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Top academic honors awarded to three in Class of 2013

By Claudia Waldman and Danica Liang

Out of all four years of high school, Brian Wong has enjoyed his senior year the most. “Each year is better than the last, so I guess this year would be the best,” said Wong, this year’s valedictorian.

One of Wong’s favorite high school memories included working on a physics project with his friends. “My friends and I used our final project in physics as an excuse to become medieval archers on the beach,” Wong said.

It comes as no surprise that Wong is heading to Harvard to study math– outside of school, he enjoys doing math and is also the president of the school math club.

“I like how in math, you don’t have to learn a bunch of boring background stuff to get to the cool ideas. You don’t have to buy a telescope or new software of a bunch of test tubes; you can just start thinking in your head and get to some very exciting places,” Wong said.

Kevin Rankine, a fellow senior who is also headed for Harvard, described Wong.  “[Brian is] energetic, ambitious, driven – he likes to have fun,” Rankine said.

“I like the fact that he can be both serious and funny at the same time,” Rankine added.

Wong also likes to go on adventures in his free time. “I chase bunnies on Mount Trashmore,” he said jokingly.

Wong cites chemistry and computer science teacher Yong Joo as his biggest influence. “Computer science with Mr. Joo [was my favorite class]. I feel like Mr. Joo gives us a lot of free rein to do our own projects.”

Wong looks up to Joo not only as an educator, but also as a person.

“He is a role model for me as a super smart person, but also as a very moralistic person,” said Wong.

It appears the respect is mutual.  “He has a great conscience – he doesn’t care about material and work. That’s the nice kind of student to have,” Joo said about Wong.

For Wong’s computer science final project, he did “grad-level work,” according to Joo.

“He’s sitting there deep in thought and I can see the smoke coming out of his head,” said Joo with a smile. “He let [the program] learn strategy itself,” said Joo.

Wong sees his title of valedictorian as a stroke of luck. “It means that I was lucky – lucky enough to get good grades even when I didn’t deserve them,” he said.

Wong’s advice to underclassmen and juniors is to “do what you want to do, not what you think you should do – as long as what you’re doing is hard.”

When asked what he likes about Alameda High, his response makes it clear that he holds the people here – both teachers and students alike – in high regard:

“Mr. Joo. But in all seriousness, I’ve met so many amazing people here – it’s ridiculous.”

After college, Wong sees himself “having boatloads of fun and making the world a tiny bit better.”

Sitting next to Wong at graduation will be co-salutatorians Alexa Le and Jeremy Wan, each with a cumulative high school GPA of 4.5.  Le and Wan described their high school academic experience as fairly stress-free, despite their AP-heavy schedules. Wan said nearly all his classes were “enriching” and Le added, “Some things are more challenging than others, but I haven’t had any big obstacles—except for AP Physics!”

Le and Wan’s high school years, however, were far from merely limited to the classroom walls. Wan, who is also the president of Impact Club, has played for the school tennis team throughout high school and is currently its co-captain. The team made it to the second round of North Coast Section this year and won its division in the California Boys Tennis Classic in Fresno this past March, a tournament which Wan counts among his favorite memories from the past four years.

“He really has grown through the years, really showed leadership this year,” said Eve Courtland, assistant coach of the AHS men’s tennis team. “He embraces freshman teammates and [has shown] a lot of maturity this year. If you need something done, he’ll get it done.”

“Being in the senior talent show with my friends,” was another standout experience for Wan, who enjoys practicing his dance moves and beatboxing skills in his spare time.

“It was really fun working with Jeremy. He’s really energetic. I think he was one of the most spirited people in our group; he was very enthusiastic about participating and doing practices,” said senior Aaron Zhou, who also participated with Wan in the talent show. “I feel like he has a way of making anything fun. He’s a very funny guy.”

Le, for her part, has been an active drama student since freshman year—her favorite performance was fall 2011’s “Almost Maine”—and also serves as the Disney Club vice president. Outside of school, Le is an avid sports fan, who can frequently be found “watching football and basketball on TV.”

“Alexa is super crazy,” said Le’s close friend and fellow senior Brittany Nguyen. “Sometimes I call her my Tweedle, because last year we were both in [drama production] ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ She’s way smarter than me, and she doesn’t care what people think about her.”

Le’s drama teacher, Fred Chacon, characterized her as “a really good student all four years, very conscientious,” and noted that she had undertaken considerable responsibility as assistant director of the school musical for the past two years, organizing Facebook groups and keeping track of ticket sales.

Le and Wan each plan to study engineering during college—Le at Harvey Mudd College, in southern California, because “it’s really small and has a good engineering program,” and Wan at UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering, which he chose not only for the program strengths but also because Berkeley “has good acapella groups, and my youth group has a church centered there, so I’ll have a college fellowship.”

The co-salutatorians cited several teachers who have been especially meaningful to them during high school.

Wan’s favorites included his junior AP Calculus teacher Michael Lamb, his senior AP English teacher Cynthia Roenisch, and his senior AP Biology teacher Michael Carlson. “Mr. Carlson makes learning fun, Ms. Roenisch knows how to challenge her students, and Mr. Lamb really cares about his students,” Wan said. “[Calculus teacher] Mr. Chan is great too, because he beat me at Super Smash Bros., which is pretty uncommon,” he added with a smile.

“He’s obviously intelligent,” said Roenisch of Wan. “He’s engaged in class discussion, always prepared and insightful, and respectfully listens to his peers and encourages their participation.”

Le described her sophomore honors chemistry and senior AP Computer Science teacher Yong Joo as “awesome possum; he cares and that’s the biggest thing.”

“[Alexa] is really warm and spontaneous,” Joo said. “She’s probably the person who was most unchallenged by my chemistry class ever; she just cruised along, which is why I recommended that she take the AP test. It’s also been a lot of fun watching her get more comfortable in theater.”

Both Le and Wan saw their naming as co-salutatorians as an honor after their years of scholastic diligence.

“I’m proud of myself; it wasn’t something I was striving to achieve, but it’s nice to see that hard work pays off in some way,” Le said.

Wan said, “It’s a reflection of the hard work I put into high school, how my teachers have helped me through high school, and the contributions of my family and friends that have helped along the way.”

When asked to provide tips for younger students who aspire to become valedictorian or salutatorian during their senior year, Le and Wan mixed humor and sincerity in their responses.

“Take a lot of AP classes. Don’t be afraid; you can do it,” said Le. “You’ll just bond with people; you’re all struggling together!”

“Always strive for excellence, and actually do your homework,” Wan advised. “And don’t fall asleep in too many classes!”