What it takes: metro Atlanta valedictorians share secrets to success 

Now that high school seniors are graduating, the class of 2019 is ready for college. Some are headed to Harvard, MIT and other prestigious institutions out of state. Others are staying closer to home, attending Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, among others. These graduates featured here have worked hard to achieve academic success. Here they share some advice. (In some cases, responses were edited for length)

Jingwei Li 

High School: South Gwinnett High School 

 Extracurriculars: Vice President of Future Business Leaders of America, Co-President of National Honor Society, and National Beta Club

College: Louisiana State University  

Intended Major: Infectious Disease 

Advice for succeeding: One of my teachers had a quote that essentially said that talent is nothing without hard work. You have to put in the effort to use your talent to its greatest potential. Do not be discouraged. Keep putting in the work, and you will achieve wonders.  

Advice for freshmen:  Sometimes you may feel that all you want to do is go home, sit in bed, and stay on your phone, but my advice is to go out and try something that is outside your comfort zone. Four years seems like a long time, but it will fly by. Take these few years to gain more experiences and meet new people to hopefully broaden your view on the world. 

Jared Smith 

High School: Archer High School  

Extracurriculars: Spanish club, Spanish Honors Society, English Honors Society, Beta Club, AP Club  

College: University of Georgia 

Intended Major: Actuarial Science 

Advice for succeeding: Don’t focus on being successful or reaching a goal in the future. Work hard now at whatever you do and success will come naturally in response to your efforts. 

Advice for freshmen: Start building your résumé early by joining clubs and taking challenging classes. Find a balance between school, work, and family so you can put yourself in a position to succeed while enjoying life. 

MORE: Morehouse commencement speaker to pay off Class of 2019’s student loans

Amy Tin 

 High School: Discovery High School 

 Extracurriculars: Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (VP of Development), Emory Math Circle, volunteering as a tutor at a Gwinnett County Public Library, National Art Honor Society 

College: Georgia Institute of Technology 

Intended Major: Applied Mathematics or Engineering 

Advice for succeeding: Succeed in silence.  

Advice for freshmen: Extend your comfort zone and be engaged.

Julius Tao  

High School: Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology (GSMST)  

Extracurriculars: Math Team President, Science Bowl Captain, Mu Alpha Theta President, Head Organizer of GSMST’s 1st and 2nd Statewide Math Tournament, 1st Statewide Science Bowl Tournament, and Annual Students vs. Teachers Quiz Bowl, Computer Vision Intern at Flock Safety  

College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 

Intended Major: Computer Science (focusing on Machine Learning) 

Advice for succeeding: Setting success as the ultimate goal is an easy trap to fall into. What happens if you don’t “succeed”? All your efforts will have been wasted. By instead working hard at what you enjoy and what you find interesting, regardless of whether you earn recognition or not, you will have succeeded in expanding your horizons and growing as a human being. 

Advice for freshmen: Explore all kinds of subjects that could become your new passion, but choose a few activities that spark your curiosity and dive deeper. Stop comparing yourself to others. Their life is theirs, your life is yours, so move from beating yourself up to being a better person than who you were yesterday. Finally, after working hard, relax and have fun!

Camryn Banks  

School system: Fulton County Schools 

High school: Tri-Cities High School 

Extracurriculars: VPA Magnet Program (Theatre), National Honor Society, National Beta Club, Student Government Association, Yearbook Club 

College: University of North Carolina School of the Arts  

Intended Major: Design and Production, with a concentration in Lighting Design and Technology  

Advice for succeeding: My gymnastics coach, Reggie, taught me a really valuable lesson a few years ago. I was at the gym … and we were both getting frustrated with how I was performing. He pulled me aside and gave me this long lecture, during which he said, “trying is just honest failure,” and it just stuck with me. It has been something that I live by nowadays because I realized that it’s completely true. 

Advice for freshmen: You either do or you don’t. If you want something, go get it, and if you’re not willing to go get it then maybe you didn’t truly want it in the first place. You have to make sure you sit down and reflect on what it is that you really want in life, and whether you want to do something simply because others are doing it or you want to do something out of your own pure desire to do it. Once you figure out the motivation behind your actions, you can start more efficiently navigating your path toward success.

MORE: Atlanta’s Tracey Pendley named 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year

Amanda Izuchukwu

School system: Fulton County  

High school: Creekside High School 

Extracurriculars: Golf Captain, Academic Team, STEM Club 

College: New York University  

Intended major: Finance  

Advice for success: Find your passion. Find your why: the thing that motivates you to wake up every morning. And once you’ve found it, pursue it with relentless conviction and dedication. 

