CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Speeches from the class valedictorian and salutatorian are part of every high school graduation ceremony. It gives the top scholars in the class a chance to reminisce or pass along some final words of advice before the class, as a whole, is dismissed for eternity.
But this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian for the Shenendehowa High School Class of 2019, Emily Wang and Courtney Golden, have a lot in common.
Both young ladies are top in their class academically and both have been at Shen since kindergarten. They both enjoy math and science, were teammates on the school’s Science Bowl team and surprisingly, both have a sibling who was the valedictorian of a Shen graduating class.
Wang, 17, is the daughter of Hua and Wendy Wang. Her sister Jessica was the 2014 valedictorian and has now graduated from Dartmouth University where she earned a double major in economics and government.
A former student at Okte Elementary School and Acadia Middle School Emily Wang will head off to MIT in the fall, where she intends to major in economics and public policy and swim on the school’s swim team, just as she did at Shen.
Looking into the future, she sees herself eventually doing research for a public policy institute or attending law school. She chuckled when discussing how both her parents are engineers, but neither of their daughters went into the field.
“They encouraged me to follow my passion, and I was interested in the political economy,” Wang said. “I love science, but I couldn’t see myself sitting in a lab all day doing research. I want to interact with people, and I want to make an impact.”
Wang said her interests in economics grew out of her interest in history, which was sparked at Shen.
“I like U.S. history and public policy is part of that. I took an AP U.S. History class in 10th grade and an Economics and Public Policy class as a junior. The teachers in high school really encouraged me.”
To give her some insight as to whether public policy was the right fit for her, Wang had an internship with Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbra, D-Rotterdam.
“I’d read about public policy in textbooks, but this gave me my first experience in local government,” she said. “The internship showed me what it’s like face to face.”
In discussing her choice of colleges Wang said one of the draws for her applying to MIT was the presence of Professor Jonathan Gruber, one of the top economists in the country.
“He helped design RomneyCare for Massachusetts and Obamacare was based on that,” she said.
In addition to her interests in history, government and public policy Wang said she also enjoys science and math. She was a member of the Math Club and teamed with Golden on the high school Science Bowl Team.
Asked if she had one special memory from all her years at Shen that will stay with her, Wang said she couldn’t name just one.
“There was a satisfaction going there for all 13 years,” she said. “I made a lot of friends, and we’ll be able to stay in touch.”
Asked what she intended to say in her speech at graduation Wang was reticent to reveal too much.
“I’ll give out a few nuggets of advice, some things I’ve picked up, like being present and staying in the moment, to take things day by day, and look to make decisions more mindfully,” she said. “It’ll be anecdotal. I’ll bring in some things from my life.”
When discussing the conclusion of her Shen career, Wang was philosophical.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “You have to leave one thing behind, but with moving on you have an option. It’s another chance to shape how your life is going to go.”
Golden, the class salutatorian, is the daughter of Timothy and Kathleen Golden, and the sister of Alicia Golden, the valedictorian for the Class of 2018.
Following in the footsteps of her sister, Courtney Golden is headed to Cornell University in the fall where she will major in electrical engineering.
In an interview, last week Golden, 17, admitted she was never a member of the high school Robotics Club, despite her interest in engineering, but was a member of many math and science-based clubs.
“Electrical engineering will allow me to combine my interests in math and science and my desire to make a positive impact on the world,” she said. “I always found engineering fascinating. I like problem-solving, and there’s a lot of problem-solving. But I also see it as a way to make someone else’s life easier; a way to make an impact on the world by designing a product.”
Pressed on the statement she mentioned, as an example, a cell phone battery that can go six months without a charge.
“I want to design Nano-scale circuits,” Golden said. “A lot of developing nations don’t have reliable power so if I could work on the design side making circuits that might be used in cell phones making people’s lives a little better, that’d be pretty cool.”
In addition to getting good reviews about Cornell from her sister, Golden said she chose the school because it has a great electrical engineering program and has “wide-ranging opportunities and majors to explore."
“And I liked the students I met there; they all seemed so passionate and hardworking plus, the school has great facilities. I just felt at home there. It just rose to the top of my list,” she said.
Asked to look back at her 13 years in the school system and name a favorite memory Golden laughed and said it had only been 12 years because she skipped second grade in Tesago Elementary School.
“I was always the youngest kid in my class for the whole time,” she said with a giggle. “It wasn’t any problem; it was fun, people were nice, but there were small things like I couldn’t get my driver’s permit when everybody else started learning to drive.”
In discussing her speech at graduation, Golden said she would make sure to congratulate her classmates and planned to leave them a few words of advice that will hopefully inspire them.
“I plan to structure my advice around a refrigerator magnet that says, ‘Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself,'" she said.
Asked what it’s like to see her years at Shen come to an end Golden said it was a weird feeling, but she, along with many others, are excited to see everyone going on to new opportunities.