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Jeannie Corbitt, 18, smiled as she waited for her name to be called, for her photograph to flash up on a big screen and for her turn to walk across the room and sign a board that declared her among Conway’s best and brightest, young academic achievers.

"It was an honor to be invited here," Corbitt said later.

Corbitt is among 23 students from three Conway high schools to achieve top awards. About 75 teachers, parents, business and community leaders gathered at the Student Life and Technology Building at Hendrix College on Thursday to recognize the students’ achievements. The students are from Conway High, St. Joseph and Conway Christian.

Conway Academic Signing Day 2012 is meant to honor student scholars the way athletic signing days honor athletes, said Brad Lacy, president and chief executive officer of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the event.

"It’s very similar to what you’d see for student athletes who sign with a college; unfortunately, we don’t think that we’ve given enough recognition to the academic all-stars," Lacy said. "This is their time to shine."

The students recognized Thursday are among Conway’s brightest — those who have garnered top awards, such as the Governor’s Distinguished Scholarships or a top scholarship from a college or university. They represent less than 5 percent of the graduating classes in Conway, said Bret Carroll, chief financial officer at Conway Corp. Carroll spoke at the event.

Lacy said the students represent an average, unweighted grade point average of 4.09. That average is higher because Advanced Placement classes increase the grade point averages.

Sitting in their seats, students flashed smiles, crossed their legs and fidgeted. Some leaned forward in their chairs, listening to Jeff Standridge, vice president of global operations for Acxiom Corp., talk about finding and pursuing what they love.

Lacy said students’ achievements matter ­— not just to the students themselves, but to the Conway community at large. Conway is built on higher education, he said. The ability for companies to find talented employees from local colleges has drawn them to Conway. That includes companies like Hewlett-Packard, which would not have come to Conway without access to talent, he said. The achievement of today’s students will build a better life in Conway, Lacy said. He urged students to graduate and then return to Conway.

After the speeches and photographs and shaking of hands, several students said they didn’t know whether they’d come back to Conway. Standing with his parents, Seth Washispack, 18, held his glass plaque and said he was excited about the academic signing day but that he is unsure he’d move back. Across the room, Calli Morrison, 16, said she is proud that Conway recognized her, but she isn’t sure she’d move back either.

Among the 23 students recognized, only three are staying in Conway for their higher education. The rest will leave Conway or the state completely.

"We know it very well in Conway, Ark., that your future academic achievements will increase the standard of living for Conway," Lacy told students. "Think about coming back [to Conway] because we’ll have jobs."

Conway will be the kind of place that young achievers like Corbitt want to work and live in, Lacy said.

Afterward, Corbitt stood a few steps from her parents and shrugged. "It definitely is home to me," she said. "So, we’ll see."

The other honorees are Eileen Frances Ablondi, Jennifer Allison Adolph, Stephanie Grace Barger, Mallory Shay Brooks, Harrison Daniel, Jack Aaron Evans, Molly Anna-Marie Evans, Alex E. Fahr, Kaycee Elizabeth Gifford, Mary Ruth Gomez, Bradley James Hamlett, Jeffrey Allen Hazel, Joshua Cody Lewis, Bonnie Alan Magee, Maria Grace Nabholz, Robbi Dallas Riggs, Leah Carol Riner, Benjamin Clay Southerland, Valentin Dimitrov Velchev and Parker Hamilton West.