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Don’t Stop ‘til You’re on Top: Bae and Yang Strive for Success as South’s Val and Sal

Accomplished Academics—From left to right, Annie Yang and Emily Bae smile after being announced salutatorian and valedictorian respectively. Their strong work ethic and motivation to achieve help them earn their academic success. Photographed by David West
Accomplished Academics—From left to right, Annie Yang and Emily Bae smile after being announced salutatorian and valedictorian respectively. Their strong work ethic and motivation to achieve help them earn their academic success.

Photographed by David West

By Vera Lin

Achieving academic success in high school means more than just maintaining a high GPA. As both valedictorian Emily Bae and salutatorian Annie Yang can concur, strong work ethics and determination contribute largely to success. While the two seniors received their respective titles based on their exceptional grades, they both attributed their achievements to their perseverant attitudes and strong commitment to their work.

For Bae, a strong willingness to devote time and effort to school shaped the outcome of her high school career. “I definitely worked very hard,” said Bae, “I always aimed to do the best that I could on anything, and I was always willing to put in the time.”

While Bae acknowledged that South’s inherently competitive environment may have motivated her to work harder, she focused more on improving herself than competing with others. “Part of my work ethic is that I’m competing against myself,” she said, “My goal was always just to do as best as possible and to make myself feel that I did everything that I could.”

Bae also attributes much of her success to the teachers and faculty at South who helped her throughout high school. “I’ve had really good teachers throughout the years,” she said. “My Latin class was specifically very memorable. I learned a lot from Dr. Pontone, and he also had a very fun personality.”

Besides maintaining a focused work ethic that allowed her to excel grade wise, Bae also participated in many extracurricular activities. As an athlete, Bae was a member of South’s varsity tennis team for four years. She also participated in HOSA along with South’s science research program. Outside of school, Bae volunteered at hospitals and even did medical shadowing. An avid language enthusiast, Bae has won many National Spanish and Latin Exam medals. She was also named an Intel semifinalist this year.

Salutatorian Yang’s goal-oriented attitude helped her achieve her respective title. “I think working hard really contributed to how I did in school,” said Yang, “Having a goal of wanting to do well and always trying to move towards that goal really helped.”

While many students may dread taking classes they have little interest in, Yang maintained a positive outlook throughout high school towards all her classes by trying to find an element in each class that she enjoyed. “For the most part, I have enjoyed most of my classes,” she said. “I make an effort to find something I like about every class, so it makes it easier to try hard in every class. I try really hard to hold onto that one thing I like about that class, and I remind myself of it every time that class gets really tough.”

For Yang, her sophomore year AP World History class left a lasting impact on her work ethic and attitude towards school. “World pushed me to work the hardest I’ve worked ever,” she said. “It taught me a lot of discipline along with how to outline! Now I outline everything.”

Aside from maintaining high grades in school, Yang was also involved in many extracurricular activities. Throughout her four years in high school, she has helped the math team, Science Olympiad team, and her National History Day group place at regional, state, and national competitions. Yang also contributed to The Southerner as an assistant section editor, section editor, and web manager. She was also recognized for her writing by being nominated for the National Council of Teachers of English’s Achievement Awards in Writing.

As Bae and Yang head to college next year, they both seek to continue their diligent work ethics and academic achievement.

“Everyone says that Great Neck prepares you a lot for college, and I think it’s definitely true,” said Bae. “Here, I’ve learned that time management is everything, which has helped me balance school, sports, and time with friends.”

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