Highland Park’s top graduate gave up Darwinism for Calvinism
By Dan Koller | Staff Writer
For 30 years, Park Cities People has profiled the valedictorians of Highland Park High School. The tradition began in 1982 with J. Parnell McCarter, who coincidentally married a woman who was also a valedictorian.
But it was impossible for their children to follow in their footsteps. The McCarters’ adherence to the Calvinist Christian faith led them to educate their two sons at home.
In fact, McCarter has written an entire home-school curriculum from the Calvinist Christian perspective that he shares for free at his website, puritans.net.
This news may confuse McCarter’s high school classmates as they dredge up memories of 1982’s top graduate. Although he was raised as a Southern Baptist, McCarter was hardly a devout Christian as a teen. In fact, he was agnostic.
“I was not one to go around, how shall I say, ‘preaching agnosticism,’ ” McCarter said from his home in Michigan. However, “people certainly would have known I was an evolutionist by all means.”
The change came during his freshman year at Princeton University, where he enrolled with a handful of other HP grads, including current Highland Park town attorney Al Hammack. A friend in McCarter’s organic chemistry class invited him to a meeting of the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship.
“I thought I should at least hear out their perspective,” McCarter said. “And it was going to be on a Friday evening, when I typically did not study so much. But I really did not anticipate that my mind would be changed. I am sure I also thought I might meet a nice girl there.”
Whether he did or not, McCarter was soon hooked on the group’s discussions.
“I found it surprisingly compelling. It was very serious, and not in an entertaining format,” he said. “I began to be convicted that what they were saying was true and that I had been on a fundamentally wrong course in my beliefs and conduct.”
Although McCarter told Park Cities People in 1982 that he “wanted to major in something where I could combine my interests in physics and chemistry,” he would earn a philosophy degree from Princeton, followed by an MBA in accounting from Rutgers. Influenced by some Princeton Evangelical Fellowship members who were Reformed Baptists, he joined a New Jersey church of that faith.
It was there that he met Charlotte Tejada, a native of the Philippines whose path mirrored McCarter’s. She had rejected Christianity as a girl, embraced Darwinian evolution as an agnostic, graduated at the top of her high school class in Manila, and then embraced evangelical Christianity while studying nursing at the University of the Philippines.
The McCarters settled in Grand Rapids, Mich., home to several conservative Calvinist denominations.
“Charlotte has proved a quite competent home-school educator, homemaker, wife, and mother,” McCarter said. “We are still married, she somehow managing to put up with me these many years.”
Although their sons — D. Parnell and Calvin — could not be valedictorians, they did follow Dad’s path as National Merit Scholars. They are studying electrical engineering and computer engineering, respectively, at the University of Michigan. Their father, meanwhile, is the chief financial officer for a manufacturing firm.
“I am thankful for the many opportunities and mercies God has blessed me with in Jesus Christ,” McCarter said, “though I am a most unworthy sinner.”
On May 27, we published a front-page story about 13-year-old Max Fuqua, the future owner of Plaza Health Foods, being accepted into George Ballanchine’s prestigious School of American Ballet summer program.
On June 10, the Park Cities Historical Society held its first public meeting at Highland Park Town Hall. Ruth Boaz Penniman received a yellow rose in recognition of being the Park Cities’ longest-tenured resident (71 years).
On July 1, the University Park Foundation took over the Fine Arts Theater, a pornographic cinema in Snider Plaza, and rechristened it the Plaza Theatre, with designs on turning it into a venue for plays, movies, and other family-friendly entertainment.
CHANGES AT THE TOP
University Park Mayor Roy Coffee Jr., the first University Park native and Highland Park High School graduate to lead the city, stepped down after six years. He was succeeded by Joel Williams.
Hyer Elementary School principal Tom Munroe moved to the same position at Highland Park High School. Dale Lawrence, an assistant principal at the high school, took over at Hyer.
HIGHLAND PARK HIGH SCHOOL
Valedictorian: Parnell McCarter
Salutatorian: James Jud
Blanket Award winners: Margie Rush and Jonathan Ladd
Linna Nash Armstrong, Emily Elizabeth Charlton, Laura Katherine Charlton, Dorothy Greer Dowell, Allison Annette Foster, Barbara Erin Paschall, Dorothy Diane Pearcy, Dorothy Ann Taliaferro, Shannon Lagow Wilson