With their commencement ceremonies finished, Forsyth County’s newest high school graduates are beginning the next chapter in life.
For five members of the class of 2013 in particular, that journey began on an academic peak, as they finished atop their respective high school classes.
They are the five valedictorians from each of the Forsyth County school system’s high schools. Each of them finished their prep careers with a grade-point average of at least 4.5.
South Forsyth valedictorian Sean Dai was out of the country and could not be reached for comment. The other four recently offered insight into their studies, advice for incoming high school freshmen and a glimpse into what their future holds.
Elizabeth C. Pickens
Just a few days before Forsyth Central’s graduation May 25, Elizabeth Pickens learned she would be valedictorian. She knew she had a shot, but it “was always a little bit of a surprise.”
As she prepares to head off to the University of Georgia, Pickens reflected on a pivotal moment when she decided to give up soccer after a concussion.
“That’s when I started doing mock trial and that’s when I fell in love with the law,” she said. “I want to go on to be a tax attorney or some form of a corporate lawyer.”
Pickens became captain of the mock trial team, as well as president of various groups, including student council, Beta Club, National Honors Society and her class.
Admittedly, she sacrificed some social activities, often saying ‘no’ to a night out to study. But it’s that focus which made her successful.
“I’ve always had a goal of being valedictorian since I knew what the word meant,” she said. “I’m very goal-oriented and when I set my mind to do something, I’m determined.”
Having a goal and “not letting some of the other things in life get in the way of that” is her advice.
“Know that what you do freshman, sophomore and junior years actually count toward the end goal,” she said.
Ariyaneh Nikbin’s future career remains a toss-up. As she enters Rice University in the fall, the Lambert valedictorian is undecided between economics or chemistry. There’s also the possibility of pre-med.
One thing about which Nikbin is certain — she’s going to love whatever she chooses.
Much like planning her high school course load, Nikbin tries “to prioritize what to do and also what I was more interested in when signing up for classes, what subjects fascinated me more.”
Nikbin said she spent her free time playing tennis and volunteering, though it’s definitely been a balancing act to manage clubs, academics, families and friends.
“I took it on a day-by-day basis what it was going to do,” she said. “It’s a lot of making sacrifices and I wish I had more time to do what I wanted.”
Finding her passion has made her a better student, she said. It’s also what she would tell others striving to be the best.
“Do what you think will make you happier, wiser and will make you a better person overall, because I think that’s the biggest point of high school. It’s not to get a rank, it’s to grow as an individual.”
Dru Horne knew in his sophomore year at North Forsyth that he’d end up using science.
Horne will attend the University of Georgia in the fall, to pursue either a biochemistry or molecular biology degree as he works toward medical school.
“I just found it fascinating and I wanted to go into medicine,” he said.
According to Horne, time management has always been his biggest challenge.
“Taking all AP classes to become valedictorian … as well as managing family life and your social life and clubs and extracurriculars with the school work — it requires a lot of balancing your time and managing your time,” he said. “And sometimes you procrastinate and you have to make it up all in one night.”
The extra work and requirements, as well as being on the math team, academic bowl, Y Club and National Honors Society have been part of Horne’s ambitious path. Still, there was a goal and passion.
“You have to know where you want to go,” he said. “The biggest thing, I would say, is you have to have passion for learning. You have to desire to learn everything you can and go above and beyond.
“When the day ends at school, you can’t just quit and hang up all your school stuff.”
She turned down Emory University for Georgia Tech, but staying in the metro Atlanta area was always part of the plan for Danice Wang.
“I noticed Georgia Tech was second in the nation in biomedical engineering,” said Wang, West Forsyth’s valedictorian. “It’s only about an hour away from my house, so that would make it convenient for me to have a good education while still being close to my family.”
Wang credited her parents’ hard work and sacrifices for inspiring her.
“My parents always told me to work hard and party later,” she said. “I want to work hard in high school and college so I could have a good life.”
Despite its proximity, Wang will live in the dorms to experience college life. But she’ll take along the drive and courage her parents brought when they left their lives of poverty in China.
Wang’s mom, she said, was “in the Tiananmen Square protest and she saw her classmates getting killed.”
“She moved here knowing little English, with only having $100, because she wanted her children to have a good education and a good life,” she said.
Education, Wang said, is the key to success. “Stay focused and remember that school and doing well in school is, essentially, the doorway to the future and being successful.”