By Steve Sears
Caitlin McNally and Nikhil Nandikanti were recently named Valedictorian and Salutatorian respectively of the Mount Olive High School Class of 2020.
Both will present their speeches at the scheduled graduation ceremony on July 8, 2020.
McNally will be heading to Princeton University in the fall to major in Public Policy, and Nandikanti will attend the Georgia Institute of Technology to major in Chemical Engineering.
McNally reflects on the past school year and the ramifications of the Coronavirus. “It took away a lot of the closure from our grade, for sure. Not even just graduation and prom. There are so many little events that we didn’t get a chance to do that we’ve seen previous classes do, and I think that it was always something we were looking forward to.” She then adds, “But it (COVID-19) is something the entire world has had to deal with, and our entire class has made the best of it we can. We have tried to do online things, but it is something we have had to deal with, and I think everyone‘s okay with that and realizes it’s for a greater reason.”
McNally says her Mom, Evelyn, instilled her curiosity for learning. “When I was younger, she would make me do summer work over the summer, tell me I had to give it to my teachers, and I would give it to them the first day of school. She would go to the store and buy the workbooks, keep me learning throughout the summer.” From her, Dad, Peter McNally, she says she got her natural intelligence, and 20-year-old brother Justin is huge in the support column.
Nandikanti put a strong emphasis on high level AP STEM classes. “Science and Math: those happen to be the ones I
enjoyed the most,” he says. In the summer of his freshman year, he studied Honors Chemistry so he could in his sophomore year take AP Chemistry. “That got me into the feeling that I should take more AP classes and that was my gateway to building the confidence that I could do better in school.” While at Mount Olive High School, he has taken part in and is Vice-President of DECA, the school Robotics team, is an officer for the Science Honors Society, among other activities.
Nandikanti’s Mom and Dad, Geeta and Ramesh, always encouraged their son to enjoy what he was doing, never really elbowing him to get good grades. “I think that’s what’s helped me do well,” he says. “I’m allowed use my own motivation rather than someone pushing me to do well. I really thank them for that.” 12-year-old sister Ankita also is a mode of encouragement for Nikhil. “She is always ready to speak her mind. That is something I hope to pick up from her, because I usually keep my thoughts and my emotions in the back seat. I feel like that’s something I can learn from her even though she’s just 12.”
Pondering the current pandemic, Nandikanti eyes the future by being encouraging. “In terms of my speech, our class missed out on a lot of experiences and opportunities, and I want to promote the idea not to be discouraged. Take hold of your life, that’s the basic idea.”
For McNally, who participated in many activities during her four high school years including National Honor Society, and as a member of the Math and National English Honor Societies in 11th and 12th grades, her speech will focus on being better than a generic-type speech. “Our class is something better than generic,” she states.
As she heads to Princeton, she offers the following advice to future grads. “It goes so much faster than you realize. While you are here, be thankful for the opportunities you’re given and take advantage of every single one possible, because I know that if I had grown up any differently that I wouldn’t be going to where I am today.”