RANDOLPH, NJ- Unwavering support from parents, friends, classmates, and teachers proved to be the pillars of success for Randolph High School’s 2017 Valedictorian and Salutatorian.

Valedictorian Claire Zou and Salutatorian Jessica Freund collectively echoed those sentiments when reflecting on how they achieved their success over the past four years.

“My parents were nothing but supportive throughout high school, and while they had high expectations, they were always more concerned that I was happy and getting enough sleep, said Zou.  “My friends played a major role too; my comic relief when I was stressed, a shoulder when I needed to cry, and my go-to with good news. I don’t think I’d have achieved this status without the collective support of all the people in my life.”

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Freund agreed with the “friends and family” theme.

“My parents have always been (and will always be) instrumental to my success, and I know without their unwavering support and understanding, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish half of what I have,” said Freund.  “The academic environment at RHS is cooperative and team-oriented, where peers and friends were always willing to participate in group study sessions or bounce ideas off of each other.”

When discussing the progression through 13 years in the Randolph school system, Zou recalled some positive influences along the way.

“My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Grunert, was the one who really instilled a strong work ethic in me at such a young age,” said Zou.  “She taught me the value of being a conscientious student when I was only seven years old, and for that I am extremely grateful.” 

Zou further stated, “My junior and senior year math teacher, Mr. Douglas, had the perfect combination of encouragement, sarcasm, and wit, which made his class one I always looked forward to. I grew so much both academically and personally in his classroom because of his constant support and confidence in me.”

Freund felt it was too difficult to pinpoint one or two influences along her path, stating “I have been incredibly fortunate to have had (in my opinion) many of Randolph’s best teachers. Randolph teachers are not only passionate about the subjects they teach but also about the kids in their classes.”

Both Zou and Freund have been actively involved in many areas outside of academics, shaping them into well rounded young women who are ready for the next chapter of life.  But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

“The greatest challenge I faced was achieving a balance between academics, social life, and sleep, which took all four years of high school to figure out, said Freund, who then called it “A lesson very worth the time it took to learn.”

The two banded together for some of their extra-curricular activities, spending four years together on the Cheerleading squad, while also joining forces as Co-Presidents of the UNICEF Club, organizing fundraisers and awareness events.  Both were also members of Bridges Club and many of the Honor Societies at RHS.

Freund, who was captain of both the Varsity Football and Competition cheer squads, stated, “Cheerleading has always been a great passion of mine, and it has taught me the virtues of patience, confidence, and team work.”  Zou stated that for her, cheerleading “pushed me outside my comfort zone, until I came to genuinely love the sport.”

Zou will spend the next four years at Johns Hopkins University, where she plans on double majoring in political science and international studies, with a goal of entering housing and education policymaking in urban areas.  This interest was sparked by her involvement with Bridges Club.

“I know that the city will provide me with ample opportunities to work in these areas alongside local residents,” said Zou.  “My sister just graduated from Hopkins and will be working in Baltimore, so I am beyond excited to be sharing a city with her so soon.”

For Freund, the Golden Dome of Notre Dame is her destination.  She will attend the Mendoza College of Business, while also pursuing a second major in the field of either neuroscience or psychology. 

“When I step onto the Notre Dame campus, I feel like I’m at home,” said Fruend.  “I also took into account the academic rigor and religious focus of the university.  I know that Notre Dame will challenge me to explore new ways of thinking, but will also allow me to stay connected with the values that have been the foundation of my life.”

Both women stated they were “humbled and proud” to have earned their impressive distinctions, calling it an “honor” and a “testament to the support and resources available to them in Randolph.” 

Freund shared her fondest memory of Randolph schools, stating, “Spirit week is by far my favorite time at RHS.  It is so fun and rewarding to watch the entire student body come together and have fun while raising money for some amazing charities.”

“My favorite memories are from orchestra, as I’ve been playing violin since fourth grade and it has been a huge part of my time here,” said Zou.  “From the Boston and DC trips to making some of my best friends through the program, I know I will always look back fondly at my time in the Randolph orchestras.” 

As they plan for the summer ahead and prepare to pack for their respective journeys, both reflected on what they will miss most about Randolph.

“I will definitely miss the close friends that I’ve made in high school; it still hasn’t fully hit me yet that I won’t be able to see them whenever I want in just a few short months,” said Zou. “They’ve been my support system, my source of laughter and encouragement, and I can’t imagine what it’ll be like without them next year.”

For me, it is the people I will miss most,” said Freund.  “I have made lifelong friends and met some of my greatest role models in my time here.  It will be incredibly hard to leave them behind next year.”