Rockdale County Public Schools announces Class of 2022 valedictorians and salutatorians

Rockdale County Public Schools

 

CONYERS, GA– Rockdale County Public Schools (RCPS) congratulates the valedictorians and Salutatorians of the Class of 2022.

The 2022 valedictorians and salutatorians were notified in surprise announcements on March 30 and 31. They will lead their respective senior class in their school’s graduation ceremony.

Salem High School’s (SHS) graduation ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday, May 25, at SHS;

Rockdale County High School’s (RCHS) and Rockdale Magnet School’s for Science and Technology (RMSST) graduation ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, May 26, at RCHS.

Heritage High School’s (HHS) graduation ceremony is scheduled for Friday, May 27at HHS.

For more information, visit,  www.rockdaleschools.org/graduation.

HERITAGE HIGH SCHOOL

HHS Valedictorian 

Name:  Shelby Symons

Family members:  Dennis (dad) and Patricia (mom), older siblings Megan, Casey, and Brianna Symons.

Intended College/University (or deciding between):  Kennesaw State University (1st choice), University of Georgia (2nd)

Intended Major:  Biology

Intended Career Field:  Forensics

Awards/Scholarships:  Chick-Fil-A Leadership Scholarship, Superintendent’s Academic Award (3 years), Regional Literary Trio Winner (2 years), All-State Choir (4 years), All-State Sightreading Choir

Extracurricular Activities:   Chorus Officer, Literary Trio, All-State choir, NHS, Honor Choir

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor:   

My chorus teacher Mr. Green has been my teacher all four years of high school and his class has given me so much joy and has helped me become more confident and get out of my comfort zone. It’s been a blessing to get to be surrounded by music every day and be challenged by each new piece.

Best high school experience:   

I think the best high school experience I had was getting to sing in the literary trio. I got to start doing this my sophomore year and had so much fun getting to really dive into music with my other trio members. During my senior year, two of my best friends who I did trio with in middle school made it on the competition team with me, and getting to win regionals with them and knowing we made it, was one of the highlights of my year. I always wanted to go to state literary and it felt like fate to get to go with the friends who really started my love of singing in trio.

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction? 

My mom was crying when she walked through the door to give me the news and so was I, to be fair. My dad was recording it all and saying he was going to bring air horns to graduation. My whole choir class cheered when they heard the announcement, and it was really nice that I got to share that first moment with all of them. Many of my friends wanted to be in my speech, and there was a lot of hugging and congratulations going around. When my sister found out, she called me and said she knew I would do it and everyone said they would be in the front row screaming for me when the time came. I’ll remember that first moment every time I see the graduate sign in my yard, and I won’t forget all the love I felt from the people who always believed in me.

What are your takeaways from this past year? 

This past year has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs. The stress of school and the fun of being a senior. It’s like every big moment of my life was happening all at once. This past year has taught me to really treasure the small moments in life and the people we share them with. Those whose friendship isn’t conditional. My friends have helped me through some of my worst times and always give me a reason to smile. I’ve learned to really lean on others more even if sometimes it’s hard for me to show my weaknesses, it’s worse to pretend I’m always strong.

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?   

Over the summer, I’m looking forward to getting together with everyone before we all go to college or wherever else. I’m also looking forward to seeing my sister who lives in California because she’s visiting for my graduation, and I’m excited to start preparing for college and figuring out what to do next.

Advice for freshmen: 

I remember my freshman year wasn’t the best, but I always had something to look forward to with clubs and the friends I had made that year, so don’t just go through high school just to get it over with. Find something you’re passionate about. Whether it be healthcare, fine arts, or math, join a club or a class that you can thrive in and enjoy. Being in choir was one of the best parts of high school and the people I met there I will truly miss, so find something that gives you a purpose or joy in high school because it’s not all boring classes and getting the grade, and it can help you find good friends that might stay in your life even after you walk that stage.

