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‘Big joy’: La Jolla schools’ valedictorians and salutatorians find excellence with the aid of friendship

Clockwise from top left: Brice Laurent, David Llewellyn Smith, Richard Chao, Eugenia Kritsuk, Jorie MacDonald, Tyler Simpson
The top 1 percent of GPA earners at La Jolla High School (clockwise from top left): Brice Laurent, David Llewellyn Smith, Richard Chao, Eugenia Kritsuk, Jorie MacDonald and Tyler Simpson.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

For the 10 graduates of La Jolla’s high schools recognized this year for their grade point averages, achieving top marks wasn’t about competition or drive. It was about passion, friendship and encouragement.

As the students prepare to head off to various other learning institutions this fall, they looked back on their achievements and shared advice for others aiming for the top.

The Bishop’s School

Jeffrey Wang earned the highest grade point average among this year's graduates at The Bishop's School in La Jolla.
Jeffrey Wang earned the highest grade point average among this year’s graduates at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Jeffrey Wang)

The Bishop’s School recognizes one student for the highest academic record each year with its Harvard Cup, and Jeffrey Wang took the 2021 prize with a 4.9 GPA.

“It feels pretty good,” Wang said. “It’s a nice vindication of all the academic work that you put in through high school.”

The Bishop’s School in La Jolla bid farewell to its graduating class of 2021 during a ceremony June 4 at the campus athletic complex.

Wang also was awarded Bishop’s Michael W. Teitelman Loyalty Cup, given to a senior who demonstrates loyalty, excellence and integrity in all aspects of student life. In presenting the award, Bishop’s Head of School Ron Kim said Wang’s “humble passion inspires us … focusing most of his energy building up his peers and his community rather than his own ego.”

Wang, who coincidentally will attend Harvard University to study computer science, history and economics, said he “just loved every single one” of his classes at Bishop’s, and he credited that passion for his success.

“One thing that is important to find success is to do what you love,” he said. “When you genuinely want something, you’re willing to put in 110 percent every single time.”

La Jolla Country Day School

Boston Moreland (center), La Jolla Country Day's 2021 valedictorian, with salutatorians Andrew Kuhn (left) and Walter Chen.
Boston Moreland (center), La Jolla Country Day School’s 2021 valedictorian, is flanked by salutatorians Andrew Kuhn (left) and Walter Chen.
(Cindy Liang)

La Jolla Country Day School awarded Boston Moreland its Trustees’ Award for achieving the highest cumulative GPA at 4.83, a distinction Moreland said was made possible by his friends. “It was a lot of inspiration between … my best friends,” he said.

Those best friends are Walter Chen and Andrew Kuhn, whose 4.74 GPAs earned them LJCDS’ Head of School Award for achieving the second-highest cumulative grade point average.

La Jolla Country Day School congratulated its graduating seniors during the 2021 commencement ceremony May 28 at Petco Park in downtown San Diego.

Chen said the award is “really a big honor. I have so many other peers that I look up to.”

He credited his success to “really supportive teachers. They were really instrumental in helping me.”

Kuhn said it is “very gratifying to have all that hard work recognized.”

He said he owes his success to his parents, “who always encouraged me to do well in school.”

“I also had a great group of friends who were also very motivated and focused and driven,” he said. “I think just being in that community really helped me, having someone to look up to.”

Kuhn, who will enroll in the honors program for computer science at the University of Washington, said “it’s important to surround yourself with people who also care about school and people who will support you whenever you need help.”

Moreland said aspiring valedictorians should “take classes you’re interested in … it’s honestly a lot easier to get a good grade in the class you’re interested in.”

Moreland, who is heading to Carleton College in Minnesota, plans to become a heart surgeon but also will study art history, among other pursuits.

Chen, who will go to UCLA to study economics, had this advice: “You don’t have to be perfect, because I certainly wasn’t.”

LJCDS Head of School Gary Krahn said “our awardees, as all our students, have shown us that they challenge boundaries, break out of them and redefine them. They are individuals committed to each other, to social change and to the well-being of our planet. They model what it means to inspire greatness for a better world.”

La Jolla High School

La Jolla High School honored six graduates — a salutatorian and a five-way tie for valedictorian — all of whom consider themselves close friends.

Richard Chao, Eugenia Kritsuk, Brice Laurent, Jorie MacDonald and Tyler Simpson, all with a 4.9 GPA, and David Llewellyn Smith, with a 4.89 GPA, are “super close,” MacDonald said, adding that they’ve been in the same classes since third or sixth grade.

“It’s such a great group,” she said. “All of us are very competitive, but there’s also this awesome sense of camaraderie.”

La Jolla High School gave its 2021 graduating class a big send-off during its commencement ceremony June 11 at Petco Park in downtown San Diego.

MacDonald, who is off to Dartmouth College to study computer science, said being named a valedictorian is something she “just stumbled into” while taking difficult classes with her friends.

“Having classes with really smart, driven people motivated me to take even harder ... classes,” she said.

Laurent, who will study molecular and cellular biology at Harvard, agreed, saying he was helped by “having friends around me who really pushed me in school.”

“Interacting with the teachers and trying to really understand where they’re coming from and having a good time in class” also can propel aspiring valedictorians, he added.

Kritsuk said she “definitely worked hard to achieve that GPA, but I don’t think it defines me as an individual.”

“Having a great support group that really allowed me to thrive and flourish while taking those difficult classes” helped her, added Kritsuk, who will study bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

Chao advised valedictorian hopefuls to practice “careful planning, making sure you balance your workload and your classes throughout high school.”

Chao is a future student in UC Berkeley’s dual-degree program for computer science and business.

For Simpson, finding out he was a valedictorian was “a big joy. I wasn’t even working for it; I was just challenging myself with hard courses and taking courses that I thought were interesting.”

Simpson, who is on his way to UCLA to study political science and economics, encouraged would-be valedictorians to stay “balanced, both academically and having a social life and extracurriculars.”

He said his passion for tennis, mock trial, volunteering at a food pantry and other activities helped him excel and enjoy himself.

Llewellyn Smith, who will study physics at UCLA, credited his success to taking “a lot of hard classes, a lot of studying and homework.”

He advised younger students to “take the classes that you want to take” and not place too much importance on valedictorian or salutatorian distinction.

“We are so proud of our class of 2021 top 1 percent students,” said LJHS Principal Chuck Podhorsky. “They deserve all the praise and recognition they have earned. Our entire La Jolla High community wishes each one of them all the best as they set out on their new chapter.” ◆