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The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

Class of 2024 sets record with 39 valedictorians, surpassing previous highs in 2019, 2021, 2023

Valedictorians+sit+in+the+library+during+first+period+on+Monday%2C+April+15%2C+as+they+listen+to+principal+Craig+Weinreich+talk+about+how+the+graduation+speech+candidates+will+be+chosen.
Chloe Kang
Valedictorians sit in the library during first period on Monday, April 15, as they listen to principal Craig Weinreich talk about how the graduation speech candidates will be chosen.

Thirty-nine.

In math, that’s the product of one and 39 as well as two prime numbers: three times 13.

In sports, that’s 10 fewer than the name of San Francisco’s football team — the 49ers — which lost the Super Bowl earlier this year to the Kansas City Chiefs.

And for the Class of 2024, that’s the new, record-setting number of valedictorians, beating last year’s high of 18, which tied the total from the Class of 2019 and 2021.

“It’s great to be able to celebrate more students and their accomplishments, and I know that this class has worked really hard to get to that status,” said principal Craig Weinreich, who confirmed the total on Monday, April 15, during first period when he had them summoned into the library to make the announcement. “We’re excited to be able to recognize them; the more, the merrier.”

Since many of the nearly 40 top students with GPAs ranging from 4.0-5.0 have similar classes together throughout their time at Sunny Hills, some said they expected the total would be in double digits.

“I knew there would be a lot of valedictorians, but 39 is kind of crazy and seems unprecedented,” said valedictorian Cameron Loh, who plans to major in business economics at UCLA. “Although the number is quite large, I believe that every single person is deserving of the recognition, and it should not take away from anyone’s accomplishments.”

Another top-of-the-class senior, Arum Han, agrees with Loh’s assessment.

“Thirty-nine valedictorians is a huge number, but I also think of it as a huge accomplishment for all of the students who were able to earn this title,” said Han, who’s committed to majoring in biology at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

According to an Accolade poll from Friday, April 12-Wednesday, May 8, 38% of 100 respondents are amazed about the new record; 34% reflected their concerns on grade inflation; 28% responded that it doesn’t matter how many valedictorians the school gets.

Valedictorian Justin Luc said he would categorize his reaction to be among the 38%.

“I’m surprised that there are so many valedictorians this year,” said Luc, who will be majoring in UCLA computer engineering. “I feel like such a title would be more selective.”

IS 39 THE MOST IN CALIFORNIA?

Though this year’s graduating class (606 seniors as of last month, according to school officials) has set a new bar for future classes to come, 39 isn’t as huge of an amount compared with other public high schools in California and nationwide.

According to a June 2022 Fresno Bee article, Fresno’s Edison High School recorded 115 valedictorians out of 558 seniors in 2022.

The Class of 2017’s Central Magnet School in Tennessee featured 48 valedictorians out of 193 seniors, according to a May 2017 Daily News Journal article.

SHOULD VALEDICTORIAN ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS CHANGE?

Head counselor Beth Thomson said the requirements to determine who’s eligible to be at the top of the class have remained the same since May 1995.

The list below can also be found in the Lancer Handbook, which is posted as a PDF file on the Sunny Hills website:

  • unweighted 4.0 GPA
  • 32 minimum honors semester classes
  • eight minimum honors semester classes in senior year
  • 10 minimum academic classes in senior year
  • all A’s and B’s at third quarter grade report in senior year
  • no academic honesty violations 

Besides the statistics, Thomson said she has observed another factor that makes the Class of 2024 valedictorians stand out.

“They’re just go-getters. Not saying other classes have not been, and I have a lot of go-getters who aren’t valedictorians and didn’t meet all the criteria,” she said. “But there’s a lot of active and involved and really self-started students right now in general. 

“I mean, how many of our students have their own business that they run from home? That’s quite a few. That’s surprising enough.”

The one issue Thomson said she cannot address is the question some might have whether grade inflation could have led to such a high number of top students this year.

“I can’t speak to that because I have never been in the classroom, and that’s not where my brain naturally goes,” she said. “So, I would straight up answer that question with a no, but I don’t have an opinion about that.”

As of May, school officials said they have no intention to revise the guidelines, though if a change is made, it would affect an incoming class instead of current students.

Still, with the spike in valedictorians representing 6% of the Class of 2024, some procedures had to change when it came to informing all of them.

In the past, valedictorians usually got summoned to the principal’s office for the head administrator to make the announcement that they were at the top of their class. However, because 39 cannot fit into Weinreich’s office, those who qualified for the status were summoned to the library, where they met during first period Monday, April 15, with Weinreich, other administrators and their counselors.

The record-setting total also meant school officials had to cut down on how many can speak at the Thursday, May 30, graduation ceremony at Fullerton Union High School’s stadium.

Of 39 eligible people, 15 auditioned Thursday, May 2, and three were chosen to speak.

