Austin Ward, graduating with a 4.38 Grade Point Average, is a co-valedictorian. Having spent his high school career participating in numerous clubs and taking difficult classes, Ward has already achieved many scholarships and awards.
He is a National Merit Scholar, a California Scholarship Federation (CSF) Seymour Award winner, a candidate for the United States Presidential Scholars Program, the Editor-in-chief of The Feather, the Secretary/Historian of CSF and a co-founder and co-president of the Planeteers Club, and now Austin Ward is a co-valedictorian for the class of 2011.
Although tradition names one student as valedictorian for each graduating class, Ward shares the title with Richard Lopez for the class of 2011, since they both achieved a cumulative Grade Point Averages (GPA) over 4.3.
Before he graduates and leaves the school, Ward shares insights into his achievements and experience in high school.
Hierholzer: How does it feel to be a valedictorian?
Ward: I feel extremely honored to be a valedictorian of my class. I wasn't expecting this, so it came as a very pleasant surprise when I found out that Ricky and I would be valedictorians and that Ashley [Ward] would be salutatorian. But I think it means more to my parents than it does to me, so I'm grateful for their sake that things turned out this way. I think it is amazing that Ricky and I, as well as Ashley, can have this experience together.
Hierholzer: Have you been aiming for this throughout high school?
Ward: I've always sought to get good grades, but I really didn't have being a valedictorian in mind. I knew that Ricky had taken more classes off campus than I had, so I expected him to get it. But then he approached me and asked me if I thought we should share it, and I agreed, and that's why this profile is being written on me today. I'm thankful and honored to be valedictorian, but it was never one of my foremost goals.
Hierholzer: Among all of your academic achievements -- being a National Merit Scholar, the CSF Seymour Award winner, a candidate for the United States Presidential Scholars Program, receiving numerous journalism awards and now being valedictorian -- which has been the most significant honor, personally?
Ward: All of those awards have been important to me for different reasons. But I think the CSF Seymour Award has been most significant. That distinction recognizes scholarship and service, and I was competing against nine outstanding students for it, so I was very shocked and ecstatic to have won it. Also, that award came with $5,000, which was nice.
Hierholzer: What is your academic motivation?
Ward: When I was young, my parents instilled in me the principle that one should always do one's best work. I can't say I've always put in my best effort -- that would be a lie. But I've tried to do the best I can with the time and resources I have, and that has motivated me to succeed academically. I'm also very curious and have a wide range of interests, so I've often enjoyed my schoolwork and have sought to master the material.
Hierholzer: You are the Editor-in-chief of The Feather, the Secretary/Historian of CSF and a co-founder and co-president of the Planeteers Club. What made you decide to take on so much?
Ward: Even though these positions are time-consuming and sometimes stressful, I enjoy serving in all of them. I think that getting involved in community service helps to develop compassion and sympathy, and so I've valued my time working alongside friends in CSF and in Planeteers Club. And journalism and writing have been passions of mine since freshman year, so I've stayed on the staff of The Feather all four years of high school. In short, I decided to take on responsibilities in all of them because I thoroughly enjoyed all of those activities and found them to be personally rewarding.
Hierholzer: Many of us wonder how you manage all of those roles in addition to maintaining a 4.38 GPA. Do you regret taking on so much work?
Ward: There have been several instances over the years when I've wondered, Why did I get myself into this situation? At those times, I typically regretted getting involved in so many time-consuming activities and classes. But when I look back now, I don't have any regrets. From those experiences I learned how to deal with stress, how to manage my time and I proved to myself that I can get through situations that are exceedingly difficult. It was hard, but it was worth it.
Hierholzer: When you do manage to get some free time, how do you spend it?
Ward: With you, of course! I like to spend my free time hanging out with you and Ricky. On the rare occasion that one of us is busy or can't hang out, I like to read books or articles, watch Glee or 30 Rock or browse through random movies and shows on Netflix.
Ward will attend University of Chicago in the fall to pursue an education in law. Throughout his experiences in high school, Ward has come to value lessons of dealing with disappointment, celebrate success and overcome stress.
Hierholzer: Throughout your high school experience, what memory has stayed with you as the most special?
Ward: My fondest memory from high school would have to be the New York trip last year, specifically winning our first CSPA Gold Crown with Suzanna Quiring ['10, former editor-in-chief]. In fact, I wrote a 2,000-word essay on a photo of us receiving the Gold Crown at the awards ceremony during the trip. This moment was incredibly significant to me because it was The Feather's first Gold Crown and because it essentially marked the end of my experience working alongside Suzanna, whom I looked up to throughout high school.
