May 26, 2017

 

Only a hundredth of a point separates the 2017 valedictorian
and salutatorian at Arlington Community High School. Justin Smith and Curtez
Hudgins, fast friends since seventh grade, admit they’ve been competing for
years for that No. 1 spot.

 

“We’ve never really brought it up, but I’ve always been
trying to get ahead of (him). But, I didn’t quite get there,” said Curtez, 17, with
a chuckle.Justin and Curtez

 

“It’s always been a little competition since seventh grade,
really. When I first came (to Arlington) in the spring semester of my
seventh-grade year, everybody kept saying, ‘Oh, Curtez has competition now,”
said Justin, 18.

 

On June 8, Justin and Curtez will graduate as the
valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Justin has a 3.96 GPA. Curtez has
a 3.95 GPA.

 

While the competition has been real, it has also been
friendly. They’ve supported and pushed each other just as hard through the good
times and, most importantly, some of their darkest days — including stints of
homelessness for both.

 

“We’ve pushed each other in quiet ways,” said Curtez. “We
know what we want to do in life and we know what it takes to get there. One of those
is getting good grades, and staying out of trouble. It’s expected of both of us.”

 

Justin and Curtez are just two of the 16 IPS students who
have worked hard to become valedictorian or salutatorian of their high school
graduating class. Some have attained this honor because they wanted to live up
to the expectations of their parents, while others were motivated by their
experiences and hardships.

 

For Justin and Curtez, their motivation is a mixture of all
three.

 

Here’s a look at their personal stories.

 

Justin Smith, Valedictorian, Arlington Community
High School

 

Throughout his junior high and high school years, Justin
Smith has been on a roll — academically. With a 3.96 GPA, he will graduate as
valedictorian from Arlington Community High School on June 8.

 

In the fall, he’s headed to IUPUI to major in business and
psychology, with plans to become a Forex trader and an entrepreneur. “I want to
own several businesses,” said Justin. He also wants to help people who are having
problems in life.

 

He has a full scholarship from the Walker Foundation, thanks
to the hard work he has put into school over the years. But there was a time
when school wasn’t so easy. Justin said he was struggling to make good grades —
even receiving an F once.Justin Smith Cap and Gown

 

“Seriously, I was getting bad grades from first through
fifth grade. I was really struggling. I would cry sometimes because I was
trying,” said Justin. “I don’t know what it was, but in fifth grade it just
clicked. Ever since then, I’ve been making straight A’s.”

 

Justin’s been motivated since to stay at the top of the
class. But it’s not just the thrill of getting good grades that keeps him
striving for excellence. He said several life-changing experiences are also
behind his drive.

 

The first is the death of his biological mom when he was 4
years old. Although young when it happened, Justin often thinks about her life
and the things she accomplished.

 

“That always goes through my mind that she was able to be
successful in her life, so I always wanted to live up to where she was and to
get past where she was,” said Justin. “She graduated from Howard University and
worked in human resources.”

 

Another turning-point moment for Justin was when his father
had a stroke during Justin’s sophomore year in high school. It was hard watching
his dad suffer, but Justin didn’t know what to do or how to help, so he did
what he knows best, “I used it as motivation to go harder. I didn’t let it make
me lose my focus.”

 

He kept that focus during a brief period of homelessness
this year. For about three months, Justin lived with a friend’s cousin after he
and his family were evicted from their home. His dad, who had suffered yet
another stroke, is currently in a nursing home and the family struggled to stay
afloat financially.

 

While others might shrink from the pressure and uncertainty,
18-year-old Justin keeps moving forward. And always with a smile on his face.

 

In addition to his classes at Arlington, Justin has made the
best of his high school years by being active on the football and track teams.
He’s also a member of Arlington’s cheer squad.

 

He pushes himself because he wants to better his life.

 

“I don’t want to be a regular, average person. I want to be
great,” said Justin. “So every time I think about my life, it just pushes me to
go harder. I just can’t be a regular person.”

 

And once he gets on a roll, he just can’t stop.

 

“It’s a habit. You start doing good and you don’t want to
not have that reputation of not being smart and not doing well in school,” said
Justin.

 

 

Cortez Hudgins, Salutatorian, Arlington Community
High School

 

Just two days after graduating as salutatorian from
Arlington Community High School, Curtez Hudgins will head south to Indiana
University-Bloomington for the Groups Scholars Program.

 

The summer program runs through July 28, giving Curtez just
enough time to prepare for the first day of freshman year at IU. When fall
semester classes begin in August, he will enter as a public health major.Cortez Cap and Gown

 

Although less than an hour away from Indianapolis, the
atmosphere and distance in Bloomington will seem light years away from the motel
Curtez and his family (including his mom, dad, sister and brother) stayed in
for about three years – from seventh grade to the first semester of Curtez’s
freshman year at Arlington.

 

It’s a time in his life he tried his best to keep hidden
from others. “I would get dropped off by the school bus and walk across the
street, wait for the bus to pass and then walk to the motel. I didn’t want
anybody to know at all,” said Curtez.

 

It’s also a memory that continues to play in the back of
Curtez’s mind. It’s his motivation.

 

“I saw my dad and he had this sense of defeat on his face
and I never wanted to see that,” said Curtez, 17. “But at least we made the
best out of it. I still have my mom and dad and we gained an even closer
relationship being in that one-room motel.”

 

In many ways, school has been Curtez’s safe space. In
addition to his academics, he is a member of the Golden Knight’s basketball team
and has tried to make the most out of his high school experience.

 

While he has done well in school — he’s graduating with a
3.95 GPA — Curtez said it has often come easy for him. He recalls only spending
two months in kindergarten before being promoted to first grade.

 

He stops short of saying that school is a breeze. “I
wouldn’t say that school is super easy, but anything you work hard for is easy.
So there really aren’t any hard classes.”

 

To say that Curtez is ready for this new chapter in his life
is an understatement. He has created a path from himself that leads straight to
IU.

 

“I’m definitely excited for the new experience. I really
haven’t been outside of Indianapolis in a long time,” said Curtez. “I can’t
wait to leave.”

 

He’s also excited to blaze a trail for his younger siblings,
who he often spends time with. When Curtez graduates from college in four
years, he will be the first in his family to finish college. He’s planning to
be just as successful in college as he has been in high school.

 

Curtez’s advice to younger students?

 

“Number one is, be yourself. That’s just my motto. Second is
just to work hard because you have to work hard for everything. You have to
earn everything. You have to show dedication and show that you’re
committed.”