Advice for freshmen: Freshmen, you guys have probably heard this a million times before, but prioritize getting good grades. Do not slack off. Take your academic career seriously. Your future 12th-grade self will thank you for it. And another word of advice: Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers right now, if you don’t yet know what you want to be or study after high school. Take it from me, you will probably change your mind a thousand times before you finally decide who you want to be once high school is over with. 

MORE: After a lifetime of learning, Atlanta woman earns college degree at 93

JaMia Aivera Craft 

School system: DeKalb County School System  

High school: Southwest DeKalb High School  

Extracurricular activities: Band, Varsity Tennis player, National Honor Society, Beta Club, and National French Society. 

College: The University of Georgia  

Intended major: Psychology 

Advice for succeeding: “Being successful isn’t about being perfect; it’s about effort. When you bring that effort every single day, that’s where transformation comes. That’s how change occurs” — Jillian Michael 

Advice for freshmen: Freshman year is your foundation to a great four years. Start your high school journey off the right way because you are not guaranteed a second chance. The worst place to be in school or life is behind, so always put your best foot forward.

Ololade Abdulai  

School system: Clayton County Public Schools  

High school: Elite Scholars Academy 

College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology  

Intended major: Chemical Engineering  

Extracurriculars: Founder of Student Leaders Club at Clayton State University; National Honor Society; Science National Honor Society; Math Honor Society; Calculus and Chemistry Tutor at Clayton State University.  

Advice for succeeding: You are not required to be the best at anything to lead a successful life, so focus on getting involved in things that interest and excite you. Always strive to do your best and accomplish things not for any sense of others’ approval but for your own benefit and personal satisfaction.  

Advice for freshmen: It’s never too early to start picking out a dream school. Start planning now, and ensure you’re on track to meet the entry requirements of a couple of universities that you’d like to attend. Participate in activities and events that align with your interests, and remember to make some friends along the way. 

Kylee Rahm 

School system: Fulton County

High School: Alpharetta 

College: (Hopefully, she said) Brigham Young University 

Intended major: Molecular Biology  

Extracurriculars: 2017: FBLA state qualifier/ region winner (Intro to Business Communications); 2018: FBLA state qualifier/ region winner (Management and Decision making); 2018: Georgia Certificate of Merit; 2015: Selected to represent French 2H class at annual Fulton Forum language competition; 2015: National laureate for The National French Contest, ranking 10th in the state receiving silver medal and 12th in the nation; AHS women’s varsity lacrosse team. 

 Advice for succeeding: The best advice I’ve been given about succeeding is to always do the best you can and push through. You never want to look back with regret or thinking you “could have” done more, so give it all you’ve got. 

Advice for freshmen: I would tell freshman to focus on the present. Don’t be so hyper-focused on where you’ll be in 4 years that you’re super stressed out all the time and aren’t enjoying your life now. Do what you’re interested and do your best in all you do, so you can be comfortable knowing you’ve done your best. 

Zerian Hood 

School system: Fulton County

School: Banneker  

College: University Of Georgia 

Intended major: Sports Medicine Minor: Pre-Med  

Extracurriculars: Varsity football, varsity track & field, governor honors, FCA(Fellowship Of Christian Athletes), project destined(real estate development program), National Society of High School Scholars, and urban League of Greater Atlanta  

Advice for succeeding: Exceed all expectations. As a wise man once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” 

Advice for freshmen: Build your foundation because freshman year is the most critical time in your high school career. 

Caroline Reddick 

School system: Fulton County 

School: Cambridge  

College: Davidson College or Vanderbilt University 

Intended major: Neuroscience and Psychology 

 Extracurriculars: Past Candidate and Current Board Member on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS), Emory Winship Cancer Institute’s Summer Scholars Research Program, National Merit Finalist, piano for 10 years, customer service rep at Scottsdale Farms 

Advice for succeeding: “Your greatest fear should not be failure but succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter. ” — Francis Chan 

Advice for freshmen: Do your best and know that your best is enough. Find your balance with school and friendships.

Joyce Lowenstein had an unconventional, yet remarkable, path to receiving her bachelor’s degree Thursday from Georgia State University.
MORE: Shorter ceremonies, new rules for Atlanta's 2019 high school graduations Shorter ceremonies, new rules for Atlanta's 2019 high school graduations

Return for updates and for more top students featured. 

Billionaire Robert F. Smith, who received an honorary doctorate at Morehouse College’s Sunday morning graduation exercises, had already announced a $1.5 million gift to the school -- and then came the big surprise.

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