The student news site of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.

The La Salle Falconer

The student news site of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.

The La Salle Falconer

The student news site of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.

The La Salle Falconer

Setting the Bar for Academic Excellence: Valedictorian Gavin Kim and Salutatorian Luke Martin Headline Class of 2024 As Singular Representatives

Jasmine McIntosh
Next year, valedictorian Gavin Kim and salutatorian Luke Martin will both head to Gonzaga University to become future Bulldogs.

Every year, La Salle’s Academic Council selects a lineup of valedictorians and salutatorians — students that embody the highest caliber of academic performance. This selection process takes a holistic approach, taking into account several factors, including a student’s GPA, academic achievements, and the level of their courses. 

This year, two students have been chosen to represent the class of 2024: valedictorian Gavin Kim and salutatorian Luke Martin. 

Principal Ms. Alanna O’Brien stated that for these two students, it wasn’t just their academic achievements or transcripts that stood out. 

“Both Gavin and Luke are wonderful human beings,” she said. “They are filled with kindness and compassion, and they are both accepting these awards with gratitude to all the people who helped them along the way.” 

To get a better understanding of what led to these individuals’ academic success, Kim and Martin sat down with The Falconer to offer exclusive insight into their respective journeys and their plans after high school. 

Valedictorian Gavin Kim

The Journey retreat stood out as one of valedictorian Gavin Kim’s best high school memories. “It might be scary opening up about yourself,” he said. “But when you do, you find out people are there to love you and support you even though you have your flaws.” (Jasmine McIntosh )

Valedictorian Gavin Kim’s journey to La Salle began nearly 6,000 miles away on the island of Okinawa, Japan. Born on a military base there due to his dad’s active service at the time, Kim then moved to the West Coast at a young age, and went to kindergarten and preschool in California before moving to northeast Portland, where he and his family have resided ever since. 

Growing up with his parents and little sister, who is three years younger than him, Kim’s childhood was centered around having the freedom to explore, which was mirrored in both his academics and the activities that he participated in.

“[My parents] definitely pushed me to try new things,” he said. 

As a kid, he was exposed to numerous hobbies — including basketball, baseball, piano, and violin — with the aim being to provide him with sufficient breadth to figure out what it was he was interested in. For Kim, this was something he appreciated, as it was “nice to be able to discover based on a variety of options,” he said.

Another formative aspect of Kim’s childhood was the outdoors. Some of his favorite memories consist of being immersed in nature, including camping trips, hikes, and most notably, their family’s annual summer trips to different national parks. 

However, this emphasis on nature and independent choice wasn’t exclusively limited to his extracurriculars and at-home life. For both elementary and middle school, Kim attended the Franciscan Montessori Earth School (FMES), whose curriculum is centered around expanding minds, nurturing spirits, and stewarding the Earth through collaborative learning.

At FMES, Kim’s classes were composed of mixed grade levels, and they were given a lot of freedom to independently explore different topics and subjects as opposed to “conventional” structured classes. Though his experience was different from the majority of other elementary school students, the learning environment at FMES was something he felt he benefited from.

“You’re in one class and all the materials are there and you just have the freedom to explore,” he said. “That’s the only kind of learning I experienced at that age, but I felt like it was enjoyable and it prepared me pretty well.” 

When it came time for him to transition away from his nine years in Montessori school and look for a high school that continued to build on the solid academic foundation he had established, Kim initially gravitated towards La Salle due to family connections.

Both Kim’s mom and her two brothers attended La Salle. As it was already on his radar, Kim shadowed and spent a day at the school, and afterwards, came to the conclusion that it was the place where he wanted to spend the next four years of his academic journey.

In addition, FMES has a pipeline that sends many students to La Salle, so Kim entered high school joined by familiar faces. With the difficulty of transitioning from middle school to high school exacerbated by COVID-19, having pre-established relationships with many of his classmates eased some of the stress for Kim coming into his freshman year. 

“There’s a lot of people from my middle school that go here, so that made [the transition] easy,” he said. 

From there on out, Kim spent his time making the most of his classes and extracurriculars, ranging from taking the most challenging math courses available to being involved in clubs, athletics, and volunteer opportunities. 

Although he was deeply committed to academics from the start, Kim’s mindset regarding school has undergone significant changes since freshman year — shifts that placed the attainment of knowledge and the substance of his learning at the forefront of his academic journey.

