Maddie is a senior at La Salle. She plays on the varsity soccer team and loves to read and write. She also likes to travel, hang out with friends and family,...
Bengtson, Elkhal, Smith, and Wobig: This Year’s Valedictorians and Salutatorian Reflect on Their Time at La Salle
May 20, 2020
On Wednesday, May 6, four La Salle seniors got a surprise visit to their house from President and Principal Mr. Andrew Kuffner.
When Mr. Kuffner showed up at their door, these four seniors found out that they had been selected as the valedictorians and salutatorian for the class of 2020.
Although the valedictorian and salutatorian awards are traditional academic awards that are universally recognized, “no two schools do it the exact same,” Vice Principal of Academics Mr. Mario De Ieso said.
At La Salle, the valedictorian and salutatorian honors are strictly academic awards, meaning other areas such as service, extracurriculars, or sports are not taken into consideration when choosing which students are deserving of the honor.
“As a college prep institution, we felt it appropriate to have a strictly academic award,” Mr. De Ieso said. Along with the valedictorian/salutatorian awards, La Salle also designates awards to seniors each year that are based on “other intangibles not related to academics,” he said. For example, the Zach Davidson award, the De La Salle award, and the Falcon Determination award are other honors that are distributed to seniors each year, celebrating characteristics that Mr. De Ieso said “can’t always be reflected in GPA.”
“Every year that I’ve been at La Salle, we’ve had not one, not two, not three, but a host of seniors, graduates, that are so deserving,” he said. “It seems almost more fair to make sure that we have the ability to recognize specifically the outstanding achievement in a variety of areas, not just academic, which [valedictorian/salutatorian] is, but also in character and faith and service.”
The valedictorian and salutatorian honors, Mr. De Ieso said, are based firstly on cumulative weighted GPA, although that isn’t the only factor. The administrative team reviews the transcripts of a group of candidates who have the highest GPAs in their class, then decides on a recommendation of students to receive the award. The recommendation is then reviewed by the Academic Council, which consists of each department chair, who then provides input on the potential candidates.
Mr. De Ieso said that this year’s recipients of the valedictorian and salutatorian awards stood out from their peers because they took every opportunity they could, then excelled in those areas, all throughout their high school careers.
“That’s what it really came down to,” Mr. De Ieso said. “If there was an opportunity to take a rigorous class, it was taken, and they did well in it.”
These students who jumped on and excelled in every opportunity possible are Franny Bengtson, Grace Elkhal, and Ashley Smith, who have been awarded the honor of valedictorian, and Lucas Wobig, this year’s only salutatorian.
“One thing in common that all of these students have, the three [valedictorians] and the one salutatorian, is that when they had the opportunity to let off the gas pedal a little bit, and sometimes that’s usually senior year — you’ve been accepted to colleges, and maybe you’re taking a job or maybe you’re volunteering, you’ve done what you need to do — they didn’t,” Mr. De Ieso said. “They took the five or six AP classes, they made it work, when really, they didn’t have to.”
While the hallways of La Salle are filled with lots of studious, hardworking students, these four graduates have distinguished themselves from their peers, consistently building an outstanding academic record for the duration of their high school careers.
Here’s a look into the high school journeys of each of the valedictorians and salutatorian of the class of 2020 — how they got to where they are today, their reflections on different aspects of high school, and their plans for life after La Salle.
Valedictorian Franny Bengtson has two older siblings who were valedictorians themselves, so throughout high school she tried not to think about the award, so as not to cause herself stress by comparing herself to her siblings.
Instead of shooting for the goal of valedictorian, she aimed to always do her best, not preoccupying herself with comparisons to those around her.
“I think if [valedictorian is] your goal, you’re most likely going to be disappointed because I think that’s probably not what learning should be about,” she said. “I think just trying to do your best and get the most out of your education that you can is a better goal.”
Bengtson said that she is fairly self-motivated in terms of pushing herself to do her best, and that her “perfectionist side” has played a role in her academic success, “because I’ve just been very conscious of how I’m doing in school and my grades and what I need to work on,” she said.
