The Ashland Beacon
With a graduating class of about 166, including 107 graduating with honor or above, Russell High School’s 101st annual commencement was held Sunday, May 26.
This year’s graduating class included four women co-valedictorians: Maya Abul-Khoudoud, Emily Do, Mattie Hale, and Carmen Hsieh. Salutatorian was Paul Henderson.
Emily, the daughter of Chi Hoang and John Do, wasn’t sure exactly what GPA the four young women had reached for a tie, “but it was around 4.7 or more.” Maya’s parents are Dr. Omran and Souad Abul-Khoudoud; Hale’s parents are Matthew and Barbara Hale; and Hsieh’s parents are Chueh Hsieh and Jui Mei Peng.
Do said she realized toward the end of middle school that being valedictorian might be a possibility, but she said it wasn’t really a goal. “I just wanted to focus on me personally, and doing well for myself.” Emily said that, growing up her father helped her a lot with school. “And a few teachers pushed me because their classes were really difficult.”
“I was pretty glad when I found out I was going to be co-valedictorian,” she said. “Being the only child of immigrants, and the first to go to college is something I’m really proud of. And to tie with my closest friends felt pretty good.” She said writing a speech as one of four valedictorians, and not being repetitive was a challenge. “My topic was that there is more to come in life after high school.”
Abul-Khoudoud will attend the University of Kentucky, and Do, Hsieh and Hale will attend the University of Louisville.
Carmen said it was “pretty empowering” to be one of four women at the top of the class at Russell. “I was really excited about it.” She said that she and the other young women watched each other as they excelled through school. “I and two of the other girls even took the same classes our junior year.” She credited her mom for helping her with the basics as a young child.
She said she based her graduation speech on one of her favorite poems, “Desiderata,” by Max Ehrmann, a prose poem pointing out basic guidelines for a successful life. “Since there were four of us, we had to keep them fairly short.”
Carmen, a National Merit Scholar, will attend the University of Louisville, where she’s been awarded scholarships. She is not sure what she plans to do with her higher education. “I know what I can do, but I’m not sure just yet how I want to put it together, where I want to go with it.”
“It was a lot of girl power,” said Maya Abul-Khoudoud about the top four in the class being women. “It was awesome – I love it! I was so glad to be part of it, and so proud it was all girls.” She said her goal through school was to keep all As in her classes, and being valedictorian came as the result of that goal.
Maya said her parents always stressed the importance of education, and encouraged her to do her best. She credited the guidance counselors. “They definitely helped me figure out what classes to take, helped me know which were the weighted classes.” She also said her friends played an important part in keeping her focused on her grades. “My friends are a lot of fun and we have good times together, but they are also very dedicated to their studies.”
She said her graduation speech was “rather comedic – I tried to focus on the fun parts of the past four years of high school, but I ended with an inspirational message.” Maya received the Singletary Scholarship to the University of Kentucky, where she will major in biology, on the premedical track.
The fourth RHS valedictorian, Mattie Hale, was unavailable for comment with school being out.
Graduation speaker was distinguished alumna Beth Gardner Patrick, a member of the Russell High School Hall of Fame. She is a vice chancellor of finance and administration at the University of South Carolina – Beaufort.