Meet the Valedictorian and Salutatorian of the Class of 2020


Salutatorian, Kelvin Yip

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The valedictorian and salutatorian of the Townsend Harris Class of 2020 were celebrated at the virtual graduation ceremony, which was held on June 22 via YouTube. Valedictorian Hope H. and salutatorian Kelvin Yip shared some reflections and advice about their experience at Townsend Harris. 


Q: What is the most important thing you learned from your time at Townsend Harris?

Hope: And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men. – Colossians 3:23 NKJV

Kelvin: Honestly, my time at Townsend Harris has been an endless cycle of valuable lessons. I’d say the most important thing I’ve learned is not being afraid of stepping outside your comfort zone. It’s a cliche lesson, but it has to be the most valuable one. Coming in as a freshman, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Taking that step out to do things such as joining Robotics, playing soccer, and meeting new people have changed my view of the world and given me new goals to take on.


Q: What is your favorite memory from high school?

Hope: There are so many to choose from, but I think I’ll always remember one of the last times my friends and I were in the Queens College library during our free bands. We booked a study room and brought dry-erase markers. We spent our time laughing, talking, and drawing silly things on the whiteboard.

Kelvin: There are too many to count, but I’d say a favorite of mine is probably the Senior Trip. I remembered that I was going through some of the roughest times, and to be able to let it go by spending three days with some of my closest friends and having so much fun throughout is just an amazing experience. However, I do need to say that I’m a little surprised that hiking can be such a near-death experience.


Q: What extracurricular activities did you participate in at THHS? Which was most meaningful to you?

Hope: I participated in Moot Court, Mock Trial, Varsity Tennis, chamber music, S!NG, and Seekers. My time with Moot Court and Mock Trial provided some of the most valuable and extraordinary experiences I had at Townsend. I think I liked Moot Court and Mock Trial so much over the years because it mixed well with my personality and interests. Moot Court and Mock Trial provided the perfect mélange of what I liked about humanities and mathematics; it required creativity – be it through persuasive writing or speaking – bounded by rationality and logic. And beyond the intellectual challenge it presented, the teams presented me with a real sense of community. You develop a certain bond with your teammates when you ride the subway with them for hours and hours, and I’ll be forever grateful for the friendships, memories, and laughter. 

Kelvin: I was involved in Boys Soccer and Robotics, and I did SING! and FON my senior year. I made some great friends during my time on the soccer team, but the most meaningful extracurricular to me was probably Robotics. There’s no other place in the school that can teach both engineering and life skills. I’m grateful for all the relationships I’ve developed at Robotics, whether it’s with my mentors or my teammates who are just as passionate about STEM. Technology is about to define our future, and it’s amazing to see it come to life on our sixth floor.


Q: Are there any particular THHS teachers that have greatly influenced or inspired you through the years?  

Hope: Most definitely. I’ve learned a great deal from every teacher I’ve had at Townsend, whether it be scholarly knowledge or about character. Ms. Sherman, in particular, was incredibly kind to me, and I particularly remember her teaching during 10th grade. When certain changes were made to the teaching methods of the school, the entire grade erupted with complaints and shock. I distinctly remember how Ms. Sherman listened to us, but she never complained and was insistent on respecting the administration, even if she didn’t agree with them. And, I’ll always remember how Ms. Sherman went above and beyond to help us through the changes by recording explanations on her slides for us so that we could learn them at home. Her disposition and ethic were so admirable that it’s remained in my mind ever since – really, she taught us a higher standard by exemplifying it herself. 

In addition, Ms. Sierra, Ms. Bakst, Ms. Liu, Ms. Fee, Mr. Amanna, Mr. Sweeney, Dr. Brewer, Mr. Kadamani and Mr. Lee all left a great impact on me due to their care for their students and verve for teaching. The successes of students are truly not our own – we stand on the shoulders of our teachers, parents, and community, and the teachers I’ve had are prime examples of that. 

Kelvin:  It’s tough to pinpoint a few teachers as all of them have greatly influenced me throughout my high school career, but to narrow it down, I would say Mr. Raghunath, Mr. Connor, and Mr. Heitman. They have sparked my interest in STEM, pushed me to improve every day, and changed my attitude for the better.


Q: What Townsend-survival advice would you give to underclassmen?

Hope: I would say enjoy it! Work hard. This is not the be-all and end-all, but this is where you learn how to tackle life. Remember that you are here to learn. You shouldn’t be bothered by the occasional bad grade or mistake – but, you should be bothered if you just don’t suit up for the exams and challenges presented to you. Also, guidance has free printing! 

Kelvin: I’d tell them two things. 

One: Do! Not! Procrastinate! The last thing you need is to be pulling all-nighters on something that could have been done during the afternoon. It piles up, and you might eventually find yourself dozing off during Ms. Liu’s lesson.

Two: This is extremely ironic coming from me. Do not stress so much! There are things that you should spend your time and effort worrying about, but there are also many things that you should not stress over. There are times when you just need to let go; not everything in your life can be controlled the way you want it. Instead of spending your time worrying about grades, spend more quality time with your friends and family. Try new hobbies. Challenge yourself. You will feel better about yourself and more fulfilled. 


Q: Would you have done anything differently in your four years at THHS?

Hope: When I look back at my past four years at Townsend, there are certainly mistakes, blunders, and regrets littered about. But, I can’t say that I would “do anything differently.” It is through our mistakes and decisions that we learn. The highs and lows of the past four years taught me valuable, worthwhile lessons. So, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. 

Kelvin: There are quite a few things I would have done differently.

