What do an aspiring biologist, computer scientist, gender/sexuality theorist and engineer have in common?
They all had the highest grade point average in their graduating class.
For four recent graduates of Baltimore-area high schools, achieving the distinction was no simple feat, but all felt driven to push themselves toward it.
Lauren Sands, a member of Notre Dame Preparatory School’s class of 2016, was the recipient of the General Excellence Medal for having the highest grade point average in her class (NDP does not designate a valedictorian). She attended NDP for seven years and will be attending Wake Forest University in the fall, where she hopes to study biology and possibly a pre-medicine track — a pursuit inspired by her biology class at NDP. The class, taught by Mr. Perry, hooked Sands’s interest with the laboratory lessons.
As for how she achieved the highest GPA in her class, she said, “It was more just like I’m my own biggest critic, and so I personally just wanted to be the best that I could and I just kind of stumbled upon it.”
Her involvement with the crew team — which she was captain of her senior year — taught her valuable time management lessons since she wouldn’t arrive home until late each night after practice at the Harbor, she added.
Nick Imparato, the valedictorian of his class at Baltimore City College, also felt that his extracurricular activity helped him to excel academically. As a member of the speech and debate society at City (and as president his senior year), he developed strong research skills that he then harnessed when completing his classwork.
“But it also just made me think critically about a lot of problems,” he said. “And so when I was writing essays for my classes, I was always able to apply that lens to whatever we were doing.”
Imparato, who with his debate partner Jonas De La Huerta became Urban Debate National Champions last year, did extensive research and argumentation on gender and sexuality theory, an area he hopes to pursue more when he embarks next fall for Pomona College, named by Forbes as the best college in the country.
In his valedictory address, Imparato discussed the symbolism of City’s tower for students as they graduated and moved on from high school both figuratively and in the embossment of the tower on their school ring.
“You can see the tower from a lot of places in Baltimore, which is a cool thing about it,” he said. “So you can be away from City, but you’ll still see it over the buildings. Being able to see the tower even when you’re far away from it or even when your school seems far away from you … [is] something that reminds you of it.”
Luigi Mangione, who was valedictorian of Gilman’s graduating class this year, based the speech he delivered at graduation around a similar theme: maintaining tradition while also pioneering innovations.
Mangione felt that the environment at Gilman fostered his ability to excel academically. “The teachers at Gilman influenced me especially,” he wrote in an email, adding that they encouraged less of a desire to achieve high grades in his classes and instead encouraged “more of an excitement to explore academic topics outside of the classroom.”
Like Sands, his favorite class in high school was biology (though his favorite changed from year to year), and he plans to pursue a dual degree in artificial intelligence at University of Pennsylvania. The track includes a degree in computer science and cognitive science, and though Mangione thinks his path may change, he is sure he will be studying engineering in some capacity.
Will Povell, the valedictorian from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute’s class of 2016, also plans to take a track involving computer science when he leaves for Brown University next semester. He hopes to study both computer science and math, subjects that piqued his interest at Poly. He said that he was a self-taught computer programmer for some years, beginning around the seventh grade, and his teacher Dr. Goldenberg propelled his love of math.
He was a part of the Ingenuity Project at Poly, which had a more hefty math and science curriculum. It allowed him to undertake a research project on computational linguistics his junior and senior years, during which he worked with two members of the computer science department at Johns Hopkins University.
Povell said that becoming valedictorian “definitely was a goal,” but that “it definitely wasn’t something I struggled for intensely. It was like if it happens, it happens.”
Povell’s speech at graduation centered on remembering — and even cherishing — the vibrant orange polos worn as part of Poly’s uniform.
“I guess my unofficial title was ‘Ode to the Orange Polo’,” he said of the speech.
He explained that the shirt is most often worn by freshmen because it’s exciting and new. Even though the excitement fades, he suggested in his speech that the graduates should approach their coming year with the same sort of enthusiasm they had when first donning the shirt.
“Don’t forget your orange polo,” Povell said. “It’s like been a part of your experience, and you’ll be kind of wearing an orange polo next year, even if it may not be actually orange or even have Poly’s name embroidered on it.”