However, she said that her perfectionism also causes her to put quite a bit of pressure on herself. Most of the pressure she feels to be academically successful comes from her own internal drive rather than external factors, as she said that her parents have emphasized that “all that matters is that you’re trying your best.”
“They would have been completely fine if I had gotten straight C’s my entire high school career if that was the best I could do,” she said. “They would’ve totally been supportive.”
Bengtson said that her perfectionism causes her “so much stress, all the time,” because she tends to get really down on herself if she doesn’t perform as well on a test or assignment as she had hoped.
She wishes that she wouldn’t feel as “unreasonably upset” as she sometimes does when she doesn’t meet her own academic standards, as most everyone does “really poorly on a test once in a while” if they are challenging themselves in their classes, she said.
“I hate it so much being that person who gets [an] 88 on a test and is like, ‘oh no, I did bad,’” she said. “I hate being that person. But I feel I am that person sometimes because of the perfectionism, which is a little infuriating.”
Up until she entered AP Calculus AB at the start of her junior year, Bengtson had a relatively easy time doing well in most of her previous classes. When she started to take harder courses like AB Calculus, she said it was a “hard transition,” as it was difficult for her to accept the fact that she would no longer be able to get A’s on all of her assignments and tests.
“During AB Calculus I think was when I started actually getting bad grades on tests pretty regularly,” she said.
This difficult transition caused some distress for Bengtson, but her teacher Mr. Larry Swanson helped her better understand that sometimes failure is necessary for learning.
“[Mr. Swanson] was like, ‘This is what happens. This is what calculus is. It’s not easy, it’s not just something that you can skate through on and expect to know without practicing a ton,’” Bengtson said. “He kind of made me realize that it’s okay to do really poorly on a test or an assignment if you’re trying. If you’re trying your hardest, that’s really all that matters.”
While Bengtson strives to do the best she can in all her classes, including her many honors and AP courses, she also makes sure to maintain healthy and balanced habits.
As co-head of the set crew for theater, she often spent many evenings backstage helping to run rehearsals and performances, so sometimes she didn’t get home until late into the night, sometimes even around midnight. In cases like these, when extracurriculars occupy much of a student’s time after school, many students end up staying up very late, sacrificing hours of sleep in order to complete their homework, then wake up early and do it all again the next day.
However, Bengtson said that she “hate[s] staying up late,” so she tries to manage her time so that she is able to get a restful night of sleep. Oftentimes, she would try to complete assignments backstage during breaks in her set crew responsibilities, but even if she got home after a long evening of theater and she still had more homework, she chose to just go to sleep.
She said that usually, she is better off going to sleep on time instead of staying up to finish her assignments because her teachers have been understanding for the most part, as long as she keeps clear communication with them. Most teachers would let her turn in assignments the following day or whenever she could given her busy circumstances, and that way she is more well-rested and keeps a more balanced schedule.
“I’ve found that most teachers are willing to do that,” she said. “Of course, there are going to be some who aren’t, but if you figure out who the teachers are who aren’t going to cut you as much of a break and you do their work [first], then there are definitely other teachers who are very understanding about it.”
She expressed her appreciation for all of the teachers that she has had during her time at La Salle. “I think La Salle as a whole has been so positive,” she said. “[I] love all the teachers here, even the teachers who I think are really hard on their students, I still love them… Everyone who is teaching at La Salle is here for the right reasons.”
In addition to her teachers, Bengtson said that she also receives support from her friends, who like herself, are very academically driven. On one hand, they can help each other with classes and assignments, and are also understanding of Bengtson when she chooses to sacrifice social time in order to complete her school work.
On the other hand, though, Bengtson said that her friends help her maintain balance in her life when she is tempted to get carried away by her perfectionism.
She said that as a whole, her group of friends is good at recognizing when one person might have been working too much on their school work, and helping each other recognize when they need a break.
“If I didn’t have the friends I did, I very easily could have just been completely sucked into my school world and never had a social life,” Bengtson said. “I’m very grateful for them.”
Bengtson said that the most important part of high school is “finding your people” and developing positive relationships as she has with her friend group.
She emphasized “finding some people you can be with and hopefully be friends with for a long time to come,” she said. “That’s what I hope for me and my friends, and I think those social experiences are far more important than academics should be,” although she does feel that academics are important in their own way.
