(Left to right) Swayam Rath, Allison Shea and Nathan Araya are the top three people in the graduating class of 2024. Graduation will be on June 2 at the Dallas Star at 12 p.m.
(Left to right) Swayam Rath, Allison Shea and Nathan Araya are the top three people in the graduating class of 2024. Graduation will be on June 2 at the Dallas Star at 12 p.m.
Olivia Evans

Meet the top three

As graduation nears for the class of 2024, the top three ranked students gear towards the future with the knowledge of adversity, a heart full of passion and plans of pursuing their dreams. 

Swayam Rath: Valedictorian
Swayam Rath is the Valedictorian for the class of 2024. He has plans of attending Rice University and majoring in neuroscience.

(Intrinsic: belonging naturally, essential.)

To Swayam Rath — everything is second nature. 

His parents always motivated him to work hard and study — even when the Kumon Academy booklets were tedious. The mindset instilled by his parents eventually made him self-motivated, and, coming into high school, he was ready to achieve his goal of academic excellence with one motto in mind: “try your best.”

But, when his eighth grade spring break turned into a five-month quarantine, the lifestyle he once knew became unfamiliar — changed. What was once second nature became extrinsic.

(Extrinsic: unnatural, nonessential.) 

He started his first day of high school in bed, in his pajamas, sitting across the computer screen. Of course he still tried hard, but the lifestyle he had known was flipped — a joke. Though even in isolation, he always had the hours-long FaceTime calls with friends to look forward to. Whether they talked about AP Biology, sports or what they had for dinner last night, all that mattered was they were there. Even in adversity, they were there.

Yes, it was hard maintaining a rigorous academic career. Yet, even when ranks came out sophomore year and the screen read, “1 of 908,” Swayam always thanked his parents for the opportunity they’d given him. Motivation and drive were natural to him, but so was his parents’ care and love. 

This way of life was intrinsic.

Swayam will attend Rice University in the fall, where he will be majoring in neuroscience. Math and science have always intrigued him; he did research at the University of North Texas for some time, where he found his love for research and lab work. Although he has no particular medical profession in mind, he knows his academic integrity and passion will take him far.

Despite the rigorous schedule, there was never a pressure or an obligation to be the best. Everything Swayam achieved was for his family and himself. He wants to stay close to his family, even in college, and stay close to the lifestyle he’s grown up in. Swayam knows even when the year ends and he moves out, the values instilled by his parents will persist. He will adapt, achieve and change the world around him. Swayam will continue to turn everything into second nature.

Allison Shea: Salutatorian
Allison Shea is the Salutatorian for the class of 2024. She has plans of attending Brown University and majoring in biomedical engineering.

Since Allison Shea was 6 years old, she’s been driven. 

Growing up, learning was her favorite thing. The workbooks, math problems and booklets were always fun for her. While her parents advocated for her academic success, her goals of achieving her dreams were self-motivated.

By being surrounded with parents working within the medical field, she always felt drawn to the medical atmosphere. When she met her pediatrician, Dr. Danny Kim, his level of care, passion and knowledge was something she strived for. 

Growing up, her dreams of becoming a doctor were only catalyzed by her love for science. However, she was unsure which specific field to go into. Her dream was set, but puzzle pieces were missing.

Then the news struck. The pediatrician who she had looked up to for many years was diagnosed with leukemia. Dr. Kim was in desperate need of bone marrow donations; however, he was in critical condition, and, before his body could fight the infection, he passed away on Feb. 15, 2024. 

Her heart broke. This inspired something within Allison; she wanted to share her gratitude for him with the world. She created a national bone marrow donation registry in hopes of saving the other Dr. Kims in the world: Share with Shea.

She found her dream. 

Experiencing the emotional depth of losing someone to cancer inspired Allison’s dream of eventually becoming an oncologist. She will attend Brown University in the fall where she will major in biomedical engineering on the pre-medical track. 

Even though she sacrificed friendships for what she’s achieved academically and nationally, her parents’ sacrifice hangs within her heart through every obstacle. They immigrated to America on a small, wooden boat from Vietnam for better job opportunities. Allison knows the family tale by heart, and holds it close as she continues to reshape her future.

Allison’s dream has not yet been achieved, and she will continue to stay driven and connect the puzzle pieces of her future. She knows that, even if the pieces become jumbled again and devastation strikes, her passion and heart will push her forward. And Allison will keep going; Allison will keep sharing. 

Nathan Araya: rank three
Nathan Araya is ranked third for the class of 2024. He has plans of attending Harvard University and majoring in biomedical engineering.

Shooting hoops, practicing drills and dreaming of playing in the National Basketball Association. Perhaps it was childish, but to Nathan Araya, it was everything. Being on the court was a constant in his life. 

It was the constant when his best friend moved away to Chicago, leaving him alone at the playground. It was the constant he had when he couldn’t find any groups to join in middle school. It was the constant he was forced to give up in seventh grade — despite all the conditioning, workouts and endless amount of stretches he did at home — after being diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease. 

His dream ended sophomore year, when he overexerted himself academically, mentally and physically. He told his basketball coaches, “I’m OK, I can do this,” but the pain became unbearable and unexplainable. He had to quit.

From that point on, school became his only priority. And he wanted to be perfect

Even when the clock hit 4 a.m., he kept going; he couldn’t stop. No longer did he have time to hang out with friends as often or experience the careless, irresponsible life of other teenagers around him. Sometimes, he feels he missed out on being a normal kid — but the feeling is only temporary.

Nathan doesn’t regret sacrificing friendships or sleep schedules for what he’s achieved, but he does regret one thing: not spending enough time with his grandma.

The weeks leading up to Oct. 4 didn’t feel real, as breast cancer slowly took over his grandma; her hair fell, her skin was pale and her breaths rasped. He couldn’t fathom a world without her — he didn’t want to. She was his second caregiver, his second mother and the second constant within his life. He wishes he could go back, help out and, most importantly, just be with his grandma. 

However, as the days until graduation dwindle, Nathan knows she is proud of him. The experience of watching cancer take his grandma away has left a mark and inspired him to go into the medical field. He will major in biomedical engineering at Harvard University on a full ride scholarship next year, possibly going on the pre-medical track. 

His parents still don’t know he’s ranked No. 3 in the class — he wishes to surprise them at graduation. They’ve given him everything, even when they came to America with very little. Coming from a war in Eritrea, his parents wanted him and his siblings to experience a life full of opportunity. Nathan wants to pay them back for everything they’ve helped him accomplish and go to college — the first person in his family to do so. 

He doesn’t know what the future holds for him and he doesn’t know if he’s made the right decision. However, whether he becomes an engineer or a doctor, he wants to help people. Nathan wants to become a constant in other people’s lives — the same thing his grandma was for him. 

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