Plugging a brain drain: January nominees for Student Leader of the Year have dreams of returning to southern Oklahoma after college

Michael Smith
Virginia Knox

Teenagers often feel ready to leave their hometown in the rear-view mirror after high school. January nominees for Student Leader of the Year have plans that will carry them away from home in the near future, but they hope to one day return home and continue to work alongside family and friends in their communities.

Plainview High School senior Jentri Rayburn has deep agricultural roots and is considering a college education in agribusiness at Oklahoma State University. As a member of county 4-H Club and junior livestock activity leadership, she has the background to excel in the field. “Since I have been in 4-H for so long and I’ve shown pigs, all of my grandparents have been raised on a farm and live on a farm, so I’ve kind of been around that all my life,” Rayburn said.

Ever the philanthropist, she joined the local 4-H Club chapter in 3rd grade and by 7th grade wanted to collect socks for local people who needed them. “Whenever they do clothing drives, socks kind of get neglected,” she said. That year, she collected nearly 300 pairs of socks and had them distributed across Carter County. As time went on the collection drive was eventually dubbed “Socktober” and started to involve other groups she had joined, like National Honor Society or Plainview High School Student Council.

The sixth and most recent Socktober event collected more than 3,200 pairs of socks, and the event founder spent her time teaching younger members how to continue the project. “That’s exciting for me to see it keep going even though I’m leaving,” she said.

Another major accomplishment Rayburn has achieved was the adoption of her student council’s first ever constitution earlier this year. As council co-president for her junior and senior years, Rayburn spearheaded the drafting of council guidance for future members of Plainview student government. “Me and the officers last year got together and we looked at different constitutions from around the state, pulled pieces we liked, added stuff, and then we gave it to our advisor,” she said.

While she will be leaving a legacy at Plainview High School in a variety of ways, Rayburn hopes to stay close to family in southern Oklahoma in the future. “Being around family always sounds good,” she said.

Virginia Knox will graduate Fox High School in a few weeks and head to Tulsa to attend Oral Roberts University in the fall. Like her Plainview counterpart, Knox hopes to also rejoin her family in southern Oklahoma after furthering her education. “It would be cool to branch out, do other things in different places, maybe different states,” she said. “All of my family is around this area so I’ll definitely be coming back.”

She was drawn to English classes when she first started attending Fox in elementary school, and that has since evolved into an interest in communications and media that she may pursue in college. “I’m not sure on my major, I’m kind of keeping my eyes open,” she said.

Knox’s academic achievements are plenty. Ranked at the top of her class with a 4.0 GPA, she is a member of the Oklahoma Honor Society, a National Honor Society officer and is part of the school academic team. Acting as a longtime officer for FCCLA has also given her some unique experience. “When the Oklahoma Blood Drive comes to our school, FCCLA is really the main one that helps get that organized and taken care of and I’ve been an officer for FCCLA all through high school,” she said.

With some 300 hours of community service during her high school career, Knox is no stranger to organizing events. She said some of her favorite service projects have been Christmas carolling and Habitat for Humanity. She said she just loves the Christmas season and has carolled with her church and other groups. She became very enthusiastic, however, while talking about a Habitat for Humanity project about two years ago.

“We went and we planted grass, we worked around on the outside and things like that,” she said. She was excited to learn about the organization and meet other people dedicated to serving others, but the connection to her community was one of the biggest standouts of the project. “It was actually around the Ardmore area, which I thought was really cool because it was local,” she said.

Knox still has plenty to accomplish before returning home and she thinks it will start by picking up more community service. “I’ll be in Tulsa when I go to college, so a lot of my stuff I’ll be trying to pick up out there.”