Two journeys of academic excellence
Luo reflected on his decision to challenge himself with a rigorous schedule of classes during his sophomore year.
“In tenth grade, normally you’d take six classes, but I took an extra AP class outside of school, so that added on to my workload. And because I was taking a language class outside of school, I was able to take both AP European History and AP Art History,” he said. “I continued that trend of only taking AP, Honors and college classes from tenth grade onward.”
Luo explained that his academic success has required significant effort and deliberate focus, noting that developing good study habits and having the discipline to not procrastinate on assignments has probably been the greatest contributing factor to him earning the title of valedictorian.
When asked whether receiving this honor was ever a goal or motivating factor for him, he noted that while it was a happy byproduct of his hard work, it was not his focus.
“I took these classes for the sake of getting into a good college. And next year I’ll be going to Berkeley, so I can say that it has paid off in the end,” he said.
While maintaining a 4.60 weighted GPA (grades nine through 12), Luo has been playing in the San Diego Youth Symphony since seventh grade, is an officer in the academic league team, is involved in the quizbowl team, debate club, peer tutoring club and model U.N. He has also held three internships, worked as a teaching assistant, served as a science olympiad coach and ran junior varsity cross country for one year.
Luo said that his motivation to excel was driven by a combination of his parents, himself and his friends, in increasing order. While his parents did encourage academic excellence, he explained that his internally-driven desire to excel sometimes caused them to express concern that he may be taking on too much. He also credits his peer group with having had a significant influence on his achievements.
“I think the biggest factor is the people I’ve surrounded myself with,” he said. “I think the people that I’m friends with at [SRHS] are all highly talented, highly self-driven, and I think that just being around those people helped push me toward becoming a better person and studying harder.”
Lee shared Luo’s sentiment regarding peer influence.
“As I progressed in high school, I learned to prioritize surrounding myself with as many talented people as I can,” Lee said. “Not just at [SRHS], but getting to know people in the local community; that has really been valuable for me over the past four years, and looking up to those people is where a lot of my motivation came from, personally.”
On having his academic achievements earn him the title of salutatorian, Lee explained that he has always enjoyed school, which is what has enabled him to challenge himself as much as he has.
“I had a very rigorous schedule over the last couple of years,” he said. “This year, because I had already taken all of the available math classes at [SRHS] by the end of my junior year, I went to Mesa College to take their differential equations class. I always just signed up for classes with the intent of learning as much as I could. For me, it’s really always been about the learning and the enjoyment that I get out of being in school.”
Lee expressed gratitude that his parents were always supportive of anything he wanted to do, but never overbearing or applying pressure.
“Pretty much all of that was self-driven,” he said. “I give a lot of thanks to them for that because I think it allowed me to figure what sort of subjects and activities I was interested in by myself.”
Along with having achieved a 4.60 weighted GPA (grades nine through 12), Lee is president of the model U.N., is involved in academic league, science olympiad and math clubs. He is a research intern at the Scripps Research Institute, has run cross country, is part of the upper secretariat for the San Diego regional junior model U.N. conference, and helps organize an annual academic league-style event for middle schoolers.
Next year, Lee plans to attend Yale University, and while he is undecided on a major, he expects he will pursue coursework related to public policy, with a technical focus.
Both Luo and Lee have plans to travel overseas this summer to visit grandparents, then will return to San Diego for some well-deserved down time before heading off to college.