For example, she said, she wouldn’t have gotten into the college she will attend, Northwestern University, if she hadn’t prioritized her academics in the way she did. Although she looks forward to attending Northwestern and loves the school, she said that if she had to choose between getting into the university and building the friendships that she did throughout high school, “I absolutely would choose my friends and my life experiences. It’s just much more worth it.”
Some of her greatest high school experiences have been in theater, though Bengtson has also participated in speech and debate and cross country. However, she quit cross country after her sophomore season, because she found that she is “not meant to do athletics,” she said.
“I would be trying my hardest at cross country and just not getting any better,” she said. “It was just taking up all my time and making me feel bad about myself, and so finally I decided to stop. And I suddenly had more time to do other things that actually made me happy.”
At Northwestern, Bengtson will start on a pre-med track, double majoring in biology and Spanish, hoping to eventually go to medical school and become an obstetrician.
When she visited Northwestern, she also visited other midwestern schools such as Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, but none were as appealing to her as Northwestern was.
“I wasn’t really interested in many other [Midwestern schools] except for Northwestern,” she said. “I loved it so much.”
Studying biology makes sense for Bengtson, as she has always enjoyed and done well in science classes. Additionally, she has had experience in medicine, as she often volunteered with Portland Street Medicine, which is her favorite extracurricular aside from theater.
Portland Street Medicine, Bengtson said, is “an organization of local doctors, nurses, social workers, physician assistants, [and] various healthcare workers [who] go out in a van and they go to different homeless camps around the city and provide healthcare to the homeless.”
Her mom had worked with the organization for a while, so Bengtson decided to start going with her.
“I would do things like hold their backpacks, run back to the van and get them things they needed, pass out food and water and such, which was pretty rewarding,” she said. “I thought I was maybe going to do it like, once or twice.”
However, she ended up volunteering with the organization on regular occasions, going out with them every Friday when there wasn’t school, and on Monday nights when there was school on Fridays. She said that it’s interesting to see homelessness in a “different light.”
“It’s really amazing to sort of see places that you’ve seen your whole life in a completely different view,” Bengtson said.
For example, she talked about a certain intersection that she had driven past many times because it is on the way to some of her friends’ houses in Happy Valley. The first time she went out with Portland Street Medicine, they went to that area to a homeless camp that she had never even known was there.
“This was their home,” she said. “This street that I just sort of thought as of the gateway to Happy Valley was where they were living.”
Volunteering with Portland Street Medicine has been an impactful experience for Bengtson, and she said that it has allowed her to gain more perspective on life.
“It sort of helped me realize that there are things other than academics that we need to be learning in our lives,” she said. “It’s one thing if you’re really good at school, and I think that’s what valedictorian is… But Portland Street Medicine and the other activities helped me realize that that’s not all there is to life. You need to be good at collaborating with people, you need to be good at actual life skills that aren’t directly tied into the American school system.”
Bengtson is glad that La Salle promotes this idea that there is more to life, and more to learning, than just the curricula learned in classes. She mentioned her appreciation for the service project that students complete every year, which she said “helps you care about things other than doing well in school, which is something I think all high schoolers definitely need.”
The emphasis that La Salle puts on serving others is “one thing that sort of sets La Salle apart from other schools,” she said. “It’s not all about just getting an education, getting your high school diploma, and then leaving and forgetting everything you learned. The Lasallian mission I think is pretty unique in that way. It sort of instills in you life values rather than just academic values, which I think is really nice.”
Correction: May 21, 2020
A previous version of this article misspelled Franny Bengtson’s last name.
Valedictorian Grace Elkhal had a mantra throughout the second half of her high school career: “progress, not perfection.”
She gained this motto when she took AP Calculus AB with math teacher Mr. Larry Swanson during her junior year. She said that taking this calculus course was “a major learning curve because you don’t see improvement overnight.”
Usually in her classes, Elkhal would be able to pick up concepts and material immediately, but AB Calculus was the first time when she wasn’t able to do this. “It took a few months until I had understood the concepts of AB Calculus, until I was getting the ideas down on the page and really understanding what I was doing,” she said.
