Serena Helewicz is valedictorian of the Rio Rancho High School Class of 2022.
She shares her thoughts and advice for underclassmen here.
What’s next for you?
After high school, I wish to work toward my goal of becoming a biomedical researcher. I am still deciding on the college, but currently, it looks like I will be attending UNM for my undergraduate and majoring in biochemistry! Some other options I am looking at are Nazareth College near Rochester and Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 2032, I expect to have either finished my MD or be close to it. I will probably be doing some work-study or residency to gain experience. I will most likely go out of state for Graduate school if I decide to go to UNM these next four years. So, I know I will have met new friends and mentors to help me, despite how exhausting the course load is bound to be. Perhaps by the end of my studies, I will have made some contribution or small discovery to the field in which I can expand upon through my work after college.
What has remained the best incentive program to keep you interested in school and graduating?
I have dreamed my whole high school career about being at the top of my class in my Senior year, when all my hard work would eventually pay off. Just the possibility of holding the title of Valedictorian was enough to incentivize me to continue to work my hardest, even in my Senior year. Claiming this spot is one of the best achievements I have accomplished. Obtaining it makes me so thankful that I did all I have done in my academics. Other incentives that encouraged me to graduate are similar such as the Crimson Dinner for the top 25 of the class, the banquets that National Honor Society, Key Club, and my synchronized skating team have for seniors, and other similar award ceremonies.
In what class did you learn the most, as you envision your career?
It is difficult to choose just one! As I have mentioned, my goal is to become a biomedical researcher in the future. However, this was not always my choice of a major. It was not until my Sophomore year, when I took AP Chemistry, and my Junior year, when I took AP Biology, that this major piqued my interest. These classes shaped my love of science and taught me so much; not just about the course material, but they guided me down the path of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed the teachings of Ms. Perry and Ms. Miyashiro who have fostered this admiration of science. Also noteworthy were my Calculus classes taught by Mr. Keeney. This class brought me a whole new understanding of mathematics and has encouraged me to pursue a minor in applied mathematics to use these skills in college.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?
I have received countless pieces of advice from different people throughout the past few years. But some of the best advice I have ever received was from my figure skating friend, Ava, when I was panicking over not being ready for an upcoming skating test. She told me, “This one test does not define you as a person and you can always take it again if you need to”.” Then, when I still seemed distressed she said, “Hey, your worth as a human being is not based on tests, or grades, or anything people say about you.” This statement seems obvious now but, back then, I put so much pressure on myself to do well. So hearing that spoken aloud made me think, “So what does make up one’s worth?” I believe the answer to this question is your morals and compassion. To me, these are the traits shared by the human race and give us worth as a whole. No one person is any less worthy of being human simply because they failed their math exam. So now I keep this self-made definition of worth to remind myself when I am struggling.
What’s your best advice for underclassmen?
My advice to underclassmen is to become very informed on what your school has to offer you. My biggest regret in my earlier years of high school is not knowing enough to grasp the opportunities that I could have achieved. This could be anything from more AP class options you were not aware of, more clubs and what awards you can get from them, or different merits and positions the school offers. It is up to you to decide how many of these activities you can take on with your everyday tasks and you cannot make an informed decision without knowing all you can. Never believe anyone when they tell you something will be too difficult for you. Again, that is your decision to make, not theirs. My motto is that you lose one hundred percent of the shots you do not aim for. Chase your dreams to their fullest potential and if you must quit something for your sanity, at least you can say you tried everything you wanted to.
If you could make one change in Rio Rancho Public Schools, what would it be?
I have had a very good experience here with Rio Rancho Public Schools personally. Not only are the teachers and advisors at my school amazing themselves, but the classes, programs, and clubs here offer the most splendid amount of opportunities for students. I know so many people from Rio and Cleveland alike that can attest to how responsive the district is in addressing their concerns. However, if there were one thing that I would propose as an adjustment to the district, is taking better care of the staff members. As a daughter of two parents that work as teachers, sometimes I feel concerned over their well-being in the profession. My school does not have too many difficulties with teachers leaving but I know there were quite a few teachers in the district who could not handle all the arising issues of COVID plus teaching every day. Now is the time in which teachers need to be treated well and paid fairly for their struggles. Overall, RRPS has treated me very well, but improvement will always be made all around with better reception of the district towards teachers.
Who or what played the biggest role in your success?
I have been asked this question quite a few 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 has been the best support system I could have wished for. My parents, for taking so many days off work to care for me and put up with me, as well as my sisters for always making me laugh during hard times. Other than my family, my teachers, my counselor, and overall my own perseverance played a significant role in my successes during high school. Mrs. Keeney and Mrs. Garduno especially made sure I had everything I needed to succeed. I am thankful to the school for giving me the accommodations I needed throughout my journey and I am thankful to myself for trying my best even when it was hard.