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Valedictorian, Salutatorian, and Orator Announced

Valedictorian, Salutatorian, and Orator Announced

Willow Sujin Brandt Kwak and Yuxuan "Ricky" Zhou have been named the Northfield Mount Hermon class of 2024 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. These coveted accolades are awarded based on academic merit. The announcement by Head of School Brian Hargrove at last week’s Monday Morning Meeting was met with a round of applause in Memorial Chapel. Kwak will speak at the Recognition Assembly on May 17, while Zhou will speak at the Baccalaureate service on May 18. 

Valedictoria willow Kwak smiles and is surrounded by supporters

Later in the week, Dennis Penny Lopez was selected this year’s Commencement orator from a field of 20 seniors who competed for the honor. According to archivist Peter Weis, the class oration tradition began at Northfield.

Penny Lopez, who plans to study civil engineering at Northeastern University next year, was stunned by the news that he had been selected. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was speechless; I was laughing in joy. The only thing I could think about was trying to keep this achievement a secret from my parents.” 

dennis penny lopez smiles next to a tree

Kwak, who is taking a gap year before heading to Harvard College, was also surprised by her honor. “I jumped up and hugged my friend who was sitting next to me and then my advisor who was standing nearby,” she said. “I felt elated, but there was also this seriousness, this weight to it, because it took a lot to get to this moment. After the meeting, I talked to several faculty members who have been important to my time at NMH. They were proud of me, and that was really moving.  I called my parents and just started crying. I was holding it together until that moment, and then it sank in: It's been a long, hard four years but I made it.” 

portrait of Ricky Zhou

Zhou felt both honored and grateful to be named salutatorian. He credits his academic success to putting in extra work after class and balancing self-care and fun with academics. “I cooked quite a lot, slept for at least 12 hours on weekends, and just enjoyed life in our rural school as much as possible,” he said. He will study psychology and neuroscience at Vanderbilt University and is excited to immerse himself in southern culture, especially classic country music. 

With just 12 days left until graduation, there’s still plenty of work and play left on the school calendar. For Kwak, time with family, singing, sewing, and knitting are all on her (much more relaxed) to-do list. “I really like crafts,” she said. “I recently made the dress I want to wear for graduation, which is super exciting.”



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