Mitchell students who received 2017 Academic Letters turn to receive applause from the audience Thursday, May 11, at the 12th annual Mitchell High School Ceremony of Excellence at First Baptist Church of Spruce Pine.

Focusing on the future

Jacob Martinez talks about failure, touts preparation to 4.0 students

SPRUCE PINE – A successful Mitchell High School graduate spoke to a group current Mitchell students – all with 4.0 grade point averages – about something with which everyone is familiar: failure.

Mitchell class of 2009 honors graduate Jacob Martinez told the 15 senior, 21 junior and 15 sophomore academic letter recipients at the 12th annual Ceremony of Excellence at First Baptist Church of Spruce Pine Thursday, May 11, that failure is what inspired him to be successful.

Martinez is the son of Jorge and Carol Martinez. He earned bachelor’s degrees in business administration and Spanish from Wake Forest University in 2013. He worked at an award-winning digital marketing firm in Winston-Salem before taking a job with Google in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He now lives in San Francisco and works in Google’s digital distribution service Google Play and is involved in the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

“It might be easy to look at my life and think things have been very easy for me; that being smart got me to where I am right now,” Martinez said. “But let me be the first to tell you that’s not the case. I’m here to tell you about something you probably haven’t had to think about much since you’re here – you are strong achievers, great performers with high honors and great grades – and it’s something I didn’t have to think about until I left Mitchell County and the reason that I am successful, and that’s the experience I have with failure.”

Martinez said without failure, one will not know what success is and that overcoming failure teaches a person what he or she is made of. He shared three numbers he uses that help him deal with failure: two, 59 and 120. The No. 2 was scribbled at the top of the first test Martinez took at Wake Forest and indicated he failed. 

“I’m pretty sure I only got the two points for putting my name on that test,” he said. “The next test came around and I failed it. I was devastated. I needed this course – it was calculus – and without it I couldn’t get into business school.”

After being tutored Martinez ultimately failed the course.

“I was upset, but I was determined,” he said. “During winter break I read ‘Calculus for Dummies’ and when I took the class again I made a B minus. It wasn’t perfect, but it was what I needed in that situation. I wasn’t intelligence that helped me through this, it was grit.”

The second number was 59, the jersey number of Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Keuchly, after who Martinez said he models his preparation efforts and the third number is 120, which a Google initiative where employees spend 20 percent of their time working on projects, such as Google Cardboard and self-driving cars.

“To make these projects work, you have to give 100 percent,” he said. “But, you also have to give 20 percent more to make it successful. To get where I am I have had to give 120 percent each and every day.”

When he applied at Google three years ago he had already been turned down for a job once he was taking a risk, he said. 

“The risk of failure should not keep you from trying,” he said. “If we don’t try to do the hard things, we won’t get better.”



Students must have a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 or better, no suspensions and no more than three minor discipline referrals in the past year to be considered for an academic letter.

Mitchell High School 2017 Academic Letter Scholars

Class of 2017

Samantha Fortner*

Kaylee McMurray*

Sarah McKinney

Megan Townsend

Caeley Mayo

Ashlyn van Brederode*

Faith Ledford*

Allison Biddix*

Courtney Thomas

Justin Greene

Tristen O’Shields*

Jamie Jennings*

Kayla Bryant

Eli Pollard

James Duncan

* - denotes four-year Academic Letter Scholar


Class of 2018

Brenna Hutchings

Amanda Biddix

Ada McKinney

Eden Phillips

Jesse Pitman

Bethany Snell

Kerri Honeycutt

Anna Zheng

Garrett Buchanan

Kailey Ratcliff

Kathryn Hall

Haley Street

Michaela Slagle

Elaina Slagle

Trystan Jenkins

Caitlin Duncan

Zoe Lord

Alicia Garland

Garrett Wood

Jason Burleson

Sarah Weatherman


Class of 2019

Mackenzie Douglas

Cindy Lin

Dylan Riddle

Maggie Buchanan

Levi Gillespie

Alora Wilson

Luke Pollard

Jessica Grant

Trinity Chandler

Devin Randolph

Mary Hollifield

Justin Bates

Royce McKinney

Ana Duncan

Macie Stafford


Class of 2020

(Freshman received a certificate)

Caroline Atkins

Emma Carpenter

Morgan Greene

Laken Hughes

Evelyn Kline

Tyler McKinney

Dwain Renfro

Elijah Twiddy

Cadee Warren

Aubrey Crain

Logan Beaver

Marie Duncan

Nathaniel Hoilman

April Huskins

Jess Ledford

Jared Pittman

Elijah Smith

Samuel McKinney

Hunter Zheng

Kirsten van Brederode

Preston Burleson

Paige Georgeou

Avery Hopson

Elliot Kadans

Austin McGuffin-Houston

Gabriel Rathbone

Allison Blake Suddreth

Elijah VanRemortel

Koby Buchanan

The MItchell News

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