CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Like many other top students in the country Shenendehowa High School’s valedictorian and salutatorian were not given the chance to impart a wide-reaching goodbye to their fellow classmates in person this year.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, valedictorian Kenny Jung and salutatorian Nicole Cheetham gave their speeches remotely.
Since both young adults will major in the field of computer science next year in college it may seem ironically fitting that a computer was used for their final remarks. However that misses the fact that for both these students some of their best memories of Shen were found in the friendships they made in class, in clubs, on sports teams or walking the school hallways.
Kenny Jung, 18, is the son of Weon Young Jung and Kazumi Ohata of Clifton Park. He has a younger brother who is a sophomore.
Coming into the Shen School District in the fifth grade Jung admitted he struggled with the English language and the cultural differences between the U.S. and S. Korea. Languages however seem to attract him. Besides working on his own to learn a handful of European languages and speaking Japanese and Korean at home, he has a National Latin Exam Gold Summa Cum Laude award.
“I began taking Latin in the seventh grade,” he said. “I started it because English and other languages come from Latin and there’s a lot of similarities, especially with vocabulary and grammar structure. There’s also a connection to European languages and I thought if I ever wanted to learn those Latin would help me there too.”
During his years at Shen Jung was a member of Mu Alpha Theta Honor Society, the American Computer Science League, played tennis for the school, and spent a year in the Robotics club.
Asked what it was like to move from daily classroom activity to remote learning he acknowledged it was definitely different.
“It’s a lot more limited,” he said. “It’s more difficult to talk with other students and teachers but one of the good points is that the scheduling is more flexible.”
In the fall Jung will be attending Northeastern University where he will study Computer Engineering and Computer Science. He was asked to describe what it was that drew him to the computer science field.
“I became interested in computers when I was playing games on them in elementary school,” he said. “Now that I don’t play the games anymore I’m drawn by knowing what they can do in general. They’re fast, accurate and reliable.”
He noted also that the fast growing field has applications in a wide range of disciplines including medicine, math, art, music, and sports.
“Since computers can be used for analysis and calculations I thought it’d be a good idea to stay ahead of the trend; ahead of the curve,” he said.
When the subject of why he chose Northeastern University came up Jung said he chose the school because its location in Boston would offer him opportunities for internships with first rate companies and because it was flexible with combining major fields of study.
Asked for his best memory of Shen Jung said his memories were collective of his time there.
“My best memory of Shen is a general one. It helped me grow up and get used to the U.S.,” he said. “It’ll follow me through college. It’s kind of sad I can’t say good bye.”
Nicole Cheetham, 17, the class Salutatorian is the daughter of William and Claudine Cheetham of Clifton Park. She has a younger brother who will enter Shen High School West in the fall.
Like Jung, Cheetham played sports at Shen as well as doing advanced academic work where she collected a number of honors. She was a member of the Shenendehowa Cross Country and Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Teams, Society of Women Engineers, the National Math Honor Society, Science Honor Society, and Science Olympiad.
When asked about remote learning Cheetham said she found it challenging at first but after adapting to the new process she thought it had been done quite well. She added, however, that she missed the personal aspects of seeing her classmates and teachers each day.
“That’s probably something I missed the most about school, that ability to just talk and see friends and teachers,” she said. “I feel that’s a central part of being at school and I was sad that I had had to stay home and not have the chance to see others.”
In fact the friends she made through her sports activities and clubs meant so much to her, Cheetham put them first when asked to pick a favorite memory of Shen.
“It’s a type of memory because I wouldn’t be able to pick a specific one,” she said. “It’s basically anytime I was in the company of my friends attending the type of activities I pursued because those activities became my social outlet. I truly enjoyed being in the company of others and just chatting.”
Like Jung, Cheetham is drawn to the field of computer science. In the fall she will be attending what she refers to her as her dream school, Cornell University. Once there she will study Artificial Intelligence Programming.
She too sees that computers offer many many applications and the possibilities presented by them are enormous and she wants to be part of the forward thinking that’s found in the field.
“Realistically computer science can be integrated in most if not all aspects of life whether it be healthcare or online shopping,” she said. “Computer science and AI (artificial intelligence) can be used to improve previous systems and have a positive impact not just on the economy and individuals, but on society as a whole.”
When asked why she chose Cornell University Cheetham said she has been in love with the school she visited the campus in the eighth grade while taking an early college search.
“Once I arrived on campus I fell in love with everything it stood for as well as its campus life,” she said. “It was relatively rural, it’s a diverse community and it promotes any person-any subject. That would allow me to try new things and enjoy doing them. On that first visit I could see myself being there and living there for four years.”
When Cheetham was asked if she had any final message or messages to relay to her classmates through a print medium she came up with two.
“Just remember by going alone you can go fast but by going with others you can go far,” she said. “And remember that failures are opportunities to excel, not hindrances to overcome.”