By Curt Yeomans
Morrow High School Senior Thanh Thuy Phan was in a state of disbelief when Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beauford announced she was Clayton County's STAR Student for the 2009-2010 school year on Wednesday afternoon.
The announcement came during a luncheon, hosted by the Clayton County Rotary Cub, at the Morrow Center. Nine school-level Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) students from Clayton County were recognized during the luncheon, but it was all a build up to when Beauford announced who the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) had determined was the county's top student.
As Beauford called Phan's name, Rotary Club members, Chamber of Commerce representatives, educators from eight Clayton County high schools, and her fellow STAR Students began to cheer for her. The 18-year old pupil slowly rose out of her chair and smiled nervously. She then turned to her STAR Teacher, Ginia McMillian, who in turn reached out and hugged the youth.
"I'm very surprised," Phan said later. "I didn't expect this at all."
Phan, who has a 4.2 grade-point average and expects to attend Emory University in the fall, will now represent Clayton County Public Schools at PAGE's Region 3B STAR Student Banquet, which will be held in Griffin on March 25, Beauford said.
Phan's Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score of 2030 will be matched up against STAR Students from Butts, Coweta, Douglas, Fayette, Spalding, Henry, Lamar, Pike, and Rockdale counties, to see who will compete for state-wide STAR Student honors.
"I think she's going to do well," Beauford said.
The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce president said that if Phan is the regional STAR Student, she will face a different set of standards to become the overall STAR Student for Georgia.
The STAR Student program is overseen by PAGE, but the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and county-level chambers of commerce, have been partners in recognizing the students since 1994.
"For the state level, there is an interview process that the regional STAR Students must go through," Beauford said. "Their personality becomes a factor in the process. If she can make it past the regional level, I think she'll have a good shot at being the state's STAR Student."
Beauford said her belief in Phan's chances is based on the interest the student has in learning, and her optimistic personality.
McMillian described Phan as "an outstanding student," and cited her outlook on life as a reason why she is a positive influence on those around her. "She's the most positive person I know," McMillian said. "She's just one to say it's going to work out, and it does."
As McMillian addressed attendees at the luncheon, she described Phan as an ideal student because the youth comes to school every day and wants to learn. "I don't think she's ever going to graduate," McMillian joked. "I don't think she knows that yet, but I won't let her go."
During Phan's remarks to attendees at the luncheon, she said she picked McMillian to be her STAR Teacher because of an old song from Vietnam, where the pupil was born and lived with her family until 1998.
"There is a Vietnamese folk song called 'Your Teacher is Your Mother Away from Home,' and she really is like a mother away from home to me," Phan said.
The county's newest STAR Student also praised not only her own STAR Teacher, but the STAR Teachers from Forest Park, Jonesboro, Lovejoy, Mount Zion, Mundy's Mill, North Clayton and Riverdale high schools as well, as she addressed the luncheon's attendees.
"Thank you for inspiring us students to do so well every day," Phan said to the teachers.