The 2011 crop of valedictorians is an optimistic bunch. They see bright times ahead, they have faith and they believe they are on a course to success.
"I have amazing classmates who are passionate about what they do," said Danielle Chirumbole, valedictorian for Girls Preparatory School. "Some work with the homeless, some are amazing artists, one dreams of serving on the Supreme Court, one wants to make political documentaries, one loves computer science and one wants to enter the business world. I have faith in my generation to change things."
Forty-one of this year's tri-state valedictorians filled out a Chattanooga Times Free Press survey about their hopes for the future, their immediate plans and the way they see the world ahead.
A majority - 61 percent - said they envision a better world. Last year, 44 percent of students said they saw a better world ahead.
"With every new problem comes a new solution, and every solution contributes to a better world. I believe this process will always continue because it is not human nature to accept turmoil, but rather to correct it and learn from it," said Brianna Gibson, valedictorian of Ringgold High School.
Congratulations, 2011 high school valedictoriansView
Ringgold students know about turmoil. Their school was shattered by the April tornadoes, forcing them to finish the year at Heritage High School.
Brittany Munro, East Hamilton High School valedictorian, pointed to the storms and local residents' reactions as evidence of the good she sees in the world.
"After the tornadoes hit our area, we saw people from all over the country helping complete strangers," she said.
The positive outlook held by the class of 2011 extends to their perspective on employment prospects.
Seventy-one percent of valedictorians said they do not fear unemployment in their 20s. Many of them attribute this to the career paths they have chosen.
"I wanted to enter a field with a wider variety of career choice to ensure more employment security," said Laney Gifford, valedictorian for Section High School in North Alabama. Laney, the first member of her family to attend college, said she plans to pursue a career in engineering.
Others have forgone fear in favor of staunch faith.
"I do not fear unemployment," said Anna Ioannidis, of Silverdale Baptist Academy. "God has a plan for my life, and I trust that he will provide a job for me after I study what I enjoy doing in college."
Indeed, faith is an important part of life for many students. Forty-six percent of the valedictorians cited spirituality as their top concern in the next stage of their lives.
"If I put my full faith and trust in Jesus Christ, then everything else will fall into place," said Mallory Edgeman, valedictorian for Southeast Whitfield High School in Georgia. "There isn't any reason to worry and fret over the future; he's in control of that anyway."
"I believe staying grounded in my faith will help me through college and all the temptations that arise in this next phase of life," said Kalynn Moore of Bledsoe County High. "God will lead me in the direction I should go."
An equal number of respondents said they are most concerned with succeeding in college.
"What I plan to do in life requires a college education," said Central High School valedictorian Nicole Darnell, who hopes to become a general surgeon. "If I were to fail at receiving such an education, I would have to re-evaluate my life plans."
While some have concerns, both for themselves and for their peers, most are confident that they will not only succeed, but will surpass the generations that came before them.
"The youth of this nation have such an energy, and I believe that we will ultimately use it to move forward," said Collegedale Academy's Matthew Plott. "We are not afraid to ask the tough questions and call tradition into question. Because of this, I believe we will see an explosion of ideas that will help us prosper."
Staff writers Clint Cooper, Karen Nazor Hill, Casey Phillips and Susan Pierce contributed to this report.