Baltimore Valedictorians Have What it Takes to be Head of the Class

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At Baltimore Polytechnic Institute’s graduation ceremony on June 4, no singular student took the podium to deliver the valedictory address — the speech was a team effort.

Anisa Hofert, Yoav Kargon, Aishwarya Shettigar and Amy Zhang all tied for the highest GPA, earning them the title of valedictorians. All four participated in the Ingenuity Project, in which students take a curriculum weighted more heavily with math and science classes. Although they all took part in the program, their interests diverged, as seen in the research they conducted — a requirement of the Ingenuity Project.

Take Shettigar, who spent much of her time outside of class working in Poly’s aquaponics lab. Gesturing toward the large, humming tanks of water around her, she described how they raised tilapia, lettuce, watercress and a variety of herbs.

Shettigar, who is of Indian descent, explained her scientific interest in the traditional remedies her family uses.

Aishwarya Shettigar

“They’re all plant-based, so I wanted to test if that’s actually really medicinal, and then you can extract those compounds and somehow make it a drug,” she said. “So I wanted to do that type of thing in college.”

She plans to study biology this fall when she begins her freshman year at University of Maryland College Park.

Kargon also participated in Poly’s aquaponics lab outside of class, an experience he said partially inspired him to apply to study environmental engineering. He will be attending Duke University in the fall.

He carried out his research in a cell biology lab at Hopkins with researchers who were developing a fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) biosensor. But despite his heavy involvement in STEM activities, he said one of his favorite classes at Poly was English during his junior year with teacher Mr. Eugene.

“Before the class, when I read a book, I didn’t really look deep … but he taught us just basic symbolism and stuff that I wouldn’t even think … about in the first place,” Kargon said.

For Hofert, the Ingenuity Program research was among her favorite experiences in high school. “We got to go and do something independently, and I felt kind of like an adult,” she said. For her project, she studied melanoma at the University of Maryland, learning how cells develop resistance to various drugs.

Anisa Hofert

Hofert described the High School Innovation Challenge organized by the company Northrop Grumman for local high schools as being a memorable part of her time at Poly.

“We made kind of a crazy design that we didn’t think would work, and it was a little bit insane,” she said of her team’s strategy. They ended up taking third place in the competition.

Hofert plans to major in biophysics at Emory University in the fall.

Kargon, Shettigar, and Zhang delivered the valedictorian speech at Poly’s graduation (Hofert was unable to attend the ceremony). They divided the speech by each expounding on two of Poly’s six emblematic words: freedom, responsibility, perseverance, achievement, goodness and mercy.

“I specifically talked about goodness and mercy and how the Poly community embodied these traits by always being there to help each other,” Zhang wrote in an email. Her favorite moments from Poly were those in which students came together and most demonstrated school spirit, such as the pep rallies and Spirit Fair. She will attend Yale University in the fall, where she will study engineering.

Amy Zhang

Kargon spoke to perseverance and achievement, and the need to rely on others.

“Perseverance didn’t have to be a solitary struggle,” Kargon said. “We learned at Poly how to work with friends, too, to kind of use each other’s strengths and differences to come together.”

Shettigar talked about freedom and responsibility in her portion.

“We’ve achieved a lot, and we’ve learned a lot, and I think that’s kind of the key to freedom,” Shettigar said. “I don’t think that freedom is a right; I think freedom was earned. We all got freedom because we acquired some education — at least we’re on that way. So now we have a lot of power … We’re kind of at the top, and now we have a lot to do.”

When Gilman School valedictorian Clayton Hebert prepared to write his speech for graduation on June 11, he decided to do what he knew best: math.

In his address, Hebert — who described himself as “a math and science guy” — cataloged a series of numbers representing his classmates’ accomplishments until all the figures added up to a timely sum of 2,017.

“Something that our president Matt Tomaselli’s preached this year — it’s kind of cheesy — but he says ‘all in,’” he said. “And I think that’s something that really defines our class, that everything we do, we truly are all in and that’s led to some of us doing some pretty spectacular things.”

Among the figures Hebert included in his speech: the number of athletic events covered by Greyhound TV, a project initiated and run by senior Julian Baron, and the number of lines memorized by senior John Ball in this year’s musical Curtains.

Clayton Hebert

Hebert feels Gilman prepared him for his transition to Yale University in the fall, where he plans to study computer science and economics.

“They enable you to dictate how hard you work and you really get out what you put in, and I’ve been able to be challenged each day,” he said. “Gilman’s truly pushed me to the best I can be in every aspect of life.”

Grace Sullivan, the recipient of this year’s Notre Dame Preparatory School General Excellence Medal, given to the student with the highest GPA, also felt her experience as a student gave her important skills upon graduation. She praised the institution’s strong service curriculum that pushed her to work with Camp Umoja, which brings children from Baltimore City to Towson for summer camp activities.

“NDP does such a good job of instilling the values in us, like the idea that it’s a Catholic school but all the religious stuff doesn’t mean anything unless you’re applying it to real human interactions,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan hopes to work in politics one day, a passion that began while at NDP and that will carry over into her studies at Harvard University this fall. During high school, she participated in mock trial and Youth in Government, which she described as “a mock legislative session” that occurs annually in Annapolis. This past year, she led that conference as youth governor, and had the opportunity to give an opening and closing address.

Grace Sullivan

“The theme of my speech was the idea of building a new generation of young people who are unwilling to sit on the sidelines and watch politics take place, and who are willing to work together and reach across party boundaries,” Sullivan said.

Kiley Williams, the valedictorian of Western High School’s graduating class, involved herself in many activities as a student: varsity tennis, slam poetry, book club, and National Honors Society. In her senior year technology class, she learned to code, a skill that should prove useful in her studies at Morgan State University as an information science and systems major.

Reflecting upon her high school experience, Williams remembered the people who most often surrounded her.

“I think of how I’ve watched my friends grow, and my relationship with them grow,” she said. “I think of just times when they’re going through things, and I see how strong they are.”

Kiley Williams

Williams said that a unique aspect of attending Western is that a student does not call her friends “friends”; they’re her sisters. She felt Western’s all-girls environment was integral to her learning experience.

“It’s mainly the level of comfort that you have in the classroom, sharing stories, sharing things about yourself, being comfortable leading,” she said. “A girl is always the leader in the class.”

Williams’ graduation speech theme was giving thanks to all the support systems around her and others — parents, teachers and beyond. At the end, she touched on a central phrase at Western: “quiet dignity.”

“I was talking about taking our quiet dignity and, quote, ‘making some noise,’” she said. “Not being silent in times of trouble, speaking up and using everything that Western has given us to make a mark on the world.”

Lauren Eller

Lauren Eller is a graduate of Friends School and a student at Kenyon College. She is the Baltimore Fishbowl Summer 2017 intern.


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