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Top of Their Class: ALJ's 2011 Valedictorian and Salutatorian

Johnson grads Kaitlyn Perez and Nicole Marzano are both friends and competitors.

Priorities combined with a lot of hard work, paid off for Kailtyn Perez, ALJ’s valedictorian for the Class of 2011. Maintaining a weighted GPA of 4.735 required Perez to study for two to three hours a night for her five AP courses after a full day of school, sports and other activities.

“School always came first for me,” she says. She knew she was ranked number one in her class after being named Student of the Month in September 2010. “I am just happy that the hard work paid off,” says Perez, who will attend Bucknell University in the fall.

Perez has been the recipient of many awards throughout her high school career including: American Chemical Society Scholar, Rensselaer Medal, Student of the Month, Dwight D. Eisenhower Leadership Award, ALJ Nominee for 2011 National Youth Science Camp, Wendy Heisman School Winner, HOBY Alternate, NJ Scholars Semi-Finalist, National Honor Society, AP Scholar with Honor, Spanish Honor Society Honorary Member, Tri M Music Honor Society Member, ALJ Nominee for the College of New Jersey’s High School Honor's Band, and varsity tennis MVP.

It's no surprise that Perez was also valedictorian of her class in middle school four years ago. She says that getting good grades has always come relatively easy for her. Perez says, “Although there is competition among the top students in the class, we feed off each other and are all close friends.” This year she studied AP Physics (her favorite), AP Statistics, AP Literature & Composition, AP Calculus and AP Biology. She has completed nine advanced placement courses during her four years at ALJ.

When she wasn’t studying, Perez was busy with Concert Band, varsity tennis, Robotics Initiative, Peer Leadership, Pit Orchestra, Science League, Key Club, Science Olympiad, History Club, Math League, Lance Yearbook, The Crusader Newspaper and Spanish Club…whew! She also enjoys watching TV, especially Criminal Minds and hanging out with friends in her "spare" time.

With an impressive SAT score of 2100, (2400 is a perfect score) Perez will major in chemistry at Bucknell. She expects that college will be a bit harder for her, saying “My scholarship package requires me to do a mentorship where I will be working in a research lab after my classes.” Perez plans to continue her education to the doctorate level and work in the field of environmental science and research, but only if she really has to work. “I never want to work,” Perez jokes. She may have found her niche as a perpetual student.

Perez says she will miss ALJ and that it was a lot of fun. “It is so weird," she says. "I feel like I will be going back on Monday.” In her address to the crowd at the graduation ceremony on Wednesday, June 22, Perez said, “It has been a ‘Wagen’ blast [referring to faculty member Frank Wagenblast] and one unforgettable ride. This jubilant occasion has been long awaited and anticipated, but we are sad to say goodbye to our classmates and to Arthur L. Johnson High School, our second home for the past four years.” 

Perez is the daughter of Kathy and John Perez and has one brother, Robert.

Class Salutatorian, Nicole Marzano has been neck and neck with Perez since middle school where she was also salutatorian. With a GPA of 4.69, only .045 behind Perez, the two have been in friendly competition for years.

Marzano says, “It was such a great feeling being the salutatorian in 8tth grade that I knew I had to work for it again. I study a lot and tutor other students when I can.” She completed three AP courses this year in English, Physics and Calculus averaging 1 ½ to two hours each night studying.  She says her favorite class this year was AP Psychology with Frank Wagenblast.

Marzano’s key to success is to never procrastinate. She tries to finish her homework at school or at the dinner table, finishes class projects way ahead of time and gets to bed on a regular schedule. It takes that kind of discipline to be an honors student and athlete. Marzano competed on both the varsity soccer and track teams at ALJ, where she was team captain. She was named to the New Jersey Girls Soccer Association All State Team Central Jersey, Third Team Defense All Union County and Honorable Mention All Team Union County.

Some of the honors bestowed on Marzano this year were: National Honor Society, Tri-M Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, High Honor Roll, Scholar Athlete Award, Student of the Month and the Brian Piccolo Award.

It is a good thing she is organized and keeps on task because Marzano participated in many extracurricular activities at ALJ. During the past four years she was a member of: Key Club, Varsity Soccer, Varsity Basketball, Varsity Track, Peer Mediation, Peer Leadership, Science League, Teen Arts and Chorale.

The University of Delaware will be home for Marzano next year where she will major in accounting and minor in psychology. She hopes to someday work as a treasurer or event planner. Bigger classes will make college different for Marzano, as she has enjoyed the relationships with her teachers at ALJ and expects that will change at a large university. She will miss her teammates at ALJ the most, she says, “I really loved being with the team.” She plans to play club level soccer at Delaware.

Marzano’s graduation speech was unique. She sang a song dedicated to her classmates titled "I'll Always Remember You" by Miley Cyrus, accompanied on guitar by classmate Mark Wilson.

I always knew this day would come
We'd be standing one by one
With our future in our hands
So many dreams so many plans

Always knew after all these years
There'd be laughter there'd be tears
But never thought that I'd walk away
With so much joy but so much pain
And it's so hard to say goodbye

But yesterdays gone we gotta keep moving on
I'm so thankful for the moments so glad I got to know ya
The times that we had I'll keep like a photograph
And hold you in my heart forever
I'll always remember you

Marzano is the daughter of Francine and Vincent Marzano and has a younger brother Vinnie and a sister Danielle. In her spare time she listens and sings along to music in her room, and enjoys Criminal Minds on TV and the Twilight book series.

faith November 04, 2011 at 11:05 PM
my heart goes out to this family. i will pray for them all.

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