Top graduates look to the future
School system’s top students discuss goals, experiences
Charles County Public Schools graduates are going places, as evidenced by the plans of the graduating valedictorians and salutatorians of its seven high schools.
CCPS held graduations for all seven high schools June 1-3. In total, the 1,965 seniors who graduated have been offered nearly $79 million in scholarship offers, according to CCPS — an increase of $13 million over last year.
Brett Culhane, 17, is Thomas Stone High School’s salutatorian. Culhane is the first-ever CCPS recipient of the Minds in Motion Scholar-Athlete Scholarship. The $1,000 scholarship, from the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association and The Allstate Foundation, is awarded to students who demonstrate excellence in academics and athletics.
Culhane, president of his school’s National Honor Society, completed eight Advanced Placement (AP) courses and was voted to several all-SMAC teams in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference for his accomplishments in swimming, football and soccer.
Asked how he juggled a full academic schedule and sports, Culhane said, “I’d use school time to do my homework, so during lunch I’d do my homework, and planning out my whole week ahead, so I’d have time to do homework, and time to socialize and time for sports.”
Culhane said he will be attending the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo., to major in chemical engineering, having received $20,000 in scholarships to attend the school.
Sarah Gough, 17, salutatorian at La Plata High School, said she plans to attend Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., to study economics and international relations.
“I took an AP Comparative Government class, and we learned the politics of different countries, and I found it fascinating to learn how our country interacts with others. That led me to have an interest in international law,” Gough said.
Gough, who took 11 AP classes, offered advice for balancing school work and personal time.
“You have to learn how to time manage and work on your stuff before it’s due, rather than putting it off, and then reward yourself with social activities once you finish your work,” Gough said.
Jack Browning, 17, valedictorian of Maurice J. McDonough High School, said he plans to attend Virginia Tech and major in systems biology before pursuing cell research.
“Eventually, I want to start a research institution to focus on brain cells and cure diseases like Alzheimer’s [disease] and genetic brain diseases,” Browning said.
Browning said taking biology in his sophomore year piqued his interest in genetics.
“To me, genetics is the ground base of medicine and the medical fields. There’s a lot you can do with it,” Browning said.
Henry E. Lackey High School valedictorian Francesca Rothell, 17, said she plans to attend Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania to study medicine, specializing in pediatrics.
Rothell, who has taken 11 AP courses, said she has balanced academics with theater, orchestra, choir, running cross country and competitive dance.
“It’s a big honor,” Rothell said about being named valedictorian. “It makes me feel that everything I’ve accomplished was worth it.”
Sherry Chen, 17, salutatorian of North Point High School, said she plans to attend Penn State to study biology and eventually go to medical school.
“I watched an openheart surgery once [at the Congress of Future Medical Leaders] and it really motivated me to go into the medical field, because I found it very interesting,” Chen said.
Thach-Vu Nguyen, 18, North Point’s valedictorian, said he plans to attend the University of Maryland College Park to study biochemistry.
Nguyen took part in math team, model United Nations, soccer, lacrosse and also volunteers as an EMT.
“Volunteering at the fire station is really flexible, and I hope to continue that in college,” Nguyen said.
Jekko Syquia, 19, salutatorian for St. Charles High School, said he plans to attend George Washington University and major in fine arts and computer science. Syquia has kept busy during high school with 11 AP courses.
“To me, it’s just not really hard, because I somehow managed it,” Syquia said.
Eden Lakner, 16, St. Charles valedictorian, said she plans on attending the University of Maryland College Park and major in the biological sciences, with a goal of going to medical school and becoming a pediatrician.
“My mom is a [physician assistant], so I’ve grown up around medicine, and science is something I’m very good at,” Lakner said.
Luke Roberts, 18, is salutatorian for Thomas Stone High School. Roberts said he plans to attend the University of Maryland College Park and majoring in accounting.
“I’ve always just loved math growing up, and I thought that would be a good career path,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he’s looking forward to college, but “I’m definitely going to miss high school, playing sports and stuff.”
Joseph Carter, 18, is valedictorian for Westlake High School. His twin brother Charles is co-salutatorian. Carter said he plans to study engineering at Brigham Young University after completing a two-year mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Asked how he balanced school with other activities, Carter said, “I tried to do everything in advance. I would do homework assignments before it was even assigned.”
Carter said he was most looking forward to living independently.
“I haven’t experienced this myself yet, but coming out of being dependent on your parents the whole time to a world where it’s all you ... and that’s going to happen when I go on my mission, because my parents aren’t going to be there. I’m sure it’s going to be startling at first, but I’ll get used to it,” Carter said.
Charles County Public Schools valedictorians and salutatorians gather in the lobby of the Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building May 31.
Charles County Public Schools salutatorians, in front from left, Sarah Gough (La Plata), Brett Culhane (Lackey), Sarah Chen (McDonough), Sherry Chen (North Point), Jekko Syquia (St. Charles), Luke Roberts (Stone), Charles Carter (Westlake) and Sequoia Mack (Westlake), and valedictorians, in back from left, Justin Cortez (La Plata), Francesca Rothell (Lackey), Jack Browning (McDonough), Thach-Vu Nguyen (North Point), Eden Lakner (St. Charles), Calenna Cauley (Stone) and Joseph Carter (Westlake).