'We did it:' Shelton High valedictorian, salutatorian urges grads to enjoy life, be grateful

SHELTON — Adapting to ever-changing rules became part of every student’s curriculum the past 16 months — and Majd Saymeh is calling on his fellow graduates to “make the best of it.

“Life is often not going to be perfect, but to enjoy it to the fullest, we have to constantly adapt to the changing circumstances of life instead of dwelling upon the negatives,” Saymeh told the Shelton High Class of 2021.

Saymeh and fellow senior Zoe Yoon earned recognition as high school Class of 2021 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

Shelton High Principal Kathy Riddle made the announcement about Saymeh and Yoon, along with the other top 10 academic achievers, as the district prepared to recognize the graduating seniors Wednesday at Finn Stadium.

Saymeh, citing the impact of the pandemic, said additional discipline was needed on his part to remain fully focused on his work.

"I feel that a great benefit of having to go through this challenge is that it is sort of an early preview for college, since in college many students do not go to classes each day and thus have to create their own plans regarding how to use their time usefully,” Saymeh said.

For Yoon, this was the first year she lost her motivation for school.

"Not being able to see my peers and teachers face to face made learning from home difficult and undesirable at times,” Yoon said. “However, I still loved learning and I had some amazing teachers this year that supported me throughout.

“This year, I was pushed to teach myself new material and to advocate for myself when I did not understand something,” Yoon added. “Overall, I think I am coming out of this school year as a new kind of student who takes more initiative in her education.”

Along with top grades, Saymeh also received the Yale Club of New Haven Book Award in 11th grade and was named most proficient student in UCONN Spanish in 11th grade. He also received a National Merit Scholarship Program Letter of Commendation for Outstanding 2019 Preliminary SAT score.

He was a member of the Spanish and math clubs and was secretary of the World Language Honor Society. In the summer of 2019, he worked with the district's technology center as a technology assistant to help set up and repair school devices to prepare for the upcoming school year.

“I will miss the camaraderie among students,” said Saymeh, who will be attending the University of Connecticut as a biological sciences major. “A lot of kids in the same grade level had almost all of their classes together because high school has more of a rigid path of classes.

“Seeing the same faces for four years and going through struggles and fun times together created some amazing bonds,” he added.

Yoon, who will be studying biochemistry on a pre-dental track at Northeastern University’s Honors Program, is in the National Honors Society, was president of the Spanish Honors Society and was a National Merit Commended Student.

She was also the co-founder and co-president of Earth Club, was the Girls’ Lacrosse captain, the co-president of Spanish Club and involved in Unified Basketball. She volunteered as a mentor/supervisor for a nonprofit tutoring organization called Leaders United for Change and as an assistant teacher at a Korean school.

“I will never forget laughing with my teachers during class and all the inside jokes my friends and I made,” Yoon said. “I’m really going to miss the little things that didn’t seem like much in the moment, like saying hi to my peers in the hallways, sitting next to my friends at lunch and cheering with everyone at sports games.”

Yoon urged her fellow graduates to “enjoy life while it is right in front of you and remain grateful for each day. Be proud — we did it.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com