More than 3.5 million students are expected to graduate from American high schools this year. The Quad-City Times honored 373 of them Wednesday night at the Salute to Academics and Achievements at Davenport North High School.

Exceptional students from 43 public and private high schools traveled from the greater Quad-City area to be honored for their achievements in one of seven areas: academics, the arts, humanities, leadership, math and the sciences, vocational education and journalism.

“This program was created about 27 years ago, and since that time, we have honored over 10,000 students,” said Debbie Anselm, publisher of the Times.  

Referring to the short essays solicited from the graduating students, Anselm remarked on the diversity of accomplishments in this year’s cohort.

“We read from National Merit Scholars and all-state choir members,” she said. “We had kids on mock trial teams. We had yearbook editors. We had Eagle Scouts, junior Rotarians, and I enjoyed reading all of it.”

While Alexa Christiansen of Davenport West is being honored for her exceptional leadership as a senior, she wasn’t initially invested in many of her classes until she discovered engineering.

“I moved here from out of town to get a better education,” she said. Christiansen has been heavily involved with West’s engineering program and the FIRST Robotics team. “All of my classes looked pretty boring, but I went into the room and, instantly, I was in awe.”

Now, she’s preparing to start studying mechanical engineering at the University of Iowa and to share an apartment with her best friend and her dog — her “other best friend.”

Zakhary Keel is another aspiring engineering student from West. He’ll be studying civil engineering, environmental engineering and sustainability at Iowa State University, citing the environmental consciousness that was fostered during his time in high school.

Working as an archivist or curator at the Smithsonian is Lauren Schroeder’s dream job. The soon-to-be Rivermont alumna was honored for leadership, and she will be studying history and museum studies at Luther College.

“I like studying wars. World War II is a really big interest for me. So’s the Civil War,” she said.

Two students were each awarded a $500 scholarship from Jeff’s Car Corner, one of the event’s sponsors. Solange Bolger of Pleasant Valley, honored for humanities, and Gretel Forsythe of Alleman Catholic High, honored for the arts, were presented with checks at the end of Wednesday night’s program. DuTrac Credit Union was an additional sponsor.

"Whether you're choosing to pursue legal studies, or chemistry, health sciences, or mechanics, your plans are big and bold, and we're excited for what your future holds," Anselm said. "... Wherever your journey takes you, know that your community is so very proud of you, and so is your hometown paper."