Carson High’s Class of 2020’s top students rise above final semester’s trials
Four top students in Carson High School’s Class of 2020 all came from different paths and will head off on individual futures, but they all agree on at least one thing: The past semester was decidedly unconventional – and memorable. COVID-19 changed their final push to the finish line in a number of ways, but they remained successful.
CHS valedictorian Kai Chen, salutatorian Ava Covington, JumpStart valedictorian Maryn Myler and JumpStart salutatorian Sailor Mueller described what their recent adjustments were like finishing their studies through distance learning, provided a glimpse into their dreams, goals and recent experiences and they shared what lies ahead as they finish high school at the top of their class.
Kai Chen, CHS valedictorian
Kai Chen says coming from China to America with his father has been one of the best moves for him, describing the environment here as much less “cutthroat” academically than his former country.
Chen’s transition in Carson High as an English language learner progressed quickly. While he says he struggled as a transfer at first, he acknowledges his teachers who helped him in making up for any lost time.
“I really enjoy being here,” he said. “All my teachers were really nice and helped me.”
By his junior and senior years, Chen was taking Advanced Placement English classes. He also became founder of the Math Club, vice president of the National Honors Society and Key Club secretary. To assist others who were experienced challenges of their own, he began volunteering and mentoring them. He’s given about 750 hours helping others through the CHSolutions program.
“I really like to help people in the community,” he said. “When I first came here to the States, (tutoring) was my way to the repay the community.”
Chen will attend Duke University in the fall, the institution he was matched with through the national Questbridge program. He is the recipient of a four-year scholarship worth more than $320,000 thanks to his 5.65 grade point average and impressive extracurricular activities at Carson as a tutor and club participant.
At Duke, he plans to major in economy and is considering a minor in gender studies.
“I wanted to go to a good college,” he said. “I feel like other students lose a lot of time and they don’t want to try, so they don’t really put themselves into it. Usually, it’s not that bad. High school shouldn’t be difficult.”
Ava Covington, CHS salutatorian
Carson High’s salutatorian Ava Covington says she feels fortunate to have had teachers during high school who have encouraged her to pursue a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field since so few women today are still willing to do so. Covington has her eyes set on an eventual career with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Math was her favorite subject growing up but often ran into certain obstacles or was told girls weren’t cut out for it.
“I skipped a grade,” she said. “By the time I got into middle school, gender differences made themselves clear. I started thinking I’m bad at math, and it’s really not that women aren’t as capable conventionally. Going through school, I just lost confidence in myself at math.”
When she entered her junior year, one teacher remarked her brother was better at math than she was but another teacher disagreed.
“It’s interesting that girls are taught if they’re not good at something, it’s because they’re girls,” she said.
She plans to attend the University of Nevada, Reno in the fall to study geophysics and philosophy.
Covington, who also participated in cross country, philosophy club and mock trial during her time in Carson High and said all of these activities contributed to a broader value for her education.
“Mock trial was an awesome experience,” she said. “This year, it was fantastic to get a get a glimpse of what it’s like to be an attorney and how to deal with legal issues in court. You understand the world better and see that a lot of law is intuitive. … With philosophy club, you get together … and a lot of it is about thinking and you really understand why things are the way they are. … That innate curiosity is the most important thing in education. It’s a wonderful path to help me reach my goals. It’s not wanting the good grades.”
Maryn Myler, CHS JumpStart valedictorian
Maryn Myler, 18, whose love of music since elementary school had followed her into Carson High, first joined Bordewich Bray Elementary’s Strings in the Schools program by playing the violin. By the time she entered the fifth grade, she joined the school’s band having learned the flute and went on to honor bands in Northern Nevada and an All-State band in eighth grade. At Carson this year, she performed with the Blue Thunder Marching Band.
“I was able to learn a little bit about conducting a band in this program because I was given the opportunity to lead the band through warmups for the past two years,” she said.
Her passion is leading her to major in music education at Brigham Young University in the fall, a good for her, she says, because her parents attended there and she had grown up in Idaho and it’s a faith-based institution. She also plans to serve as a missionary for 18 months once she turns 19 next year. While she attended class, she said she was thankful to attend early morning seminary for church
Myler said she also enjoys creative writing, hoping to publish her own book eventually, but she also enjoys painting, cooking, dancing and kayaking. But as she studies or works, she said nothing is more helpful to her than to have music on in the background.
“I listened to a lot of the piano guys and Jacob’s piano over the past semester,” she said. “Those channels are a part of what helped me to stay motivated to finish everything.”
The JumpStart valedictorian completed her associate’s degree this year through the program and said she decided on this option because it would prepare her better for college, thanking teachers such as WNC’s Professor Amy Ghilieri in History 101 and 102.
“I would encourage every student to really consider the program because it really is an amazing program that pushes every student to rise up and become a better student,” she said.
Sailor Mueller, CHS JumpStart salutatorian
JumpStart salutatorian Sailor Mueller chose the program for its scholarship opportunity, which she said would give her early financial assistance and the benefit of timesavings, she said. The program has helped her to adapt to college while in high school and it’s given her some flexibility to work with teachers, study at her own pace and enjoy her life apart from school.
“It was a huge benefit, especially for my family, and I have a good, quality education,” Mueller said.
Mueller has an interest in network administration, wanting to explore information technology and other areas to determine what she would like to do when she’s done with college. She plans to continue at Western Nevada College, where she’s already completed some of her studies thanks to her participation through JumpStart. She also hopes to work with the Local Design/Construction Committee, an organization that facilitates disaster relief and construction for Kingdom and Assembly Halls for Jehovah’s Witnesses. LDC has distributed medical supplied and rebuilt sites in Puerto Rico.
“I think it would be an awesome experience, being able to travel and help other people and find meaningful work to do in that way,” she said. “I just want to fill out the application and see what happens. It’s something I would give a try, but there’s no definite timeframe.”
Mueller said she enjoys meeting new people. She’s spent most of her summers and the occasional break from school since she was 12 helping her father who has his own local business, Beautiful Blinds and Windows. In their travels to Markleeville or Truckee, Calif., or staying in Northern Nevada, she’s already connected with others on a local level.
Mueller said she’s enjoyed bouncing from high school to college through her involvement with JumpStart.
“Being able to have access to college professors has been a really cool experience,” she said. “Having worked at the college for some time, it’s definitely a change from what I’ve been used to. It really is a jumpstart. You’re taking that next level with your education.”
The semester with distance learning had its disadvantages, she said, but it offered one unique advantage for the Class of 2020, she said.
“For all of the drawbacks to the situation, one positive is that we’ll get to be part of something that will never be repeated or we hope will never be repeated again,” Mueller said.