Metro Atlanta valedictorians share pandemic memories, words of wisdom

Though the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted students' lives, the class of 2022 is ready to embrace its future.

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Though the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted students' lives, the class of 2022 is ready to embrace its future.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended life as they knew it for the class of 2022. High school classes went virtual. Sports programs, school dances, debate clubs and other activities were postponed or canceled.

But as their senior year got underway, this year’s graduating class regained some semblance of normality.

The metro Atlanta valedictorians featured here worked hard to achieve academic success during challenging times. They share their plans for the future. They also share their wisdom and advice, as well as stories about going to school during the pandemic. (In some cases, responses were edited for length.)

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Myah Crowell, Charles R. Drew Charter School Senior Academy valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

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Myah Crowell, Charles R. Drew Charter School Senior Academy valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Myah Crowell, Charles R. Drew Charter School Senior Academy valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Myah Crowell

School system: Atlanta Public Schools

High school: Charles R. Drew Charter School Senior Academy

College: Brandeis University (Posse Scholar)

Intended major: Biological Sciences/Biomedical Engineering; a dual degree program with a master’s in engineering from Columbia University

Advice for succeeding: From an early age, my parents instilled in me the value of education. My daily mantra is “practice, practice, practice” — the 3P’s to mastery — and “if you are early, you are on time, and if you are on time, you are late.” I thank my dad for the first one, while the other is credited to Dr. B.E. Mays. These words became the foundation for my drive and ambition.

One moment or story you will tell your grandchildren about your high school experience during the pandemic: We made it work. During the pandemic in 2020, I organized surprise “Sweet 16″ birthday drive-bys for my friend group. They were supposed to be a drive-by, but once we saw each other, we jumped out of the cars but practiced social distancing. (My friend) Alek’s birthday is Christmas Day, and she has never had friends over to celebrate her birthday … months later, I organized a drive-by for her on her date of birth. The surprise was priceless!

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Angel Walker, valedictorian at Booker T. Washington High School. (Courtesy photo)

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Angel Walker, valedictorian at Booker T. Washington High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Angel Walker, valedictorian at Booker T. Washington High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Angel Walker

School system: Atlanta Public Schools

High school: Booker T. Washington High School

College: Undecided

Intended major: Biomedical Sciences/Biological Sciences

Advice for succeeding: The best advice I have about succeeding is that you must have your definition of success and grow upon it. Do not let anyone decide what is successful to you and what is not. In addition, always have a goal or reach milestones to achieve the success that you have been longing for.

Advice for ninth graders: Be attentive in class, stay true to yourself, and always be a leader. I remember my first year of middle school, we had to take a placement reading test, and I remember I had passed with the highest score. However, I had the feeling that being a high course academic student was the reason I did not get a lot of friends, so I felt like an outcast for four months. Until I had met my first friend that had the same “nerdy” interest as me. I knew at that moment that I could be myself, and I would not have to change for anyone. So, in my freshman year, because I had a unique circle that I had built in middle school that mirrored the same interests, I was focused on my academics and curriculums.

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Osaherhunmwen Olaye, Mundy’s Mill High School valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

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Osaherhunmwen Olaye, Mundy’s Mill High School valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Osaherhunmwen Olaye, Mundy’s Mill High School valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

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Credit: Courtesy photo

Osaherhunmwen Olaye

School system: Clayton County Public Schools

High school: Mundy’s Mill High School

College: Vanderbilt University

Intended major: Public Policy with a double minor in data science and Spanish

Advice for ninth graders: Put yourself out there! High school at first glance can be scary and overwhelming. It can often feel entirely too big; however, you can make it as big or as small as you want it to be by meeting new people, exploring your interests, and creating meaningful relationships.

One moment or story you will tell your grandchildren about your high school experience during the pandemic: It almost felt as though all the days were blending together and I was just going through the motions, so I think my most resonant experience from schooling during the pandemic was the monotony of it all and how happy I was it was over!

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Alexandra Sreng, Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

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Alexandra Sreng, Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Alexandra Sreng, Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Alexandra Sreng

School system: Clayton County Public Schools

High school: Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts

College: University of Georgia

Intended major: Biology/Pre-Med

Advice for succeeding: Learning to time-manage is one of the hardest things to do, but it is the best skill you could have.

One moment or story you will tell your grandchildren about your high school experience during the pandemic: To keep up with our social lives, my friends and I would have a virtual movie night every Friday. One time, we watched “Train to Busan,” and we all broke into tears towards the end of an emotional scene. It was the first time we had shared an emotional moment together.

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Ra Ju, valedictorian at Towers High School. (Courtesy photo)

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Ra Ju, valedictorian at Towers High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Ra Ju, valedictorian at Towers High School. (Courtesy photo)

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Credit: Courtesy photo

Ra Ju

School system: DeKalb County Schools

High school: Towers High School

College: Georgia Tech

Intended major: Aerospace Engineering

Advice for succeeding: If you’re not sure what to do, take the smallest next step.

