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Top 10 students honored during luncheon

Student-athletes and their volleyball coaches.

The Top 10 students in the Class of 2023 got a moment to celebrate their academic achievement as they were honored during the annual Top 10 luncheon, which also included their parents.


The lunch provided a good opportunity for the parents to let their senior know how proud they are of their accomplishments.


“What is important to me is for my children to do their best,” said Carrie Baird, whose daughter, Nia, is ranked No. 8 in the class. “Perfection is not needed. Nia has always worked hard to do her best, and we are very proud of her academic accomplishments. We are blessed to have her as our daughter, and we will miss her daily presence in our home.


The parents of salutatorian Savannah Brewer have their eyes on where she’s headed.


“We are just so excited for her and her future,” said John Brewer, Savannah’s dad. “To see her go into the medical field, and hopefully become a nurse practitioner, I just find it meaningful the work she’s going to do, so it’s exciting.”

Savannah Brewer and Matt Riggins 

The graduates were not the only ones who were recognized during the festivities, as each student was asked to invite a teacher to the luncheon who made a significant impact on their life.


The Top 10 students chose to honor:


Colin Nguyen – Debra Brewer, the Den paraprofessional

Savannah Brewer – Matt Riggins, debate teacher

Rachel Sadler – Maurice Lock, former volleyball coach

Paola Diaz – Heather Stringer, debate teacher

Cadence Smith – Katie Filina, English teacher, and Brad Patterson, track coach

Jakiya Maxwell – Brian Cottongame, tennis coach

Sarah Brewer – Michael Stephens, theater teacher, and Michael McGehee, Color Guard coach

Nia Baird – Natalie Wilson, volleyball coach

Carolina Trevizo – Marcellus Hill, photojournalism teacher

Amaya Malhas – Lezlee Dixon, volleyball coach


The speech and debate program was well-represented with Ms. Stringer and Mr. Riggins as guests.


“I’ve been honored to watch Paola grow from a shy young lady into a proud, confident young woman over the last four years,” Ms. Stringer said. “To see the way she boldly takes on the world is inspiring. It touches my heart to know that she thinks that I’ve impacted her life in the same way that she has impacted mine.”


Not to be outdone by the debate program, athletics made a significant impact on this graduating class, with volleyball leading the pack as the most appreciated subgroup.


“Knowing the person Rachel (Sadler) is, it is immensely humbling to be invited,” said Maurice Lock, who is Rachel’s former high school volleyball coach. “I am grateful for her and her family.”

Cadence Smith. 

The teachers agreed that the invitation alone was enough to make them feel special, but the students wanted to express their appreciation beyond the luncheon. Below are responses from each of the Top 10 when asked about their favorite teachers.


Colin Nguyen - I chose (Debra) Brewer because she has always been so friendly and compassionate toward my peers and I. She is underappreciated and truly does care for her students, going above and beyond in terms of thoughtfulness. She has made an impact on me by teaching me how to be patient and respectful to others.


Savannah Brewer - I joined debate at the beginning of my sophomore year, and since then, I have had a teacher that I can go to when I need advice, someone to talk to, or a quiet room to work in. Mr. Riggins has always found a way to calm me down when I was either stressed out about a scholarship, test, friend or even just having a bad day, and for that, I am beyond grateful. Not only did he help me through challenges, but we always have some sort of inside joke. Mr. Riggins is a passionate teacher that puts a lot of his effort into his students to make sure they feel welcomed and at home. I chose to honor Mr. Riggins because of his kind heart and the lasting impact that he has had on me while I have had the pleasure of calling him my coach.


Rachel Sadler - I chose Coach Lock, who was my volleyball coach freshman and sophomore year. The reason I wanted to honor him is because he made such an impact on my volleyball career and helped develop me into the player and overall person I am today. Out of my whole high school experience, I felt he was the faculty member that influenced me the most. 


Paola Diaz - I chose Ms. Stringer to join me because she has played a significant role in my life. I first met her in 8th grade, right before the summer, and she immediately welcomed me into the debate program with open arms even though I hadn’t stepped foot in her class. Throughout the years, we have spent so many after-school hours at practice and weekends together at debate tournaments that I have come to think of her as family. She has taught me so much, both about debate and about how to become a better person. She has also pushed me to come out of my shell, and for that, I am forever grateful.