I would have joined the Robotics team in my freshman year, met some awesome friends and mentors earlier, and got to experience the thrill of winning a competition at Hudson Valley. 

I would have done SING! and FON a lot earlier. I only did both my senior year but was able to experience for myself why so many people have been participating in both performances since their freshman year.

I would have tried to talk to more people and get to know them better. Everyone at Townsend is extremely supportive and friendly, but it doesn’t matter if you do not take the first step and reach out to them. 

I would have stopped stressing so much about my grades and spent more quality time with my friends. We had some great memories, but to this day, I still wish I had more. 


Q: What does being valedictorian/salutatorian mean to you?

Hope: I am grateful to receive the title, and I was elated when I was told the news. That being said, I don’t think it signifies much in the grand scheme of things. To anyone who doesn’t know me, the title of valedictorian doesn’t say much about me, beyond my grades. For me, it means that I have been blessed by four years of support from family, friends, and teachers; but, all of that is evident in more direct ways. The friendships, values, and lessons that I’m leaving Townsend with mean much more to me than the valedictorian banner does. 

Kelvin: It’s an honor that my work at Townsend has been recognized, but it is not everything. With or without the title of salutatorian, I can still call my time at Townsend a success. It’s not often that I get to attend a school with so many bright and talented students that will bring change to our society one day.


Q: What college do you plan to attend and why were you drawn to this school in particular? What are your career goals and/or other plans for the future?

Hope: I’ll be attending Harvard College in the fall.  I was attracted to the school because of its excellence, but primarily because of the students. When I attended a student panel of seniors one night in the city, I listened to their stories and quips and reflections, and I just remember thinking that they were whom I would want to spend the next four years with. 

As for career goals, the future is pretty murky. For now, my plan is to explore the different majors and courses Harvard has to offer. If you want a hard answer, I think I would enjoy being a lawyer, eventually. 

Kelvin: I will be attending Yale University. It’s such a diverse, unique place full of new opportunities that I look forward to taking on. I love the close-knit community that the college strives to foster, and look forward to meeting students from all corners of the world and hearing about their own life stories. It’s something that I just can’t pass on.

I have two dreams regarding the future. One of them is to create my own tech startup and to develop software that can revolutionize our world. I also would love to use advancements in technology as well as create apps to modernize our city’s subway and give New York a transportation system it can be proud of. Ultimately, I want to use the powers of computing to improve our society. 


Q: What were you most looking forward to in your senior year before the coronavirus pandemic? What have you learned from this setback? 

Hope: I was certainly looking forward to the more grandiose events, like graduation and a trip I had planned with my friends. But really, I was most excited for the small moments we were supposed to share before we all scattered across the world. I was looking forward to more white board drawings in Rosenthal, daily locker meetings, movies in classes after the AP exams, the rest of my free bands with my friends, and the Waffles and Dinges cart on the QC campus. My friend and I had been planning to try the cart since the fall, and we promised that we’d do it after AP week…evidently, we never got the chance. So, as for what I’ve learned, maybe get food a little faster? 

But seriously, while we may have missed out on the greater pomp and circumstance and second semester adventures that we anticipated, I found that friendship can certainly overcome the test of distance (be it through Zoom or other means) – which is comforting as we all split for college soon. And, I’ve rediscovered sleep! In conclusion, there yet remain silver linings. 

Kelvin: I was looking forward to the big events that were popular among my friends: Robotics competitions, prom, and graduation. Obviously, the coronavirus had different ideas. Nevertheless, this setback taught me once again that not everything in our life can always be under our control. However, we have the power to make the best of any situation. 


Q: What is the most unexpected thing that you experienced during your time at THHS? 

Hope: The pandemic and ensuing chaos. I would have never imagined that I would be in isolation at home with all of my family in March 2020.

Kelvin: I am really bad at dancing, and to this day, I swear it’s because of the fact that I have two left feet. In my freshmen year, I remembered watching FON and swearing that I would never want to embarrass myself on stage. Fast forward three years later and there I was on stage doing Filipino, Ribbon, and Chinese-Modern FONs.


Q: Is there a song that resonates with your experience at THHS? Any particular lyric from that song? 

Hope: I would hope that the hymn “Nos Nobis” resonates best with my time at Townsend. I first heard the hymn in the 1989 Henry V adaptation. Near the end of the film, the soldiers sing the hymn as they carry the dead and the wounded off the battlefield. The translated lyrics mean, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give the glory.” That is, after winning a heart-wrenching and gruesome battle, but losing much in the process, the soldiers’ first thoughts are ones of humility and thanksgiving towards God. As we graduate (or have graduated), I hope that this song would fit the past four years I’ve spent at Townsend. This is not to say that my high school experiences are in any way as perilous or strenuous as a war, but I hope that I, too, have reflected God’s glory through my actions and words, in every interaction, struggle, and triumph.

Kelvin: It’s really hard to pick one song to describe my high school experience as it had so many ups and downs. I’m going to go with Memories by Maroon 5 and these particular lyrics: “Everybody hurts sometimes Everybody hurts someday, ayy ayy But everything gon’ be alright Go and raise a glass and say, ayy.” I think that the past years at Townsend have been some of the best that we’ve ever experienced, but also some of the worst. The bad times will take a toll on us. However, we looked forward, knowing that there’s always a solution to the worst problem that exists out there. We put our heads together and had each other’s back, knowing that at the end of the day, everything will be alright. 

Disclaimer: Contrary to what the song lyrics say, I am by no means claiming that alcohol is a solution.

Photo courtesy of Kelvin Yip