Throughout her high school experience, Elkhal has challenged herself to manage a difficult course load — she will be graduating with a total of 10 AP classes — even taking one or two extra courses some semesters.
“I think that it’s a blessing and a privilege to go to a high school which offers Advanced Placement, which offers honors classes that are challenging and push your limits more than regular classes,” she said. “I’m a very motivated and driven person, so I wanted to jump on the opportunity.”
It was through these challenging courses that she learned to seek “progress, not perfection,” deciding that the most important goal to strive for was to do the best she possibly could, no matter what everyone else around her was doing.
“You’re not going to be perfect, and you’re not always going to be the best, you’re not always going to get the highest score,” she said. “But in doing your best, you’re going to be successful, no matter what.”
Elkhal said that she received “endless support” from her parents, who always told her that she was capable of achieving her goals by doing her best, and that her “best is good enough.”
“I think in life, you have to push yourself and you have to know the limitations of doing your best,” Elkhal said. “And my best was, I wanted to take the honors [classes], I wanted to take the AP [courses]. I was up for the challenge and I knew that I was capable of being successful within those challenges.”
While Elkhal always sought to do her personal best and focus on individual improvement, she also gained motivation from her peers and classmates, and was driven by her competitive nature. She would look around at her classmates and see what courses they were taking and try to be creative with her schedule to allow herself to make room for new opportunities that she observed from her peers.
At times, Elkhal’s competitiveness and her desire to not only be the best she could be, but also the best among her peers, drove her to be very academically successful. But other times, she said, her constant comparison to her classmates could become “destructive” and “unhealthy.”
She went through a period of time where her competitiveness was consuming her mind, and she couldn’t think about anything besides climbing the ladder of success faster and better than her peers.
Eventually, she said, she realized that this was a detrimental mindset and that she needed to “stay the course” — meaning to still gain motivation from her peers, but to focus more on herself and less focus on how she compares to others.
“I think that once competitiveness reaches an unhealthy point, it’s kind of self-destructive and you start sabotaging yourself,” she said. “You become so obsessed and consumed by other people that you’re no longer able to focus and prioritize yourself. And until I kind of reigned back, stayed my course, and focused on doing my best, I think either I wouldn’t have been as successful, but I also think in being so hard on myself, I wouldn’t be happy.”
By learning to stay her course and aim for progress rather than perfection, Elkhal feels that her hard work has paid off. “I got to where I am, and I’m so happy to look back on my four years and see a happy Grace,” she said.
Looking back on her experience at La Salle, Elkhal said that the most important part of high school is to envision “who you want to be in four years,” and then to do whatever you can do to become that person by the time of graduation.
“Push your limits,” she said. “Go out of your comfort zone. Make an effort in your academics. Be invested in your education. You’re so blessed and privileged to go to a high school that provides you with all the tools and opportunities to thrive and be the best you can be. Start taking advantage of those opportunities.”
Not only did Elkhal push her limits academically, but also in other aspects of her life, such as service and extracurricular activities.
Throughout her time in high school, Elkhal participated in clubs, volunteered at Portland Adventist Medical Center, and served as the president of the youth group at her church. She was also involved in student leadership, participating as a member of student council all four years of high school, and being elected during her sophomore year as class representative and her senior year as student body vice president.
In student leadership, she was able to put her passion for public speaking to use, speaking in front of the school on many occasions during assemblies and masses. With this passion for public speaking, it’s no surprise that Elkhal was also very involved in speech and debate, which she considered to be her sport.
“I took [speech and debate] extremely seriously, and by taking it seriously and being competitive, I was really successful,” she said.
Through speech and debate, Elkhal and her teammates learned how to persuade and inform an audience and practiced techniques and rhetoric every week. “In [this practice] I found myself,” she said. “I found my personality, I found my passions and my gifts and talents.”
Elkhal said that through her experience at La Salle, both academically and extracurricularly, she feels that she has become a better person overall.
“I’ve become a well rounded person, in academics and in extracurriculars and in character,” she said. “I’m really blessed to have had so many opportunities presented to me, and I’m really accomplished [in] that I jumped on those opportunities. I really got a chance to travel, to experience the faith side [and] the community side of La Salle. I’m blessed to have formed relationships and really pushed my limits — academically, socially, really getting involved.”
