By: Melissa A. Kay
Graduation day is a momentous occasion in any student’s life, but for the class valedictorian and salutatorian, the pomp and circumstance is all the more meaningful. Mount Olive High School has announced the 2019 graduating class’s highest achievers, with Maya Shah taking the top spot as class valedictorian, and John Bigger and Colin McCutcheon named as co-salutatorians, sharing the spotlight.
The graduating class is comprised of 382 students, each exceptional in their own way, but these three students stepped up to the plate, performing with persistence, aiming for the sky, and reaching their true potential. The June 21st ceremony will congratulate all graduating members of the senior class, giving a special salute to these three high achievers.
Maya Shah – Valedictorian
Like any well-rounded valedictorian, Maya Shah not only achieved great grades and numerous honors, but her involvement outside the classroom was just as noteworthy. It’s hard to fathom how she found the time to do so much and do it all so remarkably, but that’s why Shah is Mount Olive High School’s #1 student this year. She takes on as much as she can, gives her all from every angle, and has learned that with proper prioritization as well as balance, she can achieve any goal she sets her mind to.
Shah’s student life is more than studying for exams. While schoolwork is front and center, there’s so much more that goes into being a student, particularly one who strives to become valedictorian. Let’s start with what Shah considers her greatest accomplishment – a scholar of the New Jersey Scholars Program, an interdisciplinary program that 39 students in NJ are accepted into. Within this program, Shah soared, sharing, “I believe my social and academic transformation after the 5 weeks in the program were an amazing accomplishment. I came out of the program with a renewed passion for learning, an interest in philosophy and psychology, as well as amazing friends that encouraged me to follow a life of optimism and honesty.” Perhaps it was this experience that led her to become co-founder of the Mount Olive Community Fellowship Program. While still in its preliminary stages, Shah explains, “The program focuses on mobilizing young talent towards effective organizations in Mount Olive and improving the community together. The program is intended to encourage students to tackle issues in the community independently and improve their hometown.”
As for Shah’s after-school involvement, the list of to-dos is long. She’s involved in a wide range of activities, proving that she is talented in more ways than one. Shah serves as president of the National Honor Society, she’s an executive board member or World Language Honor Society, and a member of Science National Honor Society as well as National English Honor Society. She participated in science league and math league too. As a freshman, Shah threw varsity discus and moved onto tennis during her sophomore and junior years. Shah was strategy captain of her school’s robotics team for two years and was also a member of the programming, design, and business branches of robotics. She is also a member of two business clubs, DECA and FBLA.
But that’s not all. Shah still finds time to volunteer at the Morristown soup kitchen, Habitat for Humanity, Paragon Village (a senior home), and at a summer camp – PEAK (Parents of ExtraOrdinary Kids) for children with special needs. She also helps to coordinate Indian functions within her community to celebrate Indian holidays such as Diwali and Holi. Tutoring other students is another passion; Shah works with Kumon tutoring math and also tutors for the SATs, math, and Spanish privately. If you’ve ever dined at Mama’s Café Baci, you may have seen Shah performing as a vocalist, and for those who enjoy a flavorful footlong, Shah may have been the one who served you at Subway!
Yale is on the agenda for next year with a focus on Applied Mathematics and a concentration in Spanish or Computer Science. Shah intends to attend graduate school in the future and earn her master’s degree. Being able to attend college isn’t something Shah takes lightly. “Neither of my parents were able to finish college,” Shah explains. “My mother came from the Philippines as a teenager and worked multiple jobs to stabilize herself. My father came from India at an even younger age and worked hard as well to make a living. I am aware of the many challenges they faced in their home countries as well as the obstacles they faced trying to survive their first few years in the U.S.; I am extremely grateful for all of their hard work. Their background served as the main impetus for my work ethic; I wanted to make my parents feel as though their hard work was worth it and that I took full advantage of the opportunities that my parents opened up for me.”
