RANDOLPH, NJ- Cara Zhao, this year's Randolph High School valedictorian does not seem like someone who has spent weekend nights going "hella" (sic) hard studying. In fact, she is a breath of fresh air: an easygoing, bubbly person in a school of tons of rigorous course loads. But Zhao has put in quite a bit of work to earn her #1 spot.
Zhao says her favorite subject has been math, ever since elementary school. She first became interested in math with those grueling, competitive “Mad Minutes.” Not only did she always finish first, but Zhao even won a free ice cream sundae for learning all of the times tables.
She says of the elementary school teachers, “They really try to get people to like math. It worked for me.”
In fact, the most inspirational teachers who have made the biggest impact, Zhao credits to her former math teachers, Mr. Cascione and Mrs. Franklin. Zhao says of them, “They both made you want to do better; it wasn’t just about learning the subject.”
Throughout high school, Zhao has participated in numerous extra curricular activities, including science clubs and debate. “Science clubs really influenced my decision on what I want to do it life and where I want to go to college.”
In debate, she improved her public speaking skills and learned how to better voice her opinion on issues, becoming a better speaker.
Just like anyone else, Zhao has faced her challenges, but they have helped her come out stronger. These include junior year as a whole. “I distinctly remember the nights where there was so much work, I thought I was going to fail everything.”
To someone to wants better grades: “I’d tell you all the generic things, if you’re hella (sic) competitive, and go into school wanting to learn, you’ll do fine. Just do your best. Don’t worry about the grades as much as the learning.”
This fall, Zhao will be heading to Cornell to pursue her interest in in chemical engineering. “I like science and math, so I looked for into engineering and Cornell has a good engineering program”
She thanks her parents and friends for their endless supply of support. In regards to her friends, she said "They help you get you get through the struggle that is high school,” and have been her favorite part of high school. She credits them as her crucial support system.
She works hard, partially to make her parents proud. Zhao is a first generation American, and her parents worked hard to get here. In fact, she was the unofficial translator when she was younger.
“I was really happy when I found out (about becoming valedictorian). My parents were really proud of me. Well, they don’t explicitly say it, but they are.”
Her strict upbringing has helped mold her into the hardworking, disciplined person she is today.
As for the quote she lives by, it comes from Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar acceptance speech: "No matter where you're from, your dreams are valid."
Cara stands by this quote as she pursues her dreams.