Valedictorian of Rio Rancho High School: He dreamed of being the first in his class

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Serena Helewicz is valedictorian of Rio Rancho High School’s class of 2022.

Serena Helewicz
Courtesy picture

Here she shares her thoughts and advice for subclasses.

What’s next for you?

After high school, I want to work towards my goal of becoming a biomedical researcher. I’m still deciding on college, but currently it looks like I’ll be attending UNM for my undergrad and majoring in biochemistry! Other options I’m considering are Nazareth College near Rochester and Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

By 2032, I expect to have completed my MD or be close to it. I will probably do work-study or a residency to gain experience. I will most likely go out of state for graduate school if I decide to go to UNM in the next four years. So, I know that I will have found new friends and mentors to help me, despite the exhaustion of the course load. Maybe by the time I graduate, I will have made a contribution or a small discovery in the field that I can expand into through my work after college.

What has remained the best incentive program to keep you interested in school and getting your degree?

I dreamed my entire high school career of being at the top of my class in senior year, when all my hard work would eventually pay off. The mere possibility of holding the title of valedictorian was enough to inspire me to keep working my best, even in my senior year. Claiming this spot is one of the best accomplishments I’ve ever had. Getting it makes me so thankful that I did everything I did in my studies. Other incentives that encouraged me to graduate are similar, such as the Crimson Dinner for the top 25 in the class, the banquets that the National Honor Society, the Key Club, and my synchronized skating team hold for seniors. and other similar award ceremonies.

In which class did you learn the most, as you envision your career?

It’s hard to choose just one! As I mentioned, my goal is to become a biomedical researcher in the future. However, it wasn’t always my choice of major. It wasn’t until my sophomore year, when I took AP Chemistry, and my freshman year, when I took AP Biology, that this major piqued my interest. These courses shaped my love of science and taught me a lot; not just on the course material, but they guided me on the path to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I very much appreciated the teachings of Mrs. Perry and Mrs. Miyashiro who nurtured this admiration for science. Also worth noting are my calculus classes taught by Mr. Keeney. This course gave me a whole new understanding of math and encouraged me to pursue a minor in applied math to use those skills in college.

What is the best advice you have ever received and who gave it to you?

I have received countless tips from different people over the past few years. But some of the best advice I ever got came from my figure skater friend, Ava, when I was freaking out about not being ready for an upcoming skating test. She told me: “This test does not define you as a person and you can always do it again if you need to”. Then, while I still looked distressed, she said, “Hey, your value as a human being isn’t based on tests, or grades, or whatever people say about you.” This statement seems obvious now but, at the time, I was putting so much pressure on myself to do well. So hearing that out loud made me think, “So what makes it worth it?” I believe the answer to that question is your morality and your compassion. For me, these are the traits shared by the human race and give us value as a whole. No one is less worthy of being human just because they failed their math exam. So now I keep this self-taught definition of worth to remind me when I fight.

What’s your best tip for subclassing?

My advice to underclassmen is to become very knowledgeable about what your school has to offer. My biggest regret in my early years of high school is not knowing enough to seize the opportunities I could have realized. It could be more AP class options you weren’t aware of, more clubs and the rewards you can get for them, or different merits and positions offered by the school. It’s up to you to decide how many of these activities you can undertake with your daily chores, and you can’t make an informed decision without knowing everything you can. Never believe someone when they tell you that something will be too difficult for you. Again, it’s your decision, not theirs. My motto is that you lose one hundred percent of the shots you don’t aim for. Chase your dreams to their fullest potential and if you have to give up something for your sanity, at least you can say you’ve tried everything you wanted.

If you could make one change to Rio Rancho Public Schools, what would it be?

I had a very good experience here with Rio Rancho Public Schools personally. Not only do the teachers and counselors at my school amaze themselves, but the courses, programs, and clubs here provide the most opportunities for students. I know so many people from Rio and Cleveland who can attest to the responsiveness of the district to addressing their concerns. However, if there was one thing I would suggest as an adjustment to the district, it is to take better care of staff members. As the daughter of two parents who work as teachers, I sometimes feel worried about their well-being in the profession. My school doesn’t have too much difficulty with teacher departures, but I know there were quite a few teachers in the district who couldn’t handle all of the issues posed by COVID plus day-to-day teaching. It is now that teachers must be treated well and paid fairly for their struggles. Overall, RRPS has treated me very well, but improvements will always be made all around with a better welcome from the district towards the teachers.

Who or what played the biggest role in your success?

I have been asked this question several times recently and my answer will always be my family. Having been diagnosed with cancer two years ago, my family was there for me and the best support system I could have asked for. My parents, for taking so many days off to look after me and support me, and my sisters for always making me laugh in difficult times. Along with my family, my teachers, my counselor, and overall my own perseverance played an important role in my success in high school. Ms. Keeney and Ms. Garduno mostly made sure I had everything I needed to succeed. I am grateful to the school for giving me the accommodations I needed throughout my journey and I am grateful to myself for doing my best even when it was difficult.

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