College will be a new chance for Shah to excel. But this summer is time for some fun with friends and family. Shah is headed to Spain with her AP Spanish class, then plans to backpack through Europe with some friends. Next comes a cruise with her extended family to celebrate her graduation and other family milestones. She intends to participate in Yale’s pre-orientation program which includes hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire after that. With so much planned, the summer will go by in a snap, but with the next four years at Yale to look forward to, it will certainly be one to remember.
John Bigger – Co-Salutatorian
Sharing the stage with Colin McCutcheon, John Bigger is “humbled and honored to be recognized for all of my hard work.” And hard work it was. Completing high school despite struggles with Lyme disease and mold toxicity proved challenging, but Bigger overcame such obstacles to achieve great things at Mount Olive High School. Among these are what he considers his greatest accomplishments – achieving the rank of Eagle Scout and being selected to attend the New Jersey Scholars Program during the summer of 2018.
Like Shah, Bigger’s list of school and out-of-school activities is admirable, including involvement in a number of groups, clubs, and more. The Boy Scouts is important to Bigger, and he has taken on various leadership positions within his troop including Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and Senior Patrol Leader. Bigger has earned 38 merit badges over the years, eventually landing him the Eagle Scout rank. To achieve this rank, Bigger had to complete a project that demonstrated leadership while benefitting the community. This led to his proposal to build a gazebo outside the local library. Bigger shares with pride, “After months of planning, fundraising, and construction, the gazebo was completed. I am very happy with how the gazebo turned out as it not only provided a comfortable place to sit but also adds to the beauty of the library. Whenever I visit the library, I am filled with joy to see the gazebo being occupied by people reading or relaxing.”
Bigger is also co-founder and co-president of the Mount Olive Drone Club and a dedicated member of the DECA business organization, having held the position of CFO during one of his years as a member.
Bigger will be attending the Georgia Institute of Technology with a major in Computer Science and a minor in Economics. He was awarded the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce scholarship. Before school starts, Bigger will relax and prepare for his first year at Georgia Tech while hopefully interning in a company’s IT department.
Colin McCutcheon – Co-Salutatorian
Standing proudly beside John Bigger, Colin McCutcheon will be honored as co-salutatorian, something that came as something of a shock to the star student, “I was really surprised because I did not see it coming at all,” he explained. Perhaps McCutcheon was too busy with his schoolwork and other activities to take pause to realize he was at the top of the class.
Speaking of activities, like his co-salutatorian, McCutcheon is an Eagle Scout; it’s his proudest accomplishment, sharing, “I’ve been with scouting since I was in elementary school, so it was a long road through Cub Scouts and then Boy Scouts, so achieving this rank was not only a relief won from hard work but also sheer time commitment.” Along with scouting, McCutcheon was president of Mount Olive High School’s chapter of Science National Honor Society and the treasurer of the senior class. McCutcheon is also a member of the World Language Honor Society, National Honor Society, Math Honor Society, and National English Honor Society. He participated in DECA and attended the state competition. From freshman through junior year, McCutcheon was involved in MORT robotics and tennis.
McCutcheon tutors middle schoolers in algebra and volunteers at Paragon Village while also helping out with the local Special Olympics. He does additional volunteer work through his Boy Scouts troop including roadside and garden cleanups and aided his fellow Scout’s endeavors with the building of the library gazebo.
Next year, McCutcheon will be attending UCLA to study Chemical Engineering. He’s also interested in Physics and Materials Science/Engineering. This summer means working to save up some money for the move to California and preparation for the road ahead.
Congrats to these three outstanding students as well as the rest of the 2019 Mount Olive High School graduating class. The future is yours!
Megan, as for the photo – John is in the maroon T-shirt and Colin is in the maroon pull over w/ zipper. Also in the photo, Maya and Mr. Stansberry, Principal, Stacy Delman and Katrina Prisco, Guidance Counselors.