Elkhal has assembled an impressive list of accomplishments: she has broken records in speech and debate. She has traveled to Boston and Spain for school trips. She has received outstanding academic marks. She has taken extra classes, challenging herself in as many ways as she could. And now, she is receiving the academic honor of valedictorian.
But in describing what she has accomplished, Elkhal does not reference any of these achievements. Instead, she reflects on how she has “been touched by the teachers, by the students, by the academics, the experiences, [and] the opportunities,” she said. She feels that she has been touched by those who shared her experience, and that she has touched the hearts of others in turn.
“I feel [that] I’ve made a mark,” she said. “And to me, that’s precious. That’s priceless. In making that mark, I feel accomplished… I feel that in leaving, I pushed my limits, and I became a better, stronger, more confident individual.”
After high school, Elkhal will move on to try to make a mark elsewhere in the world, starting at Lewis & Clark College, where she plans to major in international relations and minor in Middle Eastern studies. She wants to continue in her studies of the Arabic and Spanish languages; she is very passionate about her Syrian heritage, participating in rallies and conferences advocating for peace in the Middle East, and Spanish has been one of her favorite and strongest subjects in high school.
Elkhal said that throughout her four years of high school, she “fell in love” with the Spanish language, as she started taking classes for the first time when she entered her freshman year.
“I think what I [love] about Spanish is that it was immediately applicable,” she said. “It’s used everywhere. In the United States [there are] a lot of Spanish speakers. It’s crossing a barrier that’s between you and another person, you and another world, another culture.”
Elkhal hopes to pursue a career in law, and her dream is to work for the United Nations, “hopefully in the humanitarian sector,” she said.
She chose Lewis & Clark because she wanted to stay local to remain close to her family during her undergraduate studies, and because it has the areas of study she wants to pursue, as well as an appealing law program.
Going into college, Elkhal said that she hopes to become more outgoing socially. Though she made many connections within the walls of La Salle, she said that she does wish that she had “made more of an effort in building relationships outside of school.”
As she turns to the next chapter of her life, Elkhal wants to apply the same principles that she has been striving for throughout high school — to stay her course and do her best — and she recommends that other students also seek to do their personal best.
“In anything you do — this goes for friendships, relationships with teachers, and academics and extracurriculars — do your best,” she said. “Knowing that you’ve done your best, there’s nothing more you can do… Your worth isn’t indicated [by] your accomplishments. Your worth is not equivalent to the amount of awards you have, medals, certificates. It’s simply on being yourself and doing your best.”
As she reaches the end of her senior year, Elkhal reflected on some of her fondest memories, such as the Journey retreat, the connections she made with teachers and classmates, and discovering her passions for public speaking and language.
“I’m really grateful to have gone to a high school that provides me with a safe, healthy environment where I can strive not only as a student, but as a person,” she said. “Graduating, I’ve become a far better person than I was walking into those doors, and for that I’m eternally grateful.”
For valedictorian Ashley Smith, one of the most challenging aspects of high school was managing her busy schedule.
One of Smith’s greatest passions is sports, which consume much of her time when she isn’t in class or working on homework. Throughout high school, she participated in track and field, tennis, volleyball, and basketball, though she only played basketball during her freshman and sophomore year.
However, despite the challenges of balancing athletics with school and social life, all while earning outstanding grades, Smith said that her commitment to her sports life largely played into her academic success.
“Playing sports, even though it makes my schedule a lot busier, forces me to organize my schedule,” she said. “Because of that, I’ve always been really able to stay on top of schoolwork… I’ve always tried to keep straight A’s.”
As long as she stays organized, Smith said that she is able to balance her schedule and exceed academically.
“It’s also just about doing the little things, like turning every assignment in on time and really putting your best into every assignment,” she said. “That kind of helps balance out your grades so that when it comes to test time, you’ll do well on the test, and you already have a stable grade.”
She said that the second semester of the school year has always been more “hectic” for her, because she participated in both tennis and track and field during the same season. Despite this, she is able to stay on top of her grades throughout the spring season by getting ahead of her work and communicating with her teachers.
