By SHERIDAN ROY
Southington High School’s top three ranked students are ready to hit the ground running as they eye graduation right around the corner and prepare for higher education.
Valedictorian Maxwell Heath, salutatorian Mia Langston and essayist Aliya Sarris are ready to leave Southington Public Schools behind. Heath will attend the University of Vermont and major in data science; Langston will attend the University of Connecticut with a focus on French and chemical engineering; and Sarris will attend the University of New Hampshire for political science and international affairs.
“I’ve had a love of learning from a very young age,” said Heath. “My parents always read to me as a child. That helped inspire me to continue learning, and helped me to give up even when classes became difficult.”
Heath said SPS offers many resources and opportunities for students that help them get ahead such as advanced placement classes, studies abroad and summer classes.
Heath kept busy with many initiatives including multiple project lead the way courses with focus on engineering and design, several AP courses and elective courses. He was also president of the creative writing club, and a member of the activists for gender equality club and gender and sexuality alliance club.
He made time as well for his passion for martial arts as a student and instructor assistant at Villari’s Martial Arts Center. Heath is a second degree black belt at Shaolin Kempo Karate.
“School has probably been the most important aspect of my life,” said Heath. “Setting priorities was important.”
Despite a hefty schedule, Heath said he wish he had gotten involved in school clubs earlier.
“Through high school I changed a lot, and accomplished a lot,” he said. “I feel good graduating, but it’s also kind of scary. It’s a daunting task.”
To prepare for life in Vermont, Heath is taking a summer course.
The valedictorian advised peers, “You can do anything you put your mind to. Regardless of where you start, you can achieve great things.”
Langston felt SHS created an environment that allowed students to fulfill their passions. She found a passion for the French language, and through that, got involved in the French honor society, helped organize the COLT poetry contest, and was named world language student of the month.
She also explored her passion for earth science, was involved in the national honor society, and was elected president of WISE (women in science and engineering).
“I’m excited for graduation and for a fresh start,” said Langston. “I think in high school, you get corralled into a box. No one will know me, there will be no labels, but I will miss this sense of familiarity.”
Balancing work, academics, extracurriculars and fun was not always easy. Langston said if she could go back, she would devote more time to focus on different aspects of herself.
“I’m happy with what I did but I would’ve stressed less on academics and more on passions,” she said. “A few years ago I found an interest in golf, but ultimately I decided to quit due to academics.”
Through every challenge she was faced, Langston pushed through.
“It’s okay to not be good at everything, but it’s not okay to give up,” she said. “I know there are challenges ahead of me. Not everything is going to be handed to you, but there’s something to be said about perseverance.”
Sarris thanked teachers and staff, family and friends for being a strong support system through her years at SHS.
“Teachers have gone above and beyond to help students both in class and in their personal lives,” she said. “Teachers made an effort to forge relationships with students and continue to build on those relationships each year. By the end of it, you feel there’s a true connection.”
Through her efforts in organizations such as the intercultural competence community, a student-led group that facilitates conversation about diversity and social justice, Sarris hopes to leave a mark on SHS.
As she looks ahead to a career in political science and international affairs, Sarris understands the importance of being empathetic and understanding social issues. Through involvement with various language programs, she has become a better communicator, as well.
Sarris is currently a Spanish tutor and translator and an Italian class teacher. She is a member of both the Italian and Spanish honor societies, and both the Italian and Spanish clubs in school. She is also the Spanish representative on the world language honor society council.
“With all of the things I’m involved in, it doesn’t feel like work. They’re all subjects and things I’m 100 percent dedicated to and passionate about,” said Sarris. “I don’t regret any of my time spent.”
Sarris said in leaving SHS, she is also leaving behind the pressure she felt the last four years to reach a “certain standard,” and said she is relieved to finally be able to reflect on her successes.
“If I could go back, I would have focused more on being present and in the moment,” she said. “I spent a lot of time looking ahead and had this mentality to always be looking onto the next task. I wish I had appreciated my time a bit more.”
She advised students to be present, be passionate and be purposeful.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.