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‘Joy of learning’: La Jolla’s top high school grads share words of wisdom for aspiring scholars

Dagny Whall, Leon Wang and Andrew Park are La Jolla High School's top grade point average earners among graduates.
(Bryce Tim)

As La Jolla’s graduating high school seniors threw their caps in the air this month, the campuses recognized their top students, who threw a little advice their schoolmates’ way.

A common lesson — the grade point average doesn’t matter as much as doing what you love.

The Bishop’s School

Alexandra Midler was the top senior grade point average earner at La Jolla's The Bishop's School.
(Courtesy of Alexandra Midler)

The Bishop’s School’s Harvard Cup goes each year to the senior with the highest GPA. This year, it was Alexandra Midler, who finished first semester with a 5.01.

Midler said the award was “a cherry on top for high school. … Valedictorian was never my goal.”

“I worked hard because I enjoyed my classes,” she said. “I always want to learn something to the full extent to understand it as well as I can.”

Midler, who next will head to Stanford University to study biology and creative writing, said those hoping to emulate her valedictorian success should “take classes that you find interesting and just work hard for that joy of learning and creating.”

“High school is something to be savored,” she added. “You should enjoy the whole experience, not just think about an end goal.”

Joseph Aguilar earned The Bishop School’s Michael W. Teitelman Loyalty Cup.
Joseph Aguilar earned The Bishop School’s Michael W. Teitelman Loyalty Cup, given to a senior who demonstrates loyalty, excellence and integrity.
(Studio M / Courtesy of The Bishop’s School)

Joseph Aguilar earned Bishop’s Michael W. Teitelman Loyalty Cup, given to a senior who demonstrates loyalty, excellence and integrity in all aspects of student life.

The honor surprised Aguilar, who said, “I’m really grateful.”

Reflecting on his time at Bishop’s, Aguilar said: “I threw myself into everything that I did. Bishop’s offered me so many opportunities and things to try and get excited,” from doing improv shows to starting a barbershop quartet to volunteer programs.

“I just was so ready to take advantage of these ... and really see what I could do,” he said, along with “investing myself in my studies to get the most out of my classes.”

Aguilar advised those on a similar path to “do what makes you happy” and take advantage of what school has to offer.

Aguilar will now head to Yale University as a computing and the arts major.

La Jolla Country Day School

Khalil Desai earned La Jolla Country Day’s Trustees’ Award for achieving the highest cumulative GPA in the graduating class.
Khalil Desai earned La Jolla Country Day School’s Trustees’ Award for achieving the highest cumulative GPA in the graduating class.
(Courtesy of Khalil Desai)

Khalil Desai won La Jolla Country Day School’s Trustees’ Award for achieving the highest cumulative GPA of the graduating class with a 4.8.

Though Desai said GPA is an “outdated metric [and] not a great measure of academic potential or skill,” he added that “it was a lot of work and it did take a long time, so in the end, I’m proud of myself.”

Desai, who will attend Brown University in the fall to study biology, said those who put weight on GPA should “always take the hardest classes that will give you [a] grade bump” and apply themselves consistently.

“Most … people could do it,” he said.

Sohan Chunduru earned La Jolla Country Day’s Head of School Award for achieving the second-highest cumulative GPA.
(Courtesy of Sohan Chunduru )

Sohan Chunduru earned Country Day’s Head of School Award for achieving the second-highest cumulative GPA with a 4.77.

Chunduru, who will attend Stanford to study political science or public policy, said he wasn’t expecting to rank so high but “I worked pretty hard during school, so it’s good to know it paid off.”

“Interest in a variety of subjects helps in staying motivated to work hard in school,” he added.

He advocated for younger students to maintain a “good balance of school and life in general, because if you spend all your time studying then it’s going to end up being worse for your mental health.”

La Jolla High School

La Jolla High School valedictorian Dagny Whall said earning the top honor with a 4.92 GPA “is exciting to see all the work pay off.”

Whall said she and salutatorian Andrew Park and third-place Leon Wang pushed one another “to try our best and work with each other rather than against each other.”

The three often collaborated when studying, Whall said.

Becoming valedictorian seemed “unreachable” at the beginning of high school, Whall said. But “as it crept up, it became more of a possibility. I think it definitely helped motivate me at the end.”

Whall, who will enroll at Georgetown University in the fall to study computer science and economics, advised students entering high school to find subjects they enjoy and try to advance in them as much as possible.

“That way, you are not only good at what you do but you also enjoy the time you spend doing it,” she said.

Rob Tindall, her math teacher at Muirlands Middle School, had a positive impact on her, teaching her to cope with stress and “to deal with something when you don’t understand it and pushing forward,” she said.

“We applied that in math, and then I apply that in the rest of my life,” Whall said.

Four years after earning La Jolla High School’s top grade point average as valedictorian, Berkeley Miesfeld is continuing his La Jolla academic legacy at UC San Diego, where he graduated with honors June 12.

Park, who had a 4.9 GPA, said earning the rank of salutatorian was “a byproduct of the classes I wanted to take. It wasn’t really a goal that I was actively seeking.”

Rather, he said, his GPA reflects “how I wanted myself to be challenged.”

Park advised future top-GPA hopefuls to “devalue the GPA [and] focus more on the classes and the experiences that make you happy.”

“Only viewing GPA as the end goal is, I think, a very naive and dangerous construct that people can fall into because ultimately, a lot of times the GPA rankings don’t reflect upon the students that have worked the hardest,” he said. “It’s a thing that’s heavily leaning toward people that prefer and thrive in an academic setting.”

Park will head to Princeton University to study economics, applied math and politics.

Wang, La Jolla High’s third-place GPA earner with a 4.8, echoed Park’s thoughts that “GPA definitely isn’t the most important thing.”

“If you have to prioritize one thing or another, then you should do your own hobbies,” he said. “A lot of people think you have to do certain things to look good on your college application, like nonprofits or research, but there’s a lot of things like … side things you enjoy that can work, too.”

Wang now plans to study biology at Dartmouth College. ◆