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The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

18 Questions for Top of the 2023 Class: After taking on leadership roles in various school clubs and programs, Claire Chen commits to Cornell University to study hotel administration

Asaph Li
After being named homecoming court earlier this school year, senior Claire Chen graduates as a valedictorian and anticipates attending the Nolan School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. (Illustrations by DaHee Kim)

Question 1: How do you feel as one of the 18 valedictorians?

Answer: I feel honored to be one of the valedictorians because I am alongside many talented and hardworking students. It’s also rewarding because it feels like my studying and hard work are recognized.

Question 2: What are your plans after high school? 

A: I plan to attend Cornell University to study hotel administration with a concentration in real estate. I want to travel to different countries for fun and just learn more about different countries. 

Question 3: What are your career aspirations?

A: Although I am not completely set on a career goal, I do intend to focus on hospitality or real estate because I love interacting with people, and I believe the hospitality industry focuses on customer service and engagement. 

Question 4: How did you handle stress and manage your time effectively?

A: I handle stress by taking everything one by one. If I have multiple assignments and tests in a day, I focus on completing each task individually — not paying attention to any other task other than the one I am currently working on. To manage my time effectively, I ensure I have a strong understanding of my own capabilities. I make sure I fill my schedule to be as productive as possible, while still giving me time to complete all my assignments. 

Question 5: What extracurricular activities or leadership roles were you involved in?

A: I was the senior class vice president, president of the Cooperation Act, vice president of GIVE, secretary of the Future Business Leaders, secretary of the Distributive Education Clubs of America and regional coordinator of the Southern California Financial Literacy for You. I was the captain of the basketball team for two years, a Link Crew leader and the Associated Student Body [ASB]’s community affairs committee commissioner. I also worked as a barista at Ding Tea and interned at Representative Michelle Steel’s Congressional office. 

Question 6: What was the class that threatened your valedictorian status?

A: Honors Biology in freshman year was one of my hardest classes. Even after I studied for hours, I would not get my desired results. I struggled in that class all the way until the end of the year, so in junior year when people were deciding between Advanced Placement [AP] Chemistry and AP Biology, I immediately chose AP Chemistry because I refused to go back to biology. 

Question 7: What were some of your academic failures or setbacks, and how did you bounce back from them?

A: An academic setback was balancing my workload. In my freshman year, I had basketball practices from 8-10 p.m., so I would not start on my homework until after 10 p.m. because of a combination of procrastination and sleepiness. I fell into a routine of sleeping 5 hours right after school until 7:30 p.m. to go to basketball practice, and then studying until 3 a.m. every day. While it wasn’t conventional, it allowed me to do well academically and complete everything in my schedule. While that allowed me to adapt freshman year, I adjusted my sleep schedule for the rest of high school after that so I could be more productive and energized.

Question 8: Were there any teachers or mentors who played a significant role in shaping your academic journey? If so, how?

A: Mrs. [Jennifer] Kim, my freshman-year English teacher, inspired me to always take advantage of every opportunity. She advised me when I needed help with my internship, when I encountered any issues and when I simply needed a friend to help me. My family also played a big portion in my academic journey. My dad’s favorite quote, “Opportunities come to those that are ready,” motivated me to always do the best I can. My mom’s constant support allowed me to accomplish more because she was always willing to help me. When I was young, my grandma and grandpa instilled in me the importance of education and helped create my study habits. 

Question 9: How did you navigate the college application process, and what advice do you have for other students going through it?

A: My whole senior year was focused on my college applications. During my freshman, sophomore and junior year, I had either a sport, internship or job, but during my senior year, I made sure to give myself enough time to complete all my applications. I would tell other students going through the college application process not to doubt themselves. It is common for students to start comparing themselves to others, but I would say to stay confident and apply to the schools they want to go to because there is always a chance. 

Question 10: Whether it be school-affiliated or not, were there any specific projects or assignments that you feel were particularly impactful or rewarding?

A: As the community affairs committee commissioner, I organized the Breast Cancer Awareness Week fundraiser with the ASB. After advertising and selling breast cancer awareness shirts as well as encouraging students to donate with the Miracle Minute fundraiser, we were able to raise $3,237 for mothers fighting breast cancer. Being able to help families pay their rent, provide food for their families and assist with their treatment costs felt impactful because it showed that I, no matter how old I am, can make a difference in my community. 

Question 11: What was a specific study habit or routine you had that helped you excel?

A: What helped me excel was disciplining myself to continue studying for every assessment until I understood everything, even if it meant getting no sleep. What encouraged me was eating dessert when I had a lot of work because it kept me awake and happy. 

Question 12: What is your most memorable experience or highlight from your high school years?

A: Some of the most memorable experiences from my high school years were being an emcee for the 2023 spring assembly and having sleepovers with my friends before Senior Sunrise, the ASB Symposium and a 5 a.m. basketball practice. 

Question 13: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: I hope I will have a well-paid job and live in a nice house. I am still uncertain of the life I want, but I hope I am able to travel and go out to eat often. 

Question 14: What will you miss most after you graduate?

A: I will miss the friendships I have built at Sunny Hills and the late-night hangouts I have with my closest friends. I will also miss being able to come home to my family every day and update them on my day. Overall, I will miss the life I have built here, Fullerton in general and the restaurants and cafes I frequently go to. 

Question 15: If you could go back to freshman year and redo high school, would you?

A: I would not redo high school if I could because I made so many amazing memories and met my best friends. Plus, every mistake or failure strengthened me and encouraged me to try harder the next time, which has made me the person I am today. I have accomplished so much without using the previous regret as motivation. 

Question 16: Tell us a life lesson you learned at Sunny Hills.

A: I learned to take advantage of every opportunity and not be afraid of failure. I realized there is nothing to lose from getting rejected, so I should take every chance I get. 

Question 17: As a valedictorian, what last message do you have for the underclassmen?

A: I would say not to get too caught up in trying to measure up to other people’s expectations and just focus on making yourself proud. Everybody has different ideas of success, so just focus on your own happiness and your own improvement. 

Question 18: What was the most useful advice you have received from someone about high school?

A: The most useful advice I heard was to say yes to everything. Being open to everything, I ended up getting involved in many different activities that I have learned so much from. I realized, if I have the ability to do something, I should take the chance because I never know where it could lead me.

This is part of an ongoing series featuring the Class of 2023 valedictorians. More Q&As will come soon.

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Susie Kim, Web Editor-in-Chief
Entering her final year on staff, senior Susie Kim looks forward to continuing The Accolade's online legacy as the web editor-in-chief. Kim plans on focusing on the frequency of online posting and incorporating more multimedia into stories across each section. After concluding her junior year as the news editor, Kim feels confident in reporting timely news both on and off campus. She is excited to work with this year's staff to continue producing The Accolade's print products. Outside of spending time in the journalism room, Kim likes competing with her Science Olympiad teammates and listening to music.
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