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NORTH KINGSTOWNâIt would be easy for Katherine Bender to be disappointed about finishing second in the 2011 class rankings for North Kingstown High School. After all, she says, first place was so close she could taste it.
But being disappointed would imply Bender has regrets about her time in high school and that couldnât be further from the truth. For the past four years, sheâs gone out of her way to make sure she experienced everything she could in high school and finding that balance between school work and personal life life taught her more than any class ranking ever could.
Bender, NKâs class salutatorian, will head to The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in the fall. She will spend her time on the small campus located in Needham, Mass. as one of just slightly more than 300 undergraduates pursuing a career in engineering, a career she seems destined for given her time at NKHS.
Katherine, who is known to her friends as Carrie, has had a lot of interests during her time in high school. She plays violin, was in the West Side Story musical and participated in the Blessing of the Fleet Road Race. However, itâs time spent in FIRST Robotics, an international high school robotics organization, that launched her on her path to engineering.
âThey have competitions all the time,â she said. âThatâs a really big thing for me because it really got me interested in engineering and hands-on mechanical work.â
FIRST Robotics played off Benderâs strengths, particularly her love of math and science, two subjects in which she always felt right at home.
âWell, academically, math is definitely my favorite and my best subject,â she said. âTo me, itâs simple, itâs straight-forward. English, on the other hand, I had trouble in. English and History, itâs a different part of the brain and everything but with math and science, Iâve always loved that. Itâs always just clicked with me.â
While English may not have been Benderâs best subject, it did teach her an important lesson.
âMy freshman year, we had an English teacher and, like I said, itâs not my best subject,â she explains. âI remember on one of the essays she failed every single person in the class except two and as a freshman thatâs kind of like a wake-up call but a gradeâs a grade, itâs not the end of the world to fail something.â
That lesson paved the way for Bender to make sure she never let academics stifle her ability to live a normal high school life.
âI got all my work done but I didnât let it get in the way of everything else I do,â she said. âIâm not going to skip a friendâs birthday party or something if Iâve got homework or stuff like that. I donât let it get in the way. I still like to have fun and everything.â
Perhaps thatâs why Benderâs not disappointed with finishing second to class valedictorian Elena Suglia.
âItâs so smallâ a difference, she says. âIâm really happy for Elena, sheâs a friend of mine, and itâs really exciting for her, too. I know thatâs something she really wanted.â
The competition, she says, was more internal than external.
âIf you look at the top 10, top 20, top 30, everybodyâs really competitive but a lot of it is with ourselves,â she explains. âLike, we always want to do better than our last quiz grade and we always want to improve our own rank but I think itâs definitely more of a competition with yourself.â
As she prepares for life outside of NK, Bender says sheâs looking forward to getting to know new people and taking life as it comes.
âThere are going to be a lot of opportunities and itâs going to be great because I can really focus,â she says of heading off to college. âThe community there is really tight-knit, everybody is on a first-name basis. I know Iâll be able to get a lot of help and have a lot of opportunities.â
When asked to sum up her high school experience in one word, Bender pauses, as if stumped. She thinks about the question for a second and answers in a way fitting for a person who always made sure to make the most of every day.
âMemorable,â she says. âItâs been truly memorable.â