The two were named the school’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, in March and are preparing to leave Georgia to start their college studies late this summer.
Lee, the daughter of Johanna Lee, will be heading off to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, while Zheng, the daughter of Shannon Zheng and Lanqing Wang, will attend Columbia University in New York City.
“Columbia has been my dream school for a very long time,” Zheng said.
She applied to 12 other colleges and feels lucky to be accepted to her top choice. She plans to study comparative literature or cultural studies.
“I’m definitely oriented towards a path in academia,” Zheng said. “So I would get my [doctorate] and then hopefully teach at a university.”
Lee, on the other hand, hopes to be another kind of doctor. Though she is not sure what she will major in at Dartmouth, she will be on a pre-med track. Science was one of her favorite subjects at Alpharetta High.
Her mother’s strong work ethic inspired her to excel in her studies, Lee said.
Yet, neither of the top two students said they obsessed over becoming valedictorian or salutatorian.
“I think high school should be about enjoying the last four years,” Lee said.
In retrospect, the pair realize their best memories were also some of the things that challenged them over the years.
Zheng, who has played violin since the fourth grade, said she was not always a big fan of orchestra.
“It’s a lot of rehearsals and it’s a lot of hours … but most of my good friends I’ve made in orchestra and most of my good memories all come from orchestra.”
Lee described her participation in science fair competitions over the years as a love/hate relationship.
“I do things a lot last minute so I remember those nights finishing my projects, but now looking back on it, it’s funny,” she said.
Lee added the other best part about high school were the inspirational teachers she had the opportunity to learn from, including physics teacher Rebecca Howell, chemistry teacher Tom Wellnitz and English teacher Randy Gingrich.
Though at times the last two years of school got hectic, Zheng’s advice to underclassmen is to put things into perspective and relax.
“It will all turn out ok,” she said.