Class of 2020 valedictorian, salutatorian reflect on longtime friendship

Parker+Martz+and+Samaya+Baljepally+have+been+friends+since+middle+school%2C+and+now+they%27re+the+top+two+academic+students+in+Bearden%27s+Class+of+2020.

Alyssa Lewis

Parker Martz and Samaya Baljepally have been friends since middle school, and now they’re the top two academic students in Bearden’s Class of 2020.

Lydia Battey, Entertainment Editor

When Samaya Baljepally and Parker Martz were placed a level ahead in math in seventh grade, it may have initially provided an ego boost.

But the two felt isolated in a class that appeared to be a sea of eighth graders.

A year later, they took a geometry course together in the eighth grade, which at the time was extremely uncommon and required accommodations. 

“We were in this closet because they didn’t have a room for us or anything,” Martz said. “They just set up a white board, threw a few desks in there, and said, ‘Have fun.’”

In those two classes, though, they bonded – mostly over silly YouTube videos – and started a friendship that has lasted through high school too.

Now, as seniors, Baljepally and Martz are paired up again as the valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, for Bearden’s Class of 2020.

Since their time in middle school, they have continued to push themselves academically and have become incredible scholars who have shined throughout their high school careers. Baljepally and Martz along with eight other Bearden seniors were recognized last week as a part of the Class of 2020’s Top Ten. 

Seniors who have shown fierce determination through participating in challenging coursework, taking a multitude of AP courses, along with engaging extracurricular activities are recognized every year as part of the senior class’s top ten students.

Even before the seventh grade, Baljepally and Martz had shown great academic promise.

“I have a very vivid memory of Samaya in our kindergarten class counting plastic blocks all the way to one thousound,” Bearden senior Christopher Lemons said. “Also, she could spell ‘transportation,’ and I remember even then thinking that she was exceptional.”

Around the same time, Martz skipped the first grade, causing him to be a year younger than most of his classmates. Baljepally, along with other of Martz’s peers, would poke fun about his young age. 

“I still say that he’s 12,” Baljepally joked. “Everyone is like, ‘Isn’t Parker younger than us?’ and I’m always like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s 12.’”

As Baljepally and Martz have progressed into high school and now begin to end their senior year, they’ve reflected on how they’ve grown as students. They’ve gone from once learning geometry in a closet to being awarded prestigious academic titles. 

They have spent their years at Bearden pushing themselves and doing the best that they could possibly do. However, neither one had the explicit intention of being valedictorian or salutatorian. 

“I think, more or less, it’s not being salutatorian that really drove me,” Martz said. “It was more just like I want to do the best I can; it’s more for personal pride than anything.”

Added Baljepally: “I just wanted to have a high GPA and wanted to be a good candidate for colleges, and at the end of the day, when it did work out that way, I was like, ‘Well, that’s a nice bonus.’”

Though neither student spent their high school career focusing or shooting for these acclaimed titles, they don’t take the praise lightly.

“It was very gratifying and just very fulfilling that everything I had done in high school, and all the time that I spent struggling through homework, and studying for quizzes and tests was all paying off,” Baljepally said. “I guess it really is just a title, but for me it was solidifying and recognition of everything I have done.”

Graduation will take place on May 15 at Thompson Boling Arena at 8 p.m., and Baljepally and Martz will both deliver speeches at the event.