The student news site of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.

Ashley Hawkins

Valedictorian Onni Barron is grateful for the support his family has provided throughout his academic journey. “They push me to do my best at what I try, but they’ve also definitely been the ones to remind me to relax,” he said.

Valedictorian Onni Barron

May 31, 2023

This year, valedictorian Onni Barron became the second member of his family to earn this title, following in the footsteps of his older brother who was named La Salle’s valedictorian in 2021.

As the youngest of four siblings, two of which had attended La Salle, it was natural for Barron to want to meet the standards they had set, which might appear to explain the origin of his academic rigor. 

However, this was not entirely the case. 

Despite the internal pressure to fill the shoes of his older siblings, Barron did not spend his high school years chasing this title in the wake of their accomplishments. Rather, he aspired to make a name for himself by setting his own individual goals and standards; thus, becoming a valedictorian was somewhat of a byproduct of his desire to push his own limits academically.

“As the youngest child, in some ways, I was always looking for a way to differentiate myself,” Barron said. From the beginning he knew that if he were to try to mold himself to fit his sibling’s narratives, that would be “unrealistic because they all did very different things,” he said.

That being said, Barron’s family — especially his siblings — helped pave the way for him, and played a very influential role in shaping the values and interests he maintains today. 

Throughout his childhood, Barron frequently tagged along with his siblings to whatever activities they happened to be occupied with at the moment. “It was kind of all over the place,” he said. “I didn’t really stick to one thing.” 

He did, however, take an interest in running, and though it was never something he pursued in high school, he and his dad have been training together for years.“We run 5Ks and 10Ks — not super competitively, but just to say that we have,” Barron said.

Barron’s family also played a role in helping him choose which high school to attend and were the source of some of his main academic interests.

As two of his siblings were already making the commute, the decision for Barron to attend La Salle in the first place was partially due to the convenience of having everybody in one place. “It was going to be easier for my family if we didn’t have to go to different parts of town just to go to school,” he said. 

Residing in northeast Portland, Barron would’ve attended the local public school he was zoned for, but his parents were adamant that he receive the best education possible. So, after touring both Central Catholic High School and Jesuit High School, Barron landed on La Salle. “When I shadowed here for a day, all the teachers seemed really nice,” he said. “I think that was a big thing.”

For Barron, the transition from his small public middle school, Winterhaven, to La Salle was a seismic shift. “Most of my closest friends went to Cleveland or some other PPS school,” he said. “It was a bit of a tough transition … especially since many other people seemed like they knew each other here.”

On the bright side, coming from Winterhaven meant Barron had a leg up in the math and science department, as that was one of the primary focuses of the school. That, combined with the fact that his family happened to be very math and science-oriented, helped Barron discover where he felt most at home within the walls of La Salle. 

With Barron’s dad working in computer science and his brother planning to enter that field after college, math and science have always been ubiquitous topics of interest within their household. 

Though computer science didn’t always captivate Barron in the same way, simply being surrounded by his family member’s passions gave him an outlet into that world that was impossible to resist. “The way that they talk about it makes even me interested in it,” he said. 

Wanting to explore the topic further, Barron took the AP Computer Science course offered at La Salle during his sophomore year. However, the structure of the AP curriculum was not as impactful as he had hoped. “I felt like what the class was focusing on and what [we] were required to learn was the most boring part of computer science,” he said. 

So, with the intention of making computer science more appealing to the greater community, Barron brought back the Computing Club after it disbanded with the departure of former Director of Technology David Heineck last year, a decision he described as “born out of the frustration” of the mundane material the AP course was centered around. Within this role, he wanted to present a version of computer science that was “much more interesting and much more applicable to people’s lives.” 

Though the AP Computer Science course didn’t live up to his expectations, Barron found other ways to expand his interest in math and science at La Salle and was able to enroll in courses at the highest level of difficulty in order to challenge himself.

For example, he has found great enjoyment in AP Chemistry, both within the material itself and the instructional methods. “There are other science classes I’ve liked, but chemistry was always the one that stood out to me,” he said. Barron also gives credit to Mr. Owen, who is in his opinion, an “absolutely great teacher.”

After taking the class his junior year, he liked it so much that he returned as a teaching assistant the following year, and spent that time helping other students develop their passion for chemistry.

In terms of his own passion for chemistry, Barron intends to further explore it in college. Come fall, he will be attending Carnegie Mellon University, where he plans to major in chemical engineering. 

In addition to the appeal of Carnegie Mellon’s strong engineering department, he was also drawn to its ideal size and location and has been able to become familiar with the school through his older sister, who studied animation there. “It’s nice to have that connection,” he said. 

Though it’s clearly a main focus of his, chemistry isn’t the only area Barron has excelled in throughout his academic journey; in fact, he’s pushed himself to do well in nearly every subject. 

His schedule this year was packed to the brim with AP courses, including AP Physics, AP English, AP Government, and AP Spanish V. In addition, he was enrolled in Linear Algebra, the highest level of math offered at La Salle.

Even for a student of Barron’s caliber, the workload resulting from those courses was difficult to manage at times, especially when things such as college applications were factored into the equation. “I’m definitely burnt out at this point,” he said. 

That being said, Barron is grateful for his teachers’ flexibility and accommodation throughout the year and has benefited from their ability to ease his stress rather than exacerbate it. “Many of my teachers have been really supportive,” he said. “They’ve made sure to emphasize the fact [that] the grade isn’t all that matters.” 

Now that Barron is finishing his senior year, he is glad to have learned the importance of taking time to focus on his mental health rather than worrying about his grades, though he wishes he had been able to utilize that skill earlier on. 

For the majority of high school, academics and grades were Barron’s top priority, and he set very high expectations for himself to achieve perfection in regard to schoolwork. While he’s proud of all of his hard work and accomplishments, he feels that there were times when he put himself under more pressure than necessary. 

“Looking back at it … I could’ve maybe relaxed a little bit,” Barron said. “I could’ve fit some fun things into my schedule as well.” 

Because of this, earning the title of valedictorian is a double-edged sword, and surfaces mixed emotions for Barron. While he mainly reflects on his work with pride, it also serves as a painful and frustrating reminder of the “destructive” habits that led to this achievement.

“I dropped so many of my interests and hobbies for the sake of, ‘school, school, school,’” he said. “There was a little bit of frustration; I didn’t want to be validated again for those habits.”

Looking back, Barron would approach high school in a very different way if he was given the opportunity, even if it meant not receiving the title of valedictorian. “I feel like that would have made me a much happier person than I was for the past three years,” he said.

However, Barron is looking forward to starting fresh in college, and he’s excited for the opportunity to try new things and experience all that Carnegie Mellon has to offer. “I don’t want to stop working now,” he said “But I do kind of want to let up and give myself room to enjoy things.”

Barron’s advice to underclassmen is to take advantage of the years ahead of them and experience all aspects of high school, not just the academics. “Relax a little bit,” he said. “Grades aren’t the end-all and be-all … of course they matter, but they shouldn’t come at the expense of what you enjoy.”

Even if Barron didn’t embody this philosophy as much as he had hoped, he’s proud that he can look back on his high school experience and mobilize to make a difference in all the aspects of his life — and of the greater community — that he wants to see change in. 

“People can change,” he said. “Coming into high school, I feel like I just did whatever I thought was right. Now, I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I can actually think about what I think is right, and question why I believe that.”

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Senior Seychelle Marks-Bienen was born in Missoula, Montana, but moved to Southeast Portland at the age of two. She is a member of the girls varsity soccer...

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