Bearden’s 2021 valedictorian, salutatorian strike the right chord in the classroom


Derek Jacoby

Nathanael Laing and Ishani Spanier work on their papers during AP Research.

The titles of valedictorian and salutatorian are highly coveted, with many students with diverse backgrounds pursuing this goal, but interestingly enough, Bearden’s Class of 2021 valedictorian Nathanael Laing and salutatorian Ishani Spanier have quite a bit in common.

Both are classically trained in music, but this is not just a momentary hobby for them both, Spanier has been involved with Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra for the past 10 years, and Laing has been playing violin consistently for the past eight years.

Laing and Spanier both cited their extensive experience with music as being influential in their development in the classroom as well.

“I think it [music] has had an enormous impact on my success,” Laing said. “Quite simply, violin is demanding because of how much focus it requires: there is no halfway point.  

“My approach to violin has changed over time, much like my approach to academics. When I began, I didn’t invest much effort into methodical practice, but as I improved, learning pieces became easier because I knew exactly what to do, and this process has been nearly identical at school: at first, I wasted a lot of time doing useless studying like reading my notes. So, when I switched to doing actual practice problems, my studying time cut down significantly, and I got better at preparing for tests.” 

Spanier shared a similar sentiment.

“One of the most important parts of becoming successful at practically anything is having diligence and discipline,” Spanier said. “Having started violin at the age of 5, these values were sort of ingrained in me from a very young age. 

“So naturally, this mindset carries over to my academics as I was able to push myself harder to be diligent about my schoolwork and disciplined about making sure that I understood everything properly.” 

Not only has it helped them both academically, but it has also helped grow them personally.

“My music has actually also helped me become more confident,” Spanier said. “Because I have been doing solo performances from a young age, I had to quickly learn how to be confident in myself and what I was doing, and this made me a more confident person, which helps me walk more assuredly through life.”

Added Laing: “Having a background in music has been very helpful because it gives me a means to relax and play along with whatever I’m listening to.”

Getting academic recognition in such a talented senior class has been a humbling experience for both Laing and Spanier.

“It means the world to me because it represents many years of consistent and measured effort, but I know that I’ve always been inspired by my dad,” Laing said. “He was the valedictorian of University High School in Tucson, Ariz.

“In earning this title, I’m able to continue his commitment and hard work. When my classes were challenging, I always had a goal to live up to that pushed me to work harder.”

Added Spanier: “I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride because I know how hard I worked over the past four years, so I think it’s nice to see everything come to fruition. At the same time, I also know how much of an honor this is because many of my peers also worked extremely hard over these last few years.”