After tense years of pivoting and tackling challenges, Wellington High School’s Class of 2022 is ready to don their caps and gowns before marching across the stage in front of friends and family — in person. The students have dealt with virtual classes, quarantines and even lockdowns, but have come through shining and strong.
The Class of 2022 will graduate at a ceremony on Tuesday, May 17 at 1 p.m. at the South Florida Fairgrounds. Valedictorian Sydney Showalter and Salutatorian Jacob Hefty will address their classmates during the ceremony. Their positions atop the class were announced in February during an in-class surprise ceremony led by Principal Cara Hayden, who awarded them custom #22 jerseys to commemorate their achievements.
Showalter locked in her status as valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA and a final cumulative HPA of 5.6, including honors, Advanced Placement and AICE weightings.
She is involved in many extracurricular activities, ranging from intense athleticism to tutoring other students in all levels of math. She was junior vice president of the National Honor Society and is currently the president of the Rotaract Club. Showalter has been on the girls flag football team and participated in the iconic Dance Marathon all four of her years at the school.
Showalter is also accomplished on the ice with the Palm Beach Figure Skating Club as a solo skater and as the captain of the Palm Beach Blades Synchronized Skating Team. She also worked for three years as a student athletic trainer and was a Link Crew leader both her junior and senior years.
“Like most students, I faced several challenges throughout high school. Beyond a rigorous academic load and extracurricular schedule, the pandemic was a large hurdle for my educational experience,” she said. “However, I was able to thrive in spite of it with the help of my family, friends and teachers.”
Showalter has made sure summers aren’t for slacking either. In 2020, she participated in the Congress for Future Medical Leaders, hosted by the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists. This three-day virtual event (due to the pandemic) afforded her the chance to hear guest speakers, including Nobel Laureate Dr. Mario Capecchi. At the end of the event, she took an examination to earn an award of excellence.
“Another amazing opportunity I was granted was over the summer of 2021, when I was nominated as one of three rising seniors in Palm Beach County to attend the Sunshine State Scholars conference in Orlando,” she said. “This event was designed for high-achieving STEM students from across the state to honor their accomplishments and participate in a variety of STEM-related, team-building exercises and connect with college professors and counselors from most state universities. I was also one of 15 students to receive a one-year scholarship from the organization, in collaboration with the Florida Prepaid Foundation.”
Showalter is thrilled to be able to participate in an in-person graduation ceremony, although she knows it will be bittersweet.
“My advice for my fellow graduates is to keep an open mind — you never know what opportunities will open for you, even if doors shut on the ones you planned,” she said. “And don’t overthink — just give it your best shot.”
Showalter will attend the University of Alabama next fall, starting a five-year accelerated bachelor’s-to-master’s program in kinesiology. Her long-term goals include designing and testing sports equipment to help reduce injuries in athletes.
For Hefty, being the president of the Social Studies Academic Games and the captain of the Academic Decathlon were great titles, but he now adds salutatorian to his portfolio as well. Hefty is graduating with a 4.0 GPA and a cumulative weighted HPA of 5.47.
“For the past three years, I placed first in the district-wide Social Studies Academic Games competition. At the national level, I placed fourth in the Social Studies Academic Games competition for the ‘Women Who Changed the World’ category, and ninth in the ‘Presidents’ category. Additionally, I received my AICE diploma with distinction and became a National Merit finalist,” Hefty said.
He also has a love of history that extends beyond his volunteer work for a U.S. history teacher at Wellington Landings. Hefty is considering keeping history as his college major while attending the University of Florida. He isn’t waiting to get started either and is enrolled for the summer term at UF.
Hefty is excited to have an in-person graduation ceremony this year and expressed gratitude for the opportunity, especially since many other memorable events had been canceled or modified over the past two years.
“Throughout high school, I struggled with depression and anxiety. This made meeting the demands of school and life very difficult. However, with the support of friends and family, I was able to navigate through these obstacles pretty successfully,” Hefty said. “For my fellow graduates, the best advice I can give is that you should learn to feel comfortable asking for help. Life is filled with challenges, and we are often inclined to handle the pressure all on our own, but it’s essential to realize that receiving support can help you find solutions.”