 Yan Heijligers.

Cadence Smith - Since Ms. Filina was my teacher for three years, we had a unique opportunity to build a relationship and establish trust. What I mean when I refer to trust is the way I know 100% I can rely on Ms. Filina. She consistently showed up for me, dropped what she was doing to hear me vent, helped me with college essays and recommendation letters, instilled confidence in me when I was doubting myself, and made sure I knew she was a safe space and outlet if I needed. More importantly though, I could always trust that she would hold me accountable. Her distinguishing expressions and bits, and even her nagging was her way of constantly investing herself in me and all of her students. She is forgiving, patient and genuine, and I hope I can reach people in the way that she has impacted me.


Jakiya Maxwell - I chose to honor Coach Cottongame because, since we crossed paths in 5h grade, he has been an unwavering source of inspiration and support, not just in PE or on the tennis courts, but in all aspects of my life. Coach Cottongame's presence has been like a ray of sunshine, radiating warmth and kindness that has touched my heart and made me feel like an integral part of a tight-knit community. 


Even though my journey in tennis has taken a different path, Coach Cottongame's impact on me goes far beyond the sport. Despite my shy demeanor, Coach Cottongame took the time to get to know me personally. His genuine and selfless personality created a safe and nurturing environment where I felt comfortable opening up and sharing my thoughts and feelings. His kind personality has left a permanent mark on my character and values. He has shown me the power of compassion, perseverance and teamwork, instilling a sense of belonging and a belief in my abilities.


Sarah Brewer - I chose Mr. Stephens and Mr. McGehee because in both of their programs, I've grown immensely as an artist, a performer, a leader and as a person. From both, I learned to think on my feet when problems arise, how to work with a team toward the same artistic goal and how to be a strong and responsible leader for my peers. From Mr. McGehee I learned on the most basic level how to spin a flag, toss a rifle, and had ballet technique drilled into my brain. More than that, I learned that I "have the information," I just "need to apply it." I learned to be graceful and captivating, and how to convey a deeper story without words to an audience that will never hear me speak. From Mr. Stephens, I learned how to project, use a drill and the rules of OAP. More importantly, I learned how to portray a completely different person with different experiences than my own in order to share their beautiful stories with an audience that will likely only ever know me by names other than my own. As a student who plans on continuing to be a performer of different mediums until the opportunities are no longer available, these are irreplaceable lessons and invaluable skills that will carry me far in life.


Nia Baird - I chose Coach Wilson to honor because of her constant support and encouragement on and off the court. During volleyball season, I could always rely on her to be our hype man. She never failed to always be there to show how much she believed in us to do great things. My senior volleyball season could not have been as great as it was without her. Most importantly, she has been one of the greatest supporters in my choir endeavors this year. I have gained so much confidence in my abilities due to her never-ending love and belief in me to accomplish whatever I set my mind to. Coach Wilson has been someone I can rely on to be there for me even on my bad days through her small acts of kindness. It means the most to me how much she genuinely cares, and I am so grateful to be able to have her as a coach and mentor for my last year of high school.


Carolina Trevizo - The teacher I chose to invite to the Top 10 luncheon is Mr. Hill. I was in his photojournalism class when he first started teaching in 2020, and I am currently in his sports broadcasting Pride Time. Throughout the years I have known him, he has been a big motivation for all his students and is always there if you need advice about anything. What I really like about Mr. Hill is that he was very understanding of the stresses of being a student. He would understand if I needed to come into his room to use one of his computers that was available because he knew how valuable that class time was. He was a big impact for my high school career because he simply understood how important my grades were to me, unlike a lot of other teachers who would not allow me to have time to study or do my work. Mr. Hill is by far one of the best, most inspirational teachers that PHS has.


Amaya Malhas - I chose to honor Coach Dixon because she has been a big part of my support system for the past year. Not only did I have the opportunity to learn from her as a volleyball player, but I also got to learn from her as a person. When I broke my foot this past summer, she was there for me every single day without fail or complaint. She is also my biggest supporter in everything I do, she's always there to cheer me on and celebrate me, so this lunch is my opportunity to give back just a fraction of the support she's given me.

Jakiya Maxwell and Coach Brian Cottongame.