HHS Salutatorian

Name:  Anias Pullen

Family members:  Ryan Pullen (dad), Kimberley Pullen (mom); sisters: Adrienne Pullen, Ajanae Pullen, Alani Pullen

Intended College/University:  Georgia Institute of Technology

Intended Major:  Computer Science

Intended Career Field:  Full Stack Development or Blockchain Engineering

RCPS Schools Attended:  Shoal Creek Elementary School, Edwards Middle School, Heritage High School, Rockdale Career Academy

Awards/Scholarships:  Superintendent’s Academic Award, UGA Class of 2022 Georgia Certificate of Merit, 2021 RCA Prestige Programming, 1st in East Atlanta Technology Fair – Project Programming 11th/12th

Extracurricular Activities:   RCA SkillsUSA President, RCA First Tech Challenge Robotics lead, Lexicon Technologies IT intern, RCA Engravings programming intern, Elementary learning coach/tutor, working at Papa Johns

Favorite Subjects:  AP Computer Science and AP Calculus

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor:  

Out of all my teachers, Mr. Jesse Smith at RCA definitely pushed me the most for my passion in Computer Science. Every competition, CTSO club, and internship I’ve participated in were all due to his encouragement and resources. I spend most of my schedule in his class, and highly recommend any new students to take up his pathway. Additionally, I’d give big props to Mr. Andrew Baker and Coach Snagg at HHS, and Ms. Roach and Mr. Creel at RCA for their influence in my growing interests in engineering. Although a few of these teachers don’t work here anymore, they definitely left a lasting impact on my education.

Best high school experience:  

By far it’d have to be the week before COVID happened, back in March of 2020 when I was a sophomore. It was my first year with SkillsUSA and we traveled to Atlanta for the State Leadership and Skills Conference. It was about 45 of us set to compete over the weekend, but unfortunately the event was canceled after 4 hours. Despite that, it was the most fun I’ve had on a school trip in a while. The walk around the city and hotel was pretty nice. Plus, they had some delicious sushi boxes if I do say so myself. Overall, I’ve had some very memorable experiences with any SkillsUSA events at parades, festivals, and even SEL meetings.

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction?  

My parents aren’t the best at keeping secrets, so it was pretty funny when they realized I knew about the surprise. Everyone has been very supportive of my efforts leading to this and were very proud but not surprised.

What are your takeaways from this past year?  

Although I’ve had a difficult year, the transition from COVID to in person greatly improved my happiness. For a bit, I have been juggling two jobs and several extracurriculars, but I am very content with where I’m at now! I can be particular with my planning, so having worked very hard to set my future is allowing to relax a lot.

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?  

I’ll be ready to start my summer term at my university a couple weeks after I graduate, so I’m looking forward to the concerts, trips, and lectures planned for the program.

Advice for freshmen:  

Explore everything your school has to offer, especially any career classes (CTAEs). Whether your future plans are at college or work, learning useful trades will always be beneficial for any field. RCA classes are a must if you want the opportunity to gain internship experience, take Dual Enrollment (highly recommend), or join any CTSO clubs (SkillsUSA, Decca, FCCLA, FTC Robotics, HOSA, the list goes on). Have good relationships with any of your teachers because they are truly there to help you!

ROCKDALE COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL

RCHS Co-Valedictorian 

Name:  Karen Tejada

Family Members:  Nicolas Tejada, Maria Bermudez, Nelsy Tejada, Yesica Tejada

Intended College/University:  University of Georgia

Intended Major:  Human Development and Family Sciences

Intended Career Field:  Travel nurse and then Physician’s Assistant

RCPS Schools Attended:  Pine Street Elementary School, Conyers Middle School, Rockdale County High School, Rockdale Career Academy

Awards/Scholarships:  Superintendent’s Academic Award, Bulldog award, Coach’s award for track and cross country

Extracurricular Activities:  Latino Student Union, Environment Club, CIU (Christian Club), Track, Cross Country, Beta Club

Favorite Subjects:  English Language Arts, Science

Memorable help from a teacher/member/mentor:

Ms. Thieleke helped me as an artist. She has always been supportive of my art and she was the reason why I started taking art seriously. Ms. Harris has been a tremendous help in the college application process. Ms. Hardaway has kept me in check. She’s also prepared me for the healthcare field.

