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How they did it: metro Atlanta valedictorians share advice, keys to success  

Saya Abney

Saya Abney 

School system: Fulton County Schools 

High School: Riverwood International Charter School 

Extracurricular activities: Debate, National Honors Society, National Spanish Honors Society, Beta Club, Tutoring in math for ESOL students, and tutoring in AP World History  

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Where you are going to college? UC Berkeley  

What do you intend to study? Physics and ethnic studies double major  

What is the best advice you got about succeeding? My 8th grade lit teacher told me to never sell out, never pursue a more “successful” path if it would violate my morals. More recently, a mentor advised that involving yourself deeply in areas you are passionate about has a way of opening up opportunities and helping things fall into place, even though you may not follow the most conventional of paths.  

What advice would you give to a freshman? It’s going to be ok. Life is going to be unpredictable, but surround yourself with people you care about and build up a community of love and support. Grades matter a lot less than that in the long run. (Also, taking the most difficult possible courseload is usually a bad idea and stresses you out for no reason; give yourself room to breathe.)

Janet Huang

Janet Huang  

School system: Fulton County Schools  

School: Johns Creek High School  

Extracurriculars: dance (ballet & Chinese folk dance), student leadership Johns Creek, science olympiad, national honor society, national Spanish honor society, beta club, Beethoven chamber orchestra concertmaster, church camp counselor, Conrad innovation challenge finalist, tutoring.  

College: New York University Stern School of Business  

Intended major: Finance  

What is the best advice you got about succeeding?  

I’m not too sure who advised me to do so, but I have always striven for success with the aim of achieving the best version of myself, not beating others. 

What advice would you give to a freshman? 

Explore various activities until you find your true interests and then honor your abilities in those interests, but also try to get involved in non-stereotypical things in order to differentiate yourself from those with similar demographics and qualifications.

 Jose Gustavo Mendez Luna 

School system: Fulton County Schools

High School: Langston Hughes HS 

Extracurricular activities: French Honor Society and Men of Valor 

Where are you going to college? Valdosta State University 

What do you intend to study? Biology (Concentration on Pre-Optometry) 

What is the best advice you have about succeeding? 

Aside from the obvious, such as working hard, preparing for your classes, or not procrastinating, the best advice that I can offer is that you shouldn’t doubt yourself. For many years, I refused to take leadership positions or to try to get outside my comfort zone for fear of failing, not only myself but those around me. However, I as years passed I came to learn -the hard way- that all self-doubt does is tie you down. It stops you from reaching your full potential by an arbitrary fear of failure. Therefore, I encourage everyone to try despite the fears they may have because the moments you learn the most from are the failures in your life. 

What advice would you give to a freshman? 

For freshmen, I encourage them to work hard in their first year so that they can develop the habits and qualities needed to build a solid foundation for their education and for their life beyond. This may sound simple enough, but I also want to warn you all to enjoy your years in High School. I’ve seen many people, myself included, study and overwork themselves so that they could “get great grades and enter into a top university.” However, while it's important to get “good grades,” it's important to socialize and have fun while you're in school. You’re going to spend almost 4 years of your life in high school, so why not make them fun and memorable?

Skyler Walker-Harris

Skyler Walker-Harris  

School system: DeKalb County 

High School: Dr. Ronald E. McNair High School  

Extracurricular activities: Captain of the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl, Captain of the Softball Team and a member of the Basketball Team, President of Future Business Leader’s of America (FBLA), Treasurer of the Student Government Association (SGA), member of 4-H, volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House and Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.  

Where you are going to college? The University of Georgia  

What do you intend to study? Biological Science  

What is the best advice you got about succeeding? If you fail to plan then you plan on failing so always have a plan for yourself and even if things don’t go according to the plan, you can always revise it.  

What advice would you give to a freshman? First impressions count so remember everything that you do is going to be how people look at you for the next four years so set the bar high and go beyond people’s expectations.

RELATED: Metro Atlanta well represented on list of best high schools in the U.S.

Mario Becerra Aleman 

School System: Dekalb County School System 

High School: Cross Keys High School 

Extracurricular Activities: Mu Alpha Theta Vice President; Technology Student Association; Robotics; Future Business Leaders of America; Youth Entrepreneurs; Latino Youth Leadership Academy; National Honor Society; Beta Club; Rho Kappa; Tribe of Funk Marching Band (8th-11th grade) 

College: Emory College of Arts and Sciences 

Major: Computer Science 

What is the best advice you got about succeeding? 

Because success is an abstract word, no two definitions of it are the same. Define the word, do what you love and become great at it. With hard work and passion, everything else will fall into place. 

What advice would you give to a freshman? 

Freshman year is probably the most important year in your high school career. Even if it seems irrelevant that the time, in this year you will lay the foundation for the next three years. Hit the ground running and do not slow down; maintain your grades so that your GPA starts off strong. Find your niche within the school, this is the time to explore, because of this, surround yourself with friends that will support and encourage you. And finally, do not overburden yourself, find the best way to relax, because you will need it.

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