Oftentimes, Smith would try to complete as much of her homework as she could on Monday evenings, turning in assignments that were due on Tuesdays and Wednesdays ahead of time so that she could create more time in her schedule throughout the rest of the week. On weekends, she preferred to keep Saturdays as her day off, then complete most of her homework on Sundays.
She said that in order to prevent herself from getting too stressed about her schoolwork, it’s important to have confidence in herself that she will be able to work through things. She also tries to maintain the philosophy that at the end of the day, she will do what needs to get done.
“I kind of have to reassure myself and not let the stress get to me,” Smith said. “You’re just kind of saying to yourself, ‘okay, I will get it done. I am fully capable of this.’ And having that self assurance, that confidence, it allows you to decrease your stress, I’ve found. And it can be hard to let go of that stress at times, but once you do, it’s a lot easier to be organized and kind of work through things in order.”
Between academics and athletics, it might seem as though she is left with little time to destress on her own or socialize with friends. However, for Smith, sports are an outlet to clear her mind, as well as a way to spend time with her friends, many of whom are on the same teams as her.
“Even though it’s a lot of hard work, it’s also a lot of fun memories, and so that has been kind of a way to balance out the academic life when that gets hard,” she said. “There’s nothing better than match day or traveling on the bus with your teammates. It just makes it all feel worth it at the end of the day.”
Smith also cited her friends as some of her biggest supporters in the classroom. Many of her friends are in the same classes as her, so they are able to lean on each other and help each other out academically.
“All of us have similar goals, too,” she said of her friends. “We all want to get the best grades we can, and so it’s nice to have an environment where you have friends who have similar goals to you.”
Along with her friends, Smith said that her parents have been “the best supporters” because they don’t hold her to exceedingly high academic expectations, but simply believe in her and are happy that she has pursued academic success for herself.
Reflecting on her time at La Salle, Smith said that her experience and the people around her have allowed her to “come out of [her] shell,” and that not only has she learned about academics, but also about communication and opening up to others.
Going into her freshman year, she was more hesitant to open up to others than she is now. “I was very introverted and it was kind of more difficult for me to make friends, and [throughout high school], I just found myself,” she said. “I ended up with people who are so close to me, and I’m super happy to have them as friends.”
Smith said that her fondest memories of high school haven’t necessarily been specific momentous events, but rather an accumulation of good times she has spent living out her passion for sports and sharing her time with friends.
“A lot of my sports memories have been some of the best — whether it just be a super fun bus ride or winning and going to state, those are some really good memories,” she said. “It’s the small moments, in a way. It’s not necessarily like, there’s this one big memory, but it’s like, you look back and you think of all the fun times you’ve had with your friends, and those are where the good memories are.”
Some of Smith’s favorite memories have come about during her months of practicing and competing in sports with her teammates, but this year, she was unable to partake in her final spring season of high school tennis and track and field, which are her favorite sports, due to the coronavirus outbreak.
She said that the hardest part of the pandemic for her has been losing her senior spring sports season, and also that she isn’t able to see her teachers and friends in quite the same way.
Nonetheless, she said that she has enjoyed spending time with her family and her dog in quarantine, and has been adjusting to the change of pace from her previous schedule, which was constantly filled with practices, games, and homework.
“It was really hard for me to deal with at first because obviously I was really looking forward to my senior year spring season,” Smith said. But now, she said, she is “accepting that it’s time to move on.”
“I’m trying to find the value in [this time at home] since I know I wouldn’t have [had] it if I would have been busy in school,” she said.
Although she is missing out on her final season of high school spring sports, her athletics journey is not over yet, as she is committed to Cornell University for track and field.
Early in her high school years, Smith had always admired the idea of playing college sports at a Division I level. Then, after her sophomore season of track and field when she set an impressive personal record, some coaches began reaching out to her and she realized that playing collegiate sports was a real possibility for her.
Out of the schools that contacted her, Cornell stood out in particular, so she said she went on an official visit, which “just kind of sealed the deal.”
“I just loved it so much and I was super happy with that decision,” she said. “Once I made that call to the coach and told him I was committing, I was just like, ‘okay, this is for sure the right choice,’ and I was super thrilled about it.”
