CARBONDALE — Hannah Loyd, McKenzie Smith, Abigail Montgomery and Tia McLaughlin have known each other for years, since they were in elementary schools.

Their time together has been accomplished, the Vienna High School seniors shared Tuesday night at the 47th Annual Southern Illinois Society for High School Achievement Banquet at SIU.

The high achievers are not just sharing valedictorian honors at their upcoming graduation — all four, plus a fifth student, Remington Fisher, earned a 5.0 on a 5.0 scale for the highest academic honor — but some will also be graduating in a few days with associates of arts degrees.

They took advantage of the dual-degree enrollment program at Vienna High School; for instance, Loyd earned an associate of arts degree from Shawnee Community College and go on to Urshan College in Missouri, and Montgomery is set to earn a Certified Nursing Assistant's certificate and plans to continue her pre-nursing studies at Shawnee.

They are among eight of the school's 75 graduating seniors to earn the advanced degree, school superintendent Joshua Stafford said.

"They make it very easy, that's for sure," Stafford said.

He said the school is one that has the traditional value of expecting students to do their best; the school had the second highest percentage of Illinois State Scholarships, based on class size, Stafford said.

Students from the Johnson County school district Vienna were among about 200 seniors from area high schools celebrated at Tuesday night's banquet for their high academic achievement, leadership and character.

Egyptian High School in Tamms, in Alexander County, also celebrated six of its top students: co-valedictorian Emmalea Bigham, who plans to study pharmacy, and co-valedictorian Daneesha Carthell who desires to be a trauma surgeon, both beginning their college careers at Shawnee Community College; Annabelle Foeste, who plans to enroll in the U.S. Air Force, where she plans to study to become a physician's assistant; Samuel Hale, who plans to study middle-school education at Southeast Missouri State University; Tyra Huff, who'd like to start her forensic psychology studies at Tennessee State University; and co-salutatorian Cheyenne Petzoldt, who wants to study middle school English education, also at SEMO. (The school's other co-salutatorian is Emily Pitcher.)

The class of about 30 seniors — in a high school of 145 young people — graduates on May 12.

"We really support each other," Huff said.

"We help each other out," Carthell agreed.

Their school counselor echoed the sentiments of another educator at the event.

"All six have stayed really focused," counselor Jamie Chiaventone said. "This group makes my job easy."

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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