Not Just the Top of Her Class

What makes a valedictorian?

June 11, 2021

In her mind, Avery Linder associates a valedictorian with someone who does exactly what they are told. A person who will never leave their comfort zone or take risks for fear of losing their high status or GPA — someone who will never truly be remarkable and make a difference in this world because they are trapped forever in their need to be perfect. Despite being named the Class of 2021 valedictorian, this is not who Linder wants to be; in fact, when picturing it in her head, the idea terrifies her. 

Linder’s academic achievements are no small feat, but above all else, she pursued them because of her love of learning, not grades. “I like to think and discuss and understand why things work the way they do,” Linder said. “I like to have my ideas challenged and see how seemingly different parts of our world are related.”

With this mentality in mind, Linder’s road to success was not always easy, as she faced many hardships and challenges along the way. She struggled at times,  believing that her grades defined her as a person, leading to an extremely unhealthy and toxic mindset. She said that “the biggest danger with academic success is associating it with one’s worth.” What keeps her sane is her love of learning, which balances this toxic need for perfection.

This idea of perfection has continued to challenge Linder throughout her time at NVOT. “I think the biggest thing I learned about myself is that I thrive on not always knowing,” she said. Most notably, Linder reflects on her experience in DECA and a science honors program at Columbia University. “It’s when I put myself before scary, unknown, difficult, and beneficial challenges that I thrive,” she explained. 

Linder often credits her friends and family for helping her deal with these challenges and reach her goals. “They encourage me and support me and believe in me, and when I get overwhelmed with responsibilities, they help take some of them off my plate,” which helps her manage the stress of AP classes, leading the girls lacrosse team, her heavy involvement in DECA, and the variety of other extracurriculars she participates in. 

Her teachers have also played a role in helping Linder achieve her goals. She notes that her former AP Physics teacher, Mr. Mustapha Elqariani, and her AP Calculus BC teacher Dr. Arpi Lajinian, have been especially supportive during her time at NVOT. According to Elqariani, “Avery helps [him] see the human side of the student, she has always expressed her feelings about school, and [he] was able to read between the lines and see the students [as a whole] better.” 

Not only that, but Elqariani and Lajinian spoke highly about her positivity and leadership in the classroom, which they noticed was extremely contagious to everyone around her. “Avery [is] a positive role model: with her energetic and cheerful presence,” said Lajinian. This bubbly personality also allowed Linder to make sure to still have fun in the midst of maintaining her GPA. 

“Avery and I spend a lot of our time together going on drives and hoping that we’ll end up somewhere interesting,” said Rebecca Gross, Linder’s close friend. “Even when Avery had a lot to do, we liked to go out for a couple hours to destress and reset our minds.” These drives and adventures were extremely important to Linder as they “[reminded her] to take breaks from [her] studying, and go on adventures.”

As Linder’s senior year comes to an end, and she looks towards her future, she plans to take the lessons she has learned about herself and life, to the University of Chicago. Linder intends to double major in Molecular Engineering and Economics, all while continuing to challenge herself, so she will “not only thrive, but…also escape the valedictorian stereotype.” 

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