WOOD RIVER JUNCTION — In the Class of 2013, not only are Chariho seniors Hannah Baker and Madeline Neff good friends, they have also helped each other achieve the highest academic rankings: Baker is valedictorian and Neff is salutatorian. And, because they’re used to teaming up on class projects and homework, the two have decided to write one speech together and will deliver it side by side at the podium on graduation day.
“We’re mostly going to swap paragraphs. I think I’m saying the first two and she’s saying the next two,” said Baker.
While the pair is still pondering what they want to say to their classmates, they were willing to share a few ideas that they will include in their speech.
“There’s a career for everyone and it’s OK if you don’t know what you want to do right away. It’s okay to change your mind because obviously five years ago you probably didn’t want to be the same thing you want to be now,” Baker said.
“Don’t be afraid if you don’t know what you want to do. As long as you work hard and you’re willing to make sacrifices to succeed and not always take the easy way out, you’ll find yourself where you want to be eventually and doing something that you love,” said Neff.
As far as careers, Baker commented that she isn’t sure what she wants to do yet, but she knows that science is her main area of interest. She is going to attend Haverford College in Pennsylvania in the fall.
“I’m a Quaker so that what got me interested and a couple of my friends go there – they said it’s a great school and academically challenging,” she said.
“I want to major probably in biology. I’m really interested in life sciences and and different parts of biology like anatomy and plant sciences. I think a big part of this was my AP bio course, (which was taught by) Miss Phyne – she is one of the best teachers I had,” she said.
Baker added that one of her favorite classes at Chariho was anatomy and physiology, which she took during her sophomore year.
“I’ve always really liked science but that (class) got me interested in thinking about that as a major and as a career. And then my AP Bio class solidified that,” Baker said.
“I don’t really have any clearcut path. I’m interested in what happens in college and whether I decide to go grad school or I decide to go into the workforce, that will be based on what my options are for me when I’m leaving college,” she said.
Salutatorian Neff, on the other hand, has decided on her career path. She is going to Northeastern University’s six year physical therapy program, from which she will earn a doctorate.
“The teacher who influenced me the most was Mrs. Dion who I had junior year for physiology because having her as a teacher and taking her class really showed me how fascinated I am by the human body and that opened me up to wanting to be in the health career field. So, it was her class that inspired me to become a physical therapist,” said Neff.
“Probably the subject I’m best at is, ironically, English, which is kind of unrelated to what I’m majoring in, but I always do well in that class. When I was a sophomore I took a class that was supposed to be for juniors and the last two years I took AP English, so I’ve gotten pretty good at expressing myself, which is something I’ll be able to use as a therapist so that’s always good, but science classes are the (ones) I enjoy the most,” she added.
It was helpful that Neff was strong in English because that was Baker’s hardest subject.
“I’ve always been challenged the most by my English classes just because I’m not as good at areas that are subject to interpretation, especially writing essays has never been my strong suit. But I love reading books and discussing them with the class. But the writing component has been the hardest for me,” said Baker.
“I’m more of an empirical thinker rather than a creative thinker. I like it when you understand the material, you can get to a right answer and coming to that right answer is very satisfying,” she added.
For Neff, math was the biggest challenge—luckily that was Baker’s strong suit.
“Definitely math (was the hardest subject). I like math but it’s always a little hard for me to conceptualize everything and I usually had to stay after school to figure out how to do everything so that’s was always a little bit tough,” said Neff.
“(Baker) has helped me throughout my years with math classes because she’s really good at math so she’s been my unofficial tutor throughout high school. We are opposites a little bit,” she added.