At Cornell, Smith plans to study engineering, as she has always enjoyed math and science because she likes the “logic” and “order of things,” she said. “There’s so many different fields of engineering and within that there’s so many jobs, so I just feel like it’ll be a really great opportunity to figure out where I want to branch out and then go for it from there.”
With new experiences on the horizon, Smith looks forward to the continuation of her sports journey, which she describes as not only a physical journey, but a mental and emotional one as well.
“I think my sports have all kind of taught me their own different lessons about teamwork, but also individuality and personal goals,” she said. “Every aspect of sports has just been amazing and really made me mentally stronger… I’ve loved that the hard work I’ve put in has paid off over the years as I’ve gotten better and better.”
In the first semester of his sophomore year, salutatorian Lucas Wobig received an A- in AP World History and a B+ in Honors English II.
He was “completely devastated,” he said.
Up until that year, Wobig had never received anything less than an A in any of his classes, so he was very disappointed by his first semester marks.
“I quickly got over it,” he said. “Okay, ‘quickly’ is the wrong word. I got over it eventually.”
Entering high school, it had always been Wobig’s goal to maintain straight A’s, as well as to take every AP class he could. Despite his disappointment that year, Wobig said that falling short of his goal for straight A’s that semester has served as an important life lesson for him.
“Before then, my grades were literally everything,” he said. “And I kind of learned that it’s okay to not get straight A’s.”
After receiving his first A- and B+, Wobig went on to receive straight A’s for the rest of high school while taking advanced courses, participating in many extracurriculars, and with a reduced level of stress and less academic pressure, thanks to the lesson he learned from overcoming his disappointment during his sophomore year.
Wobig said that he is grateful and happy to receive the honor of salutatorian, but he wishes he could share this award with many of his peers.
“My class is incredibly smart,” he said. “I just feel like there’s so many other smart kids in my class that should also be recognized.”
In addition to being one of the top students in his class, Wobig also participated in a slew of extracurricular activities. During his time at La Salle, he was a student ambassador, a Link Crew member, a student council member, student body president, and a National Honors Society student.
He also played sports for La Salle’s teams — swim for two years, soccer for three years, and track and field for all four years, where he was voted “most improved” during his sophomore season and “most inspirational” during his junior season.
Outside of school, Wobig was a member of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony (MYS), playing saxophone in the top band as the first chair from his freshman year to the end of his junior year, when he stopped playing in the MYS because of the major time commitment it required.
He also played in the Jazz Ensemble, a select group of jazz musicians that played gigs at locations such as the Oregon Zoo, OMSI, and downtown Portland, which Wobig described as “really fun.”
The saxophone isn’t Wobig’s only musical forte, as he also has played piano since he was “four or five years old,” he said. He participated in the Oregon Music Teachers Association (OMTA), and he said that he practiced piano for an hour most days for 13 years. He described the practice as the “most grueling” part of playing the piano.
In the OMTA, students are tested each year on a pass/fail basis on the subjects of music theory, listening, playing, and performing. Upon passing the annual test, they move up one level each year until they’ve passed all 10 of the levels. Wobig graduated with distinction from the OMTA last year, and no longer takes lessons, but still enjoys playing in his free time.
“It’s definitely fun to play,” he said. “I love it when I finish a song, and then I can play it through well. That’s such a good feeling.”
Wobig also started and led his own youth group with some of his friends and family throughout his junior year, though the group ended at the start of his senior year when one of his co-leaders left for college.
“It was really fun,” he said. “It was a group of people that we just kind of found… We got together, we’d sing some songs, and then there was a video sermon we’d watch. And then after that, we’d just kind of hang out and have fun.”
As for how he was able to maintain all of these extracurriculars while excelling academically, Wobig isn’t entirely sure. He said that he would come home from sports practice, study, eat, and go to bed, sometimes missing out on social time because of his schoolwork.
He made sure to always pay attention and take notes in class, do his best on assignments, and seek opportunities to take advanced courses, exemplified by his decision to take six AP classes during his senior year.
Wobig said that he thinks the reason he was able to do all that he did is because he leaned on his faith and his relationship with God.
