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Story Behind the Books: Elvis Tran's Valedictorian Experience

For those who don’t know what a valedictorian is, it is the person who is ranked highest in the school in academics, or in other words, has the highest GPA amongst his or her class. As someone who was valedictorian, I would like to describe my experience through my high school career and clear up some misconceptions and assumptions of a valedictorian. Of course, my experience is mine alone and may or may not hold true to all the other valedictorians out there. And so, here it goes.

I was the valedictorian of Balboa High School, graduated with a GPA of approximately 4.53. This may seem high to some or low to others, depending on perspective, but I took the most AP and Honors classes I could have throughout my high school career while obtaining an A as the semester grade for all classes. Initially, most people have the misconception that the valedictorian only does school work and that may hold true for other valedictorians but does not for me. I had done a summer job, part-time job during the school year, Varsity Volleyball, and Dragonboat. I helped tutor students who were falling behind through a club known as California Scholarship Federation and was in the program known as Wilderness Arts and Literacy Collaborative which went on 3 camping trips a year. The sites I had camped at included Lassen National Park, Joshua Tree (in the desert), Hendy Woods, and a place which was 53 miles away from Lake Tahoe. There were also several other day trips where the program (aka pathway in Balboa High School) went to places like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, San Bruno Mountain, and Pescadero Marsh. These trips often included several mile hikes and outdoor lessons. So, I wasn’t a person who only stayed in school all the time and studied. I was rather outgoing and was somewhat athletic, all the while doing great in school.

My friends had three categories for some people in school: the ones who don’t try hard but still understood everything, the ones who try really hard and finally understand the lesson, and the ones who try really hard and still don’t understand anything. They described me as someone who was “naturally smart” and had used that term because I was someone who had the ability to understand lessons without having to put in too much effort. I would be able to do every single assignment with very few questions, and was proactive in participating in class discussions and helping others. However, this does not mean I didn’t work hard. Valedictorians are also people who have their problems and solutions. I procrastinated more or less like everyone else. I waited until 10 pm or 11 pm on some nights to start my homework, and had seldomly finished my assignments days before their due dates. It was usually the night right before the deadline that I had completed them. What did separate me from other people was how well I concentrated on my assignments and how I was able to bring out quality work in a short span of time. In the case of big tests, I had often spent hours on studying. I know many people who blow off their tests and pray for the best, I was not one of them. I put in quite a lot of effort in academics, however that does not mean I got 100% on everything. I had gotten C’s, D’s, and F’s on tests but just very rarely. The average score of everything came out as an A because after I see one of those, I would try extremely hard to get 97%+ on the next test. I did get a B several times for a grading period though. I had to pick up the effort for the next grading period and try extremely hard for the final exam in order to get an A for my semester grade. To sum up everything, I just had created a work ethic which performed really well. Honestly, it could have been better but I was just lazy at times. After taking all of those advanced classes, I found 3 hours of homework short while some other people would react like “OH HELL NAAWWWWWW”. It was something I grew accustomed to.

To me, the valedictorian is not the “smartest” person in his or her grade. Rather, I always felt that the salutatorian (2nd highest GPA) was smarter than I was. She did deny that though, but I can definitely say otherwise. The valedictorian is well-rounded in all of his or her classes, it does not specifically mean that he or she was the best in every single subject. I can name more than a handful of people who had better writing skills than I did, many who excelled in history and literature, and those who did well in science from Physics to Biology. What I was most confident in was the subject “Math”, may it be statistics or calculus. Nonetheless, I did well in every subject. The valedictorian is literally someone who took the most AP and Honors classes in his or her school while achieving straight A’s. What’s amazing is simply the ability to do so, and most people don’t believe that they would be able to. I personally believe any could as long as they put in the effort. All that happened was that I had an easier time than those in my same grade and I had the motivation to strive for the goal. I think it was in sophomore year that I had made being valedictorian my goal, and made my schedule as hard as it could possibly be.

There are heaps of expectations set onto you. And well, people probably overestimate me. At least that’s what I personally feel. There are plenty of things that don’t come out the way I want. I do try to meet those expectations with the best of my abilities though. It’d probably be best to think of valedictorians as regular people too, haha. But… some of them are just quite above the norm.

During the graduation ceremony, the valedictorian is required to make a speech to the class and those attending. And I do must say these speeches are quite cliched. “Good luck in life” “You can do it” “Believe in yourself” “This isn’t the end of your life, there’s more to it” “Onwards to the next chapter” Just the usual things that would be said at the end of high school. Since it’s an opportunity to speak to the whole class, you get to crack a few jokes and say a few shoutouts to the whole class. How you write it is up to you, and what you probably worry about the most is to not make it boring or that people don’t react in the way you wish them to. It takes a decent amount of thinking and originality to write it, and I had a bit of fun. I was quite glad that people enjoyed my speech, it meant a lot to me. There are plenty of valedictorians that wait until the week before to start on their speech, and this I’m sure of. There are plenty of metaphors that people use which you can find on youtube. Some of quite unique and original in the way they present their speech even if it is cliche.

Becoming valedictorian was an achievement that I won’t forget for the rest of my life, even as I grow old. It was a part of my journey through high school, full of ups and no regrets. People see me as that one brilliant and intelligent dude who they can talk to. Do I dislike this image? Not really, rather I like it. I’m happy to be a person people can trust, and to be remembered as such. Who knows what will happen in college? I say that people overestimate me, but it could be just that I’m underestimating myself. Staying too humble and insecure. My life’s been a great ride, and it has yet to reach the end. I’m not even truly an adult yet!

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