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Following their dreams

Victor Wallum’s definition of coasting is not a common one.

At the beginning of high school, he didn’t push himself too hard – he’d just do enough to maintain a 98 average.

“But now I’m trying my hardest, so I have a 100.37 average,” the Frederick Law Olmsted senior said. “It’s not too much of a difference, but it’s about my character. It’s not good character if you’re just going to coast and not try your hardest.”

While Victor has worked through his “coasting” days of grades in the 90s, Springville senior Allison Stubblebine has never wavered in her pursuit of academic perfection. Just ask her mom.

“Allison is a very conscientious, hard-working, driven girl,” Mary Stubblebine said. “She’s passionate and she’s a perfectionist. She just strives to do the best in everything she sets out to do.”

Victor and Allison are two of the 246 students who will be honored for their success in the classroom at the 34th Student Achievement Recognition Dinner at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens tonight. The top three students from 82 schools in Western New York are invited to the banquet.

Victor’s purpose in the classroom, and his purpose in life, changed when he began to take his Catholic faith seriously a couple of years ago. He learned about prayer and discovered that speaking with God altered his outlook.

“If my life were meaningless, I don’t know what I’d do,” Wallum said. “I don’t know if I’d try – what would be the point of trying at anything? I want meaning in my life, and God gave me that.”

Allison’s affinity for music is what helped her power through long nights of homework and studying for her advanced placement courses. She plays first violin in orchestra at Springville, has participated in school musicals since fourth grade, sings alto in chorus and is in the process of recording a self-written song for an upcoming charity album (through Tunes 4 Food) by local musician Bob James.

“Music is my passion,” Allison said. “If I succeed in academics, it opens up doors for me to pursue music afterward.”

Both Victor and Allison are planning to pursue their passions as a career.

Though Victor is going to study mechanical engineering at the University at Buffalo in the fall – the Say Yes to Education offer of free tuition for four years was too tempting for him to pass up – he’s hoping to attend the seminary to become a priest afterward.

“It’s a great honor, especially when a priest does a great job, and that’s the kind I want to be,” Victor said. “I don’t want to just be a priest; I want to be one of the best ever. Because why would you want anything else? Does anyone set out and say, ‘I want to do this, and I want to be average at it?’ No, you want to be the best or one of the best. I just can’t settle for something less, and I think that’s all right as long as I trust in God.”

Allison already knew she loved music, and she discovered her writing ability at age 12. At that time, a teacher offered her and her classmates extra credit for submitting an essay to a national writing contest through Rachel’s Challenge, the outreach program named in honor of Rachel Scott, a victim of the 1999 school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Allison whipped up an essay in 15 minutes, knowing she was competing against high schoolers and just wanting the extra credit.

She was one of six nationwide winners.

From that point on, she knew she wanted to include writing in her career plans – and naturally, it made sense to fuse that with music. Her goal is to one day write for Rolling Stone magazine.

“I could do something that in 50 years I’ll know I’ll have a solid job and be able to set up a home and family, and I’ll be happy but won’t necessarily be in love with what I do,” Allison said. “When I follow my dreams, I want to find a job that isn’t a job to me – that I look forward to going to every day, that I’m infinitely in love with.”

Allison, who will attend New York University and major in an individualized studies program that encapsulates both music and journalism, also has been a concert photographer for the Plain White Ts, Owl City and the Avett Brothers. Her parents, noticing that Allison wanted to take pictures everywhere they went, gave her a professional camera as a gift a few years ago. She started taking pictures for a band some friends were in, and her concert photography opportunities took off.

Her extracurricular activities don’t stop there, though. She’s also been a dancer since she was 3 years old. She has danced jazz, ballet, pointe and contemporary, but tap is her favorite.

She’s fervent about human rights issues, too. Every year, she attends the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies. In 2011, she helped write and produce a play with her human rights club called “Ripples of Hope.” The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights recognized the group’s performance at its annual gala.

Victor has a diversified portfolio as well. He has been involved during high school as an altar server and in the Our Lady of Victory youth group, Teen Shooting Academy, Masterminds, math league, school baseball team and the LP Ciminelli Team Program.

Victor said it hasn’t been all that hard balancing his schedule in high school. He tries to do all his homework before he goes home – in first-period study hall and especially during lunch.

One thing he and Allison are both adamant about is taking on a full plate but never letting it overflow. They made sure their schedules were conducive to maintaining sanity.

“I challenge myself, but I’m sure not to take too many classes for it to be overwhelming for me,” Victor said. “That would be counterproductive. I wouldn’t be able to learn as much as I could.”

Anna Herrmann, Victor’s mother, saw his potential early in life.

“Even as a child, he had a magnetism about him that people were drawn to,” Herrmann said. “Even at 4 years old, they just seemed to know there was something special and different about him.”

She is most proud of Victor’s role as a big brother. His two younger sisters, Gabriella, 15, and Angelina, 14, both of whom attend City Honors, have Asperger syndrome. As a single mother, Herrmann said Victor accepted at an early age that he was the man of the house.

“Victor took it to heart and really tries to be a good role model for his sisters,” Herrmann said. “I am so thankful to him for doing that.”

Mary Stubblebine, who is a teacher for Erie 1 BOCES in Lancaster, also recognized her daughter’s potential early on.

“She loves reading and has been an avid reader ever since she was 2 years old and could pick up a picture book and start going at it,” Stubblebine said. “When she entered school, her writing ability was just phenomenal – very creative, very imaginative, and she’d put so much effort into any of her writing assignments, whether it was a simple paragraph or a longer journal.”

For a while Allison was planning on attending law school, but she knew her heart wasn’t in it.

“I’ve tried to instill in her but I’ve also learned to stand up for what you believe in and to follow your dreams, follow your passions, and not to let others deter you,” her mother said. “That’s something we’ve always tried to teach her, and she’s shown me how important that is.”

Tonight’s banquet will honor students who haven’t let others deter them, who have committed themselves to academic excellence. For Victor, it will be an honor that he believes has come as a result of his decision to no longer coast.

“I want to do great things. I want to make a difference in the world,” he said. “And this shows something, that I’m getting somewhere. When you’re a kid, it’s easy to think that you’re not doing anything – like you’re just going to school, going home, doing chores and reading a book or watching TV. But it’s the people you talk to, you can make a huge difference in their lives.”


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