Editor's note: Following is a profile of Eliza Llewellyn and Melissa Beretta, respectively, the valedictorian and salutatorian of the Staples High School Class of 2014. The profile was prepared by the school administration, and submitted to the Westport News for publication.
Eliza Llewellyn entered Staples High School not expecting to enjoy science. But she loved it so much, she took Advanced Placement biology and chemistry.
Melissa Beretta, meanwhile, did not think she'd like social studies. Yet Honors Western Humanities sparked an interest that led to AP Government as a junior. This year, she's a teaching assistant in the course.
The diverse backgrounds of Llewellyn and Beretta share common threads. Both seniors seek out academic challenges, and thrive learning new subjects. Both have many interests outside the classroom, and earned leadership positions in a variety of realms. And when the Staples Class of 2014 graduates in June, both will be play important roles in the ceremonies.
Llewellyn is the Staples valedictorian. Following tradition, she'll speak at graduation on June 20.
Beretta is the 2014 salutatorian. She delivers a speech the night before, at baccalaureate.
Both young women are Westport school system products. Llewellyn attended Long Lots Elementary and Bedford Middle schools. She never considered herself a science person, though, until she took Honors Biology as a freshman.
She appreciated learning "how and why things work." Her interest in science surprised her. But she found time at Staples to explore many other classes and activities, too.
Llewellyn is an excellent writer, earning five Scholastic Gold Key awards in both journalism and humor.
She also loves art. "I'm not super-talented," she said, despite taking Advanced Drawing. "But I like the change of pace from academic classes."
The school newspaper Inklings is Llewellyn's major extracurricular activity. As a web managing editor, she's learned how to code. As a writer, she's grown comfortable calling strangers.
A recent story on a complex Board of Education issue taught her a lot about insurance and town politics. Llewellyn was proud to convey important information to students.
As co-editor of the yearbook, Llewellyn's creative side has flourished. that position also helped her know the school better. "I learned about cool, obscure things, like the Tech Ed class rocket project, and what it's like to be in band," she said. "Now I appreciate more what everyone around me does."
Llewellyn was junior varsity tennis co-captain last spring, and also plays piano.
Despite her academic accomplishments, she was surprised to learn her grade point average topped the entire class.
"I didn't aim for it," Llewellyn said. "There are so many intelligent, hard-working kids at Staples. I don't think anyone should focus on their GPA."
But, she added, "every course I took, I tried to understand it fully. I wanted to think about what I was learning. I never found studying to be onerous."
She will decide on a college in April.
Like Llewellyn, Beretta is surprised at the direction her academic career took. Though she is now fascinated by social studies, that's hardly the only subject she loves. Physics has also engaged her. In fact, she said, "My friends laugh because there is not one class or teacher at Staples I haven't loved. I wish I had a fifth year of high school. I could take courses I haven't had a chance to, and retake others. I love Staples."
Beretta has made her mark athletically, and in several organizations. A varsity tennis captain playing number one single, she "found a family on the team. When I was a freshman the older kids welcomed me. Now I try to draw the younger ones in." She appreciates that she can be a member of a team, while also competing individually.
As a freshman, Beretta took over Grassroots Tennis from a graduating senior. Over four years she helped the Norwalk-based organization raise funds, and helped expand its focus from tennis instruction to tutoring children for SATs and ACTs, helping with college searches, and teaching life skills.
"It's all about learning how to be a good person through tennis," she explained.
As a board member of Safe Rides, Beretta helps peers while handling major responsibilities. She works with other towns, as well as the Westport police. "On the board, teenagers have the same say as adults," she said. "Saturday nights can be hectic, talking with dispatchers, drivers and navigators. It's high pressure, but it's really important."
Her other activity is For the Heart, an a cappella singing group that performs gratis at various local events. "I'm not the best singer by far, but I've made great friends and been surrounded by extremely loving and supportive people," said Beretta. "It's a way for me to express the side of me that loves to sing and dance."
After baccalaureate -- and a typically active summer -- Beretta heads to Duke University. She was attracted by its excellent academics, and well-rounded, spirited student body. "You'll see me on ESPN one day, with my face painted blue," she predicted.