HOW DID THE CLASS OF 2024 GET TO 39 TOP STUDENTS?

Senior Thomas Pennella credited his and his peer’s success to their perseverance and hard work, especially since they were the class that started as freshmen in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I noticed that we have a really smart class, so I think it’s deserved,” said Pennella, who has committed to attend the University of California, Irvine [UCI], to study chemical engineering. “I can see our class doing a lot, so I’m not surprised that there’s a lot of valedictorians.”

The Class of 2024 also spent the first few months of their high school experience on Zoom sessions for distance learning and didn’t get the choice to come to campus for hybrid learning until Nov. 2, 2020.

“I think having my first year on Zoom might have helped because it was pretty easy to get A’s that year because of the shorter schedule, which opened extra free time to study,” said Brandon Flores, one of the 10 valedictorians who plan to enroll in UCLA. “During the distance learning year, we got out a lot earlier, which meant that classes were shorter and we had less work and more time to study/complete our homework.”

Weinreich said the awarded number of valedictorian titles is a testament to the Class of 2024’s outstanding performance over the past four years.

“[Becoming valedictorian is] somewhat formulaic, but to somehow get the grades, they still have to do the work and do the things that are necessary for it,” the principal said. “The students ultimately have to put the work in, and some years, you just have a large group of kids that are putting in a lot of effort.”

Valedictorian Ryder Robbins also perceives the total to benefit the school’s reputation.

“I think the fact that Sunny Hills has 39 valedictorians shows that the school does a very good job at educating its students,” said Robbins, who’ll study public health at UCI. “For 39 students to excel in hard classes shows that the school must have a very good curriculum and well-trained staff.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

With college admissions notices being released by now, many of the top students said they didn’t see their record number being a negative factor when measuring their chances of getting into their dream schools.

“The valedictorians were not announced until well after I submitted my applications,” said Flores, who plans to major in chemistry.

Isabella Jacobs, who committed to USC, also felt the same, mentioning how she was accepted to colleges before she was named a valedictorian.

Thomson, who oversees students with last names that start with the letter A to Flores, is familiar with six of the 39 valedictorians; based on that group, she said what stood out to her about those students was their personality.

“From my students [who come talk to me], I know that all of my students know how to have a conversation with an adult,” she said. “They’re just very conversational, and they’re very active and very involved.”

WHO ARE THESE 39ERS?

The valedictorians of the Class of 2024 stand for a group picture in the quad on Monday, April 15.

Out of the top-ranking students this year, 77% are Asian, while 23% are non-Asians.

“Regardless of ethnicity, those who work hard to receive the award will win it,” freshman Tatiana Galvez said. “Sunny also has a predominantly Asian population, so it’s not surprising that most of the valedictorians were Asian.”

Fraternal twins, seniors Cameron and Dylan Loh, have a lot more in common than just the title of valedictorians. Both say they have been competitive about winning each other in sports, and both have committed to UCLA.

Each has the same word as part of their major with Cameron Loh studying business economics while his brother wants to focus on business and finance.

“I think Cameron and I picked the same majors,” Dylan Loh said. “We both chose business/econ because we both want to end up going toward the finance route!”

The Lohs said they don’t regard their mother as representing the “Tiger mom” mentality; instead, as a preacher of effort.

“Not everyone has the same opportunity to accomplish this, and I think it is such a cool and unique accomplishment that my family and I will always cherish,” Cameron Loh said. “I think it says a lot about my parents and is a testament to the motivation they gave us and the lessons of hard work they instilled in us since we were young; getting As was not necessarily a requirement throughout our childhood, but hard work and doing the right thing was the requirement.”

The Lohs also have a younger sister, freshman Avery, who said she doesn’t feel any pressure to repeat their brothers’ academic achievement when she’s a senior.

“The moment I found out my brothers were valedictorians, I saw them as role models for not only school but life in general,” Avery Loh said. “I know how hard they’ve worked all throughout school, especially the last four years, and I definitely aspire to be like them and have their amazing work ethic.”

            Moreover, one set of twins had a different result. Nonetheless, valedictorian brother Swapnil Krishnan felt that it did not have any importance in their sibling relationship.

            “I think both of our results were expected based on our transcripts, so it really wasn’t a surprise,” Krishnan said. “It didn’t have an impact on our relationship because academics have no place in a sibling relationship and it ultimately isn’t that deep, so it wasn’t a big deal for either of us.”

THE PROGNOSIS FOR THE CLASS OF 2025

Thomson said she expects the total number of valedictorians for next year’s graduating class to go down.

“Just projecting through the juniors that we have right now, it’s a little lower than the 39 for just the unweighted 4.0 aspect. … But I really can’t speak to the future because things happen that surprise me all the time,” the head counselor said.

Junior Amy Roh believes that the high record poses a difficulty to future classes.

“Class of 2024 was insane,” Roh said. “I think it’ll be a challenge to surpass that record.”

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