Their GPAs show that Salem's valedictorian Janki Patel and salutatorian Reed Hill have mastered their academic lessons. But beyond report cards, these level-headed seniors have learned valuable life lessons during their years as a Seminole that will carry them forward into adulthood.
Janki Patel, Valedictorian
For Janki Patel, becoming the top of her class is a dream come true not for herself, but for her grandfather.
When she was a sophomore who had just moved to Rockdale from Putnam County, her grandpa Shana Patel told her one day he'd like to see one of his grandchildren become valedictorian.
At first, she didn't think she'd be the one. But on Friday, she learned she was at the top of her graduating class.
"I am proud of myself that I actually fulfilled his dream," said Patel. "I would like to thank him from the bottom of my heart for having the faith in me."
Patel had left behind friends and the school she had grown up with when she moved to Rockdale. But she quickly found a group of students at Salem who welcomed her in and showed her the ropes.
"All my classmates were really nice," she said. "They sort of held my hand tightly to show me who were the good teachers and good classes."
Math and chemistry were a favorite for Patel, especially taking classes with Mr. Dean Goldgar. But this year, as a Dual Enrollment student at Georgia Perimeter College, Patel was taking college level classes away from the Salem campus and learned independence in handling her coursework.
"You really had to learn how to manage everything by yourself," she said.
She hopes to eventually become a nurse and is headed to Chamberlain Nursing School in Atlanta. "Helping is one thing that I really like to do, and I think nursing is a great way to show that."
Outside of class, she participated in International Club and Math Club. She also helped raise funds and conduct food drives with her temple, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Lilburn, to benefit Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
She's earned the Superintendent's Awards for being part of the top 10 in her class and made the Dean's List at GPC.
Patel's mother is Pravina and her father Ghanshyam. She has one older sister Amisha, who graduated from Putnam County High School and is attending GPC, and a younger brother Bhaskar, who is a ninth grader in the Rockdale Magnet School.
This summer, Patel will travel to visit family in India for the first time in six years.
Reed Hill, Salutatorian
Reed Hill's years at Salem were all about testing his limits and figuring out what he was capable of accomplishing.
When he was in eighth grade at Memorial Middle, he was accepted to the Rockdale Magnet School and had to decide between that and Salem. He knew the Magnet School propelled students into good schools. And he was afraid he would not be a success if he did not go to the Magnet school. But he also knew he wouldn't be able to play baseball, which he had played all his life, and to do other things. He chose Salem.
After having been named salutatorian, Hill said, "I've learned no matter what I decide, I can always be successful as long I know what I'm doing. I didn't think that much about it then, but I realize now how big it was."
As part of that learning process, Hill came to enjoy things that put him outside his comfort zone, and now enjoys math and science classes. "For me, it was Mr. Goldgar's math class. It was really challenging, and that was the first class that pushed me to my limits and made me think about what I was doing."
He continued, "I never really thought I was great at math. But once I figured I can be pushed to that limit, I enjoyed it a lot."
This year he took chemistry class and two math classes at GPC and enjoyed them because they were challenging.
Outside of class, he played baseball on Salem's varsity team as catcher, swam for three years, and wrestled for one year. He's also a member of National Honor Society, the National Honors Society of Collegiate Scholars, and was chosen as this year's Scholar Athlete at Salem.
Another challenge he overcame occured when his jaw broke after he was struck by a riccocheting ball in batting practice. Though he underwent surgery to insert metal plates and screws and even lost a molar, he healed quickly enough to begin batting on the team again a few months later. After this experience, his interest in dentistry grew.
He'll be attending GPC for one more semester and then will transfer to University of Georgia. He intends to go to University of North Carolina for his dentistry degree.
Hill is the son of Lane and Susan Hill. He has one younger sister Carly Hill, a sophomore at Salem. He grew up in Rockdale, attending Barksdale Elementary and Memorial Middle School.
Hill said when his parents heard the news on Friday, his mother began crying with pride and joy.
A dedicated worker, Hill has already started working full time with a local above ground pool company and may not be able to attend his graduation ceremony because of his job.