7 Atlanta high school valedictorians share advice for making it to top

As part of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s continued spotlight on metro Atlanta valedictorians and salutatorians, we feature these valedictorians from Atlanta Public Schools.

Xavier Gaines

High school: Frederick Douglass High School

College: Georgia Tech

Intended major: Mechanical engineering

Extracurriculars: Marching band, Sonic Engineering Club

Advice for succeeding: Never give up. Stay at the top. Throughout my life I have been encouraged by several adult mentors to keep persevering towards my goals and to never give up. When I decided I wanted to become the valedictorian of my class during my freshman year my mantra was simple: stay at the top. Staying at the top required me to prioritize my activities and persevere until I finished.

Advice for freshmen: Stay focused on your goals, stay focused on your future, and don't get frustrated with your work. Ask for help if you need it and never give up.

George Gfroerer 

High school: North Atlanta High School

College: Vanderbilt University

Intended major: Neurobiology

Extracurriculars: President of the National Honor Society, vice president of Mu Alpha Theta, NAHS Math Honor Society, member of the 2018 and 2019 NAHS WSB-TV High Q championship team

Advice for succeeding: Set a tangible goal for yourself that you can achieve, and work your hardest to achieve that goal to get where you want to be. As Maya Angelou once said, "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." In other words, work hard at what you can change; don't get too caught up on what you can't control.

Advice for freshmen: It's never too late to change bad habits or to work toward something. Don't let your past dictate what you do in the future. You can always choose what to do in your future.

Kyndall Peterson 

High school: Benjamin E. Mays High School

College: Howard University

Intended major: Sociology

Extracurriculars: Marching band, wind symphony, student government (president), National Beta Club, National Honor Society, internship at High Museum of Art

Advice for succeeding: Success can't be defined by a number. Grades, rank, nor academics cannot define your success alone. When you're in high school, it's about more than being a good student; it's about being a good human overall. It's not just about the As or Bs but developing your character and becoming a better person holistically.

Advice for freshmen: Don't just be all academics. Explore what you like to do, explore yourself. Know that being the top ranked in a high school doesn't mean anything when you leave high school. You always have to look for improvement.

Eric Slovensky 

High school: Grady High School

College: Georgia Tech

Intended major: Biology

Extracurriculars: Student Congress captain

Advice for succeeding: Be organized because you don't just become valedictorian by just being the smartest, but by hard work and dedication to just getting the work done.

Advice for freshmen: Stay focused on your grades. It is easy to mess up and get off track. You will thank yourself in the end.

Darling Hernandez 

High school: Booker T. Washington High School

College: Georgia Tech

Intended major: Aerospace engineering

Extracurriculars: Robotics team, tennis, swimming

Advice for succeeding: My ninth grade English teacher, Monet Dixon, told me: "Don't let others influence what you want to do."

Advice for freshmen: Do your work and be happy you have teachers [at Washington] who help you out.

Ayanna Prather 

High school: Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy

College: Xavier University

Intended major: Psychology pre-med

Extracurriculars: Tennis

Advice for succeeding: The best advice I ever received was success does not exist without failure or adversity.

Advice for freshmen: It is easy to get caught up in the lives or ideas of others where you begin to compare yourself, but it takes courage to go down your own path. Success does not have a certain look, but success is already inside of you and you can achieve if you dare to take your own path.

Alahji Barry 

High school: D.M. Therrell High School

College: Stanford University

Intended major: Computer science (possible minor in international relations, economics, or Islamic studies)

Extracurriculars: Intern at Atlanta Life Insurance Company, Alonzo Herndon Entrepreneurship Program, National Honor Society, National Beta Club, International Club, Future Business Leaders of America, Academic Decathlon, mock trial, ESL tutor, varsity soccer

Advice for succeeding: Surround yourself with BOSSES, people that will only lift you up and not bring you down. Surround yourself with greatness and elevate yourself to belong to it. Your environment determines whether you strive for success or scorn for mediocrity.

Advice for freshmen: Freshman year sets the tone for the rest of your high school years. It's really crucial to start strong and finish stronger. Despite any hardships that may confront you during high school, always remember that YOU are destined for GREATNESS!