Newtown High School graduating seniors Simran Chand and Jordan Solomon Klein — the Class of 2017 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively — both recently shared their inspirations and hopes for the future, ahead of this year’s graduation ceremony on June 13.
Simran’s family moved to Newtown from Wisconsin when she was young. She began her first year in Newtown Public Schools as a fourth grader at Middle Gate Elementary School, with about two months left of the school year. One of her first memories from teacher Linda Baron’s class, Simran recalled, is attending a fourth grade celebration. Students were running around and yearbooks were being signed.
“It definitely made me feel very included in the community and like I was a part of the community,” said Simran.
When she first heard that she would be the Class 2017 valedictorian, Simran said she was overwhelmed. NHS Principal Lorrie Rodrigue called Simran into her office to share the news, and a few hours later when Simran shared the news with her parents — father Vikram and mother Sonal — she began to cry.
“I just felt like all my hard work… had finally paid off and I was being rewarded and recognized for that,” said Simran, who has a younger brother, Milan, who is a freshman at NHS.
Simran said her parents have supported her educational efforts, but “they never really pressured me about school.”
They allowed her to build her own work ethic and grow in her own ways. Simran also said her teachers challenged her to have high expectations for herself. The two environments, Simran said, pushed her to work hard and get good grades on her own.
Her teachers, she said, “always wanted to set a higher bar and make you work harder.”
Some of the teachers Simran said inspired her include Kim Lowell, Eugene Hall, Shawn Tierney, Abigail Marks, Christopher Carley, Kate Dimoulas, James Ross, and Susan Lang.
“I honestly couldn’t have gotten where I have without the teachers that I had,” Simran said.
Simran has been active outside the classroom, too. She is the Class of 2017 vice president and she has attended Board of Education meetings throughout the year as one of the school’s two representatives to the board. She has also participated in the Best Buddies program, tennis, field hockey, debate team, and completed internships through the NHS Career Center. Some of her internships included Danbury Hospital and working with Eye Care of Danbury’s Dr Sarah Baroody.
In the fall, Simran will attend the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to study women’s studies on a pre-medical track, but Simran quickly added that she is keeping her options open.
“That is definitely subject to change,” Simran said, adding that her interest in women’s studies began when she took the NHS course in her junior year. Feminist literature started to entice her as she became interested in equal rights. She wanted to learn more, she said.
With the 2016-17 school year coming to a close, Simran said she is most looking forward to the diversity of a college campus and meeting other like-minded people.
“I just can’t wait to learn from my peers,” she said, “not only the professors, but the people I will be around the entire time on campus.”
When asked what advice she would share with future NHS students, Simran said to work hard but “don’t stress yourself out.” Instead, she said to focus on enjoying life while working hard.
She called NHS “the best high school ever.”
A Drive For Perfection
When Jordan learned he was the Class 2017 salutatorian, he said he was “a little bit” surprised. He thought that if he was in the running for a top placement in the class ranking that he would have been told beforehand.
“I just knew it was very competitive,” said Jordan, remembering learning of the news in April.
While Jordan said the accomplishment is something to “be proud of,” it has not changed how he thinks of himself.
Jordan was born in Los Angeles, and he never went to kindergarten. Jordan remembers being a first grader at Middle Gate, after his family moved to town, and all of the other children were talking about kindergarten. He recalls thinking, “What is that?”
Other strong memories from his educational career in Newtown include writing for Reed Intermediate School’s newspaper, The Patriot Press. He remembers the before-school meetings and “really liking it.” Jordan also said he participated in the high school’s track and field program.
One of his biggest efforts over the years has been participating in music programs. Jordan played in jazz band, the NHS Marching Band, and he was a tutor in the NHS HEMMA (High School/Elementary School Music Mentoring Association) program. Being in the marching band, Jordan said, was a big time commitment. Through participating he learned how to manage his time wisely. There was also something special about being a member of the band, he said. He enjoyed the sense of community and seeing “the hard work pay off.”
“There were a lot of teachers that I really liked,” said Jordan, adding that Kim Lowell and Christopher Carley were two of his favorite teachers at NHS.
From a young age Jordan said he had a drive to be a perfectionist. It made him want to be “good at what I did,” he said.
“And if there is something that I really cared about, then I wanted to be good at it,” said Jordan.
Jordan said he feels fortunate to have grown up with parents — father Elliot and mother Janet— that work and come from educated backgrounds. It was natural to follow in their footsteps, he said.
“I would definitely say my family has been supportive of me,” he said.
Jordan also has an older brother, Nic, and a younger sister named Julia.
“[My parents] were smart when it came to parenting me. They knew when to support me and where to draw the line,” Jordan said.
When asked to share his advice for other students, Jordan said to not be too concerned with grades and a grade point average.
“The biggest thing is… you actually care about what you are doing,” said Jordan.
Part of his success, he said, came from always wanting to succeed and always being his best.
“But the bigger thing is you need to know what you want and to know what will make you happy,” Jordan added. “And in my case, I think I didn’t really focus on grades so much because I wanted the grades, but I focused on the subject because I was interested in it and the class.
“As long as you are happy with who you are and what you can do, that is the number one thing, I think,” he added.
Jordan is set to attend the University of California, Berkeley, in the fall, to major in chemical biology.