Meet the Star Students

By Emily Ober, Avery Ballmann and Skylla Mumana

2024

Every year, we reach out to local high schools to nominate an outstanding student to be highlighted from the graduating class. This student exemplifies what it means to be a star student not just through their stellar grades but their attitude and hard work. Meet the 18 star students of 2024 and see where they’re headed next in their academic career and what they look back on as their favorite senior tradition, what they would change in their high school career and the teachers who made an impact on them.


Samuel Everett

Waco High School
Hopes to attend Rice University to major in mathematics

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Mr. Petree. He was the teacher who really got me into chemistry and he’s probably the teacher that really got me thinking the most.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? The one I’ve enjoyed the most is the powderpuff football game where the juniors and seniors take each other on. My junior year — and most recently my senior year — I played as a cheerleader. Me and a couple friends cheered on the senior girls and the seniors ended up winning this year.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? I probably would’ve taken AP Stat last year. I’m not planning on doing it in college and it’s something that still interests me. It was a missed opportunity.
What’s your dream job? The child in me says astronaut but probably a theoretical physicist.
What’s your best study tip? Go over it a first time quickly to get a gauge on what you do and don’t know. The second time you go over it, really emphasize the things you don’t.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? I have to shout out ‘Invincible’ season two.


Kyndall Houchin

McGregor High School
Plans to attend University of Texas at Austin to major in biology

Who is your favorite teacher and why? My science teacher, Ms. Tarrott. I’ve had her for four years now and she has really instilled a great work ethic in me, and I’ve just learned a ton from her.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? Senior sunrise. We have that I think early May and then we have a senior breakfast straight after.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? Realize that other people’s expectations of myself shouldn’t limit me and shouldn’t add pressure to me. Just focus on what I can control and do the best I can.
What’s your dream job? A vet. I’m thinking small domestic, like dogs and cats.
What’s your best study tip? I personally like a very quiet, calm environment to study in. I work best with memorization, so I like to take my notes again or look at the questions over and over and over again until I could basically say them in my sleep.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ by Sarah J. Maas.


Janhavi Joshi

Harmony Science Academy
Hopes to attend University of Texas at Austin to major in computer science

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Ms. Cortez. I feel like she connects with her students. She’s just a friend and a teacher to me.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? I really like the blood drive. I think it is an excellent way for the school to connect with the community.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? I would focus more on extracurriculars starting in ninth grade because I paid more attention to them in my junior and my senior year.
What’s your dream job? To be the CEO of a software company.
What’s your best study tip? Write everything down because when you write it, you memorize it.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? ‘Stranger Things’.


Andres Luevano-Villa

University High School
Hoping to attend college and major in mechanical engineering

Who is your favorite teacher and why? I don’t really have a favorite teacher, but I do have some teachers that stand out to me. Mr. Nelson — he taught history and made it seem like it was more of an actual story or a movie rather than just presenting facts in a boring way, having to remember them for the tests and for assignments. Mr. Ethridge, he made it really fun to learn chemistry. It was a really enjoyable experience having him for AP chemistry because he made it make sense.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? Senior prom. I feel like this will be an appropriate time to see your friends, getting to interact with them one last time before you go your separate ways.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? It would definitely be freshman year. Not worrying too much about classes. I got pretty burnt-out freshman and sophomore year because I tried to do so much so fast. I just wish I wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself.
What’s your dream job? I’ve always wanted to be in a band — a musician — but that’s not realistic. I would play guitar or vocals because I always enjoy the showmanship of the whole thing.
What’s your best study tip? I plan out how I’m going to go through the study material before tests. I prioritize the hardest subject. I plan a basic schedule of the stuff that you need to cover, and you go through it one step at a time. You try not to worry about the entire thing. You just go through a tiny bit every day.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? My favorite movie is ‘Apocalypse Now’. That’s the Vietnam movie inspired by ‘Heart of
Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad.

Jonathan Melichar

Midway High School
Plans to major in computer engineering

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Mrs. Moos who was my chemistry teacher. She was always good at being able to teach the concepts in a fun way with all the labs she did.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? I think that the senior prank we do could be fun.
What advice would you give to incoming freshman? Find out what works for you for learning and studying and then just stick with that. Everyone else is going to have their own way to do things and you just need to find what works for you specifically.
What’s your dream job? A computer engineer helping to design new innovations and computing technologies.
What’s your best study tip? Drink some coffee so you’re awake when you actually do your studying instead of half asleep.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? ‘The Wheel of Time’ by Robert Jordan, specifically the book series, not the show because that was of a debatable quality.


