NORTH KINGSTOWN—Elena Suglia has many fond memories of high school.
As a three-year JV/varsity volleyball player, a member of North Kingstown High School’s unified volleyball team this past fall and president of the Interact Club, the school’s community service club, Suglia has had a variety of positive experiences that she’ll remember long after NK’s graduation takes place tomorrow night at 6 p.m. at the Ryan Center.
However, it’s her biggest moment of disappointment that shaped her into the person she is today. That moment, freshman year, where she struggled to keep her grades up in a difficult English class, set her on a path that would culminate with her earning the distinction of valedictorian of the class of 2011 at North Kingstown High School.
“Freshman year I had Mr. Propatier’s class and he is known as the most difficult teacher to have in high school and I was going to jump down to a different level because I didn’t think I could handle it,” she said. “I was getting like 50’s and 60’s on quizzes and tests, which was horrifying for me.”
Coming from middle school where English was one of her best subjects, Suglia worried, for an instant, if she could handle high school work. But after some extra time studying after school, and a lot of hard work, Suglia not only recovered from her slow start, she got an ‘A’ in her toughest class and that, she says, formed the basis for the rest of her time in high school.
“It’s always the challenges that you have the most difficulty with that, once you complete them, you’re the most proud of,” she said.
Suglia’s path to No. 1 was not an easy one—at the end of her freshman year, she was ranked No. 17 and, coming into this fall, she was third overall—but it was a challenging one that forced her to embrace life as it comes on a daily basis.
Wanting to make the most of her time in high school, and wanting to study as broad a range of topics as possible, Suglia took six AP classes this year in an effort to branch out her curriculum and set herself apart from her peers as much as possible. It worked.
Suglia beat out fellow senior Katherine Bender for the role of class valedictorian but says the title could have gone to anyone in her class. It was that competitive.
Not bad for a former self-professed “disorganized” student whose mother forced her to put her priorities in a list to get her to buckle down, a lesson that stuck with her throughout high school.
“I really wanted to just get the entire high school experience so I did everything I possibly had an opportunity to do and I found that being organized is a really important thing,” she said.
Like most high school students, Suglia began her college selection process by looking to get as far away from home as possible. She contemplated applying to Oxford, got close to going to New York’s Vassar College but, ultimately, she didn’t need to look too far from home for the place she knew she belonged.
Suglia will attend Brown University in the fall, a fitting choice, she says, because the school encourages students to embrace a wide variety of educational options, one of the things she’s always done.
“Brown has no core requirements,” she explains. “You can really mold your own education and take all the classes that you want to take and so I’m going to try to get a really extensive breadth of studying while I’m there because, like I said before, I really want to get my feet in every subject and knowledge is one thing I really aim to obtain while I’m in college. I want to basically study everything I possibly can while I’m there.”
Suglia will major in marine biology and hopes to take art classes at the Rhode Island School of Design whenever possible.
But no matter how far she goes, she says she’ll always remember where she came from.
And while attending an Ivy League school can be a bit daunting for a student who’s used to being the best and brightest in a small town like North Kingstown, Suglia is ready for the challenge it will present.
“I did worry about that a little bit,” she said. “I read one of the statistics that [last year’s freshman class] was 40 percent valedictorians. That’s a huge percentage. But then I thought ‘Ok, so would I rather be challenged or would I rather be the best in the class?’ and I’d definitely rather than challenged.”
That’s one of the messages Suglia hopes to convey in her speech to the graduating class of 2011 tomorrow night.
After four different drafts, the NK senior settled on an idea that, she says, some may consider cliché but feels just right.
“I thought it would be good to reflect a bit on the things that we had done and then talk a little about the future and what I hope our class becomes,” she said. “And so I talked about that but I think I did it in an original enough way that people will appreciate it and if I were sitting in the seats, listening to the speech, I’d want people to say ‘this is what we’ve done, this is how far we’ve come, this is where we’re going to go’.”
And where is Elena Suglia going to go?
Pretty much wherever her heart and her mind take her.