CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – During her high school years, Katie Ricca was regularly told by her guidance counselor that her grade point average sounded like the fever of a small child. Now, having graduated John Jay High School with above 100, it is the measure that propelled her to the top of the class as valedictorian.

“She is one of the most incredible students I’ve encountered in my 20 years as a high school counselor,” Beth DeBeer said. “Beyond her intellect, Katie’s energy, passion and commitment to learning and community is exceptional.”

Katie grew up in Cross River, attended Lewisboro Elementary School, John Jay Middle School, and John Jay High School. She said that educational success was a core value held by her parents that was instilled in their two daughters. They would read to their children, do flashcards together and celebrate successes at school.

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“I found joy in succeeding in school, so every time I got a test back that I did well on, I’d really be so happy about it because it felt like a recognition of all the effort I’d put into it and my achievement,” Katie said.

It was at the start of her freshman year of high school that Katie and her family had to deal with the loss of her father. The resilient student decided to commit herself to attain the same recognition her dad received in his high school: the title of class valedictorian.

“While it’s something I’ve worked for all these years, it is always something that I wanted—to have that piece that connected the both of us. It’s something very special to me to be able to say that both me and my father were class valedictorians,” Katie said.

Beyond stellar academic work and scientific research that drove her up the class rankings, Katie also availed herself of many John Jay High School activities. She was a member of Mock Trial, the high school’s Campus Congress, the Science Olympiad Team, captain of the varsity swim and dive team and volunteered as a tutor for Reach Out John Jay as well as with the Appalachian Service Project.

High School Principal Dr. Steven Siciliano says Katie Ricca exemplifies what is great about John Jay High School. “Katie’s success is a wonderful expression of the opportunities afforded students by the school district and how all can find their niche at John Jay,” he said.

It was the Mock Trial Club—one in which members participate in simulated trials to learn about the legal system—that seemed to spark a real future career interest. Katie will attend Harvard University in the fall and hopes to pursue a law degree.

“I would like to be an assistant district attorney in Manhattan,” she said.  “My dad was an ADA in Manhattan and I want to be a criminal prosecutor.”

About going to Harvard, Katie is humbled and excited to attend a university with such vast resources.

“I am still in awe that I get to have that chance to go and attend school there—I’m still amazed about it sometimes—with the number of people who applied and all of the talented people around the world who wanted to go,” she said.

Her advice to others in high school? Katie encourages all students to “take the leap and do something that you totally wouldn’t have expected or never would have done before.”

Siciliano agreed that it is important for students to step out of their comfort zone during the high school years.

“Students are encouraged, for example, to take the most rigorous courses they can access and get involved in all the extracurricular activities offered,” he said. “It’s where students form relationships and begin ‘trying on new selves’ to see what their interests and passions are.”

In terms of defining success, this academic standout understands that it is something that can be measured in many ways. Katie said she has been thinking about success in a broader sense than just one’s academic record.

“I think that just as everyone has their own separate type of intelligence and their own separate type of capabilities, success is what makes people happy in their lives. Achieving that end goal of happiness in your life, no matter what it is that you do—I think that is what success should be.”