Delaney Nickell

Rapoport Academy
Plans to attend Stephen F. Austin State University to major in forestry

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Mrs. Pack because she is like a school mom to me. She takes care of all of her students and makes sure everyone knows that they’re loved by her.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? Our senior sunrise when we all have a fun breakfast and watch the sunrise together at the beginning of the year. It starts off our school in a fun, positive way and allows all of us to bond before the year begins.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? To not get into drama and to just be myself and enjoy every activity that high school offers.
What’s your dream job? A park ranger.
What’s your best study tip? Take thorough notes in class and then go home and study your notes a little bit each day so you are fully prepared for tests.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? It’s hard to choose but if I have to choose a show, it would be ‘North Woods Law’.


Paloma Perez-Juandiego

Bosqueville High School
Plans to attend Texas A&M University to double major in physical therapy and finance

Who is your favorite teacher and why? My favorite teacher would probably be my sophomore year chemistry teacher, Ms. Jackson. We had so much fun in her class. She always made lessons interesting.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? We seniors have a road that we can paint the night before homecoming. It’s my favorite tradition because it’s fun. I get to hang out with my friends and it’s fun to have something of ours to be at school. It’s interesting to see what all of my other classmates come up with to draw.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? I’d probably go out more, spend more time with my friends, and create all the high school memories that I missed out on.
What’s your dream job? Being a physical therapist is my dream job.
What’s your best study tip? Write everything down. Even if it’s just by using notecards or if you write things on a single piece of paper. Writing things down helps with your memory. I’m always using flashcards for when I’m studying for a test or quizzes. It helps a lot. Also, going over them with colors makes them pretty and it encourages you to keep on studying.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? My favorite show would probably be ‘The Rookie’. It’s a crime show with police officers. My favorite podcast would probably be ‘Suburb Talks’. They talk about different subjects, topics and they’re just really funny.


Julia Pitts

Live Oak Classical School
Plans to attend Baylor University to major in biology

Who is your favorite teacher and why? I have had such incredible teachers here, so it’s hard to just choose one. I would say my math teacher Mrs. Bierwirth. I had her for four years of math. I’ve always liked math, but she’s the person who really helped me start loving it and really instilled an appreciation for math. And she’s also always so supportive and caring for us.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? Senior prank day is always exciting. I’m not sure what we’re going to do yet for that, but it’s also our senior skip day.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? While working hard and putting effort into school is good, creating those deep connections with friends and teachers really turns out to be one of the most rewarding things. So just finding a good balance between school and spending time with those around you.
What’s your dream job? I would love to be a veterinarian. I do a program at the zoo where we get to work some with animals and it’s so fascinating. I’d love to work with more exotic animals.
What’s your best study tip? An important thing about studying is to learn the best ways to not procrastinate. Work on big projects a little each night and start studying for tests a few days in advance. I’ve personally studied the best by writing on a whiteboard or taking turns explaining concepts with friends.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? ‘The Wonder Years’. It’s about a kid and his family and it’s just going through life. It reminds me of the show ‘Boy Meets World’.


Ryland Pledger

Robinson High School
Plans to attend Oklahoma Christian University to major in exercise science

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Mrs. Durant. She was my freshman honors biology teacher, and she has been one of my biggest supporters and cheerleaders throughout my years at Robinson High School. You can still find me in her classroom most days or just talking to her in the hallway. I love talking to her about life and everything.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? My favorite thing that we’ve done so far this year was on senior night, all the seniors in the whole school walked the football field after the last home football game. We walked down and we all ran back to the other endzone.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? I don’t think I would say anything in particular. I think all of my experiences that I’ve had have shaped me into the person I am today, and I think I’ve learned so many valuable lessons from the highs and the lows. I’m where I am today and I’m getting to go to college and pursue my dreams of playing college volleyball because of all of the hard work I put in and all the things I’ve been through.
What’s your dream job? A pediatric occupational therapist.
What’s your best study tip? I’m a visual learner so even if I’ve already written stuff down in notes, I’ll go back and rewrite things that I know I need to know for an exam or a quiz and then rewrite them again if I have to because I’m really big on visualization and memorizing things.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? ‘Woah That’s Good’ podcast by Sadie Robertson Huff.


