DIXFIELD — Dirigo High School Class of 2017 Valedictorian Nicole Whitman and Salutatorian Gina Kubesh are not only DHS’s top students, they’ve also been friends since kindergarten. 

The graduates believe that friendship has helped them succeed. 

“We worked together a lot and we challenged each other,” Whitman said. “Learning comes naturally to both of us (but) things that one (of us) didn’t understand the other did. We definitely helped each other that way.”

Besides being a good student, Whitman describes herself as “definitely family-oriented.”

“I spend a lot of time with my family making maple syrup and things like that,” she said. “I’m pretty outdoorsy; I like hiking, kayaking and skiing.”

Kubesh said she likes to hang out with her friends and family, as well as her dogs.

“I like to go on vacations and travel,” she said. “This past February, I went to Hawaii with my mom, my cousin and my aunts. It was pretty beautiful.”

When asked about what they liked most about their school years, both graduates said that their friends were part of what they enjoyed the most. Whitman added that being a member of DHS’s Nordic ski team and her ski team coach, Ann Speth, also stood out for her.

The graduates said that DHS English teacher Karolyn Buotte had been very helpful to them.

“Ms. Buotte is brutally honest but constructively so,” Whitman said.

“She’s kind of someone you can build a closer relationship with and she tries to excel you in other areas, not just English,” Kubesh added.

What does it take to be at the top of the class?

“Definitely some late nights studying, writing papers, whatever it may be,” Whitman said. “And paying attention to class even when your friends aren’t putting in the same amount of work.”

That can be hard when your friends don’t want to do the same things, she said.

“It’s important to keep trying to do (your schoolwork), to keep trying to learn it and use your resources, because they’re not always handed to you,” Whitman said.

Whitman said that these resources could include other students, other teachers or online information. 

“You definitely need a lot of self-motivation,” Kubesh said. “Even if you could afford to slack off, don’t — because you’ll only get behind. It’s really easy for people in their first years to slack off but then it catches up with them later.”

Kubesh’s junior year was difficult for her, with advanced classes and preparation for the SAT and AP tests. Trying to balance everything and not getting stressed out was a challenge, she said.

“It was nice to (think how) if you put all your time and effort into this year, then next year you can have a pretty easy year and be like, ‘I did it,'” she said. “It all pays off.”

Both graduates are members of the National Honor Society, the soccer team and the Outing (Hiking) Club. Whitman is a Nordic ski team and softball team member and Kubesh is on competition cheering and tennis teams.

This fall, Whitman will study English at the University of Maine in Orono and Kubesh will study medical biology with a concentration in pre-optometry at the University of New England in Biddeford.

Whitman’s parents are Dean Whitman from Dixfield and Johanne Morin of Livermore.

Kubesh’s parents are Tammy and Douglas Kubesh of Dixfield.

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Dirigo High School Class of 2017 Valedictorian Nicole Whitman, left, and Salutatorian Gina Kubesh. DHS’s graduation date is June 9 at 6 p.m. at Dirigo High School.