Advice for ninth graders: Make sure to start your freshman year off strong or things will become difficult during your upperclassmen years.

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Sophia Shepherd, valedictorian at Druid Hills High School. (Courtesy photo)

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Sophia Shepherd, valedictorian at Druid Hills High School. (Courtesy photo)

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Sophia Shepherd, valedictorian at Druid Hills High School. (Courtesy photo)

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Credit: Courtesy photo

Sophia Shepherd

School system: DeKalb County Schools

High school: Druid Hills High School

College: Princeton University

Intended major: Economics

Advice for succeeding: It’s important to focus on things you care about because it’s much easier to succeed when you enjoy what you’re doing. Your goal should be to blur the line between work and play, so your successes are both fulfilling and fun.

One moment or story you will tell your grandchildren about your high school experience during the pandemic: Every Friday in chemistry class, we had virtual dance parties via Zoom. We would position our cameras so our classmates could see us from head-to-toe, and then we’d perform our best choreography. Our teacher, Ms. Brown, would dance with us and call us out when she liked a move we did.

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Ananda Broadnax, Banneker High School valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

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Ananda Broadnax, Banneker High School valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Ananda Broadnax, Banneker High School valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Ananda Broadnax

School system: Fulton County Schools

High school: Banneker High School

College: Stanford University

Intended major: Biology

Advice for succeeding: What matters the most are actions. You have to show people what you’re trying to achieve. What you say doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you actually do. If you see something you want to change, then take the initiative and make it happen.

Advice for ninth graders: Don’t be afraid to get involved in extracurriculars early on. If you know it’s something you will enjoy for the upcoming years of high school, then go for it!

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Kristen Obijeski, valedictorian at Centennial High School. (Courtesy photo)

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Kristen Obijeski, valedictorian at Centennial High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Kristen Obijeski, valedictorian at Centennial High School. (Courtesy photo)

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Credit: Courtesy photo

Kristen Obijeski

School system: Fulton County Schools

High school: Centennial High School

College: University of Georgia - Morehead Honors

Intended major: Undecided

Advice for succeeding: Success comes from not only hard work but perseverance. See failure as a way to improve and correct mistakes; challenges will ultimately make you stronger.

Advice for ninth graders: Not everything has to be perfect! One bad grade isn’t the end of the world. Remember to have fun outside of school and balance rigorous classes with some that interest you.

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Madison Berenguer, valedictorian at Norcross High School.(Courtesy photo)

Credit: Gwinnett County Schools

Madison Berenguer, valedictorian at Norcross High School.(Courtesy photo)

Credit: Gwinnett County Schools

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Madison Berenguer, valedictorian at Norcross High School.(Courtesy photo)

Credit: Gwinnett County Schools

Credit: Gwinnett County Schools

Madison Berenguer

School system: Gwinnett County Public Schools

High school: Norcross High School

College: Georgia Tech

Major: Psychology

Advice for succeeding: Teachers are there to help and they want you to do well. Ask them questions if you have any and get to know them personally.

One moment or story you will tell your grandchildren about your high school experience during the pandemic: I would tell my grandchildren about the time my section in the marching band was allowed to choreograph our own moves in the “Bach and Roll” show. Since I was a digital student all of junior year, being able to still participate in extracurricular activities was important to me. There weren’t many opportunities to interact with people in real life during digital learning so I really appreciated the band. The mellophones and I had fun organizing a silly dance for the show.

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Leynie Hester, valedictorian at Dacula High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Gwinnett County Schools

Leynie Hester, valedictorian at Dacula High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Gwinnett County Schools

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Leynie Hester, valedictorian at Dacula High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Gwinnett County Schools

Credit: Gwinnett County Schools

Leynie Hester

School system: Gwinnett County Public Schools

High school: Dacula High School

College: University of Georgia

Intended major: Fashion Merchandising and Design with an emphasis on Entrepreneurship and Sustainability

Advice for succeeding: The best advice I’ve been given about success is just to give it your best and make yourself proud. My mom would tell me every single time I went out on the stage to compete to “do your best and forget the rest.” That’s all it is. Giving it everything you have and not worrying about the negatives.

One moment or story you will tell your grandchildren about your high school experience during the pandemic: One day, my friend and our moms went to the park and explored the back trails. We found this swinging vine over a small creek, so we started leaping between the sides of the creek. Both of our moms fell into the creek after unsuccessful attempts to cross on the vine. We also found a huge log that laid over the creek. After my successful vine jumps, I felt confident in my adventuring skills. As I crossed the log, my foot slipped and I barely caught myself on the bottom side. We laughed nonstop.

Editor’s Notes: Valedictorians from Cobb County were not announced in time to meet deadline for this article. Please go to the AJC education page for more graduation features.