Class of 2023 valedictorian, salutatorian maximize learning opportunities while finding ways to destress


Meghan Oros

Salutatorian Nathan Brusseau and valedictorian Kathleen Hartono pose for a picture at a ceremony recognizing the Top 10 for the Class of 2023.

Although they differ greatly in their hobbies and interests, Bearden’s class of 2023 valedictorian and salutatorian exemplify the importance of non-academic interests – regardless of the form they take.

Both valedictorian Kathleen Hartono and salutatorian Nathan Brusseau manage to balance their extracurricular and academic activities to fit their busy schedules.

Both of these students work extremely hard in school, balance difficult schedules, and have extensive extracurricular involvement. However, juggling these responsibilities and maintaining their grades can be a struggle.

“I was really shocked when I got valedictorian because I got two Bs in Calc,” Hartono said. “I think as a student I had this expectation for myself to double up in math.”

What she has found more important than focusing on grades is finding subjects that continue to interest her.

“Calc was really beneficial to me as it opened a new way of thinking and exposed me to interesting new materials,” she said. “It helped me academically to find my interest in STEM.”

Brusseau also found that STEM offers intriguing and interesting opportunities that he is excited to continue pursuing. Many classes at Bearden have motivated him to grow within his academic pursuits.

“AP Bio really showed me what I’m gonna get into in college, AP Calc strengthened my interest in math and STEM fields, and Anatomy was just a really cool class,” Brusseau said.

Senior Stephanie Cho, a close friend of Hartono’s, was amazed by the course load that Hartono took on over the past two years. 

“I have never seen anyone brave enough to take AP Physics, AP Calculus, and AP Chemistry in the same year, and although it was a very difficult junior year for her, I know she learned and grew a lot from it,” Cho said. 

Added Hartono: “There is an expectation to take on a certain course load, but what’s on your schedule isn’t as important as what you learn.”

Although these classes have been extremely beneficial for Brusseau and Hartono, they have both had to work on letting certain stresses go. With such challenging academic responsibilities, working through struggles has been a main lesson they have learned throughout high school. Hartono has found that following her interests has helped her relieve stress regarding grades.

“Follow your passions,” she said. “Even if you take classes that aren’t as difficult, you will still find struggles and face it head on. One test is one test; it’s not the end of the world.”

Along with minimizing the weight that they both put on test grades, they have found an important escape within their extracurriculars, and their non-academic interests. 

Hartono is involved in a wide variety of clubs and groups at school, including Environmental Club, Science Bowl, Science Olympiad, Key Club, National Honors Society, and Senior Committee. 

To destress from the pressures of school, she watches TV and listens to music.

“I like to watch shows on four times speed,” she said, “and I listen to chill, Lofi, Indie music, and a lot of Joji.”

While this is a method that many high schoolers use to destress, each individual is different. This is represented in the different strategies that Brusseau uses to better equip himself for the stresses and workload of school.

“I play pick up basketball with my friends, I weightlift, and I watch Netflix,” he said.

Along with these hobbies, Brusseau has also found golf to be a valuable sport in taking his mind off school. The methodical and calculated nature of the sport allows him to get in the right head space to get his work done when he gets home. 

“Golf has always been the outlet for me; just walking nine holes can really take your mind off of the stressful stuff,” Brusseau said. “Destressing by playing golf right after school helps so that I’m ready to start getting it done.”

Both Hartono and Brusseau will keep these strategies as helpful tools for their success in college. They look forward to exploring STEM pathways further as Hartono will major in chemical engineering, and Brusseau in neuroscience. Although they plan to continue pursuing these challenging subjects, they are also excited about the new opportunities for extra curricular activities on campus.

“I am excited about exploring STEM further, but I hope to take interesting classes that match what I want to do, and I want to explore what my college has to offer,” Hartono said.

Similarly, Brusseau looks forward to any opportunities that he has to play golf while at the University of Florida, and have more time to explore classes that will intrigue him.

“I look forward to the freedom of taking classes that really interest me, the club experiences like playing golf, and the pre-med programs,” Brusseau said. “I’m also looking forward to the social scene, which I felt was limited [in high school] with my pursuits of academics.”

These talented and hard working students will speak at graduation on May 31. They will share their advice with fellow students as they move into the next chapter of their lives.

“Try to experience things outside of the classroom, join summer programs, a sports team, or a club,” Hartono said. “Just because you take certain classes or in specific organizations, it doesn’t mean you aren’t high achieving. It’s not just what you do in the classroom or the grades that you make.”