Gimme an A!
Aside from major fame in acting, nation-leading and broadcasting, what do Meryl Streep, George W. Bush and Diane Sawyer have in common?
All are former cheerleaders.
Such high achievement belies the old stereotype that some still harbor, that cheerleaders are bubble-headed beauties who simply lead rhyming shouts to support boys playing sports.
If it ever were true, that notion hasn't been for years, and many local cheerleaders prove it by jumping to the top of the class academically and choreographing big plans for the future. Of course, they are strong, versatile athletes in their own right. Many participate in nail-biting cheer competitions that test strength, skill, grace and involve complicated gymnastic stunts.
There are about 400,000 cheerleaders at high schools across the U.S., according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. The ThoughtCo. web page reports that 83 percent of all cheerleaders have a 3.0 grade point average or higher.
Take Taylor McMahon, a 15 year-old sophomore at Sandy High School. She boasts a 3.78 grade point average and is taking mostly advanced and college-credit courses.
"I love cheering. I like representing my school," she said. "I'm passionate about leadership and as a cheerleader we get to lead the student section (at games)."
McMahon is a cheer veteran, starting in fourth-grade in a youth program in Sandy. She also studied dance for eight years and gymnastics for three.
"It is a good way to get involved in your school," she said. "You meet lots of people."
She is a member of the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists and plans to become a doctor.
McMahon also is the delegate representing Oregon students to the National Academy. She attended the group's annual congress in Boston.
"I got to watch a live surgery and hear a Nobel prize winner speak," she said, noting she plans to attend the meeting next year.
McMahon is on the Student Council at Sandy High and is a member of HOSA (Health Occupations Student of America) group at the school. Scheduled to study abroad in Poland the summer before her senior year, McMahon meanwhile loves to snowboard and works as a hostess at a local restaurant.
Other area cheerleaders also shine in the classroom and in the community.
Vy Nguyen, a 17-year-old senior at Centennial High School and Center for Advanced Learning (CAL) has a weighted grade point average of 4.02 and is taking two college-level Advanced Placement classes in psychology and calculus. Nguyen beat herself up last year when she got the first "B" in her high school career, in her AP Government class.
She's in the medical program at the career-oriented charter school CAL and counts anatomy as her favorite class.
"It's the hardest class we have at CAL," she said. "But it is so interesting, you learn how your body works."
CAL language arts teacher Jeanne Sheets-Sagoo calls Nguyen "an excellent student," noting "she covers every detail in her work. She is a class leader. She is at the forefront of every classroom conversation."
"I love to see her developing as an empowered young woman," said Sheets-Sagoo.
Then there's Delaney Johnston, a 17 year-old senior at Gresham High School, who boasts a 3.5 grade point average. She also attends CAL and takes four college-credit classes there and one college-level class at Gresham High.
With four older brothers and sisters, Johnston attended Gresham High games with her family growing up.
"I always looked up to the cheerleaders," she said.
Cheering has taught her discipline.
"I've learned direction, motivation and determination," she said. "It helps me focus on goal setting."
Johnston is involved in leadership and student government, has organized the school blood drives and works on other school efforts such as support for breast cancer group Breast Friends as well as a toy drive. During spring break in 2016, Johnston went on a service trip to Nicaragua and helped build a school.
Ty Gonrowski, GHS activities director, called Johnston "an outstanding young lady."
Lauren Anderson, an 18-year-old Barlow High School Bruin, has been cheering since her freshman year. Anderson has a 3.95 GPA, is a member of the National Honor Society, has taken several honors classes and is enjoying her AP European History class. She counts the college-level history class among her favorite classes and also likes her medical applications class at CAL, which is about learning how to take care of patients. Anderson plans to attend a four-year college and wants to go into nursing, probably neonatal care.
The cheerleaders blame pop culture for the less-than-positive stereotypes of their sport.
"Definitely, movies and TV shows always show cheerleaders as ditzy, usually blondes. The stereotype bugs me," says McMahon. "The majority of the girls are not like that whatsoever."