Best high school experience:  

I don’t have a specific one but doing cross country and track have been some of my best experiences. Going to state for cross country was great. My track teammates have become like family. We’ve made fun memories.

What was your families and friends reaction?  

They were happy for me because they know firsthand all the hard work I put in and sacrifices.

What are your takeaways from this past year?  

Time will FLY BY!! Enjoy the little moments you have with people. Life is too short; do what makes you happy.

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?  

Hanging out with family and friends going to Mexico and getting ready for college.

Advice for freshman:  

Stay focused!! You have to put yourself and goals first because only you can give yourself what you want. If you want anything in life you have to be willing to put the work in.
RCHS Co-Valedictorian 

Name:  Andria Thomas

Family Members:  Tia King (mom), Antonio Thomas (dad), Aalia Thomas (sister), Bryson Thomas (brother)

Intended College/University (or deciding between):  Georgia State University, Louisiana State University, Spelman College, or Xavier University of Louisiana

Intended Major:  Biology/Biomedical Engineering

Intended Career Field:  Healthcare

RCPS Schools Attended:  Flat Shoals Elementary School, Memorial Middle School, Edwards Middle School, Rockdale County High School, Rockdale Career Academy

Awards/Scholarships:  Principal’s List, Superintendent’s Academic Award (2020-21, 2021-22), Georgia Piedmont Technical College Dean’s List, HOPE Scholarship, Essentials of Healthcare Student of the Year (2020-21)

Extracurricular Activities: Varsity Softball, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) (President), RCA Student Ambassador, Secretary of State Ambassador, Healthcare Work-Based Learning (Internal Medicine Intern), National Honor Society

Favorite Subjects:  Biology, Healthcare

Memorable Help from a teacher/staff member/mentor:

I have had great experiences with so many teachers in my high school career. Coming into my first year of high school, I was blessed to have such a great group of teachers and mentors. All of them have contributed to my success over past three years. Mr. Foster at RCA is one of the most caring teachers I have ever met. He provided me with my first ever scholarship for my AP Government exam. Earning this scholarship allowed me to uncover to my full potential and since then, I continually strive to reach it. Additionally, Dr. Mathis provided with so much support in ninth grade. She has always been in my corner cheering me on. Dr. Mathis has consistently supported me and provided me with vital information that helped me to graduate a year early, and for that I am deeply appreciative. Finally, Mrs. Hardaway has encouraged me to pursue my passion for healthcare head on. She has been an integral part of my journey since enrolling in the healthcare pathway. She has helped to open many doors for me as I pursue my career goal of becoming a healthcare professional. Mrs. Hardaway has also been an inspiration for me beyond the classroom. She holds me accountable and motivates me to be the best version of myself in every endeavor I pursue. Her belief in me and unwavering support has reinforced my confidence that I can and will achieve my career goals. Lastly, I am truly grateful and forever indebted to all these magnificent educators.

Best High School Experience:  

Although the COVID-19 pandemic upended normal life, honestly, going virtual was the greatest experience that ever happened to me in high school. I was able to manage my own schedule while still maintaining my grades which provided me with valuable practice of independence that I’m certain I will need to be successful in college.

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction?  

My family and friends were extremely happy, excited, and proud of me.

What are your takeaways from this past year?  

Do not let ambition blind you from creating and building positive and meaningful relationships.

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?  

I look forward to traveling and preparing for college.

Advice for freshman:  

Take initiative for your own education and remember that YOU have your best interest at heart. It is important to consult with your mentors and counselors, however you are responsible for the path that you want. So, dedicate time and effort into putting in research to achieve your goals. Furthermore, always challenge yourself and never let failure deter you from extending your potential.