Hierholzer: Things are a little bit different with graduation this year. Instead of having one valedictorian, you and Ricky stand alongside each other as co-valedictorians, and your sister Ashley is salutatorian. How does it feel to share this experience with your best friend and your twin sister?
Ward: It feels like something out of a Disney Channel movie. I never imagined that things would turn out this way, but I am very pleased that they did. Very few people can say that they graduated as valedictorian with their best friend and with their twin as salutatorian. It's perfect. It's amazing. And it will make for a very interesting story for posterity.
Hierholzer: What brought about this decision for you and Ricky both to be valedictorians?
Ward: Ricky and I knew that our GPAs were about the same -- within .001 of each other. Although Ricky's GPA was higher than mine, we thought that we should share valedictorianship. I thought that was a great solution because it allows us both to be recognized for our grades, and also allows us to have my sister be salutatorian. After we discussed that, we brought it up to Mrs. [Molly] Sargent, who talked to the principal [Todd Bennett], and agreed. So now the school has a new policy about naming valedictorian.
Hierholzer: You and Ricky have been neck-and-neck academically for a long time. How has this affected you? Would you consider it a rivalry or a mutual motivation?
Ward: Although Ricky and I have always been striving for top grades, I don't think either of us has ever considered the other a rival. We have very similar qualifications and achievements, but we also have our own interests and talents: I specialize in the humanities, he specializes in math and the sciences. As a result, we've rarely competed for the same distinctions. It's definitely a mutual motivation.
Hierholzer: Is there a particular class or teacher that shaped your education or high school experience?
Ward: There have been several. But if I have to choose just one, it would be publications class. I can't imagine what high school would have been like without The Feather. I devoted so much time to journalism and made so many great friends through it. We had lots of triumphs and some disappointments, but we worked well as a team and learned to depend on each other. Journalism, then, shaped my education in that it taught me how to lead, how to inspire others and how to be inspired in turn.
Hierholzer: What is the greatest life lesson that you will take from high school into your future?
Ward: More than anything else, high school taught me how to deal with disappointment and obstacles. Although we make plans and work to carry them out, we don't have control over everything and sometimes things just won't work out the way we want them to. Throughout high school I've experienced this situation and I've had to learn how to respond to the disappointment or how to overcome the obstacle. I think that learning that lesson now will help me to deal with challenges in the future.
Because of my fantastic teachers and their rigorous classes, I feel very prepared for coursework in college ... I've learned how to deal with disappointment, how to celebrate success, how to overcome stress, how to budget my time--all lessons that, I think, will be valuable in my transition to college as well as in the entirety of my education." --Austin Ward, '11
Hierholzer: How do you think your high school experience has prepared you for moving onto college?
Ward: Because of my fantastic teachers and their rigorous classes, I feel very prepared for coursework in college, even though the school I am going to is notoriously difficult. But I also think high school has prepared me emotionally. I've learned how to deal with disappointment, how to celebrate success, how to overcome stress and how to budget my time -- all lessons that, I think, will be valuable in my transition to college as well as in the entirety of my education.
Hierholzer: Your chose to attend University of Chicago. What draws you to the school? Is it a good fit for you?
Ward: The University of Chicago -- or UChicago, as it is more commonly called -- has everything that I was looking for in a college. It is a top-ranked school in an urban environment. It is home to about 5,000 undergraduates, which I think is the right size for me. It has the perfect major to prepare me for law school: Law, Letters, and Society. And it has a legacy of educating some of the modern world's greatest thinkers, including Carl Sagan and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as of fostering an intellectual environment. UChicago is the place for me.
Hierholzer: For underclassmen who have their sights set on high standards for their education, what advice would you give?
Ward: I would say that if you want to get into the best possible college, you should be yourself and explore your own interests and passions. Don't get involved in activities just because you think that's what admissions officers are looking for. If you spend your years in high school learning about the things that excite you and doing the things that interest you, you will stand out as an individual and will end up in the place that is the best fit for you. And I don't think you'll have any regrets.
Hierholzer: If you could go back and start high school over again, what would you do differently?
Ward: I wouldn't do very much differently. I've had successes and failures, and both have been significant in helping me to mature and learn about the real world; I really don't have regrets. But if I could do it all over again, I would probably get involved in more activities. I might play a sport (gasp!) or learn to play an instrument. Basically, I would want to have more experiences to give myself a more accurate view of the world.
Graduation for the class of 2011 will be held May 26 at 7 p.m. in the Peoples Church sanctuary. A short reception will follow immediately afterwards.
To see Ward's contributions to The Feather, check out his staff biography and archive page.
For an interview with the co-Valedictorian, read Profile on the co-valedictorian: Richard Lopez.