“As I’ve gone from freshman to senior, [I’ve] gotten less and less focused on grades,” Kim said. 

After taking English teacher Mr. Greg Larson’s Honors English II class his sophomore year — a class that he noted possessed extreme rigor and a significant workload — Kim realized, with Mr. Larson’s guidance, that the key to success was “focusing on doing the best you can and understanding topics.”

Because of this, as Kim moved through the rest of high school taking the highest-level classes in almost every subject; he made sure to emphasize that, for him, obtaining new knowledge was the ultimate goal. In light of this, the title of valedictorian was never something that he actively strived for. 

“The point of class is to learn the material and focus on understanding it rather than getting a good grade,” he said. “You’re paying to go to a school; you might as well try to make the most of it and actually understand everything.”

As his schedule was often primarily composed of AP and Honors classes that offered a GPA boost, this was something that was easy to lose sight of, but that Kim held true to his heart as he progressed through high school.

This year, Kim enrolled in AP Chemistry, AP Spanish V, Multivariable Vector Calculus —  the highest level of math offered at La Salle — AP English IV, AP Statistics, and AP U.S. Government. 

Over the years, Kim has particularly taken a liking to math and science-related subjects, and as a result, AP Chemistry was his favorite class, both due to the content and the instruction of Mr. Matthew Owen, whom he also had his sophomore year for Honors Chemistry.

“He does a lot for us, like organizing materials and stuff,” Kim said. “But he’s also really available, and makes classes really fun as well.”

Multivariable Calculus was also a course that Kim particularly enjoyed, mainly due to the intimate learning environment that came with the small class size of seven people. “I think we were all pretty close and felt relatively open in the class,” he said.

A common theme for Kim is that his most challenging courses (with AP Chemistry and Multivariable Vector Calculus earning that title this year) often turn out to be the most impactful. The same thing applies for Mr. Larson’s Honors English II class and his AP English IV class this year: though English isn’t a subject he plans on pursuing — nor his favorite one — he appreciates the personal growth that results from the difficulty of it.

“English classes in general have definitely pushed me to be a better writer, and have definitely taught me some lessons for life,” Kim said.

Though they make up a hefty portion, academics haven’t been the only thing Kim has dedicated his time to at La Salle. 

Kim was a member of the baseball team for all four years, and became a multi-sport athlete when he took up cross country running his senior year. In addition to serving as an outlet for forming new friendships and allowing him to take part in activities he loves, his athletic endeavors provided many parallels to his academics, allowing him to practice time management and develop a good work ethic. 

Similarly to schoolwork, Kim pointed out that “if you want to be really successful in your sport, you’re going to have to put extra work in to dedicate more time to it.” Because of this, playing sports allowed him to largely eliminate procrastination within his work and learn how to get things done as soon as possible. 

Kim has also been a part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander club for four consecutive years, and within the club, he has appreciated having the opportunity to learn about a plethora of different cultures, in addition to sharing his own. “I’m Filipino and Korean, but you also get to see Vietnamese and Chinese traditions as well,” he said. 

Another way Kim is involved in the school community is through the peer tutoring program. Initially, he became a tutor as a “convenient way to get service hours,” but over the past few years, he has grown to love using his expertise — particularly within the math and science realm — to help others. “After doing it more and more, I really just enjoyed helping people understand different topics,” he said. “If I can help them with their work and make their day better, then that’s a plus.”  

Guided by his love for math and science, Kim will head to Spokane,Washington to attend Gonzaga University as a member of their Honors program. Still undecided about his major, he was drawn in by their strong advisory support system as well as its proximity to Portland. “It’s close to my family, which is a big factor in my decision,” he said. 

Though family is a big aspect of his life, Kim is excited for the independence that accompanies the college experience.“It’ll be interesting seeing how I’ll be able to handle myself or just take care of myself without my parents or my sister,” Kim said. Additionally, though several of his friends will be attending Gonzaga alongside him, Kim is also excited to branch out and meet new people.

With all of the activities he was involved in and the rigor of his courseload, Kim had to make big sacrifices in multiple areas of his life. For Kim, what took the biggest hit was the ability to build deep relationships with his friends, so he is looking forward to having more balance in college. 

