Senior Richard Lopez achieved a cumulative GPA of 4.39 and will represent the class of 2011 as its co-valedictorian along with friend and fellow scholar Austin Ward. Lopez will give a speech at graduation in addition to Ward and his sister, the salutatorian, Ashley.
After four years of climbing a figurative educational ladder, Richard Lopez stands at the apex of academia FC has to offer. With a 4.39 cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA), involvement in various clubs and extracurricular activities and plans to attend Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, in the fall, Lopez is an obvious choice for the class of 2011's valedictorian.
However, this year, for the first time in FC history, Lopez will not be the only one giving his class away at graduation; he will be accompanied by fellow friend and scholar Austin Ward due to their extremely high GPAs -- Austin's is a 4.38.
In light of this rather unusual development and, after experiencing Lopez's wit and mannerisms first hand in electives such as Academic Decathlon and publications, I decided to sit down with him and converse before he graduates.
Avery: How does it feel to be the co-valedictorian?
Lopez: I feel honored. I am glad that I am being recognized for all of my hard work and dedication in academics. I am also glad that I get to share the award with a good friend [Ward] who is one of the smartest people I know. I cannot put into words how thankful I am to receive this award and how much it means to me.
Avery: This is the first time ever that there have been co-valedictorians at graduation. What brought this about? What are your feelings toward it?
Lopez: About a month or so ago, I proposed an idea to Austin and we collectively shared the idea with Mrs. [Molly] Sargent. The idea was that Austin and I should both be valedictorians because our GPAs were so close; it did not seem fair to make such a significant distinction between us. I am very glad that this worked out. Austin and I have both excelled above and beyond any and all expectations, so it makes no sense to give one person the honor of being the valedictorian over the other. We both deserve the award.
Avery: Austin Ward, your co-valedictorian is one of your best friends, along with his twin sister Ashley. Do you think your guys' friendship has helped shape the three of yours' academic success? Are you excited to commence graduation with two of your closest friends?
Lopez: Most people think that the top students in a school are usually in constant competition for that coveted number one spot, but with us three, it is completely different. The last thing we worry about is competition. I think I am more excited when they do well on assignments than when I do. We work together and challenge each other to reach our full potential. To be recognized with two of my closest friends is amazing; not only am I recognized for my hard work, but so are my friends. I couldn't ask for anything better.
Avery: You have a 4.39 Grade Point Average, which you achieved through several college and online classes. How many extra classes do you think you have taken outside of FC in high school? What was the experience like? Stressful? Difficult? Would you recommend it?
Lopez: I have taken a total of 10 classes from either Willow International [Center], Fresno City College, or Keystone National High School. It was definitely an interesting experience. At first, I was intimidated. I did not know if I could handle taking the classes outside of my high school. But as I took more classes, I realized that I loved learning. I wanted to learn a lot of different things that were not covered in the curriculum at Fresno Christian because of the size. I would only recommend this to students who enjoy learning, but I would definitely not recommend this to students who just want to get ahead. Those students will not get the full benefit of taking the class and will feel more stressed out without getting any enjoyment. High school should be about pursuing what you want, not what you feel like you should.
Avery: Well what part has FC played in your academic career? Do you think its small school environment has helped to shape your academic prowess or hurt it?
Lopez: FC has helped me in my academic success. I feel like my teachers know me on a personal level and can help push me to do my best. They know what I need to succeed in life and know what I can handle. If the class work is too easy, they can push me to do more. If the class work is too hard, they can work with me to help me understand. Because the school is so small, the teachers get to know me on a personal level and can help me to do well. I would definitely not change my experience at FC with any other one.
After four years of high school, a multitude of extracurricular activities and ten college classes, Lopez has decided to attend Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, in the fall. This decision didn't come easily, as Lopez applied to 14 other colleges, and was accepted into all of them.
Avery: Out of your 13 years of schooling, what teacher would you say was your favorite? Why?