“I definitely prayed a lot,” he said. “I definitely don’t think I could have done this on my own.”
Wobig said that his relationship with God is a “point of stability” in his life and that his faith has not only helped him to perform well academically, but has also alleviated most forms of stress in his life.
He believes that God has a plan for him, and through this faith he no longer experiences much stress about his academics or busy schedule.
“I know that everything’s going to work out because I believe in God,” he said. “So I wasn’t as stressed, I think. I think that really helped. I think stress gets to a lot of people, and it’s really not productive to be stressed.”
Wobig said that even during a notoriously intense period for high schoolers — the college admissions process — he experienced little to no stress. While applying for colleges, he did not feel worried about whether he would be admitted, because he had faith that he would end up at whatever school was in accordance with God’s plan for him.
For example, he didn’t get into UCLA or Notre Dame. He said that perhaps this is because he was not meant to go to either of these schools, but that God’s path for him is to go to UC Berkeley, which is the school that he has decided on.
He also said that maybe the A- and B+ that he received in his sophomore year were part of God’s plan for him, as perhaps those grades are what prevented him from getting into schools like UCLA, which he would have chosen over UC Berkeley had he been accepted.
Wobig said that he cannot know for sure what God’s plan for him is, or whether or not these events were a part of that plan. “I don’t really know,” he said. “And I’m okay with that.”
“I got into UC Berkeley, which was amazing,” he said. “I thought it was a miracle, personally… [But] even if I didn’t get in there, even if I ended up going to Clackamas Community College, I knew that it was going to work out. And there’s some sort of reason why I would’ve gone wherever I went, and that God had some sort of plan for me. So that’s why I wasn’t really stressed.”
Reflecting on his journey, Wobig feels that his commitment to his education is fueled by an innate desire to learn, especially in his favorite subjects, science and math.
“I love learning new things, especially new things about this world,” he said. “So I think that’s why I really liked chem and calculus, [and] physics.”
Wobig said that his overall favorite class is calculus, although he didn’t realize how much he liked it until he was no longer taking it.
“Every single day when I walked into the calc class, I was learning something new, something that just made my brain hurt,” he said. “It was mind-boggling, it was like a puzzle, and I loved it.”
He took AP Calculus AB his freshman year, AP Calculus BC his sophomore year, and then AP Multivariable Calculus his junior year. It wasn’t until his senior year when he took AP Statistics that it occurred to him how much he missed calculus.
“Some people are like, ‘you nerd, Lucas, you’re such a nerd,’ and I know,” he said. “I am a nerd, and I like it. I think calc is so interesting. But I don’t think I realized how much I liked it until this year when I took stats.”
Wobig expressed appreciation for all of his teachers at La Salle, as well as the challenges that his AP classes gave him.
“I think my high school experience was great,” he said. “I loved the teachers, each one of them. I felt like they really cared for me and for all my classmates. They tried their best to help us succeed.”
The biggest piece of advice he would give to other students to be successful in their classes is to pay attention and take diligent notes during class.
“Don’t play video games,” he said. “It’s really fun to do, but it makes everything so much harder. When the test comes around and you’ve been playing ‘Balloon Tower Defense’ all class, you have to cram everything in… at the last second on notes that were not even well taken because you were scrolling Pinterest or something in class.”
At UC Berkeley next year, Wobig plans to study biology, and maybe major in business. He hopes to become a physician, but said that he would maybe want to run some sort of business as a doctor as well.
“Berkeley’s [business] school is very good, so I feel like I should capitalize on that,” he said.
Wobig feels that a pre-med track will be a good fit for him because of his love for learning and since there are many different aspects of medicine to learn about. Additionally, he is a very social person, so he said that he would also enjoy the interpersonal part of working as a doctor.
“I don’t really know what type of physician [I want to become], but I know that I really like learning, and if I went into medicine, there’s so much about the human body I can learn about, so many procedures I could watch,” he said. “That will help with my thirst for knowledge. But then also, I really like talking to people and I really like helping people, and I feel like as a doctor, I can do both of those a lot… That just sounds amazing to me.”
Reflecting on his high school experience, Wobig said that “it was a good four years. It was a tough four years, but it was a good four years.”