Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Aura Wharton-Beck

Second Advisor

Chien-Tzu Candace Chou

Third Advisor

Cornelius Gilbert

Fourth Advisor

Latanya Daniels


This study uncovers the sources of motivation and perseverance which drove valedictorians to relentlessly achieve to the highest degree throughout their educational careers. These findings reveal factors which could positively affect lower ranking students. Hearing from those who achieved academic success brings clarity to PK-12 educators regarding the most effective strategies to boost struggling learners. A qualitative case study of 15 valedictorians from the Midwestern United States involved learning how highest-ranking high school graduates describe their PK-12 experiences and achievement story. Interviews with valedictorians provided an in-depth look at how their experiences affected class rank. Factors in their journey which proved most influential to their success highlight the need for change in our schools. Exploring experiences from valedictorians with various demographics provided insights regarding home life, school, and peers. This study revealed mindsets of each student along with habits and priorities.

The findings of this research uncovered the influences in the lives of valedictorians including families, teachers, schools, and peers. Additionally, faith and significant artifacts shaped their lives, both personally and academically. These influences lead to the development of personal qualities. Personal qualities significant to valedictorians’ success were extensive. The mindset, ability to manage time, and personality type all influenced the students’ achievements. Attitude, confidence, and habits also played a role in their success.

The findings revealed adversities which valedictorians were subject to throughout their educational experiences. These adversities, as varied as the difficulties all students face, ranged from peer suicide to broken families, a pandemic, and mobility. Through all these issues, students used the resources of their influencers as well as the personal qualities they developed to work through and overcome the adversities they faced.

Based on the analysis of these findings, recommendations for families and schools, and communities focused on building robust supports for students. In addition, teaching strong personal qualities at a young age promotes a healthy mindset. Finally, teaching students to balance life as a life-long skill ensures success beyond high school.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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