Lopez: That is very hard to pick. I have liked all of my teachers for different reasons. If I had to pick, I would say Mr. [Mike] Fenton. He has seen me grow in math and has pushed me more than any other teacher. Whenever I looked bored in class, he would give me extra problems to do to prepare me for the Fresno State Math Field Day or the AMC-12. I couldn't have asked for a better math teacher to help me challenge me to reach my full potential.
Avery: You applied to 15 colleges correct? So what exactly are you planning after high school? What do you want to do with your life?
Lopez: I applied to 15 colleges, which, if you are wondering, is way more than average. In my defense, I definitely did not expect to get into them all; I expected most to reject me. I am planning on going to Harvard University. As of right now, I don't know what I want to do with my life. I think I want to get into scientific research, but that could definitely change over the next four years. I am going to try and explore my opportunities while I can and see what I enjoy the most.
Avery: You're going to Harvard? That's a huge step. What brought you to this decision? I understand you were up for scholarships at places like Duke, so what sets Harvard apart in your eyes?
Lopez: The visit is what made the decision for me. Before I visited the colleges I got accepted to, I was sure I was going to go to MIT. I loved math and science, so it seemed like the best place for me. After visiting the campuses, I fell in love with the atmosphere and people at Harvard. I had the impression that Harvard was for the stuck-up rich kids who only got in because they knew people, but I saw such a diverse and fun group of people there that did not fit my expectations. It just felt right, that is all I can say.
Avery: It seems like most kids dream of growing up to be one of two things: star athletes or intellectual of some sort. You don't have to say you're an intellectual, but why do you think you gravitated towards the second, opposed to the first?
Lopez: My love for learning. I have always had it. I don't know why. I think that most people think that people are smart because they are focused and try hard, but I know that that stereotype is not true. People are smart because they love to learn. As I have already said, people should pursue their passion, not what other people want them to pursue
Avery: You not only have a ridiculously high GPA, but you volunteer for the California Scholarship Federation, you co-founded the Planeteers Club and you're involved in a number of other things ranging from book clubs to the FC drama department. How, during all of this, do you manage to find free time? What did you do for it?
Lopez: I still have no idea how I have free time. Ashley use to joke about how I had a time turner necklace from Harry Potter. I guess I just find time to do things I enjoy. I always find time to hang out with friends. I try and see a movie with them at least once a week or go out to dinner. I also love to read classics. They are so interesting and keep me thinking about my own life and the lives around me.
Avery: Is there anyone you think that has particularly helped you through your high school experience?
Lopez: If I listed every single person who has influenced me or helped me in high school, the list would be a mile long. I couldn't have asked for better teachers, friends or family. Everyone has been so supportive and caring through my high school years, and I know that their help has brought me here. I know I couldn't have been successful without them.
"Not everyone is meant to be the star athlete, the best musician or the valedictorian. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about how all parts of the body are equally important. I think that there is a lot to learn from that chapter." --Richard Lopez, '11
Avery: What would you say is your most cherished high school memory? Why?
Lopez: This last year has been the best year I could possibly ask for. When I was younger, people would always tell me how senior year was the best, but I never really believed them. I definitely understand why now. All of my experiences this year I will cherish for the rest of my life. I have grown closer to the friends I have, made some new life-long friends, and done more than I ever thought I could. I wish I could pick out one moment that I loved more than any other this past year, but I just can't; they are all special.
Avery: If that's case, how do you feel about high school ending?
Lopez: I think I am ready for the end. I will miss all of the friends I have made and the people I have met, but I think I am ready for the next chapter in my life. I am excited for the new and fun things I will experience.
Avery: What's your speech about? Do you think you could offer readers of The Feather some spoilers?
Lopez: I guess I can tell you that Austin, Ashley and I tried to connect our themes. We wanted to make our speeches related and interesting to the audience, without making them repetitive. I think we did a good job.
Avery: If you could go back and offer advice to yourself or others, what would you say?
Lopez: The biggest advice is to always try your hardest and what you love to do. Not everyone is meant to be the star athlete, the best musician or the valedictorian. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about how all parts of the body are equally important. I think that there is a lot to learn from that chapter. We all have things that we are good at and we should do our best in those areas that we have been gifted in.
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 his 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: Austin Ward.