Meet the Star Students

By Juliana Mudd

2019 Star Students

Pictured: Photos by Cecy Ayala, photographybycecy.com
Special thanks: Baylor Science Building

The phrase “star student” usually brings to mind the image of a stellar report card with straight A’s. And while the 16 students we interviewed this year do excel academically, each competing for the top spot in their class, the advice they offered when we spoke with them downplayed the significance of grades. Yes, most agreed, grades can be important; but there are bigger lessons at stake here. Learn the value of discipline and hard work. Expand your mind. Surround yourself with positive people. Embrace the insight and self-knowledge that arises from making mistakes. The wisdom these young men and women display in their answers is applicable no matter what one’s age or stage in life, and it will serve them well to have these life lessons firmly in hand as they begin the next chapter of their lives.


 

Summer Emblem
China Spring High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: I use flash cards whenever I study things — that’s my ride or die. Other than that, just focusing during lectures and during class.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: At my house, in my room at my desk. No phone. Maybe playing music in the background, but absolutely no phone for like 30 minutes. And then take a break, maybe watch one episode of ‘The Office’ and study again — that’s kind of my drill.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: Not to take everything so seriously. I pretty much only did school my first three years of high school, and now I have a life outside of high school, which is nice, and I wish I knew that earlier.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I’m committed to play basketball at West Point, and I’ve gotten my letter of assurance from West Point. When I graduate, I’ll be an officer in the Army.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I really like having alone time and reading or watching movies by myself, just having time to regenerate after basketball or after school.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: Knowing how to be disciplined and trying not to procrastinate as much as I used to.

 

Alder Fulton
Lorena High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: Definitely use Quizlet a lot. Quizlet’s great. A study buddy is always preferable. And stay away from electronics.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: Away from my cell phone, and unless it’s Quizlet, away from my computer too.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: Extracurricular activities are just as important as good grades.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: Some of the colleges I’ve been considering are University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M [University] and Michigan State University. I want to study physics.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I really enjoy playing and designing board and card games.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: Work hard and speak up.

 

Luke Garst
Live Oak Classical School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: Use class time the best way possible. The better you learn in class and the better you engage with material and ask clarifying questions, participate and get stuff wrong, the better you learn.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: I need coffee, a dimly lit room and music.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: Freshman year, friendships were a little bit hard for me. I wish I had known how valuable honesty was, both with yourself and with your friends. If you don’t really know yourself well enough to know the gifts God has given you and to be able to be honest and share those gifts with other people, then the friendships probably won’t go very well.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I’m planning on going to Baylor University and studying business.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: Most people don’t know that I am an extreme, ultra-super introvert. I love hanging out with people, but after a whole school day I go home, I go to my room, I play guitar, listen to music, just get a little bit of alone time.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: I can’t do most things on my own. The easy example is I can’t earn my own salvation — I need Jesus’ sacrifice for that. But in other aspects, I can’t learn to the best of my ability without asking teachers questions, asking my friends questions.

 

Ria Goyal
Vanguard College Preparatory School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: I think that YouTube, when used correctly, can be such a great resource for studying. I like using the videos because I can rewind and pause them — I can learn at my own pace.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: I have to be quiet, by myself, phone off.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: I wish I knew that colleges are much more intrigued about what my interests are and how I pursue them instead of the paths that I follow only because I believe colleges are interested in them.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I want to be a neurosurgeon when I grow up, so I want to go to a four-year university and be pre-med, and then go to medical school. But in terms of where I think I’m going to end up, I have no idea. I really like Rice [University] and Vanderbilt [University].
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: This is quirky — but every single day that I wake up, I’m one step closer to achieving my goal of being the oldest person alive. I only have like 105 more years to go!
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: Education is not just for reaching a benchmark of academic success. It’s about taking the knowledge that I have in my mind and expanding it: learning about other viewpoints, other times, other worlds — just expanding my life.

 

Karen Guadarrama
LaVega High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: I like rewriting my notes and highlighting. And when there’s a very important question I put a huge star next to it so that I know that’s something I’ve really got to cover.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: I study best at the dining room table at home. I’m able to [spread] my stuff out and put on some music and just study.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: I wish I would have known as a freshman that I shouldn’t stress over things that aren’t important. I also wish I would have managed my time a little better and not procrastinated as much as I did at the beginning.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: By the grace of God I’ve entered the [Early College High School] program at La Vega High School, meaning I should be graduating with an associate degree. Right now I’ve already been accepted to several colleges, so I’m going to wait and see where I should go. I might transfer to Tarleton after I finish up prerequisites and choose the early education program. I’ve been accepted into [University of Mary Hardin-Baylor], Houston Baptist [University] and Howard Payne University.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I would like to write a book one day.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: I think I’ve really learned that through God, everything is possible.

