When valedictorian Lilian Faulconer graduates with her Smithfield-Selma High classmates on Friday, she will have a message for her fellow Spartans: to believe in themselves, believe in others and believe in humanity.
SSS will award diplomas to some 270 seniors in a ceremony at 6 p.m. in the football stadium. In case of rain, commencement will move to the gym.
Faulconer said she still can’t believe she’s about to leave a place she loves so much. “I just can’t believe I’m leaving all these people who’ve had such impact on me over the past four years,” she said.
Born and reared in Smithfield, Faulconer has a hopeful, can-do attitude that influences all parts of her life, including her career choice. “I hope to become an environmental attorney who changes the way that humans interact with the environment by shaping public policies and transforming public attitudes and behaviors,” she said.
Faulconer will attend East Carolina University to study political science. She will arrive as an EC Scholar, which means she has a full ride plus money for living expenses and studying abroad.
Her goal is to bring together what’s good for business and the environment. She said the two are often pitted against each other when people should be seeking a middle ground.
“When you believe that you can be better, that other people can be better and that together we can make a positive difference, then you’re just going to reap benefits of success,” Faulconer said. “Personal success, group success, societal success.”
Faulconer is graduating with a 4.0 unweighted grade point average – A’s in every class. Add in the honors and Advanced Placement courses, and she has at least a 5.0, though her final GPA hasn’t been calculated yet.
But Faulconer never set out to reach No. 1, and it’s a running joke in her family. When she was little, she told her parents she wanted to be number three. People who aspired to be No. 1 looked like they were trying too hard. Students in pursuit of No. 2 looked like they tried to make No. 1 and lost.
But No. 3 was just there. “My mom and dad still make fun of me, singing, “Three! Three!’” she said.
Earning straight A’s did have its challenges. In the winter of her junior year, Faulconer had to have jaw surgery to move her teeth by 9 millimeters. Leading up to the surgery were months of bad headaches. The surgery and six-week recovery were a relief compared to the headaches.
Faulconer said she felt inspired by her younger brother, Ethan, who is a freshman this year at SSS. “(He) has a club foot, so he’s always taken everything that has to do with his physical limitation like champ,” she said. “So when I stared having my headaches and my problems, I just ignored it. It kind of made me work harder in a sense because I had more to prove to myself that I could do it.”
Leaving behind her brother is one of the hardest parts of going off to college. “I feel like I’m leaving a part of myself behind,” she said.
Faulconer will also be leaving behind the school’s science club. She founded its environmental committee, which collects recycling at the school each week, selling the aluminum to pay for bins and gloves.
Faulconer has spent this school year encouraging underclassmen to get involved in the committee’s work. “While it’s important you start something, you also have to encourage others to be involved,” she said. “If you can’t be that encourager to keep that going, then you haven’t made much of an impact.”
Faulconer’s goals are to “educate, enlist and encourage” people to care more about the environment. She gives credit for her positive attitude to her mom and dad, who have always encouraged her and her brother, she said, and given them opportunities many others don’t get.