What it takes: Fulton valedictorians share secrets to success

Now that Fulton County high school seniors are graduating, the class of 2016 is ready for college. Some are headed to Yale, MIT and other prestigious institutions out of state. Others are staying closer to home, attending Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia. The graduates featured here have worked hard to achieve academic success. Their academic experience and advice offers a blueprint for younger students. (In some cases, responses were edited for length)

Josh Seides

High School: Alpharetta High School

Extracurriculars: founded nonprofit Technocademy helping 180,000 seniors/veterans learn technology; literary writer published in different literary magazines/journals;programmer using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Java, others; business psychology research with help of Georgia Tech HFA Lab; tennis for 8+ years (on school team for 2 years)

College: Harvard University

Intended Major: Computer Science and Economics

What advice would you give to a freshman?

The best insight I’ve gained over the years is to compete against yourself. Try to maximize your own potential and use your unique skills to the best of your abilities. If you can do that, there’s nothing to stress about because you should not be competing against other people. Only do what you are passionate about; if it feels like work when, then it’s probably not something you’ll have much motivation or success in.

Pascal Acree

High School: Riverwood International Charter School

Extracurricular activities: Varsity Tennis, President and Co-founder of Science Olympiad Team, Research

College: Johns Hopkins University

Intended major: Biomedical Engineering

What is the best advice you got about succeeding?

To succeed academically, do not worry about grades but rather focus on truly understanding the material and do not not be embarrassed to reach out for help when needed. If you really know what’s going on you will carry that knowledge with you the rest of your life and great grades will naturally follow.

What advice would you give to a freshman? Keep an open mind for new areas to explore.

Alli Wyman

High School: Chattahoochee High School

Extracurricular activities: Co-captain, Fencing Team; Greater Atlanta Girls’ (tour) Choir; Saint Brigid Catholic Church middle school Sunday school teacher; Beta Club; National Honor Society; Chattahoochee Chamber Choir; Intern (vet & neurosurgeon)

College: Georgia Tech

Intended major: Pre-med/Biology

What is the best advice you got about succeeding? Success is different for every person; compete against your best self.

What advice would you give to a freshman? Every year counts. If you work hard your freshman year, there will be less pressure your senior year.

Agni Kumar

High School: Milton High School

Extracurricular activities: Math Team (President), Mu Alpha Theta National Mathematics Honor Society (President), Georgia ARML, Science Fair, Science Olympiad, Chamber Orchestra (Concertmaster), National Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, Tri-M Music Honor Society, Academic Bowl, Robotics, Girls Interested in Science and Technology (GIST), swimming

College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Intended major: Mathematics and Computer Science/Engineering

How do you hope to give back to your community when you graduate?

Encouraging “A-HA!” moments, as there is no better sight to see that of the joy students experience when making art with numbers, beginning to enjoy a subject so difficult and mentally cog-turning – but also so essential – in nature. I have organized and hosted Mini-Mathletes tournaments and summer math meets for Milton/Alpharetta/Roswell elementary and middle school kids over the past several years, and would love to continue engaging in programs like this one that hold a special place in my heart.

What advice would you give to a freshman?

Do what you love. Funnel your time and energy into something you truly enjoy – those memories will be the ones you treasure most. Partake in events to share your joy with others…in my book, making a positive difference in the life of even a single person is a grand achievement. High school is your playground, so try and try again to reach for those monkey bars. Sm:)e, because you got this.

Rohan Rao

High School: Johns Creek High School

Extracurricular activities: Frisbee, Debate, Math

College: Princeton University

Intended major: Operations Research and Financial Engineering

What is the best advice you got about succeeding?

You gotta risk it to get the biscuit! Sometimes taking a chance, even if it turns out badly, will help to build one’s confidence and character.

What advice would you give to a freshman?

Don’t take things far too seriously. If you do what you like and are passionate about, everything will work out. There is enough time to stress out about things in the future, so don’t do it now. (That’s not to say that school isn’t important! Please don’t drop out because of me!!!)

Anna Romanov

High School: Roswell High School

Extracurricular activities: Roswell Student Council Executive Vice President; National Honor Society (Secretary)- Pennies for Patients Committee; raised over $25,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society this year and Roswell was the top fundraising school in Georgia; Violin- Roswell Chamber Orchestra, All State, All-National Orchestra, performed at Carnegie Hall in 2015; Dance- trained competitively with Roswell City Dance and Studio 23 for ten years

College: Georgia Tech (as a Stamps President’s Scholar)

Intended major: Biomedical Engineering and Business

What is the best advice you got about succeeding?

The best advice I’ve received is to strive for personal growth, rather than a title, rank, or status. By looking at the high school journey as a competition against myself and only myself, I have discovered my strengths and weaknesses, intellectual vitality, and values in life. Competition can be energizing, but I believe it should be directed on a more personal and constructive level.

What was the greatest challenge of high school?

The most difficult aspect of high school is separating personal goals from the overwhelming expectations of my peers. My whole life, I was a “Romanov twin;” having a competitive twin sister seemed to make the pair of us a source of comparison for the students in our school. While it was often demoralizing to have people always prying into my personal matters of grades, test scores, and college decisions, I chose to focus on my personal goals, thus making the journey not about some marked success, but simply about growing up. In my mind, I embrace my mistakes rather than conceal them, and this mindset has made all the difference.

Justin Htay

High School: Centennial High School

Extracurricular activities: Academic Bowl, Model UN, Math Team, National Honors Society, Chorus

Where are you going to college? Georgia Institute of Technology

Intended major: Electrical Engineering

What is the best advice you got about succeeding? Have respect for your teachers and parents, for both are very wise, know how to succeed, and will enable you to succeed yourself.

What advice would you give to a freshman? Get involved in programs at your school early. It’s both immensely rewarding and will help you in college admissions and beyond with the skills you will acquire in leadership.

Parth Kumar

High School: Cambridge High School

Extracurricular activities: Math Team, Georgia ARML Team, Independent Aerospace Research, Marching Band, French Honor Society, Science Honor Society, Social Studies Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, National Honor Society, Beta Club, Science Olympiad

College: Georgia Tech on a Gold Scholarship.

Intended major: Aerospace Engineering.

What is the best advice you got about succeeding? Try and develop an intrinsic desire to learn. Students oftentimes just focus on completing courses for credit, but if you develop a passion for learning, it makes it much easier to succeed as that is a better motivator than anything else. Furthermore, as you follow your passions, help people along the way and share your passion with them. For example, you can tutor your favorite subject.

What advice would you give to a freshman? Remember to find time to relax. High school is a huge change, and it is important to not get overwhelmed with work. Find some extra curricular activities to do such as music or a sport, and if you really enjoy a certain subject, join some clubs related to it to learn more about the subject outside of the classroom. It provides an additional perspective that can be useful in determining what path you want to eventually go on to in the future. At the same time, make sure not to relax too much - it is important to find a healthy balance.

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