BHS valedictorian, salutatorian 2024 profiled

Bearden High School recently congratulated its valedictorian, Avigail Laing, and its salutatorian, Scott Dunlap.


“I felt incredibly honored,” said the daughter of Geoffrey and Heather Laing. “There were so many genuinely hard-working students in my graduating class that none of us were truly sure who the valedictorian would be.

“I’ve worked incredibly hard these past four years; but even then, when I learned that I was valedictorian, I still found it somewhat surprising,” she added.

For Laing, being chosen as valedictorian means “a lot to me … not just because of the honor of the title but because of the fact that being valedictorian hopefully allows me to inspire other students and show them what is possible with hard work.

“What is most special about being valedictorian to me is the opportunity to speak at graduation,” which she did during the BHS Commencement ceremony Thursday, May 23, on the school’s Bill Young Field.

At BHS, Laing was president of her school’s cybersecurity club, student body secretary of the Student Government Organization and a member of Key Club, National Honors Society, National Technical Honors Society and robotics club.

Outside of school, she has run a podcast, “The Personal Growth Project,” for three years, starting in October 2021, that has charted in five countries for self-improvement.

“I also love to write about self-improvement online — both by writing articles and by producing a weekly newsletter,” Laing said. “I also love to run. I trained for the Knoxville Marathon this year but injured myself one week out and wasn’t able to run it.

“I plan on running the Walt Disney World Marathon in January and repeating marathon training, which has taught me so much about my strengths and ability to do hard things,” she added.

Additionally, Laing was:

• a semifinalist for the U.S. Presidential Scholars program — one of 625 students selected from the initial pool of 6,000;

• a finalist for the National Merit Program — and one of the 7,140 recipients chosen to receive a $2500 National Merit Scholarship;

• a Cornelius Vanderbilt scholar — one of 150 students given a full ride to Vanderbilt University;

• a recipient of the National AP Scholar Award, which means she scored a 5 on more than three AP exams;

• a recipient of the Rensselaer Medal, a $120,000 scholarship;

• a recipient of the U.S. Marine Corps Scholastic Excellence Award;

• a recipient of BHS Foundation’s Technical Scholarship; and

• a recipient of Bearden’s Best awards for AP Computer Science Principles, Honors Biology I, Honors Physics I, AP Statistics, AP Economics and AP Research.

Laing plans to major in computer science with a focus on cybersecurity and programming.

“I was lucky enough to be able to take multiple cybersecurity classes through Bearden High School’s cybersecurity program, which allowed me to become the first female in the school district to earn the “Core Four” of industry certifications — CompTIA A+ Software and Hardware, CompTIA IT Fundamentals+, CompTIA Security+, and CompTIA Network+,” she said. “I have also been able to participate in the CyberPatriot cybersecurity competitions during my time at Bearden, which showed me that I enjoy the field.​”

She has chosen to attend University of Florida to major in computer science in the honors program.

“I was lucky enough to receive the Gator Nation scholarship, which is the largest scholarship available to out of state students — $20,000 per year,” Laing said.

Reflecting on BHS, “Initially, high school was difficult for me, and I felt a great amount of internal turmoil over the fact that I never felt like I fit in,” she said.

“However, by my sophomore year, I truly embraced my interests and started my own podcast, which ended up being one of the best decisions of my life,” Laing added.

“It can be intimidating to go in a different direction from the rest of the crowd, but all of my greatest blessings over the past four years have been a result of my decision to live authentically.

“I believe that high school is what you make of it. And for me, I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to take classes for free from amazing teachers, that I feel like it would be a waste for me to do anything but try my best to make use of the opportunities I have been blessed with.”


Dunlap recalled he was very excited and honored to represent Bearden as salutatorian.

“I was also happy that three of my best friends were in the top 10 with me,” he recalled.

Being chosen “shows me that with hard work you can achieve your goals,” said Dunlap, son of Linda and Todd Schultz and Sean and Stacey Dunlap. “I have a sense of pride knowing that I was successful in the rigorous classes I chose to take during my time at Bearden.

“I am hoping that this will set the foundation for a successful future as I begin college in the fall,” he added. “It also makes me appreciate the support I received from my family and teachers throughout the last four years.”

During Dunlap’s time at Bearden, Dunlap was involved in the Fishing Team, Ultimate Frisbee Team, Cybersecurity Club, National Honor Society and Senior Committee.

And he owns a small, start-up mailbox refurbishing business. He also volunteers as a math tutor and at The Second Harvest Food Bank.

“In my free time, I enjoy golfing, weightlifting, fishing and spending time with my friends,” the salutatorian said.

Dunlap is a candidate for the AP Capstone Diploma, has been on the honor roll every semester and has earned the AP Scholar with Distinction Award.

Also, he has received numerous scholarships, as well as the prestigious Dean’s Scholarship at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where he will attend school in the fall.

“Through the development of my business and the integration of computer science into my coursework, I have grown enthusiastic about the intersection of business and technology,” he said. “Creating my own mailbox refurbishing business, Dunlap Mailbox Solutions, gave me a glimpse into the business world and the ever-evolving technology opportunities that were available to support it.

“I believe Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business program equips students for a technology-driven world,” Dunlap added. “Scheller’s interdisciplinary business and technology curriculum aligns perfectly with my interests, and its concentrated-based format gives me the opportunity to dive into different areas of business while focusing on information technology management and finance.

“A minor in computer science will provide me with valuable skills to help me address business challenges with IT solutions. Georgia Tech’s top rankings in both of these fields will set me up for a successful career.”

Inspiration comes from his brother, Stephen.

“He has always pushed me academically and given me helpful advice,” Dunlap said.