SHS top 3 students define ‘friendly competition’ with academic success

Southington High School's top three graduating seniors, salutatorian Erik Bergland, left, valedictorian James Hoder, center, and essayist Caitlin Young, right.

Southington High School’s top three graduating seniors, salutatorian Erik Bergland, left, valedictorian James Hoder, center, and essayist Caitlin Young, right.


A thick stack of resumes sat in front of Southington High School’s top three students on Tuesday afternoon, noting the many academic achievements that earned them a spot at the top.

The three friends—valedictorian James Hoder, salutatorian Erik Bergland and essayist Caitlin Young, gathered to speak about their accomplishments, goals, and plans just a week before they will stand in front of their classmates to say goodbye to their SHS community, and hello to exciting new adventures.

Hoder, the number one academically-ranked student at SHS this year, is off to chase his dream of becoming an electrical and acoustic engineer at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

Bergland, who said his academic interests included “math and anything that contains math,” will study applied mathematics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, while Young will follow her two passions, finance and law, down to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The students’ high ambitions and competitive choices for their college educations follow four years of academic, athletic, and extracurricular success through which the three students developed a strong friendship.

After years of friendly competition, “we’re all really proud of each other’s accomplishments and are happy to be the three here together” said Hoder.

Along with a long list of high-level classes, the three students supported each other in academics, sports, and even on stage. All three are members of the drama club and participated in this year’s spring musical, where they danced and sang in the ensemble of Urinetown.

They were just as successful in sports. Hoder, president of the National Honor Society, played varsity doubles tennis. Young, Vice President of NHS, played field hockey all four years, and Bergland was active in town league baseball and basketball.

When not on the court or in the classroom, Hoder stayed busy and balanced between two passions—engineering and community involvement.

Hoder hopes to study engineering focused on acoustics, which he thinks makes his passion unique—a passion developed largely through his participation with the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE) mentorship program, an afterschool partnership where he learned from professionals, including Southington town officials, and visited real construction sites like the Southington middle school project to learn more about engineering.

Though he describes his career aspirations as very centered, Hoder said that in his personal life he strives to be social and active in a variety of ways. He volunteered more than 600 hours of services with Faith Living Church, where he delivered furniture to the needy in Waterbury, taught vacation bible school, and served as a worship leader.

Outside of his church, Hoder taught the Junior Achievement Program at Strong Elementary School, spent his summers tutoring algebra and basic sciences, and currently plays six instruments, including the piano and mandolin.

Though he said he doesn’t know where his career will take him, he hopes that whether he settles in Southington or somewhere new, he will stay social and active in his community.

Bergland is a member of the math team with Hoder and Young, the recipient of the Rensselaer Medal—an honor bestowed upon the top mathematics student—and is a member of the Future Business Leaders of America, the National Honor Society, and the National Society of High School Scholars.

Young, a member of Spanish Honor Society, was a track and field athlete for three years and taught vacation bible school at St. Dominic for five summers.

All three students said that in their friendship, personal reflections on high school and their upcoming speeches, they hope to encourage one another and their classmates to pursue their passions.

As the students talked about their future plans and passed successes, they agreed that they couldn’t have done it without each other’s friendships and text message reminders of homework assignments.

While the three could easily rattle off course titles like AP Physics, AP United States History, and AP Statistics as their most influential academic experiences at SHS, they agreed that the people that they’ll be addressing next Thursday evening are what they’ll miss the most about this chapter of their lives.

“It’s molded me,” said Bergland of the community at SHS, crediting the relationships formed at SHS with the most lasting impact.

Despite the competition, it is clear that the three students have encouraged each other along the way, and will continue to support each other’s aspirations.

Bergland joked that if his mathematic concepts or Hoder’s engineering work ever require the help of a law firm, they’ll know who to call, gesturing toward Young.

They hope to pass their inspirations along to the rest of their classmates in their speeches next week.

Bergland said he hopes he can use his speech as a platform to send a message to his fellow graduates that it is important follow your passion, no matter what opinions others may hold about your goals, and hopes he can share his excitement for following his own.

“There are a lot of things left to be found out in this day and age,” he said, “and I’m excited to find them out.”

Young agreed, and plans to reassure her classmates that whether they are moving on to pursue their dreams in their careers this fall, they should not lose sight of what they love most and strive to pursue it somehow.

Hoder hopes when giving his speech as valedictorian, a moment he has worked toward for four years, he can address his classmates with the encouragement that the upcoming change is okay, and they have been prepared well, through great friends and faculty, for what the future has to hold.

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