“There were definitely some relationships that aren’t as strong as they could have been if I had decided to focus less on grades and academics,” Kim said. For example, there were times when he had to forfeit opportunities to get together with friends because he had too much work to do. 

However, Kim is proud of the success that he has achieved as a result of a culmination of his hard work and sacrifice, though he took more pride in seeing the reaction of his family rather than individually earning the title of valedictorian. 

“I told my family about it and they were super happy,” Kim said, referring to when his immediate family got word and when he spoke to his grandparents over the phone to break the news. “I’m more happy that they’re happy, in a way.” 

This year, Kim will be the sole valedictorian of the class of 2024, which is a change from prior years — in which there have been multiple valedictorians — that he has mixed feelings about. 

“I knew it was a decent chance for me to get chosen, but I feel like me being the only one was way more surprising,” Kim said. In addition to the nerves that accompany being the only student to give a speech at graduation, he pointed out that “it feels like there are a lot of people that also deserve recognition.” 

Looking back on these past four years, Kim doesn’t regret the way he approached his academics. Though it was stressful, difficult, and required sacrifice at times, he ultimately feels like he achieved his primary goal, which was to get the most out of his education — regardless of what it took. 

“It’s good to maximize learning,” Kim said. “By choosing to push myself, my future self won’t look back and say, ‘Oh, I should’ve pushed myself harder.’”

Salutatorian Luke Martin

For salutatorian Luke Martin, having a positive mindset is essential for self-improvement. “You have to understand that where you’re at in the moment is totally okay, but that you have potential to be better,” he said. “Don’t waste your time and energy breaking yourself down where you are — use it to build yourself up to something new.” (Jasmine McIntosh )

Growing up in a cul-de-sac with two older brothers, two cousins, and his grandparents, salutatorian Luke Martin was surrounded from an early age by a sense of community that would come to define much of his academic experience. From neighborhood tag games to wrestling matches with his siblings, Martin always found himself competing in some way with those around him — an opportunity that he cherishes to this day.

“It was just the best times of my life because I just had no worries,” he said.

It was during this time that Martin began developing an intense competitive spirit — one that has continued to motivate him in all of his pursuits. Watching his relatives become accomplished in their own lives caused Martin to desire this success for himself, prompting him to begin self-reflecting and identifying areas in which he could improve.

“The majority of the moments that I feel like define me come down to the relationships I had with my brothers and cousins,” he said. “I wouldn’t say there’s a specific moment, but times when we would compete, times when we would work together, and it was always those moments where I would have to self-reflect.”

Martin spent his elementary and middle school years at Christ the King, which allowed him to form deep bonds with his classmates, most of whom attended the school along with him from kindergarten to eighth grade. Given the fact that CTK is right next door to La Salle, over half of his graduating class chose to become Falcons, with Martin following suit. 

However, the idea of prioritizing academics — let alone reaching the level of a salutatorian — was nowhere near the forefront of his mind when he transitioned into high school.

“I feel like I always did good just because it was never a challenge for me — I never once thought about getting good grades,” he said. “It [wasn’t] until probably sophomore year of high school that I really realized that I could do good in school and that I should apply myself.”

Once Martin began to take academics seriously, the competitiveness within him extended to his life in the classroom — but instead of competing against his siblings, he started competing with himself, continuously looking for opportunities to grow and improve as a student. 

Still, Martin never truly viewed becoming salutatorian as his main goal — even after this mental switch was flipped. 

But throughout the course of his high school career, Martin always viewed the accolade as within reach. This mentality was influenced by the fact that his brothers had befriended multiple past valedictorians and salutatorians, giving Martin an exclusive window into the academic process of these high-achieving students.

“I never thought of them as [smart people] until I saw how successful they were,” he said. “And I realized I could do the same, given that I grew up in their circle.”

In retrospect, Martin has found that the biggest challenge for a student pursuing this level of academic achievement is maintaining mental fortitude. While he acknowledges that the time commitment is vast, the most difficult part for him was putting forth his best work, even at inopportune times — times when “I wanted to turn in a crappy essay, or a subpar essay, but I didn’t and redid the entire thing, just because I knew it wouldn’t give me the grade I wanted,” he said.

However, Martin also acknowledged the fact that others pursuing academic success may have a different set of priorities outside of the classroom. 

