Great Neck South High School’s salutatorian, Annie Yang, said that finding success in school was satisfying, but what matters most is if each student is happy with what he or she is doing.
“What you should really be proud about is your own happiness,” Yang said. “You can try and get all these grades but if you’re not happy about it, I don’t think it matters.”
She was a member of the school’s science olympiad team and math team, and wrote for the school newspaper, The Southerner.
Yang said finding the balance between schoolwork and extracurricular activities was the key element in her success at South High.
“I think you really need to know how to prioritize things,” she said. “I really put school first and then extracurriculars came after that.”
While Yang said most of her focus was on schoolwork, she made sure to dedicate as much time as she could to her extracurricular activities.
“I didn’t want to disappoint people who relied on me for the science team or newspaper,” she said. “I always tried to find time after I finished my schoolwork either on the weekends or during breaks for extracurriculars.”
Although she said she was proud of her achievements as a student, Yang said she wished she prioritized her happiness a little more during her high school career.
“I feel like I have sacrificed a lot for my priorities and I don’t know if I’m happy about the result,” she said. “I feel like in a lot of things I did during high school and middle school, I went a little too overboard and was a little too neurotic. There were a lot of opportunities to go a little easier.”
“I would have preferred to find out how to be happier than have a higher GPA,” Yang added.
She said that the culture at South High was more about competition between students earning a higher grade point average than each of them finding what truly satisfies them.
“The culture in the school had a lot of focus on competition with GPAs and stuff and not people personally being happy,” Yang said.
She said of all the things she did at South High, she will miss the teachers the most because of their recognition of the school’s competitive culture and their efforts in helping students juggle schoolwork and life.
“It’s very easy to make meaningful connections with teachers there,” Yang said. “They’re aware of the culture in our school and look out for the happiness of students.”
One of her favorite moments, she said, was competing with the science olympiad team at the state competition.
“I think this year we’ve had a lot of good bonding time on the science olympiad team,” Yang said. “We were a very close group and I heard that last year they weren’t as close. It was really rewarding.”
She will be attending Duke University in the fall and is undecided about what she wants to study.
Yang said she wanted to take “all sorts of classes” to see what strikes her interest the most, but could see a future in journalism.
“I sort of entertain the idea of perhaps working for a newspaper like The New York Times,” she said. “I think I would find a career in journalism very rewarding but I’m keeping my options open.”
South High’s valedictorian is Emily Bae.
Efforts to reach Bae for an interview were unavailing.
According to a biography from the Great Neck Public Schools, she was a gold medalist in the National Spanish Exam and the National Latin Exam, and took a first place at the Health Occupations Students of America state conference.
Bae was a member of the tennis Conference II championship team, the biography said, and a scholar athlete.
She was a volunteer at Community Organization for Parents and Youth, or COPAY, the Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital Junior Volunteer Program.
Bae plans to attend Yale University in the fall, according to the biography.