West High Achievement Awards 2020

Principal Kara Heinrich opened the ceremony by announcing the Class of 2020 Valedictorian and Teacher of the Year.
Photo courtesy of West High.

Principal Kara Heinrich opened the ceremony by announcing the Class of 2020 Valedictorian and Teacher of the Year. Photo courtesy of West High.

Ashley Kim, Editor-in-Chief

On Wednesday, May 20th, West High’s annual Pursuit of Excellence Achievement Awards Program honored students by recognizing their accomplishments in the past school year.  In contrast to previous years, this year’s ceremony was held virtually to accommodate social distancing guidelines.

The ceremony began by recognizing West High’s distinguished scholars, or seniors who maintained an unweighted 4.0 GPA.  With the highest weighted GPA, Andrew Kang (12) took the place of 2020 Valedictorian.  Additionally, Mrs. Katherine Horsey was awarded teacher of the year, with Principal Kara Heinrich mentioning Mrs. Horsey’s efforts to still provide strong instruction despite the struggle to teach in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rest of the awards were organized by subject, with the heads of each department presenting all students who were nominated by teachers.  For each grade, a single recipient was selected, as well as a Trophy Winner which was given to a senior.

Marie Malig (10) was a nominee for the English award, and she won the medal for 10th grade English.  English is one of her favorite subjects and she loves expressing herself through words.  “I felt very excited and honored about getting nominated,” Malig said.  “I wasn’t expecting to win, but when I did, I felt extremely grateful and blessed.  I still can’t believe I won; it’s just crazy to think about.”

Notable senior Trophy Winners included Samantha Benson (12) for English, Jordan Yee (12) for leadership, Andrew Kang (12) for Mathematics, Kendall Kirio (12) for Science, and Kaitlyn Esperon (12) for Social Sciences.  For the senior winners, their teachers discussed their work ethic, passion for learning, and skill in their subject of interest.  Each winner has demonstrated excellence and deep understanding throughout their four years of high school.

The achievement awards were also incredibly encouraging for all student recipients and nominees.

One such nominee, Lindsey Kim (12) was nominated for an Achievement Award in Science.  “Science was never my primary interest in school,” she said.  “However, the Astrobiology class I took this year, taught by Mrs. Chambers, really opened my eyes to pursuing a career in science.”  Throughout high school, Kim intended on pursuing a career in English or Political Science.  However, she has learned to love science and in the fall, is attending UC San Diego for a degree in Marine Biology.

Mariam Rizkalla (11) was the 11th grade medal winner for World Languages.  Rizkalla is a student in AP Spanish.  She said, “It is certainly a great privilege that humbles me greatly and it was very encouraging for me to receive, given my continuous passion for learning new languages.”

This year’s Achievement Awards were certainly different.  In the past, awards were held physically, with a physical audience, ceremony, and reception.  But in challenging times, the school still felt that honoring students was important and that the awards should still continue.

Some students enjoyed having a virtual award ceremony instead.  Malig said, “I could gather around my living room with my family and watch the ceremony comfortably.  Since I am shy and won a medal, I probably would have been more anxious on stage at a physical ceremony.”

In contrast, Kim commented, “If you had a bad school picture, then you had no control over what kind of appearance you had during the ceremony.”

But despite the different format of the ceremony, this year’s achievement awards recognized students who worked hard, accomplished great things, and deserved to be honored.  Students every year merit recognition, and 2020 is no different.


Watch the 2020 Pursuit of Excellence Achievement Awards on the West High School website (whs.tusd.org).