YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Being named salutatorian was not an individual honor for James WoMa.
The Stanford-bound senior, delivering his salutatorian address Saturday at Purchase College, said he would not have made it as far as he did without the support of friends and teachers.
“Even though I’m the one being recognized as salutatorian, I feel like all the people who helped me out also deserve some credit,” WoMa said. “It’s this community that really helped me.”
Despite earning the prestigious honor after scoring the second-highest grade point average in his graduating class, WoMa downplayed the importance of titles.
“Even though I somehow luckily got this title, I don’t think it’s worth it to go through all these challenges and work this hard just for a certain title,” WoMa said. “It’s more about the learning experience. It’s more about learning what you want to do with your life and what drives you.”
When WoMa says he was “lucky,” he doesn’t mean he achieved the grades by accident. Rather, WoMa said he only beat out some other incredible classmates by mere percentage points.
“I thought some other people would have earned salutatorian status,” he said. “And to be honest, I think some other people actually deserve it more in certain aspects. Those who really challenged themselves academically and really achieved good grades academically, we’re all really close up there.”
The well-rounded WoMa will study an array of topics next year at Stanford University, from computer science to business, though he eventually sees himself following a career in math.
“It interests me how pure and how useful math can be,” WoMa said. “I feel like people, what we do is we try and understand things. Math is one of the best tools we have to understand things. I’d like to use math to help others, to create something and contribute to the world.”
His interest in math was sparked even more this past year, when he studied at IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center under Viatcheslav Gurev, who specializes in applied mathematics and bioengineering. For his research project, WoMa created a computer model of a heart to see what would happen if he changed certain factors within the organ.
“[Gurev] really helped me learn what it was like to use mathematical computer models,” WoMa said. “He took time out of his busy life and I’m just some student. He accepted me and let me learn a lot from him.”
WoMa, who participated in the Science Research Program, praised Yorktown High School and its teachers. He said he will miss the high school community next year at Stanford.
“Being in this school, I really learned a broad span of knowledge and I can really home in on what I like and what I want to do, and that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “If I were alone maybe going to a private school, learning by myself, I don’t think I would have received as good of an education.”
WoMa was also a member of the high school’s cross country and tennis teams. He was also promoted last year to the rank of Eagle Scout.