On February 10, 2017, Susquehanna Valley High School Principal David Daniels delivered the good news to Caitlyn Knapp and Emily Harding that they have, respectively, earned the honors of being the SV High School Class of 2017 Valedictorian and Salutatorian. Following long-established tradition, Mr. Daniels invited the class leaders to use the phone in his office to share the news with the folks at home. Mr. Daniels then made the news official with an announcement over the school’s public address system.
Also in keeping with tradition, Caitlyn and Emily sat for an interview to get their thoughts on their academic careers past, present and future - and what it takes to make it to the top of your class.
Q: Has it been a goal of yours to be at the top of the class?
Caitlyn: I’ve always wanted to do well in school, but I didn’t know I was at the top or in the running until about 10th grade. Coach Freije told me, and after that I just wanted to do everything I could to stay there.
Emily: I didn’t really think about it much when I was younger. In tenth grade is when I started to actually look where I was in my class rankings and everyone around me started to do the same. My peers and friends suggested I was near the top and might want to start paying attention to it.
Q: To what do you attribute the fact that you are number one in your class?
Caitlyn: Throughout high school I’ve always tried to make the most of the extra time teachers give you to get help, and if I didn’t understand something, I would always go back to the teacher during free time and keep working until I understood the concept, and in the end, I think that paid off.
Q: (to Emily) Are you disappointed about not being number 1?
Emily: No, I’m proud of being salutatorian. It’s a real accomplishment.
Q: Why, for you, has it been so important to do well in school?
Caitlyn: I think striving to do well in school can benefit everything else in your life. When I was doing well in school, I felt I could focus more on sports because I didn’t have to focus instead on academic problems. I thinking succeeding in academics teaches you ways to succeed in other parts of life.
Q: Have academics always been easy for you? Have you struggled with anything?
Caitlyn: Yes, I’ve struggled in AP classes, but – like I said – I would always keep working on something I didn’t understand, and it would finally click, usually; I just had to keep trying. I do study.
Emily: I definitely struggled: especially with math and sciences, physics – kind of like that gray area in between: that was a big struggle for me.
Q: How’d you get through it?
Emily: My teachers helped a lot; they were able to guide me through it and cater to my advantages and disadvantages in the classroom, which really helped.
Q: So it’s not a struggle anymore – math, science?
Emily: With every new thing I learn I have to try a little harder than I would in other classes, but I now have the skills, and with my teachers I can tackle that.
Q: What are your plans after the end of your years as a Saber?
Caitlyn: I’m going to the University of Scranton to study nursing. I want to work either in the emergency room or pediatric unit. I think I’m going to work for a few years and then go back and pursue Nurse Practitioner degree. I’ve talked to a lot of nurses who recommend working for a year or two to get experience and then going.
Q: Maybe a doctor?
Caitlyn: I don’t know. We’ll see.
Q: Why Scranton?
Caitlyn: It was between Scranton and B-U; I got into both nursing programs. I liked how small it was; the classes are really small, and compared to B-U I felt there would be a more personal connection with the teachers, and I really like that.
Emily: I haven’t heard back from any colleges; I’m planning on majoring in international relations – I’m just waiting to hear back at this point.
Q: Explore International Relations with me..what does it mean?
Emily: It’s inter-disciplinary, merging economics and history and social skills.
Q: What kind of a job would you be looking toward?
Emily: The field is expanding right now; a lot of businesses and organizations are expanding - so there’s a lot of opportunities. It could mean working in a government position – the State Department, or even just in a business, dealing with the legal side of international relations.
Q: Jumping back a little – Emily, you said you struggled in some of your courses: did you get extra help along the way?
Emily: Yeah, definitely from teachers and friends.
Q: It must be encouraging for anyone in lower grades who might be struggling to see that you, who struggled, ended up salutatorian. Have you gotten stopped in the hall by friends/peers congratulating you?
Emily: Definitely, it’s been really nice.
Q: You’re also involved in extracurricular activities; music, for example.
Emily: I’m doing Mock Trial right now..
Q: Law maybe?
Emily: Yeah, I’m thinking about that too, as an option.
Q: If you could give advice to younger students, what might it be?
Emily: Part of it is knowing what you want to do. Not everyone is necessarily going to need to be at the top of their class to be successful. Find something you’re passionate about and pursue that. I’m in New Visions – in the morning I’m out in the world at law offices and government offices; I geared my education toward that. That can work for anyone. It’s important to struggle in classes in high school in preparation for much harder classes in college. Having classes that aren’t easy for me has helped to build skills and a work ethic that I’ll need in the future.
Caitlyn: Honestly, just to never give up. You’ll struggle with a lot of things through life. I think if you’re persistent, and keep trying, you’ll get it eventually. You’ll NEVER get it if you don’t keep trying.
Q: Certainly, you’d also recommend doing what you did – staying after school for extra help, etc.
Caitlyn: I’ve never had a teacher who wasn’t willing to offer extra help and everyone should take advantage of that.
Q: Emily, you said a moment ago that you’ve had to work harder to “get” certain things. How exactly?
Emily: Extra study, putting the time in; staying after school; doing my own work independently.
Q: One thing we haven’t talked about is time management; you’ve excelled academically while also being very actively involved in a lot of sports and other activities. How do you make it work for you?
Caitlyn: I try to get everything I can done in school; during my study halls I’ll always be working to get everything done so that after school I’ll have time to do other stuff; working or sports or whatever I’m involved in.
Q: What kind of motivation has there been at home?
Caitlyn: I’ve always been pushed really hard, but in a good way. They’ve pushed me to do the best I can in every aspect of life. It was never “bad” pushing – just always motivating.
Q: (to Caitlyn) Have you and your twin sister been (academically) competitive?
Caitlyn: No, she’s always been very supportive.
Q: Want to say anything about the teachers you’ve had along the way at SV?
Caitlyn: I’ve got a lot of favorites. This year, probably Mrs. Robertson and Miss Cody; I’ve only had them for half a year, but they’ve been a huge impact on this process. At the beginning of the year, I informed them both that I was trying to accomplish this (being valedictorian) and then both said if I needed help understanding anything they were always there to help…also Mrs. Rachmaninoff.
Q: From a student’s perspective, what makes a good teacher? Caitlyn: I’d say wanting your students to succeed. I’ve experienced some teachers who I haven’t felt like they actually want you to succeed, but most have shown they really care and want their students to succeed, and that’s important.