Young Man, Woman Of The Year


Stephanie Hilliard

Payson High School senior Stephanie Hilliard continues to reap the rewards of a life well lived.


Stephanie Hilliard and Kyle Asmundson take a little time between classes to talk over their selections as the Young Woman and Young Man of the Year.

Most recently, the teen was selected, by school administrators, as the Payson Roundup's Young Woman of the Year.

Other honors that have rolled her way recently include acceptance to prestigious Stanford University and her selection as a National Merit Scholarship Program finalist. She also has a good chance of receiving a much coveted Flinn scholarship before she graduates this spring.

"She's applied, but we haven't heard yet," PHS counselor Don Heizer said.

During her four years at PHS, while taking advanced placement classes, Hilliard has posted one of the highest grade point averages, 4.238 in the history of Payson High School. She has never earned a grade less than an A.

Last fall, she took steps to fulfilling a lifelong dream by filling out the paperwork to attend Stanford University. A month later, she received the news she had been accepted.

According to PHS school counselors Judy Michel and Heizer, the last Payson High graduate, and maybe the only one, to attend Stanford University was Mark Hochstettler who enrolled in 1989.

"That's what makes it such a great honor for Stephanie and the school," Michel said. "Not many (high school graduates) get accepted to Stanford."

The senior received even more good news when principal Sue Myers told her she had been named a finalist for a National Merit Scholarship. She qualified for the scholarship by posting an impressive core on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test she took last year.

In March, she will learn if she has been chosen a scholarship recipient.

If selected to receive one of the 8,200 scholarships nationwide, it could cover almost all her college expenses.

In college, Hilliard's plans are to major in a medical research field. She said her focus is on research because she'd like to study asthma, which she has long suffered from.

"I'd like to find the cause, cures and how the food you eat affects it," she said. "Things like that."

In preparing for life after PHS, Hilliard is taking all the college prep classes she can enroll in. Currently she's engaged in an independent study of advanced calculus with Michel, a former high school math teacher.

Michel characterizes Hilliard as a self-motivated student who also is a standout citizen and a credit to her school.

As much as Hilliard excels academically, she also finds time to participate in other school activities.

She and fellow members of a school service club participated in a "Donations for Education" program in which they collected money to purchase school supplies for needy Philippine children.

In addition to the service club project, Hilliard was one of the top runners-up in the 2005 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in the state.

She's also earned all-region honors in the PHS chorus and enjoys playing the piano and guitar.

School administrators said her selection as Young Woman of the Year was made easy by her long list of accomplishments and contributions to PHS.

Kyle Asmundson

Payson High School senior Kyle Asmundson wasn't sure his selection as the Payson Roundup's Young Man of the Year was the real deal.

"When I was told, I was really shocked," he said. "At first, I thought, ‘it should go to someone else.'"

The 18-year-old said his selection was highly unexpected because he doesn't consider himself a "big man on campus."

"I just like being around my friends and doing well in school," he said. "There are others that do a lot more than I do."

Don't tell PHS assistant principal Tim Fruth, who helped interview four finalist, that Asmundson is not worthy.

According to Fruth, he was chosen because he has been an outstanding citizen, has never been a discipline problem, contributes positively to the school environment and is an all-around good student.

"Too often, those kind of students go unnoticed," Fruth said. "And they shouldn't, they are really good kids, the kind we like to have at our school."

Asmundson said the key staying on the straight and narrow is his positive attitude.

"I really like to come to school. I like all my teachers and I've never had a bad teacher," he said.

That is quite a statement considering he has attended Julia Randall and Payson elementary schools, Rim Country Middle School and Payson High School.

Spend a few minutes with any teacher he's had over the years and they'll usually hail him as a pleasure to have in the classroom and a student with plenty of creative talents.

During his years in the Payson Unified School District, Asmundson has been able to maintain a 4.00 grade point average while taking advanced-placement classes.

His course load has included advanced calculus and college prep English literature.

In addition to excelling academically, he is a member of the National Honor Society and is an editorial writer for a newly established school newspaper.

His first two years at PHS he played both freshman and junior varsity basketball. As a sophomore, he was a member of the Longhorn soccer team that tied Sedona for the 1A-3A state championship. Being a part of a state championship team, he said, was the highlight of his sports career.

Asmundson also worked as a volunteer coach for a town-league youth basketball team.

"That was a lot of fun. I got to see sports from a coach's view," he said.

The past two years he's removed himself from the sports scene to focus on academics.

After graduation this spring, Asmundson's goal is to enroll in Scottsdale Community College and study movie production.

He's hoping to pick up a few scholarships this spring that will help pay college expenses.

Eventually, he would like to continue his education at a California university.

Asmundson is the son of Sonja Bramble and Greg Asmundson, both of Payson.

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