After much hard work and dedication, Achilles Dabrowski and Sonal Butala have been named the Valedictorian and Salutatorian, respectively, of the Morris Hills Class of 2018. It was an exhilarating but rewarding race for both of them, as they worked hard to balance busy lives both in and outside of school.
Achilles is the Class of 2018’s Valedictorian, and when he found out that he had earned the title, he said that he “felt relieved,” and that “there was a lot of pressure,” but that it was more of a race against himself than against others. In this fast-paced race, Achilles has found a way to balance his time with school work and extracurriculars. “Since sophomore year, I’ve had to learn how to work smarter and not harder,” he says. “I had to stop looking at small details and fight the urge to be a perfectionist so that I could have a social life and get enough sleep.” Considering the amount of activities that Achilles does, his time management is also a true accomplishment. He is in marching band, Model Congress (where he was a party leader this year and a party representative), JSA, was the first and only band president for freshman year band, and was an APUSH class captain. On top of that, outside of school, he is involved in the Greek Orthodox Youth Organization, and the Organization of Teenagers. He has also worked with Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen as part of his Youth Advisory Council. He was also part of American Legion Jersey Boys State, and was city administrator of Harrison city.
Achilles’ proudest accomplishment in his four years of high school was winning Model Congress Republican Party Leader. He felt that “being party leader was a job I had always wanted,” and said that it took a lot of perseverance. His advice for success is for all students in high school. He says that “the important thing is to have an iron will and advocate for yourself.” “Don’t worry constantly about how people would feel about criticism. Mr. Ellis tried to teach us that, and I wish it would resonate with more people.” Achilles will major in computer science in the Trinity College of Arts and Science at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. After this, he plans to get an MBA, become an executive at a major tech firm, and possibly hold political office to become a Senator or The President of the United States one day. For his stellar accomplishment, he would like to thank his parents, past valedictorians such as Hina Shah and Jesse Kass who have inspired him to strive to be his best self in high school, and his teachers who encouraged him to keep going, especially those who encouraged him during his junior year to persevere when he had a difficult workload.
Sonal is the Class of 2018’s Salutatorian, and she was “ecstatic, over the moon, and joyously delighted” when she was informed that she had obtained this prestigious title. “There are almost no words to describe the elated feeling,” she says. On the path to this accomplishment, Sonal has found her own unique way for managing her time and extracurriculars. She says that “schoolwork is basically stress and stress with a side of stress because there’s so much of it: assignments, homework, projects, tests,” but she has found a way to balance it. “I usually start my work around 7, and it takes an hour or two max. For balancing it, I just prioritize everything. For example, homework assignments come first, if there’s a test, I study the night before, and I do projects a few days before. I also keep a calendar so I don’t miss deadlines.” And this advice was very useful to Sonal, as she is also involved in numerous activities in and outside of the classroom. She is co-captain of the Morris Hills Academic Decathlon team, a flutist in the jazz band, and explores French culture as a part of the French Club. Outside of school, she is an instructor at Mathnasium Learning Centers, individually tutors students, is an ambassador and staff member for the Hugh O’ Brian Youth Leadership Foundation, and is the founder of a local chapter of the nonprofit organization Color A Smile, which delivers cheerful drawings to veterans and the armed forces.
Sonal’s greatest accomplishment in high school is founding a local chapter of Color A Smile “to advocate for the veterans after the passing of my uncle who served in Iraq. To champion this cause, I collaborated with the town Mayor, most notably through the Fall Festival, which is attended by thousands, and I have a partnership with the Board of Education in my district.” Sonal’s advice to be successful in high school is to “get your priorities straight. Do what you have to do no matter what. Also learn to have fun while doing your work. Relax sometimes, it’s not as much work as you think.” Sonal will attend Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire and will double major in mathematical data science and economics. She is interested in entrepreneurial ventures that focus on the teaching sector, specifically establishing a franchise of educational learning centers. She really felt prompted by this work after becoming an instructor at Mathnasium. She realized that she wanted to start her own company that teaches students different ways and helps them learn through guidance and self-awareness. She has numerous people to thank for her wonderful accomplishment. “I would like to thank my mom, dad, sister, and grandma. My family has always been there for me, especially my parents. They have encouraged me and pushed me to recognize my potential. I would also like to thank the amazing teachers I’ve had for the past 4 years. If they didn’t find some value in me and what I was doing, I definitely wouldn’t have gotten where I am today.”
Both the Valedictorian and Salutatorian don’t have regrets about high school, but may have changed some things if given the chance. Achilles says, “I took hard classes that a lot of people told me would destroy my GPA, such as the AP’s I took sophomore year and AP Calculus. Due to this, I was not able to explore other interests.” Sonal agrees. “I would have liked to take classes that I enjoy and personally find fulfilling. I wanted to take Foods for the past twelve years of school, and it never happened. Also, taking band throughout my years would have been fun. However, taking Calc. 3 H with Mr. Bermel this year has been one of the best classes I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking. I also wish I had been less stressed all the time. Now I realize there was no need for that.” As they both transition to college, the Valedictorian and Salutatorian will miss their close friends. Achilles will miss not getting to see many of his close friends every day, many of whom he has had since his early childhood, and will have to start over with the social scene. Sonal will miss the comfort of seeing the same people all year in the same classes, both teachers and students. Even though there are some things that will change as Achilles and Sonal transition to college, they have great things ahead of them.