Class ranks – people are typically either for them or against them. Whether one checks Home Access Center every hour at the end of each semester to see where they stand, or haven’t even looked at their transcript since freshman year, there’s one position none of us would mind being in – first.

Audrey Christenson is the class of 2020’s valedictorian, and she’s held that spot for quite some time now.

“I have been ranked first in my class since my sophomore year,” Christenson said.

For the senior, being ranked so highly isn’t necessarily a huge part of her life. Christenson feels that it’s just a spot she holds, rather than a determining factor of who she is as a person.

“Really, it’s just a number. I am proud of my hard work and academic accomplishments, but the title fails to represent my character. I feel that, although an honor, it doesn’t necessarily differentiate me from the many other talented, compassionate, dedicated, and intelligent students in my graduating class,” she explained. “People often expect me to know all of the answers and have my life nicely together, but in most ways, I’m your average high schooler trying my best.”

Christenson went on to share that being so academically accomplished, at one point, took over a big chunk of her time, to the point that it had priority over her relationships with family, friends, and herself.

“It used to [take precedence], but my priorities have definitely shifted. Throughout most of high school, I let school practically consume my life. I could never ‘find’ enough time for the activities that actually brought me joy. Finally, I realized that as much as I was succeeding academically, I was failing my well-being and my multifaceted self,” she said. “An important lesson I’ve learned now is that you don’t find time for what is important, you make time. Time is a precious resource, so invest in it wisely.”

Christenson is indeed multifaceted and excels in everything she does, not just school. In addition to being insanely intelligent, she is also a cello player of many years, an award-winning painter, fantastic physics tutor, takes great interest in baking and cooking, is learning Spanish so that she may utilize it in her future as a doctor, and never fails to give medical facts to her friends (even when they don’t ask for it). She is known to be kind, helpful, attentive, respectful, and, above all, honest.

As a student and overall person, Christenson is the embodiment of integrity. She studies and sacrifices for her status, yet some fail to recognize this.

“Almost all of my classmates have been very kind and supportive of me when the subject of ranks is discussed; however, there are instances when I have heard and dealt with undue criticism based on the misinformed judgements of strangers. It’s unfortunate, but those confrontations have luckily been rare. The majority of pressure I feel from fellow students is actually a result of unrealistic yet repetitive jealous comments,” Christenson said. “Others tend to assume I must simply be naturally gifted in school, negating the countless hours I spend studying. Overall, it reinforces to me the need for limiting presumptions about individuals before getting to know them and their story.”

Regardless of the jealous comments or undue criticism, the valedictorian is proud of her achievements and is actually indifferent on whether or not all her hard work was “worth it.”

“Considering that I wasn’t intentionally vying for a top rank, I can’t say everything leading up to this point was worth it or that I regret it. I truly love learning, and I strive to do my best in all endeavors. There have been really difficult times when I just wanted to give up, and I have made many sacrifices over the years,” she shared. “On the other hand, I have come to understand more about myself and my strength than I could have otherwise.”

At the end of the day, Christenson stresses the importance of learning just because you want to, not for a score in an online grade book. Ironically, she’s first in the senior class for that exact reason. And above all else, she urges fellow students to understand that they are not their grades.

“In all, I hope everyone recognizes that grades and rank don’t define a person, but never forget the beauty in learning and persistence,” Christenson said.

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