Every year, there is only one valedictorian at West Orange High School. Leading the crop of graduating students this year was Karen Ku with a grade point average of 5.068.
On Thursday, June 21, she addressed more than 500 of her fellow classmates with words of advice and perspective as they all set forth from the familiar hallways of WOHS.
Ku’s full speech can be read in the photo gallery.
The following are excerpts from a conversation with Ku before the graduation ceremony last week.
Where are you going to college in the fall?
Why did you decide to go to Princeton?
I looked at several schools and it just felt right. It was that feeling walking on campus and you are just like, "Wow, this is my school."
What are you going to study at Princeton?
I am roughly thinking international affairs.
What made you decide to pursue that?
I was leaning toward social sciences, and then I had a great history teacher this year and he just kind of inspired me, [telling me] you got to get involved; you gotta do something worth while.
Who was that teacher that inspired you?
Michael Figueiredo. He teaches US History and I had him for AP World History.
How did his influence spark your interest in international relations?
I think in high school a lot of it is unintentionally taking a class and memorizing, but his class is a lot more like, “Hey, you guys, it is important to study but you need to realize what is going on in the world at the same time.”
And it kind of turned me away from that idea of, oh, let’s just get a safe job and make a lot of money, and [instead] go out and make a change.
What were some the extracurricular activities you were involved in?
It was all about cross country and track. They were the things that really held my schedule together [with] time management.
Did you do anything outside of school during high school?
Out of school I volunteered on Sundays as a teaching assistant at a Chinese school. And last summer I went back to Taiwan to teach English. That was kind of a really interesting experience that added to the idea that I want to do something more global.
Have you ever been to Taiwan in the past, or was that your first time there?
My parents are from Taiwan so we go back there every other year. But it was the first time I really went back that wasn’t vacation; it was to volunteer.
What was it like going to Taiwan and seeing what is like to be in your teacher’s shoes?
It gave me a lot more appreciation for my teachers! You know teaching is hard but you don’t really understand how hard it is until you do it. I had a bunch of kindergartners, first-graders and third-graders, ... and I had my patience tested but then you learn how to handle that.
What are you excited about this summer and beyond?
This summer I’m trying to get a little more involved with the Obama campaign. It is kind exciting: you are out of high school; you are doing something.
And in college, I am just excited to meet new people, and definitely the classes.