 

Olivia Henderson
Waco High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: I personally work best in a secluded area with minimal distractions, so I always turn my phone off and try to get into the mode. But I think different people study differently, so it’s really just finding out what’s best for you.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: My most productive study environment would probably be in a coffee shop, where there are things happening so it’s not dead silent, but also an environment where I can focus and zone in.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: I wish I had known that academics are very important, but who you surround yourself with makes a really large difference on your high school experience.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I plan to attend UT Austin next year. I want to major in business and then possibly even do the business honors program that they have there. I’m waiting to hear back about that.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: Every summer my family travels to North Carolina where we spend a week or two in our family cabin that doesn’t have any internet, TV or air conditioning, and it’s always so much fun and one of my favorite parts of the year.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: To live in the moment, and to appreciate who you’re with and who surrounds you, because you never know when that’s going to be gone.

 

Deanna Hopkins
Connally High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: I re-read [the material] over and over again, and sometimes I’ll make little hints for myself. Like if I had to remember George Washington’s birthday — well, his birthday is in February and my birthday is in February. So I try to make the information pertain to me in ways that I can remember.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: If I’m reading a book I have to be by myself and completely quiet so I can retain what I’m reading. But if it’s math, I normally play music or I watch ‘Friends.’
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: I wish I would have known that I could apply for scholarships my freshman year. And I wish I would have known that relationships with a significant other aren’t everything.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I am going to Upper Iowa University with a scholarship, and I’m going to bowl for their team. I plan to study mathematics and forensic science.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: That I bowl. And most people think I’m an only child, but I’m not. I have three siblings.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: Your grade doesn’t define you. A lot of people think I’m smart and are surprised when I don’t know something. And this boy, his GPA [was low], but he is one of the smartest people I know. People judge each other too much on rank and we shouldn’t.

 

Shae Langenegger
McGregor High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: Making yourself reviews over all of your notes before any type of test is a great way to study. This way you understand concepts in your own terms and not someone else’s.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: An environment that’s most comfortable for you — for me this would include music playing in the background, [and] candles help. And no interruptions, which often include cell phones.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: I wish I’d had the wisdom to take the college entrance exams, the ACT and SAT, sooner. Doing so would have allowed me to gain higher chances for a better score each time.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: My plans are to go to Texas A&M [University] and get my undergraduate degree in public health, and then hopefully eventually go to medical school and get my doctoral degree, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I love to participate in outdoor activities such as archery and fishing.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: Having a reliable group of friends is what I believe really gets someone through high school. Those people quickly turn into an automatic study group or just a few people to hang out with on the weekends when either school or homework becomes too stressful.

 

Vivian Lisbey
Harmony School of Innovation

Q: What are your study tips?
A: One of my biggest study tips is between every hour, take 15-minute breaks.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: I like a quiet environment, but I like to play a little bit of instrumental music in the background — keep myself sitting still.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: I wish I’d known how to take better notes so I could read my own handwriting. I’ve learned to color-code my notes and not jumble it all, and sometimes I type depending on how fast the lectures are.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I’ve been accepted to Baylor University, and I want to go there to do pre-med and major in psychology.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I am Belizean-American: my family comes from a small country in Central America called Belize.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: Mistakes don’t define you. It’s what you do with the mistakes that do.

 

Matthew Mendiola
Reicher Catholic High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: Study a little bit each day as soon as you get the assignment and don’t put it off until the last night.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: Definitely somewhere quiet with a little background noise, something that can drown out a little of the static environment: music, a TV show or a conversation.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: That your teachers are there to help you. I would always be afraid to go after school and ask my teachers questions, but they’re there to help you succeed.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I plan to attend Rice University, where I want to study computer science and mathematics.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I’m really into robotics. I joined [robotics club] my freshman year, and I’ve been really into robotics all four years.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: To be more open to trying new things and to venture out and try new clubs and new activities. Talking to new people is a big thing. I always wanted to stay with a couple of people, but now I’m more open to talking with anyone I come across. I think that’s helpful not only in school but also in your personal life and after college, in your career and further.

