Nine valedictorians — all with a 5.0 GPA — are set to graduate this June at Bellaire High School in Houston.
Bellaire Principal Michael McDonough said he is proud of what the nine senior students achieved at school and how they overcame the obstacles brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I began to consider the idea of two to three valedictorians, but I never imagined nine,” McDonough said in a statement posted on the Houston Independent School District page on April 9. “These students are also involved in after-school activities and leaders in various organizations. To juggle their schoolwork and extracurriculars, then throw in a pandemic and virtual learning, and still maintain a 5.0 GPA. It is nothing short of amazing. I could not be prouder of them.”
The nine Bellaire valedictorians are Alkiviades Boukas, Miles Mackenzie, Daniel Chen, Evie Tseng-Ying Kao, Angela Ling, Wenson Tsiah-Hao Tang, Christopher Zhou, and twin sisters Annie and Shirley Zhu.
When the pandemic hit, many students were forced to take their lessons online. For Kao, this new setup proved to be tough.
“There’s been a lot of events going on during our high school experience,” Kao told CBS News. “Especially with COVID, online learning got tough. So we really want to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments for finishing the school year out.”
Online learning has taught these students many valuable lessons, and for Annie Zhu, it’s better understanding and open-mindedness for her classmates.
“I think one of the things that I really learned is understand how everyone comes from different backgrounds,” she said. “And so, becoming more open minded about my classmates’ situations, in their households, when we do group projects, for example.”
While nine students surprisingly reached the highest spot among their peers, Shirley Zhu said there was no competition.
“No one was trying to take down someone else, so it wasn’t difficult in that sense,” she said. “I think, in general, because we were challenging ourselves and pushing ourselves to take high-level courses, among other peers, it was never like we were vying for one spot.”
The Zhu sisters received national attention last year for co-founding Fresh Hub, an organization aimed at salvaging food that grocery stores throw away and give it to those who need it the most, Fox Houston reported.
Although there are many challenges along the way, Shirley Zhu’s advice to other students is to find joy in learning and to explore their other interests in life.
“Put the time, effort, and energy into classes, but also explore your interests with different clubs and please prioritize your mental health,” she said. “When you start to have tunnel vision … take a step back and take a breather.”
Ling and Chen echoed the sentiment and added that balancing and not focusing too much on one aspect can lead to a less happy experience.
“Try to make goals that you think that will help you stay happy, but also challenge you at the same time,” Ling said.
“If you lose sight of the rest of the journey, just because you’re focusing too much on one particular aspect, you’re not going to have a fun time,” said Chen.
Having a support system would also help students reach their goals in their studies.
“The one thing that you need for success — because you can’t do everything all by yourself — you need other people to help support you,” said Tang.
HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan congratulated the students for their achievement, saying that balancing their extracurriculars and studies while maintaining a 5.0 GPA is “no easy feat.”
“I am confident each of them will find tremendous success and ultimately give back to our community in amazing ways,” Lathan said.
As for what’s next after high school, Boukas and Mackenzie plan to attend the University of Texas at Austin to study physics. They’ll be joined by Kao who will study business and finance.
Chen and Tang have decided to attend Carnegie Mellon University to study information systems and electrical and computer engineering, respectively.
Annie Zhu chose Stanford University as her next school to study symbolic systems, while her twin sister remains undecided on where she plans to go next. However, she decided to take up computer science.
Ling also remains undecided about her university. She has yet to decide if she wants to take up business or biology. Lastly, Zhou is looking to attend Rice University but has yet to pick his course.
Featured Image via Houston Independent School District