Stewart Douglas looked comfortable up on the podium during Waldron High School’s commencement ceremony on June 1.
Aside from maybe a few butterflies in his stomach, Douglas delivered the valedictorian speech with humor and wisdom.
The speech was seven years in the making for Waldron’s top student, who finished with a 4.551 grade point average.
When he was in the sixth grade, the junior high rewarded students who had all “A’s” by putting their photo on a plaque on the wall. It became his goal to have his photo on that plaque.
That goal led to a new goal when he was still in middle school: Deliver the valedictorian speech at his senior year commencement.
“I knew I wanted to give the No. 1 speech so I worked really hard,” he said.
He suspected most of his senior year that he would earn valedictorian honors. But he didn’t consider it official until the day of the ceremony.
“I still had to get all my work done,” he said of his final semester at Waldron. “Even though we were this close to graduating, I couldn’t slack because I figured I’d worked hard since eighth grade in high school classes, I’m not going to blow it now. Keep your eye on the prize.”
The 2019 Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship winner stayed busy in high school.
He was involved in National Honor Society, Future Farmers of America, student council, 4-H, cross country and volunteered at his church, Shelby County 4-H and Waldron Elementary School.
He also served as the president of the Noble Happy Harvesters 4-H Club, the Shelby County 4-H Junior Leaders Health and Safety officer and was the 2018 Hoosier Boys State Party Parliamentarian.
Through all of that, he managed to find time to keep his grades up.
“It wasn’t always easy,” he said. “I think a lot it is using your time wisely. It sounds kind of basic, but you can kill a lot of time playing around on your phone or just sitting in class when you can be working on stuff. And the more you can get done at school there’s less you have to do outside of school.”
That freed-up time allowed him to help on the farm his family has owned since the 1800s or attend cross country practice in the fall.
He always had to remain focused on the task at hand. That meant getting homework done when he might have preferred to spend time with friends.
That focus and determination paid off. In December, he was awarded the Lilly scholarship, delivered by representatives from the Blue River Community Foundation.
The scholarship provides full tuition to any college or university in Indiana, along with an annual $900 stipend for required books and equipment.
Douglas plans to attend Purdue University in the fall.
After the presentation, he called his mom, Monica, who works at the elementary school as a special
education resource teacher, and his dad, John.
Monica Douglas immediately ran over to the high school to deliver a big hug.
By Spring Break, he was pretty confident that his longtime goal was within reach.
A little after the break, he began writing his speech.
He wrote a couple drafts with help from his parents before turning in the final draft.
In it, he looked back at a few memories and delivered some advice to the other 29 graduates.
“We all have the knowledge and capability to make a positive impact on the world,” he said in the speech. “Even the smallest acts of kindness are capable of making a world of difference in somebody’s day. This world could use some of that.”
Stewart plans to study agricultural economics at Purdue with the intent of one day returning to the family farm.
It might be a few years before he returns to the farm but by studying agricultural economics, he said he expects to have a variety of job options after finishing his education.
Looking back, Douglas was proud at his accomplishment.
“I knew I could,” he said. “The way I figured it, I probably wasn’t the most talented or the smartest or the most naturally gifted, but I could work the hardest. So that’s exactly what I did. I figured if I just outworked everybody, it would all work out in the end. I’d say I got there.”