RCHS Salutatorian

Name:  Kharissa Gabaree

Family Members:  Khemerg Gabaree, Nathaniel Gabaree, Keishauh Drake, Sean Mer, Kaila Gabaree, Kira Gabaree

Intended College/University:  University of Georgia

Intended Major:  Mathematics Education

Intended Career Field:  University Professor

RCPS Schools Attended:  Shoal Creek Elementary, General Ray Davis Middle School, Rockdale County High School, Rockdale Career Academy

Awards/Scholarships:  Gold medal – FCCLA STAR Event State Competition, Zell Miller Scholarship, UGA Georgia Access Award, American Express Scholarship

Extracurricular:  Work-Based Learning (WBL) student teacher, Rockdale Youth Leadership alumn, National Honor Society, Beta Club, RCA FCCLA Chapter President

Favorite Subjects:  Math, History

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor:   

Times when I needed help with work or outside the classroom, these teachers were always there for me: Mr. Foster (RCA), Mrs. Houk (RCA), Ms. Conley (DMS), Dr. Stekandel (DMS), Mrs. Smith (SCE), and Ms. Collinsworth (SCE).

Best high school experience:  

Either being surprised with the Salutatorian title this year or FCCLA State Leadership Conference.

What was your families and friends reaction?  

My mom cried and immediately posted it on Facebook. My family is proud of me and I got many congratulations.

What are your takeaways from this past year?  

God got me! Once I set a good goal, nothing can get in my way of achieving it.

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?  

Spending a lot of time with friends I will be leaving behind because I am graduating early.

Advice for freshman:  

Enjoy school and surround yourself with the right people. Make good memories and always find joy in the little things.

ROCKDALE MAGNET SCHOOL FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

RMSST Valedictorian 

Name:  Laura Goldgar

Family members:  An Goldgar (mother), Dean Goldgar (father), Sarah Goldgar (sister)

Intended College/University:  Georgia Institute of Technology

Intended Major:  Chemical Engineering

Intended Career Field:   Chemical Engineering

RCPS Schools Attended:  Lorraine Elementary School, General Ray Davis Middle School, Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology

Awards/Scholarships:  National Merit Scholarship Finalist, Governor’s Honors Program finalist, National Association of Biology Teachers Award, Second Place Honors at Georgia Science and Engineering Fair

Extracurricular Activities:  RMSST Math Team, Association of Artists, RMSST Ambassadors, RMSST Green Team, National Honors Society, Mu Alpha Theta, RCHS Swim Team

Favorite Subjects:  Chemistry, Statistics

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor:  

Two of my teachers, Mr. Huebsch and Mrs. Williams, helped me through many rough patches throughout my high school career by providing me with endless support and words of encouragement. It was really comforting to know that they always had my back.

Best high school experience:  

My favorite high school experience was going to our school’s annual Fall Ball dance with my friends.

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction?  

My friends and family were very supportive and congratulatory upon finding out. My family were very happy my dedication towards academics paid off.

What are your takeaways from this past year?  

Maintaining a good social network is extremely beneficial. It is good to always have people that you can reach out to for help, whether it be school-related help or mental support.

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?  

I look forward to spending time with my family and going hiking with them in the mountains.

Advice for freshmen:  

Be sure to maintain a good balance between school, socialization, and sleep.  Do not take on more than you can handle simply to maintain a good transcript.  Also, staying organized is extremely crucial to making sure that everything is completed on time!