“It’s hard to take advice from someone else in this aspect because everyone has a different social life, different academic life,” he said. “So, really, you have to stay organized and find your own system.”

Having taken nine AP courses and five Honors classes during his high school career, Martin’s courseload has certainly had the rigor expected of a salutatorian — but this wasn’t his motivation when he chose to sign up for these classes. Instead, knowing that he was intellectually capable of succeeding at this level, Martin simply wanted to give himself a challenge.

“I just saw the opportunity to take hard classes,” he said. “I knew that I had the ability to do good in them, so I was like, ‘Why not push myself?’”

Receiving advanced college credit from his AP courses was another major reason for this, as Martin estimates that he’ll essentially be able to start college as a sophomore next year with the credits that he has accrued — saving him time and money.

His next destination is Spokane, Washington, where he’ll be majoring in biochemistry with a business minor at Gonzaga University. Although he also gave strong consideration to Saint Mary’s College, Martin ultimately decided to become a Bulldog due to a sense of community that he described as distinctly Lasallian — something that wasn’t immediately apparent elsewhere.

“It felt right,” he said. “I was just sitting there imagining myself at both schools, and St. Mary’s felt almost too small, despite still being a slightly large college.”

Martin also made note of several La Salle alums that currently attend the university, including both of his cousins, as well as multiple members of La Salle’s class of 2024 that are headed to Spokane. This was another big factor in his decision, as the presence of close family members and friends will allow his college experience to mirror his time in high school.

“I’m going to be leaving that for a while, so [it’s] definitely a little scary, but I think Gonzaga will be a great place to keep that environment alive,” he said. “I’m not as nervous as I could have been if I had moved farther away.”

As a science major, Martin will enjoy access to the brand-new medical building on Gonzaga’s campus, which opened in 2022 and is shared with students from the University of Washington. With his degree, although he doesn’t have a specific job in mind, he hopes to travel and provide medical care to people in need — whatever that may look like.

“Whether that care is going to be something high up, maybe doing something as a surgeon, or whether I’m simply just providing medicine, I don’t really know,” he said. “But science has always been my passion and I absolutely love traveling, and if I can pair those two together, it’d be a blessing.”

In particular, Martin named AP Chemistry and AP Biology as two courses that cultivated his love for science, with their respective teachers, Mr. Matthew Owen and Mr. Ryan Kain, serving as inspirational figures for him throughout his time in high school. 

Martin specifically named these two, along with English Teacher Mr. Greg Larson and former Math Teacher Mr. Larry Swanson, as teachers that have strived to build a personal relationship with him.

“That makes their class more enjoyable,” he said. “Not only are you going to do well because they know how to teach, but you’re going to have fun because they make a good environment.”

In general, Martin stressed the importance of forming close relationships with teachers, citing this as having been essential to his academic success and noting that La Salle’s culture is uniquely tailored to connect teachers and students. 

“The community between teachers and students is something that you don’t find in many schools,” he said. “I’ve always kept good relationships with my teachers and talked to them whenever I need help, and that is by far the biggest factor [in] my success.”

However, all of Martin’s relationships have been crucial to his academic journey — not just the ones he has formed with educators. Martin expressed gratitude for the fact that he’s been able to surround himself with friends that share his drive, intelligence, and passion for academics, as it has allowed him to compete with them and motivate himself.

Sports have also been essential to the formation of these deep friendships throughout his time in high school. Martin has participated in basketball, track and field, and cross country at various points over the past four years, and although a recent back injury forced him to stop all three, the connections he made have stood the test of time. He specifically cited cross country camp earlier this year as his favorite memory from his time in high school due to the bonds he made with each of his teammates.

All of the hard work that Martin has put into self-improvement has, in his opinion, had an observable positive impact on him as a human being.

“Freshman year, I kind of just went with the flow — especially being on Zoom, I really just didn’t care what happened. I kind of just existed and had fun,” he said. “Now, I’m going off to college, [and] I’m more mentally aware of where I’m going, how to prepare for it, what I can do to be successful.”

But throughout the course of his life, his competitiveness and dogged dedication to self-improvement has always endured — no matter what his goals are.

“That’s just who I am,” he said. “It’s never in a negative way; rather, I just want to be the best version of myself.”

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