While many of Guilford High School’s (GHS) notable valedictorians have gone on to American Ivy League schools of distinction, Cole Horton will continue his pursuit of educational excellence at the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford University in England.
For Cole, moving on to Oxford feels like the right fit and that’s the advice he has for underclassmen undertaking the hunt to find their college fit.
“Forget about the name; just look at what’s going to be the best fit for you,” he says. “I was originally looking at those top-tier New England schools, and a couple of them worked out for me and a couple of them didn’t. But ultimately I ended up picking a school abroad just because that opportunity seemed so unique.”
A school visit clinched it for Cole.
“I had the chance to go in December, and I was just absolutely amazed with the diversity of students and the passion that they all had, and from that point on that was kind of up there as the top school.”
Picking a school where he’ll be an international student is also a perfect fit for Cole thanks to a GHS class that opened his eyes to the world of international affairs. Cole says his GHS Contemporary Issues class, taught by social studies teacher Brian White, best illuminated that area of interest for him.
“It focuses on some of the most pressing issues facing us as global citizens today,” says Cole of the class.
“International affairs has always interested me—just the interplay between all the different countries around the world, diplomatically, politically, economically,” he adds. “So I think that’s something I certainly want to pursue. I love traveling, so that would just kind of open a lot of doors to places I would never be able to go otherwise.”
On June 21, Cole and his classmates officially graduated from GHS during the school’s traditional commencement exercises. As GHS 2016 valedictorian, it was Cole’s honor to be among the speakers imparting wisdom and wit to the grads. Cole says one of the themes he wanted to share with his peers has to do with recognizing “everyone in this school has such a unique, powerful individual voice.
“It’s important to use that voice, not only to improve themselves and their community, but to empower others to utilize their voice and also pursue those things,” says Cole.
While his achievement of becoming the top academic student among all members of the GHS senior class is unique, it wasn’t on his radar, Cole says.
“I kind of just focused on just doing well in each class and learning and pursuing what I was interested in,” says Cole. “So for me, it’s kind of just a result of the work you put in; it’s not a goal you aspire to.”
However, his academic success (and 4.55 GPA) certainly did not go unnoticed. Last year, Cole was one of a handful of high school juniors across Connecticut to receive the Governor’s Scholar award, recognizing the top 30 juniors demonstrating the state’s highest level of academic achievement.
“It was an honor just to be recognized among some of the state’s high-achieving students, but I also had the chance to meet a lot of them, and it was so interesting to see what their pursuits and dreams are,” says Cole.
Other awards on Cole’s impressive résumé include the Charlotte Elton Cross Service Award (for outstanding service to the Math Department), Southern Connecticut Conference Scholar Leader, Second Varsity Speaker Award, Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizenship Award, and the Grace Helen Quinlan General Excellence Award.
At GHS, Cole served as co-president of the Student Senate, as National Honor Society vice-president, and as a National French Honor Society Presidential Council member. He’s also been a four-year member of the Debate Club and, in 2014 and 2016, competed as one of three members of the biennial GHS Quiz Bowl team, vying against rival Daniel Hand High School. In 2013, Cole helped re-establish the school newspaper, The Guilford Gazette, with a new digital platform, and went on to be named editor in chief junior year. Cole also served as a GHS Peer Tutor and not only found time to compete with the school’s crew team (second varsity) but to help co-found a start-up GHS swim team and swim for the school for four years (he was named varsity captain).
“I think that’s something that is so unique about this school,” says Cole of the expanded options he found at GHS. “They really give you every opportunity to pursue your interests, and they’ll work to help make it happen if it’s not in place already.”
Cole’s interest in supporting the GHS community led to his being asked to join the superintendent’s Guilford Public Schools Naming Committee (2015-’16) to help name new GHS facilities. Cole and all of the members of the GHS Class of 2016 will always have the unique distinction of being the first class to graduate from the new high school facility, which opened last September.
“We were coming from a building that was so outdated, technologically and infrastructurally,” says Cole. “To be able to come here, where there’s such an emphasis on 21st-century technology and integrating that into the classroom in everything we do, I think that’s really setting us up for success when we move on to a more collegiate atmosphere. Because that’s exactly what they try to instill here—a collegiate atmosphere.”
That said, there’s no denying the senior class entered the building last year feeling a bit like freshmen all over again.
“Fortunately, we had a few days to kind of look around before we arrived, because if we hadn’t, no one would have known where to go!” says Cole, laughing. “So everyone was a freshman—but it was amazing for all of us. And it’s also nice to have A/C when it’s 90 degrees outside, which we didn’t have in the old school.”
Outside of school, Cole is a student pilot who began flight training with small planes at Tweed New Haven Airport in 2014 and is continuing to work toward his dream of receiving his pilot’s license.
Before he boards a much larger airplane for his flight to the United Kingdom in the fall, Cole says he’d like thank the school district, the GHS community, and the citizens of this town for supporting its public school students so well.
“I certainly want to say a ‘Thank you’ to all the teachers and administrators that have made the past four years so productive and unique and valuable,” Cole says. “I think Guilford, in particular, has such a collaborative atmosphere. Everyone’s working to be the best they can be. That really shines through when you look at Guilford High School’s ranking, not just statewide, but nationally. Guilford is one of the best places to be a high-schooler, and I’m so thankful I had the chance.”