Jordan Vocational High School senior Clara Dewhart played the violin in middle school at Arnold Magnet Academy, but Jordan doesn't have an orchestra, so she started playing the trumpet in the band.
"I was nervous at first," she said, then added with a laugh, "but I'm the top player now."
In fact, she qualified for the district-wide honor band and earned a full scholarship to attend Chattahoochee Valley Community College.
"It's still music," she explained. "As long as I still get to play, it shouldn't matter what instrument it is."
And as long as she earns a scholarship it shouldn't matter what kind it is. But students such as Clara, who have excelled in academics and the arts, traditionally haven't had the attention their athletic counterparts have attracted.
That's why retired Columbus State University president Frank Brown led the effort in 2010 to establish the National Signing Day for Scholars in Columbus. Clara was among the 152 graduating seniors from the city's public and private schools who were honored Monday night at the fifth annual ceremony in Carver High School's auditorium. Combined, they earned $12,777,830 in scholarships, not including the HOPE scholarship, said Keith Seifert, the Muscogee County School District's secondary education director.
"It's awesome because I've never seen a signing day for academic courses," said Clara, 17, who plans to major in music education and become a band director. "I've only seen it for people in like football. So this is exciting."
MCSD superintendent David Lewis, a 35-year educator, said he never heard of such an event before he was hired in July from Polk County, Fla.
"It's what we're all about," Lewis told the audience. "Whether it's in a public school or private school setting, this is all at the core of our mission: to make sure that we have students who graduate from our schools and become contributing members of our society and matriculate on to higher learning at the school of your choice."
Columbus Regional Health chief operating officer Scott Hill, whose company sponsored the ceremony, addressed the scholarship recipients.
"Students, this is your day to celebrate your accomplishments in high school and to look forward with anticipation to the next phase of your academic career," Hill said. "This is your day to be honored and to celebrate with teachers, parents and other loved ones who provide so much support."
Before they graduate, Lewis recommended, the students should take time to thank those supporters.
"I can tell you, as a former teacher myself, I have a box full of those notes that I received over the years," Lewis said, "and they mean more to me than just about any of the possessions I have as an educator."
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.