Skip to content

Valedictorian, salutatorian reaping rewards of hard work

Clayton Brinkley and Kara Steel are poised to graduate at the top of the West County High School senior class this weekend.

Brinkley has earned the distinction of valedictorian. Steel has earned the distinction of salutatorian.

Both Brinkley and Steel will speak at the school’s commencement exercises scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday in the high school gymnasium.

Brinkley, 18 of Festus, is the son of Donald and Gayla Brinkley. Steel, 18, of Park Hills, is the daughter of Bobbie and Barbara Steel.

“It’s a big honor,” Brinkley said of being valedictorian of his graduating class. “It’s something I’ve been working for.”

He has been preparing by taking upper level math and science courses, many for college credit. He said he also has opted out of activities with friends repeatedly during his high school career so he could finish a paper or complete an assignment.

“I’ve sacrificed a lot,” Brinkley said. Still, he does not have any regrets. “I never thought I would get there, and now that I’m finally here, it’s one of those things I look back on as a worthwhile sacrifice.”

Brinkley has been involved in an array of extracurricular activities in high school as well. He has played baseball and basketball, earning an All-State title in baseball and an Academic All-State title in basketball.

He is the senior class student body president and is a member of the National Honor Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Brinkley plans to attend Drury University in Springfield. He likely will major in biochemistry in preparation to pursue a medical career, he said. He hopes to become a pediatrician.

He plans to thank family members and teachers and to talk about the meaning of commencement in his graduation speech. He likely will offer up some strategies to other students for making it through high school as well, he said.

Brinkley noted that his mother was the valedictorian of her graduating class as well.

Steel said she feels honored to be the senior class salutatorian, adding that both her mother and her sister, Melanie Steel, 22, were the salutatorians of their respective graduating classes and that both graduated from West County High.

“It’s really cool to follow in their paths,” she said.

She was uncertain as to whether she was going to achieve the designation of salutatorian because the competition among senior class students was fierce, she said.

“For a long time, it’s been like we’re all neck and neck,” Steel said.

She and Brinkley have been competing with each other since middle school and challenging each other, “trying to make each other better,” she said. “We’ve been working for this for a long time.”

She had no doubts, however, about Brinkley becoming valedictorian, she said. “We all knew he was going to get valedictorian,” she said.

Like Brinkley, Steel said she has had to remain ultra-focused on her schoolwork. Her schedule includes college credit courses and upper level classes as well.

She also works three days each week after school at West County Elementary. In addition, she serves as president of her school’s chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is involved with the National Honor Society.

“It’s been stressful,” Steel said.

Steel said her main areas of interest are math and science. She plans to attend Missouri State University in Springfield. She has not yet declared a major.

She will thank her parents and teachers in her graduation speech and talk to younger students about what to expect and how to learn from the mistakes of those students who came before. She also plans to share some of her high school memories.

Principal Eric Moyers said valedictorian and salutatorian designations are based solely on student grade point averages over the course of four years of high school.

The West County High School 2015 graduating class is to include a total of 61 students.

Clayton Brinkley

Clayton Brinkley

Kara Steel

Kara Steel

Clementine Carbery is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3616 or

Leave a Comment