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Best friends Victoria Critzer (left) and Riley Spangler don gold honor graduate stoles and medals on their navy blue robes during senior picture day for the Class of 2024. Critzer is the salutatorian for the graduating class and Spangler is the valedictorian. (AHPS Photo)

2024 AHS Valedictorian, Salutatorian Named
Riley Spangler Is Top Graduate With Victoria Critzer 2nd

Low Moor, VA (May 21, 2024) - Riley Spangler and Victoria Critzer are best friends, and they will soon walk across the stage as the valedictorian and salutatorian of the Alleghany High School Class of 2024.

Spangler, who will study at Washington & Lee University in the fall, is the valedictorian. Critzer, who is known as Tori by her friends, is the salutatorian. She will attend Christopher Newport University. They will hold the distinction of being the first valedictorian and salutatorian in the history of the consolidated Alleghany High School.

The valedictorian is the senior student who graduates with the highest grade point average in the class. The salutatorian is ranked second in the class, right behind the valedictorian. This year, Spangler and Critzer were separated by a mere fraction of percentage points.   

“Being valedictorian makes me feel very glad, obviously. It’s the result of a lot of hard work, but I know there are other people who deserve it, too,” said Spangler, who will study political science at Washington & Lee on full scholarship.

“There is a little guilt, because I know there are other people who deserve it. But I know you have to be proud of yourself, too — you just can’t be fully guilty,” she said.

For Critzer, being named the salutatorian really hasn’t sunk in yet. For now, she anxiously awaits to hear the result of her scholarship applications to help pay for the cost of college. She will study computer science at Christopher Newport, which is located in Newport News.

“I really don’t know how I feel about being the salutatorian. I really don’t. I will probably feel it the day after graduation,” she said.

The Class of 2024 will graduate on June 1 at Casey Field in Covington. The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. The ceremony will be held at Casey Field due to ongoing track construction and roofing work at AHS.

Spangler and Critzer attended Covington High School for four years before they became part of the consolidated high school last fall. AHS is the joint high school for Alleghany Highlands Public Schools. The school division was formed when Alleghany County Public Schools, Covington City Public Schools, and Jackson River Technical Center merged in July 2022.

Moving from CHS to Alleghany has been an adjustment for students and staff, but Spangler and Critzer say the first year at the combined high school has gone well.

“Personally, it hasn’t been a big difference to us. It’s mostly just a different building,” Critzer said.

Critzer and Spangler are part of a close group of friends, many of whom attended the Jackson River Governor’s School at Mountain Gateway Community College. The group also includes friends who didn't attend the governor’s school. Some of the friendships date back to elementary school. 

“We have had a lot of fun together. Even though we came from Covington High School, we love our Alleghany friends. We are all in our little group right now, and we haven’t had any issues,” Spangler said.

The daughter of two educators, Glenn and Tracey Spangler, Riley received the prestigious Harry Byrd Jr. Leadership Award for 2023-2024. The award comes with a $25,000 scholarship. Winners are chosen from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts based on “academic accomplishment, excellence of character, qualities of leadership and devotion to duty.”  Spangler is believed to be the first student from the Alleghany Highlands to receive the statewide honor.

She plans to eventually use her degree in political science from Washington & Lee University to help shape policy on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. She is particularly interested in education policy, given she is the daughter of two educators.

“I think a lot of my morals come from them being educators. The core of them, makes the core of me. Watching them jump started me. They taught me to care about school and to care about others. Being their daughter has given me a lot more insight into education,” Spangler said. 

“When I go into policy, I am going to be doing a lot with education, because I feel that there is so much more that needs to be done for it.  Education is literally the foundation of everyone’s life. If you are not educated, you can’t do anything,” Spangler said while noting she is deeply troubled by the political division in the United States.

“I don’t want to be a career politician; I want to teach when I am done. I really became interested in politics in 2016, and I have read a lot of political theory and memoirs to educate myself on the political system. There are so many negative things going on in our world right now, so much separation and division. And it seems like we are doing nothing to fix that. I just want to put the morals back in,” she said. 

Critzer wants to make her mark in computer science, particularly in front-end web development, which will allow her to express her artistic creativity. 

“I have always been interested in computers and coding and how that all works. Out of all the sciences, you can be really creative with it. There are different career pathways. Everything in the world relies on computers,” she said.

As an accomplished artist, Critzer’s works have placed in shows at Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center and in competitions sponsored by the Virginia School Boards Association. She specializes in pencil drawings. 

Critzer said classes at the Jackson River Governor’s School helped rekindle her interest in school and fueled her drive to succeed academically. She moved to the Covington area from Waynesboro five years ago. 

“When I got to the governor's school, I had to learn the material. I couldn’t just memorize it. I needed to learn the material and I needed to learn to use my time effectively. You learn to really manage your time. You learn to interact with your teachers. The college curriculum was just a lot more engaging for me,” she said.

In fact, she credits one of her instructors, at the governor’s school, Ashley Pratt, for providing her with motivation and encouragement to succeed.

“She was an angel,” Critzer said. “She was just so kind and so compassionate. It really was so evident in everything she taught that she has so much passion for teaching. She was really interested in how we did, and how we were all doing. It was very motivating to have someone just being in your corner.”

Spangler names several teachers who have helped guide her path in public schools, but more recently, she cites Renee Jones, a math teacher at AHS, for having a strong influence in her life. Unlike Critzer, Spangler does not have an affinity for math and science. She describes herself as more of a “humanities person.” Classes at the Jackson River Governor’s School center on math and science.

“Miss Jones works in the same department with my mom and they are good friends. I have gotten to know her really well outside of the classroom. She is such a lovely person, and she really pushed me to work at math. She helped me to try harder at math. She motivated me to succeed,” Spangler said. 

With graduation drawing closer, awards and accolades continue to pour in for Spangler and Critzer. They received several scholarships at the recent Senior Awards Night for the Class of 2024. They are also busy at work with their friends planning for a summer enrichment camp for sixth graders. Both seniors are members of the Beta Club and the National Honor Society, which stress community service.

Their friendship gained a more special meaning when Spangler and her family helped organize a surprise birthday party for Critzer during their eighth-grade year. It’s a day that Critizer fondly remembers, and as graduation approaches, she realizes that the group of close friends that she has bonded with in high school will soon go in separate directions.

“Hayli [Givens] showed us a map recently that showed where we will all be after we graduate, and we quickly told her to put it away. That map showed us how far apart we will be. I was like, ‘Don’t show us that. Don’t bring it up, not yet,’” she said.

Jointly funded by Alleghany County and the City of Covington, AHPS serves approximately 2,700 students.

School division news and events are regularly updated on Facebook at AHPublicSchools and at ,a href="https://www.ahps.k12.va.us">www.ahps.k12.va.us.


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