A high school in Houston, Texas just revealed who is at the top of the Class of 2021 – and announced a whopping nine students are sharing the title of valedictorian. Each of the nine seniors have a 5.0 grade-point average.
Bellaire High School Principal Michael McDonough said he started hearing that the Class of 2021 was something special during their freshman year. But having nine students all with the same, impressive GPA, shocked him.
“I began to consider the idea of two to three valedictorians, but I never imagined nine,” McDonough said. “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 seniors reflected on their time in high school and what they learned – both in and out of the classroom.
“There’s been a lot of events going on during our high school experience,” said Evie T. Kao. “Especially with COVID, online learning got tough. So we really want to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments for finishing the school year out.” Kao will attend University of Texas at Austin and wants to study business and finance.
“I think one of the things that I really learned is understand how everyone comes from different backgrounds,” said Annie Zhu, who will attend Stanford to study symbolic systems. “And so, becoming more open minded about my classmates’ situations, in their households, when we do group projects, for example.”
Her twin sister, Shirley Zhu, is also one of the nine valedictorians. “No one was trying to take down someone else, so it wasn’t difficult in that sense,” said Shirley Zhu, who has not decided on a college yet but plans on studying computer science. “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 cofounded Fresh Hub, an organization that rescues unsold food and redistributes the fruit, vegetables and bread to food desert regions across Houston.
“When coursework gets challenging and balancing academics with extracurriculars gets hard, remember to cut yourself some slack, because making mistakes is the best way to grow,” Annie Zhu said.
Shirley Zhu said her advice to other students would be to find joy in learning. “There will be challenges, but challenges are what make something rewarding in the end,” she said. “Put the time, effort, and energy into classes, but also explore your interests with different clubs and please prioritize your mental health. When you start to have tunnel vision … take a step back and take a breather.”
Other students also spoke about the importance of finding a balance and also having fun. “Try to make goals that you think that will help you stay happy, but also challenge you at the same time,” said Angela Ling, who hopes to study business or biology in college.
“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 Daniel Chen, who will attend Carnegie Mellon University to study information systems.
Some of the students were happy to share the title with other deserving seniors.
“If it ended up that I wasn’t valedictorian, then that wouldn’t have made any difference to me,” said Miles Mackenzie, who will be attending University of Texas at Austin and plans to study physics. “What was important to me was just working hard and achieving, learning what I wanted to learn.”
“Everyone in the nine, I would say, is very strong and independent,” said Alkiviades Boukas, who is also planning to study physics at University of Texas at Austin.
“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 Wenson Tsiah-Hao Tang, who is also attending Carnegie Mellon University, and plans on studying electrical and computer engineering.
To mark the special occasion of having nine valedictorians, the school held a Scholars Recognition Ceremony in April. The seniors will also be honored at the school’s graduation on June 13.
“These students are inspiring examples of what can be achieved through dedication and hard work,” said HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.
“I am incredibly proud of all of them for this milestone achievement and know that they are also actively involved at Bellaire High School,” said Lathan. “Balancing school and extracurriculars is no easy feat, and they were able to do it and maintain a 5.0 GPA. I am confident each of them will find tremendous success and ultimately give back to our community in amazing ways.”