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The Newtown High School Class of 2018 valedictorian and salutatorian both grew up in Newtown, and they shared reflections on their schooling after their educational accomplishment was announced at the school on May 24.
Talia Hankin was named as this year’s valedictorian, and Emily King was announced as this year’s salutatorian. The school also announced the students who earned placement in the top five percent of the Class of 2018 on the same day, as reported in The Newtown Bee.
“I’ve always been passionate about theater since I was in kindergarten,” Talia said. She plans to attend Columbia University, NYC in the fall, to study drama and theater arts and film and media studies as a double major. Talia said she chose to attend Columbia University to study in a liberal arts environment that will allow her to explore her interests of acting, play writing, and producing theater productions.
Talia said she has lived in Newtown her whole life with her family — mother Michele, father Alan, older brother Baxter, and younger sister Aubrey. She attended Head O’ Meadow Elementary School.
When she learned she had earned being valedictorian, Talia said, “I was very grateful… that all my hard work paid off. My immediate reaction was to go thank all of the people who helped me get there.” She had learned about the news prior to the school making the announcement on May 24, and she had to keep the information a secret at first, limiting the news to her family members.
Talia said her parents have helped her in many different ways.
“They have supported me in every aspect of all the things I wanted to do and what I wanted to accomplish,” said Talia.
One of the most important things she has learned in her educational career, Talia reflected, was how to communicate with teachers when she has needed help. Talia said her parents taught her that lesson, and they also taught her that while she is an ambitious person who feels a drive to do “everything,” she has learned to choose her “directions.” Talia said she knows those lessons will serve her well in college.
Her siblings, she said, are “my best friends. They have done everything for me. They are amazing.” Her brother has been a “great role model,” and Talia said she has enjoyed being a role model in turn for her 12-year-old sister.
“I can’t wait to see where [Aubrey] goes,” said Talia.
She recently completed an internship with Tony Award-winning producer and cofounder of Broadway Records, Van Dean, and Talia said the experience was incredible. As part of her internship, she was tasked with interviewing Broadway professionals, working at industry events, and more. The entire internship gave her a taste of the social justice side of theater, Talia shared, adding that she learned from being involved in efforts for the New York City Pride March and the “From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert For Parkland,” held in April. Both of those events, Talia said, shaped how she views “what the arts can do.”
Among her activities outside of school, Talia is involved on a youth board for the nonprofit, New Paradigm Theatre Company, Inc; she has served as a NHS liaison with the Board of Education for the last year; and she has performed in community, school, and regional theater productions as an actor.
When asked which people have helped her in her educational endeavors, Talia said, “There are so many people that have played a role.” All of her teachers and school administrators have been helpful, she said.
“Thank you to every person who has taught me even one thing from kindergarten until now: everything has played into the person I have become now, and I am very grateful to all of you,” Talia said.
Many educators have inspired her over the years. Some of those educators include NHS English Department Chair Abigail Marks, NHS music teacher Christopher Lee, and NHS guidance counselor Ana Mendes.
Ms Marks taught Talia in her junior year for an Advanced Placement Language and Composition course, and she also serves as the advisor for the school’s Community Performances Outreach Club, which Talia started in her sophomore year.
“She was so dedicated to helping with everything with the club, and she was one of the most amazing teachers I have ever had,” Talia said, adding that Ms Marks truly knows how to motivate her students.
Talia took two classes with Mr Lee, a Harmony and Composition class and an Advanced Placement Music Theory class.
“He answered all of my questions and more, and I became a much better musician because of his classes,” Talia said, adding that Mr Lee is a “musical genius.” Taking his classes inspired her to focus more on composing and learning more about that craft.
Ms Mendez, Talia said, has been “vital throughout the process,” offering guidance and support.
Until Emily was 3 years old, her family lived in Greensboro, N.C. After her family moved to Newtown, she attended Middle Gate Elementary School. Looking back, Emily said what stands out about her early education is “how supportive and how many resources there are in all of the schools.”
Emily said she always felt that if she needed help, she knew people were there for her. Newtown Public Schools also offered a range of activities for her to choose from, Emily reflected, adding that she felt like she could choose any activity she was interested in.
“When I was young, probably 8 years old, I started to play a drum set,” said Emily. Eventually, she began playing marimba, a percussion instrument.
“It’s really an interesting instrument,” she said.
She has participated in both the NHS Marching Band and the school’s Winter Percussion. Emily said she decided to play the marimba because she liked that it had “especially challenging parts.” Those challenges made her feel like “I was really growing as a player.”
Emily plans to study biomedical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Troy, N.Y., in the fall. While she is keeping her mind open to possibly changing her major, Emily said she is interested in learning more about drug research and development and other topics related to the medical field.
“I have always really been interested in science, so I knew I wanted to pursue that,” she explained.
Emily said she knows she wants to keep science “in her future,” and she likes to feel that she is “really making a difference.”
When she first learned that she is the salutatorian for the Class of 2018, Emily said one of her first thoughts was how competitive she knows her class is, especially in the top ranking of the class.
“I was kind of surprised. I had known that I might end up being in the top of the class… but it was surprising to find out that I was salutatorian,” said Emily.
She texted her parents the news right away. Her mother responded with a “whole paragraph about how she was proud of me.” Her father responded with a similar message that was “a little bit shorter,” Emily remembered.
Both of her parents, David and Paula King, have been supportive throughout her educational career. Emily also has an older brother, Andrew.
“They really trusted me to be responsible for my own schooling, and they really trusted me to do my best in school without having to push me harder than I needed to be [pushed],” Emily reflected.
Her teachers in general have also been supportive through the years. She said NHS social studies teacher Larry Saladin, math teacher Eugene Hall, and music teacher and NHS Band Director Kurt Eckhard have been particularly inspirational.
Emily took two of Mr Saladin’s classes, Western 2 and Philosophy.
“[Mr Saladin] really made his classes so engaging,” Emily said.
As her math teacher, Mr Hall made Emily realize how much she enjoys math.
“[Mr Hall] always brought humor into his class,” she said, adding that, while Mr Hall can be strict, he is also understanding. The combination of those traits was inspiring.
Over her four years of being a member of the NHS Marching Band, Emily said she has learned from Mr Eckhardt.
“It was really interesting to get to know him throughout the four years,” she said.
As a freshman, Emily said she found Mr Eckhardt to be intimidating, yet sociable. Later, she would realize how much he makes everyone feel at home in the band program.
To future NHS students, Emily said, “I would say try your best, but don’t forget to have fun. School can be a lot, and it can be very stressful, but you have got to learn to have fun.”
When asked what she would share as advice for future NHS students, Talia said, “I think the big thing for me is follow your passion: Don’t be afraid to go after what you want in life.”
Talia said students should try new things from a young age. When they find things they like, Talia said students should pursue those interests. Talia also said students should strive to give back to the community, to reflect on how the community has given to them.