RMSST Salutatorian

Name:  Margaret Hwang

Family members:  Kyong Kim (mother), Elizabeth Turk (sister), Kyung Whang (father)

Intended College/University:  Georgia Institute of Technology

Intended Major:  Aerospace Engineering

Intended Career Field:  Aerospace Engineering/Research and Education

RCPS Schools Attended:  Lorraine Elementary, General Ray Davis Middle School, Rockdale Magnet School

Awards/Scholarships: Scholarships – Women Leadership Scholarship, Hope/Zell Miller.  Awards – Naval Science Award, Regional Science Fair Grand Champion, Calculus MVP (from math team), Rockdale Honor Orchestra First Chair, All-State Orchestra Violinist

Extracurricular Activities:  Currently, I am Captain of Math Team, Co-Captain of Science Team, Treasurer of National Honors Society, and Secretary of Mu Alpha Theta, the math honors society.  I am also the Concertmaster of the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Rockdale Youth Orchestra.

Favorite Subjects:  Calculus, Biology

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor:  

I received the most memorable advice from my piano teacher after experiencing a series of school-related rejections and was having a difficult time. She told me to imagine I was driving along a road with a speed bump and asked if it would be logical to drive over the same speed bump over and over.  I responded by saying it wasn’t, and that it would damage the car.  She compared this to my situation by saying I was only hurting myself by being unable to let go of what had already happened.  I kept this advice in mind throughout high school, remembering it each time I faced any rejections or obstacles.

Best high school experience:  

My best high school experience was attending the Southern Stingray Bowl with the Science Team for all four years of high school. During practices, we have team bonding by playing various games which usually results in funny memories. Getting to know my teammates through the competition and team bonding activities is one of the best parts of participating in science bowl.  Although the competition normally consists of an overnight trip, this year, it was virtual, so we got to play badminton together after the competition instead of enduring a four-hour bus ride back to school.

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction?   

My mom wanted to set up the yard sign right away, and my sister sent me a string of excited messages in all caps.

What are your takeaways from this past year?   

The biggest takeaway from this year was learning how to prioritize. This year, I found myself with many new responsibilities, and it was necessary for me to decide early on what was most important to me.  Although I had to make some difficult decisions, it allowed me to have the best experience this year both academically and socially.

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?   

I’m excited to visit Europe this summer and afterwards, I plan on teaching violin to students and getting lots of sleep before I go to college.

Advice for freshmen:   

Throughout high school, there will be many happy moments, but at the same time, there will be low moments. During these times, it is okay and necessary to give yourself a break to process. After taking a break, do your best to continue life as normal while keeping your plans and goals in mind. Being able to move on from challenging situations will help you fully enjoy the present and the hundreds of successes that are coming your way!

SALEM HIGH SCHOOL

SHS Valedictorian

Name:  Angelina Mandzyuk

Family members:  Lyudmila Mandzyuk (mother), Aleksandr Mandzyuk (father), older brother Vlad Mandzyuk (2017 SHS Salutatorian), older sister Christina Mandzyuk (2018 SHS Salutatorian), younger brother David Mandzyuk, and younger sister Diana Mandzyuk

Intended College/University:  Georgia State University

Intended Major:  Nursing

Intended Career Field:  Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. From a very young age I always had a passion for two things, children and the medical field. Children bring me so much joy and the ability to work with them in a healthcare setting has always been my dream.

RCPS Schools Attended:  C.J. Hicks Elementary School, Edwards Middle School, Salem High School, Rockdale Career Academy

Awards/Scholarships:  Introduction to Healthcare Student of the Year (2019-2020), Silver Flask Award for Chemistry, Salem High School STAR Student, Salem High School Principal’s List (2019-2022), Superintendent’s Scholar Award (2020-2022), and Salem High School Class of 2022 Valedictorian.

Extracurricular Activities:  Salem High School National Honor Society – President, Salem High School BETA Club, and Salem High School International Thespian Society, Troupe #5120

Favorite Subjects:  Healthcare and Early Childhood Education at RCA

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor:  

One of my biggest mentors has been my employer, Tamu Spruill Barton (FNP), from New Heart Medical Center. I started my internship at New Heart through the RCPS Work-Based Learning program. From the very beginning, Tamu has been nothing but kind and patient towards me as I learned to navigate myself within a healthcare facility. She has taught me so much about what it means to be a healthcare provider and only helped further my desire to pursue a career as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. As an NP herself, she has had so much knowledge and advice to offer me, and I am forever grateful for it.

