ADDISON - Addison High School seniors and all-time best friends Emma Ridgeway and Callie Gilliland are being called the One -in-a-Million Girls.
That’s the phrase school officials are using to describe Ridgeway and Gilliland tying for valedictorian, having the identical highest score of 102.17647--something that has not happened in the recent history of the school, officials said.
School rules note that the valedictorian and salutatorian for the graduating class must qualify for the most advanced academic diploma offered. The student with the highest numerical unweighted grade average will be the class valedictorian, with the student with the second highest numerical unweighted grade average being the class salutatorian, according to a copy of the school’s policy.
Grades earned in credit-bearing classes from the first semester of 8th grade through the first semester of the 12th grade in core classes are used in the calculations. The grade point average, or GPA is calculated by dividing the total amount of grade points earned by the total amount of credits attempted.
In the case of Ridgeway and Gilliland, each took the required highest level core classes, although both took different course paths, educators said.
Jeff Sudduth, the AHS school counselor, has the task of gathering student records, which are used in averaging out the scores for valedictorian, salutatorian, as well as the remaining top 10 students.
“We have to look at the courses they have taken. They have to have taken the highest level of courses offered at our school,” Sudduth said.
Dual enrollment coursework makes this particular double valedictorian situation interesting, Sudduth said.
“We have to count that (double enrollment courses) as 1.2 percent versus one percent for the other grades,” said Sudduth. “We’re looking at math, science, English, history and the grades they have had in those courses.”
All of that is averaged so if a student has had a dual enrollment course, it counts more toward their overall average.
Gilliland took dual enrollment through Wallace State Community College, while Ridgeway took dual enrollment through UNA, school officials said.
“They maybe only had one or two courses that were the same on dual enrollment,” said Sudduth. “Yet the grades came back together and they averaged the same.”
When Addison Schools students returned from the Christmas holiday break, Sudduth informed AHS Principal Micah Smothers that Ridgeway and Gilliland were tied with the exact same score for valedictorian.
“He was stressing over it,” Smothers recalled. “He was really upset and stressed over it because he didn’t know what we were going to do.
“The first thing I said was, ‘we’ll have two vals.’” Smothers said.
Smothers did advise Sudduth to get with other school officials so they, too, could figure the averages of the two girls to make sure it continued to average the same.
“We went over and over and over it for probably two weeks,” Smothers continued.
“I have been the counselor since the Class of 1999,” Sudduth added. “I have never had this situation.”
“I have been in education 31 years and have been principal 11 years, assistant principal eight years before that. We’ve never had this problem before,” Smothers said.
The uniqueness of this situation was not just that the two top students in the AHS 2022 senior class have the same average, but also that they have been friends ever since early childhood.
“It’s just a random chance that wouldn’t happen one-in-a-million times,” Smothers pointed out.
Although both students attend different churches, each sings and is active in her youth group, officials said.
“They are carbon copies of each other, as far as their spiritual walk,” stated Smothers.
As the AHS graduation on Tuesday, May 24 quickly approaches, the two top academic achievers are deciding how they are going to make their speeches, either sharing a speech, with one each saying every other line or giving separate speeches, school officials said.
“They do our announcements every morning,” Smothers noted. “...Callie will do the first announcement, Emma will do the second announcement, over the intercom.
“They can do the (graduation) speech that way,” Smothers suggested. “I am letting them decide how they want to do it.”
The recognition of valedictorian or salutatorian can make all the difference for students as they venture out into the world of post-secondary education.
Wallace State, for example, offers a full tuition scholarship to a val or sal, school officials said. Other colleges also have offerings for these high honors, school officials added.
When Ridgeway and Gilliland were asked if the identical score as valedictorian caused any friction between them, the answer was anything but negative. Although facing competition between each other earlier in their lives, the two friends rejoice in each other’s accomplishments.
Ridgeway recalled she met Gilliland when playing T-ball at age 4.
“Actually, we were on two different teams, but our moms knew each other,” she said. “After the ball game, we met, and that is how we became best friends.”
Ridgeway describes herself and Gilliland as being very similar, yet different enough to offset each other.
“We both see things the same way, but how we’re different is that I am very on top of things. She is more laid back. We kind of cancel each other out,” Ridgeway continued.
“If I am ever stressed about something, she calms me down, but if she is ever running behind I make sure she is getting there on time,” she added.
“I am not very punctual,” Gilliland admitted. “I compliment her. She compliments me. It’s a great dynamic.”
“They say opposites attract,” Ridgeway said. “They say our personalities are very similar and very different at the same time.”
Through the years, Ridgeway and Gilliland have been cheerleaders together. They also take the same interest in music, playing piano, ukulele and guitar, as well as singing.
“Those activities have brought us together even closer,” said Ridgeway.
The key to a lasting friendship, both girls agreed, is to always work things out and apologize when they are wrong.
“Knowing deep down on the inside, that you can’t live without them,” Ridgeway noted.
Through the years, the two best friends have learned that competition and jealousy are not the ways to go.
“With valedictorian, we are always going to be happy for (Gilliland) no matter what she got, and she is always going to be happy for me, no matter what I got,” Ridgeway said.
When the two tied for valedictorian, they described the feeling as “amazing.”
“We both worked just as hard as each other,” said Ridgeway. “When we both got that, it was kind of rewarding because we both worked really hard for that.”
After graduation, Ridgeway plans to attend Wallace State then transfer to Jacksonville State to pursue a degree in secondary education.
One of the inspirations behind this goal was the tutoring that Ridgeway had done to help students, including Gilliland, in math--one of Ridgeway’s stronger subjects.
“I am not very math oriented,” admitted Gilliland.
“The Lord really lined it up for us to be friends because of the similarities we have in our upbringing,” Gilliland added.
Gilliland noted the competition between the two through the years has been more on the friendly side.
“A lot of it was we were pushing each other to do better, like a friendly competition,” Gilliland said. “Over the years, we both have realized a win for one is a win for both.”
After graduation, Gilliland plans to attend UAB and work toward a degree as a cancer biologist.
In closing, Ridgeway and Gilliland gave special messages of encouragement to each other as they venture out on different post high school pathways.
“Just keep on being yourself,” Ridgeway said. “This world needs people like you.”
Gilliland added, “She is the type of person that God is going to use to do insanely incredible things because she is so dedicated and so hard working, that it will blow you away.
“I love her so much,” Gilliland concluded.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.