Thursday evening, Jessica Woodard will get up in front of hundreds - if not thousands - of people to deliver an address to her graduating class.

For Woodard, it will be the culminating act of her high school career, an honor she has earned by four years of persistence and dedication.

Woodard, the valedictorian of Alvarado High School’s Class of 2007, is the highest-ranked of the class’ 248 students, a designation she has earned by having the highest grades of any of classmates.

However, she has done more than just study for the past four years.

A second soprano in the school’s Varsity Choir, Woodard also played tennis for two years, winning the district doubles competition with her partner her sophomore year.

Additionally, she was a cadet in the AHS Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps Battalion for a year and a half.

The daughter of David and Karol Woodard and the big sister of Paige Woodard, Jessica will attend Tarleton State University in Stephenville, where she anticipates studying history.

She’s thinking about pursuing a career working in museums, Woodard tells, adding “I don’t know if I want to work in acquisitions or as a curator yet.”

History is a bit of a departure from her previous thoughts about a major, she explains, telling that she once thought of pursuing an English degree.

That thought was influenced by her favorite teacher at high school, Woodard says.

“Out of all my classes, I liked Mrs. [Jonni] Dunn’s the best,” the valedictorian said, adding that she took three of the teacher’s classes while at AHS.

Earning college credit simultaneously with high school credit, Woodard took Dual Credit English III and VI with Dunn, as well as a humanities class.

“Her classes were definitely fun,” Woodard said. “First of all, we got a lot done, and she has a lot of skills for teaching.”

“We learned some really fascinating things,” she adds, telling that Dunn’s life experiences helped her to tie whatever the students were learning to something in the real world.

On the other side of the spectrum, Woodard said that one of her least favorite classes in high school was advanced placement calculus.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “I finished with an A average, but goodness it was hard.”

Science was also difficult for her, she tells, adding that she thinks she’s better at math. However, she doesn’t regret taking demanding coursework, even though she didn’t enjoy it at times.

“Taking all the advanced classes… was so worth it,” she tells. “It was hard, but you just get so much more out of it, [and] it pays off. I’ve got friends who don’t have any money for college because they didn’t work hard in school.”

Those friends had been in the advanced classes with her, but then decided “to take the easy way out,” Woodard tells, opining that she thinks they cost themselves academic scholarships for college and opportunities by not putting their full effort into school.

However, by committing herself to her work, Woodard has earned a sizeable reward.

She is the recipient of a Presidential Honors Program Scholarship from TSU, an honor the university calls its “most prestigious scholarship.”

Worth a total of $24,000 over four years, competition for the scholarship was rigorous, consisting of the submission of resumes, several letters of recommendation, a 750-1,000 word essay, a list of books students had read over the last year and an interview.

“She’s an extremely hard worker and involved in several organizations,” AHS principal Kenneth Estes said, calling Woodard a “very positive person.”

“It’s great to see her achieve her goal of being valedictorian,” Estes said, adding that he was pleased to see her earn her scholarship.

“She’s very deserving,” her principal said, noting that the scholarship is one a number of Alvarado graduates have received over the past five or six years.

Estes, a graduate of TSU, added “I’m very proud that she’s going to my alma mater, but I’m also very proud that she’s part of the Presidential Honors Program.”

For those students just entering high school, Woodard has two pieces of advice.

First, she notes that “the more involved you are, the less likely you are to get in trouble,” she says, advocating being part of various clubs and organizations and being committed to schoolwork.

Second, she says, is that students should know that “drama in high school can’t be avoided. You kind of just have to deal with it when it comes along.”