 

Haeun Moon
Midway High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: Keep a planner to keep track of homework, tests, projects for each class along with other extracurriculars and obligations. Also, try to get the majority of homework done at school; it frees up time after school for extracurriculars.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: Probably my dining room table because it’s the largest open space with the best Wi-Fi in the house.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: To plan ahead but also to live in the moment.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I will be attending Harvard University next year. I plan to study international relations and minor in either violin or Spanish, or perhaps both. My career goal is to incorporate the arts into diplomacy because I believe in the power of the arts, especially music, to transcend boundaries. It can be utilized on many levels, such as in relationships between two hostile world leaders and providing psychological healing to displaced refugees, or fostering open-mindedness.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: At school, or in a bigger setting, I’m usually kind of introverted and shy, but around people that I’m very close to, I’m quite quirky and extroverted.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: To learn and memorize the facts but also to analyze the bigger picture. This can be applied to physics or history or just life in general.

 

Kennadie Ransberger
Parkview Christian Academy

Q: What are your study tips?
A: Since I’m kind of competitive, I prefer to do study games with partners or with a group. But I would say find what works for you.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: If I’m studying alone, I prefer quiet with music, either in my bedroom or in a classroom. Or I prefer a whole bunch of friends or classmates that are also studying the same test and to do study games.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: To use my time wisely and take my time at school, because it’s a lot shorter than you would think and it goes by really fast. Just make sure you branch out and try new things, make new friends, because this is where your lifelong friends are going to be.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I want to go into business management in hopes to start my own event coordinating business. Right now I’m not set on a certain college.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: It’s kind of a small school, so there’s not much to keep from people. I’m kind of an open book.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: To learn from your mistakes. Making mistakes is okay because from those you grow wiser and [become] a better person and know how to help others with the same mistakes.

 

Riley Sloan
Rapoport Academy, Meyer High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: Often I like to space out my studying, so about a week before a test I’ll write down all the things I need to study and I’ll try to take a little bit each day.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: Probably just any coffee shop, with headphones in. I find that if I try to stay in my house and do it, I’ll get distracted, so sometimes it takes going somewhere and driving somewhere specific to get work done.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: Don’t take grades as seriously. It’s not the end of the world if something bad happens. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I’m going to Baylor. I just got accepted to the Honors College, and I’m doing the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core. I’m hoping to do a major in social work and a minor in psychology.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I want to be a missionary in India once I graduate. I went there when I was 10, and I’m hoping to go back next summer.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: I would say the most important lesson is to not care as much about what other people think about you. Do things for yourself and not for other people.

 

Savannah Vidana
University High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: Don’t procrastinate. And for essays, always write rough drafts, even if they’re extremely rough.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: I’m definitely a night owl. I’m most creative and productive at night, in my house, probably just studying in my room.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: Grades are just as important as actually having the high school experience. It’s not just about grades — it’s about the people you know and the memories you make, the clubs you join: all these little extra things that are going to make a difference.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I’m really interested in UT Austin and Baylor. I’ve been accepted to both. I want to study psychology and family development so that I can be a family and marriage therapist with a specialty in special needs children.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: Well, a lot of people know [this], but I think being a twin is probably an extremely important thing about me. I’ve had someone to learn with, someone to bounce ideas off, and I think that’s why I’m successful academically and socially.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: To try to have a positive impact on everyone’s life — friends, teachers. Building relationships is such a vital part of school and life, and if you miss out on that aspect then you’re missing out on a lot, academically and socially.

 

Kaegan Walker
Robinson High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: Study a little bit at a time, don’t wait until the last minute to start. And use resources, such as Quizlet, when possible.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: I work best in my room, at my desk, where there are not many distractions. And I also listen to music to keep me focused while I study.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: That high school goes by much faster than you think, so enjoy your time in high school while it lasts, and make time to get involved and participate in school activities and spend time with your friends.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I’ve been accepted to and plan on attending Texas A&M University next fall, and I’ll major in mechanical engineering.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I love graphic design. I’ve designed many shirts, logos and posters for groups and individuals around my school and the community.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: That hard work is the key to success. Through both my academics and my time spent playing volleyball I’ve learned that what you put into something is what you’ll get out of it.

 

Maci Westerfeld
Crawford High School

Q: What are your study tips?
A: Definitely do not procrastinate. If you have enough time, look over the test plenty of days beforehand. And using flash cards has always helped me.
Q: What is your most productive study environment?
A: Somewhere it’s quiet and no one’s around me or bothering me.
Q: What is one thing you wish you’d known your freshman year?
A: Grades definitely matter. I wish I had studied as hard as a freshman as I did my junior and senior years.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I’ll be attending Texas A&M in the fall to study biology, and I plan to attend medical school after that.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I really love ranch dressing. I eat it with almost every meal.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned in high school?
A: I’ve learned that hard work definitely pays off in the end.

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