Justin Pryor

La Vega High School
Hopes to attend University of Texas at Austin or University of Mary Hardin-Baylor to major in multimedia arts and minor in cybersecurity

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Mr. Taverner. He died of a heart attack in May. He was my favorite teacher because he would always take the shirt off his back for anybody, and he truly influenced me to become better. He had lost a bunch of weight, and he motivated me to lose weight. He not only made me better as far as physically, but he taught me a lot in media basics. He was one of our best teachers I think we’ve ever had.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? The senior walk. It’s emotional because you’re about to graduate so you’re going to miss all your friends and the good times you’ve had but it’s also emotional in a way that you’re stepping into a brand-new chapter of life.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? I didn’t have a goal; I didn’t know who I was. Social anxiety, doubt, depression, I let all that stuff control me, and in my senior year, I’m cool with just about everybody. I’m like a mentor to a lot of these younger kids. I really wished I would have been more involved socially.
What’s your dream job? Working for the Houston Rockets or the Texans as a team media specialist.
What’s your best study tip? I would set a timer for 20 minutes and have flashcards made and I would analyze the question and why all the other answers are wrong. It really gives you a better understanding.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill and ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie.


Kate Roberson

Lorena High School
Plans to attend University of Mary Hardin-Baylor to major in education

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Coach Key. She was my English teacher and is now my PALS teacher. Having her for three years now, I’ve become close with her, and I’ve become so comfortable in her classroom, and she really is awesome to be around. And Mrs. Sciacca. I have also had her for three years. She’s my art teacher. She’s just a super awesome teacher and my art techniques under her have become so much better. She’s super welcoming and listens to me when I need to talk.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? The Senior-Kinder walk. It’s where we go on the football field and the seniors hand off a cup to the kindergarteners and the kindergarteners give us a football. These kids are just starting school and then kids who are just leaving, it’s a cool connection.
What advice would you give to incoming freshman? Don’t look to your grade’s popular people to see how you should present yourself or change yourself. Find what you love to do and work on that and let it shape you because you’re only with these people for four years and then you go off and live your life. I think so many people just get stuck trying to please everyone around them but that’s a really constricting way to go through high school — living for your peers instead of yourself.
What’s your dream job? I feel like teaching has been a passion I’ve had for a really long time, and I just want to be able to be there for kids going through rough spots in high school, just like how teachers have been there for me.
What’s your best study tip? Quizlet or flash cards.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? ‘Becoming Something with Jonathan Pokluda’.


Michael Rollins

Connally High School
Hopes to attend University of Texas at Austin to major in film

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Coach Smith. He’s very fun to be around.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? Being percussion section leader for my band.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? Pay more attention in the beginning of my college courses.
What’s your dream job? To be a director or a famous writer.
What’s your best study tip? Don’t procrastinate.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? Right now, I like the TV shows ‘All American’ and ‘Bel-Air’.


Mabry Nicole Rutherford

China Spring High School
Plans to attend University of Oklahoma to major in business

Who is your favorite teacher and why? My calculus teacher, Ms. Dunlop. I’ve had her for two years and she’s a really good teacher and I’ve learned a lot from her. She also likes to check up on us and make sure that we’re doing good and is invested in our lives.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? On the first day of school, the girls make overalls — they decorate them — and I think that’s really fun and different from other schools.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? Go back to my freshman year and focus on my grades more, that way I wouldn’t have to worry so much now because my grades were definitely the lowest my freshman year.
What’s your dream job? Probably some kind of lawyer.
What’s your best study tip? Rewrite everything over and over again.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? ‘Gossip Girl’ — the original one.


Andrea Elizabeth Sanker

Bishop Louis Reicher Catholic High School
Hopes to be a missionary for a year and attend Saint Louis University

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Mrs. Sellers. She is super fun and she’s really positive all the time. She just brightens up my day no matter how it’s going.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? I think the senior retreat is probably my favorite. It’s a really fun time to hang out and get to know each other.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? I would honestly put less stress on myself to have everything perfectly together.
What’s your dream job? I want to do either missionary work or become a middle school teacher.
What’s your best study tip? Study for a little bit at a time and just try your best to get it down and don’t stress yourself out too much.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? I think one of my favorite series is ‘Wednesday’.


