine since middle school and I look forward to this class every day. I consider the group of kids who I sing with to be my second family.

Rountree: Probably Spanish or Calculus. Spanish because I enjoy communicating in other languages, and I have a strong grasp on that language.  It is a great thing to be able to communicate with people in my non-native language. I enjoyed Calculus because it built upon all of my knowledge from mathematics, from Geometry to Algebra to Trigonometry.  It stretched my mind, and challenged me, opening doors to solving all sorts of new problems.

Who is your favorite teacher?

Griswold: I think that my favorite teacher at HK would have to be Mr. Pendleton. History is not my favorite subject. However, he makes learning about the topic interesting and his teaching techniques make me remember the information learned for much longer. Though his class was challenging and he works his students hard, I learned a lot from taking his class. He was also a great help to me when I wrote my college essay and completed my applications.

Rountree: Mrs. Magleby, 9th grade, Spanish 3 Honors teacher, who was one of the reasons I really started to like Spanish.  She made it fun for me, yet challenged me to really learn the language. Mr. Daniels, 11th grade, Chemistry Honors teacher, who was probably my most favorite teacher, he taught me Chemistry, a very difficult subject, and made it easy. He also helped me develop better study habits which helped me in my other classes, and will help me in college.

Outside of school, what is your favorite activity?

Griswold: Outside of school I really enjoy spending time with my friends. Our schedules are often busy so I cherish the time that I get to spend with them. We have had so many good times together and I will miss them when I go off to school.

Rountree: Oooh, that's tough.  I really love playing sports, for several reasons. One it is great exercise, and helps me keep in shape.  Two, it helps me relieve stress from the school day.  Three, I love sports in general.  It would be hard for me to decide between soccer, swimming, and tennis though.

What are your thoughts about going to college?

Griswold: I was honestly ready to go to college at the end of my junior year. Though I do not want to wish the summer away I am extremely excited to resume my studies at UConn in the fall.

Rountree: I'm very excited about college, getting to live independently, living in California, having a much more flexible schedule, etc.  I am glad that the drama and strict rules and structure of high school will be gone.

Why did you choose the school you have chosen?

Griswold: One of the reasons I picked UConn was because it is extremely different from HKHS and will push me out of my comfort zone. I am used to a small school and going to a large university will definitely be an adjustment. Also, I am interested in Spanish and they have a lot of opportunities for foreign language students. Moreover, I hope to pursue a career in teaching and their Neag School of Education is one of the top teaching schools in the country; I hope to be accepted into this program.

*Jill received the UConn Presidential Scholarship which provides for tuition.

Rountree: I chose to attend USC for several reasons.  One of the largest factors was the full-tuition scholarship that I was awarded.  Another was that they were one of the top 15 programs in the country for my major, Industrial and Systems Engineering, and they have been continually on the rise since 2000.  Another factor was the amazing weather of Southern California, as well as the fact that about 90% of my extended family lives in Southern California.  Also my grandfather earned 4 degrees at USC's Engineering school, so it runs in the family.

Have you written your graduation speech?

Griswold: I have just recently begun brainstorming ideas for my speech as that “end-of-the-year” feeling is finally hitting me. It is a difficult task as so much has already been said over the years and I want to be as original as possible.

Rountree: Not yet, but I've begun thinking about it.  I plan to write it this week.

How would you describe your study habits?

Griswold: I will admit that this year I have certainly felt the effects of “senioritis,” I am most definitely one to get things done ahead of time.

Rountree: I am most definitely a procrastinator.  I always intend to start early, but good intentions don't always happen.  That's something I would like to change in college

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

Griswold: One piece of advice that I would give to incoming freshmen is to work hard right from the start. Many of my peers got a late start in working hard and getting involved and this hurt them in the end. I cannot stress enough how important it is to begin as soon as possible. Every grade matters and the sooner you can raise your GPA, the better you will be when you are an upperclassmen. Also, don’t wait to get involved in clubs until you’re a junior or senior. Feel them out as early as possible so you can find your niche and you will have more opportunities coming your way.

Rountree: Learn how to study, and realize that your freshman grades count big time. Your freshman grades are one third of what colleges see when you are applying in your senior year.  Also, you need to get involved in clubs, sports, and activities.  You can't just think that if you join these groups junior year, that colleges will be fine with that.

What advice would you give to the class of 2012.

Griswold: I would advise the class of 2012 to cherish the last moments that they have together. I was very eager to go off to college starting my senior year and I regret not letting it all sink in—even though it’s been said many times, it really does fly by. Keep working hard but remember to have fun—there will never be another time in your life quite like your senior year of high school.

Rountree: Enjoy it, because senior year flies by fast.  Don't be stupid, but live it up. Senioritis will come, much worse than you ever believed, so work hard the first half of the year, it will make coasting second half much easier to do.  Take time to enjoy yourself. Also, don't put off your college applications to the last minute, because they are a pain.  

How will you spend your summer?

Griswold: This summer I will be taking a Spanish course at Middlesex Community College twice a week. I will be working. However, I will definitely make time for some fun stuff as well: I will be acting in a film that one of my friends is making and I hope to go on some fun road trips with my girlfriends as well.

Rountree: I will relax and hang out with friends when I am not working.  I will be working pretty much full time at Chamard Vineyard in Clinton.

The other students in the top 10 at HK are: Ashley Scully, Emily Berman, Paul Morasutti, Patrick Hudson, Matthew Wojick, Emily Anderson, Lee Wagoner and Jack McDowell.


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