SEEKONK — When Ashley Richards began her freshman year at Seekonk High School in September 2007, she set her academic goals with only success in mind.
“It wasn't that I tried hard to be the valedictorian; I just studied hard for myself because I wanted to do well and get into a great school,” explained Richards, who finished her scholastic career with a superb 4.0 unweighted grade-point average (4.5 weighted with Advanced Placement courses and the like.
“I worked so hard, and made a lot of sacrifices,” she added. “Being the valedictorian means a lot to me.”
Liliana Sykes, who snared salutatorian honors, admitted she feels extremely proud of her accomplishments, but said she's amazed her four years at SHS will soon end.
“I really can't believe it's almost over,” smiled Sykes, who finished just a tinge below Richards' academic hallmark. “I don't feel old enough to be graduating. I mean, you get so caught up in going to class, studying, going to (track) practice and those things, you think, 'How can this be?'”
Truth be told, both young women weren't just superb academically, but participated in several extracurricular activities and excelled at all.
Richards served as a member of the varsity football cheerleading squad for four years, and captained it as a senior this past fall. (Actually, she partook in basketball cheerleading as well as a freshman).
She also was a member of the Massachusetts and National Honor societies, not to mention the Spanish Honor Society, and spent the past three scholastic years working with the Peer Helping Network.
She snagged the Rensselaer Institute of Technology Book Award for superiority in mathematics, and served as a member of the SHS Book Club.
Richards, the daughter of Steve and Nancy Richards of Marehaven Drive, will attend Providence College on a full academic scholarship, but is unsure of what major she will pursue, though is mulling psychology.
As for Sykes, she participated on the Warriors' indoor and outdoor track and field teams, and captained the outdoor squad just this spring. She spent all four years on the Student Council, and served as a member of the 2010-11 School Council (an advisory group of teachers, parents and students on school issues) as a sophomore, junior and senior.
She also was a key member of the Peer Helping Network, Key Club and Book Club, and claimed a pair of accolades, including the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizens Award and the University of Rochester Humanities Award.
Sykes – who lives with her parents, Peter and Ana Sykes, on Juniper Road – will further her academic career at Brown University, and right now is interested in entering the women and gender studies program.
“It's something I've always wanted to do – that is, create change,” she noted. “I've always been instilled with the belief that you have to help people, try to make their lives better.”
Richards indicated “it doesn't seem real” that graduation – to be held at 6:30 p.m., Friday at Connolly Field – is so close.
“It just happened so fast,” she offered. “I don't think it's hit me yet that I'll be going off to college in the fall, but I'm excited about it. It's like I'll be beginning a new chapter in my life, and I'm looking forward to being on my own, being independent.”
Stated Sykes: “I've been ready to go to college since my sophomore year. I knew high school was what was going to get me to college, and I was excited to be here at Seekonk High, but I can't wait to take the next step.”
When asked if they had finished their respective speeches for Graduation Night, both laughed.
“We need to get them in to our principal (Marcia McGovern by Wednesday) morning,” Richards said. “I'm still in the process of writing it, and it's nerve-wracking. I mean, I want it to be meaningful.”