Zoe Schange

Eagle Christian Academy
Plans to attend McLennan Community College’s nursing program

Who is your favorite teacher and why? My favorite teacher is probably Mr. Peterson. He teaches English and senior thesis. He’s been very supportive throughout this year, not just in classes but in everyday life as well.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? The Homecoming tradition. The homecoming pep rally, the game, all of that. It’s just fun to see the seniors get to lead the rest of their troop, and other high schoolers, through a fun activity.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? I would probably change how much I procrastinated in high school. I did a lot of things at the last minute that I didn’t need to.
What’s your dream job? Something in the pediatric nursing realm. I’ve always enjoyed working around younger children. I actually work in the school’s after care program. Sometimes I babysit even after that for a little bit. I also have a lot of little cousins, so I’ve always enjoyed being around a younger crowd I guess, and I’ve just always wanted to take up nursing.
What’s your best study tip? Don’t stress it. Don’t jump ahead of the game too far or make yourself feel like you have to have it all done and be on top of everything and ahead of everybody else.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? I’ve always loved mystery books. One of my favorite authors, she’s a young adult author, her name is Lauren Oliver, and one of my favorite books by her is called ‘Broken Things’. It’s about these three girls and one of them is murdered and the other two girls go back to solve their friend’s murder.


Kalli Speasmaker

Bruceville-Eddy High School
Plans to attend Louisiana State University to major in education

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Mrs. Mauney-Rooks because she always helped me whenever I have a question, always picks me up whenever I feel like I don’t know stuff and she’s just overall a great teacher.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? Definitely the senior walk at our senior pep rally with our poster.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? Being scared as a freshman to make new friends.
What’s your dream job? To work with LSU’s women’s basketball team. Coach or assistant coach, either of those.
What’s your best study tip? Do not put too much on yourself and do whatever you think you need to know instead of worrying about everything.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? My favorite show is ‘Criminal Minds’.


Blake William Underwood

Crawford High School
Plans to attend the University of Alabama to major in history

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Coach Walker. He is now retired, but truly he developed my love of history, and we [students] all would sit on the front porch in Crawford and talk about life. I love the man.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? The senior slideshow. It puts a lot into perspective, and I enjoy seeing everybody. You send in a young and an old picture. I’ve really enjoyed seeing my classmates and their lives and I care about them, so I’ve always found it interesting.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? I would try to be more open by being more talkative and try to interact with as many people as possible.
What’s your dream job? Starting a church somewhere in the pacific northwest would be my dream job. I went through a tough time early last year, depression wise. I was already a Christian, but I rededicated my life and out of that I went to Bible study. I feel like I’m called to spread the gospel, and if I can do that in my everyday life, then that’s awesome, but if I can also do it on a Sunday or throughout the week, then that’s truly my goal.
What’s your best study tip? I’m a big list maker. I make so many lists and every night, I write down what’s due for the next day, and step-by-step I mark it off. It makes things a whole lot easier.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? My favorite TV show is probably ‘Monk’. My favorite podcast is called ‘Becoming Something with Jonathan Pokluda’, and for a book I’d probably have to go with ‘The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life’.


Maggie Winarick

Vanguard College Preparatory School
Hopes to attend Texas A&M University or University of Tennessee to major in animal science

Who is your favorite teacher and why? Sra. López. I’ve had her for four years and she has always been supportive of me — not only in academics, but also in my personal endeavors. She makes learning Spanish fun while still pushing me to improve.
What’s your favorite high school senior tradition? Probably the senior trip to Mo-Ranch. It’s for us to come together as a class and plan out how we’re going to lead the school. It was really fun because our class bonded. I feel like we’ve been really close because of that trip.
If you could go back in your high school career and change one thing, what would it be? I would probably force myself to talk to more people and not be afraid of trying new things. I have tried a lot of new things in high school, but I feel like there were a lot of times when I let the fear of failure or not being accepted stop me from either building relationships or finding new extracurriculars that I would have enjoyed.
What’s your dream job? My dream job would be a mixed animal veterinarian. I’ve always enjoyed the companionship that animals provide for people, and I also like helping others.
What’s your best study tip? Quality over quantity — it’s something my mom always tells me. If I’m reluctant to study and I’m just sitting there looking at the paper, I’m not being productive. It’s wasting both my free time and the time I could be using to study so instead, it’s better to spend a smaller amount of time studying when you’re being productive than it is to sit in front of your desk and stare at the paper.
What’s your favorite book, show or podcast? My favorite show is ‘Friends’ because it’s really funny and I like funny TV shows. My family and I all watch it, so I have fun with them.