Best high school experience:  

Some of my best high school memories came from Mr. Davis 9th grade AP Government class. I made so many friends in that class and we shared many, many laughs together. Mr. Davis was a wonderful teacher, and I would always leave his class with a smile.

What was your family’s and friends’ reaction?  

My family’s reaction to finding out that I am Valedictorian was nothing but special. My brothers were one of the first people to find out. They were super proud and happy for me! My sisters reacted the same way. They all couldn’t have been happier for me. It has now become an ongoing joke between my family that I beat my older brother and sister to first place! My mom had the best reaction out of everyone. As soon I told her, she started to scream and jump out of excitement! She never doubted for a second that I would finish as Valedictorian, even when I doubted myself. She has been my biggest supporter through it all and I could not have done it without her.

What are your takeaways from this past year?  

My takeaway from this past year has been to never give up. Many people told me that Senior year would be easy, but it has been anything but that. I have never been more overwhelmed and there were so many moments when I felt like giving up. However, it was through the grace of God that I overcame all of the challenges that senior year had to offer.

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?  

The thing I look forward to the most over the summer is relaxing! I’m excited to finally take a break and look at what the next season of my life looks like. I also look forward to volunteering and be involved in my community. Helping others, is something that I always found joy in.

Advice for freshmen:  

My advice for freshmen is to stay on top of your work and do your best! Your freshman year sets the foundation for how the rest of your high school career will look like. Be sure to build yourself a strong foundation with good grades and a high GPA.

SHS Salutatorian

Name:  Simisola Omotoso

Family Members:  Michael Omotoso (father), Juliet Omotoso (mother), Isaac Omotoso (brother), Oyinkansola Omotoso (sister), Feyisayo Omotoso (sister).

Intended College/University (or deciding between):  University of Georgia or Georgia Institute of Technology

Intended Major:  Computer Science

Intended Career Field:  Computer Programmer

RCPS Schools Attended:  Flat Shoals Elementary, Memorial Middle School, Salem High School

Awards/Scholarships:  Superintendent’s Academic Award (2020-2022), National Honor Society Membership Badge (2022), Young Georgia Author’s 1st Place (2021), 8th Place in Quiz Bowl SkillsUSA (2021), UGA Certificate of Merit (2021), Young Georgia Author’s Participation (2022),Master of Coordinate Algebra (2019), Outstanding Student in Writer’s Workshop (2019), GPA 3.5 and Above (2019), Principal’s List (2019 & 2022),Academic Excellence in Biology (2019), 110% Award (2019)

Extracurricular Activities:  Foreign Language Club (2019-20), SkillsUSA (2020-22), Writer’s Oasis (2021-22), National Honor Society (2021-22),National Honor Society of High School Scholars (2019-2022)

Favorite Subjects:  AP Computer Science, Writer’s Workshop, AP Psychology

Memorable help from a teacher/staff member/mentor: 

Jesse Smith from Rockdale Career Academy helped me understand Computer Science by being my AP Computer Science teacher in 11th grade and being my employer in Work-Based Learning. Tanya Trent taught me 9th Grade Literature, helped me get into National Honor Society, and helped me start Writer’s Oasis. Clifford Cephas taught me Geometry while also telling us life lessons.

Best high school experience:   

It is my 2nd semester senior year when my last three years of high school pays off right now.

What was your family’s and friends reaction?  

They were surprised but proud.

What are your takeaways from this past year?  

I realized how important the first few years of high school are. I also realized that my high school experience will end soon.

What do you look forward to doing over the summer?  

I look forward to learning how to drive and applying for more scholarships.

Advice for freshman:  

When you step into the building, be prepared to come to class, listen to teachers, complete schoolwork, and turn them in on time. Bad grades will affect the rest of your high school career until you’re a senior.

 

 

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