Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera High Athlete of the Year Addyson Smith, left, and Madera High’s number one valedictorian Samantha Valencia await commencement June 2.
When Samantha Valencia was in elementary school, she would head over to Madera High School’s Joe Flores Gym with her band and look at the banners on the wall, including the list of Madera’s Athletes of the Year and Scholar/Athletes of the Year.
At the time, Valencia couldn’t perceive herself to be on that list, much less an athlete, although she had played soccer since she was five.
“I could never imagine I would have the highest grade point average and see my name for Scholar/Athlete of the Year,” she said. “That was my dream. I never thought anything of it. I never thought I would be able to do it. If you would have told me my freshman year my name would be up there, I would never have imagined it.”
Valencia’s name will be on the banner, carrying a 4.52 GPA and graduating No. 1 in the 465-member graduating class.
“I am proud of myself in a way,” Valencia said. “I look back and I wonder how I was able to handle and do all of that.”
Valencia said she doesn’t feel like a graduate yet after commencement ceremonies June 2, but is ready to begin her next chapter at Fresno State, pursuing a degree in nursing.
“It feels like a normal summer,” she said. “I’m going to go back to a new school and new environment. Me and my friends are going to go down a new path and it hasn’t it me that far, yet.”
Valencia didn’t set out to become a valedictorian, but after getting straight A’s for her first couple of semesters at Madera High, that seemed like a goal.
“As I kept getting straight A’s, I felt like I had to keep it up,” she said. “Everyone was saying how I was doing it all and keeping straight A’s. I felt pressure to keep the straight A’s going.”
She realized she could become the valedictorian of the senior class when she started taking advanced placement classes and honors classes to raise her grade point average.
“I believed that was an achievable goal because of the classes I was taking and the amount of honors and AP classes that I had,” she said. “I said, why not make it a goal to keep getting straight A’s.”
However, she dropped to No. 2 during her senior year, but gradually worked her way back to the top.
“It took a lot of hard work and dedication, especially with all of my activities,” Valencia said. “Take a Tuesday. I had soccer practice and band practice right after. From 5-9 p.m., I had band practice. I would have hours of practice and homework was waiting for me. I had to make sure I got my homework done even though I was exhausted. Sometimes I didn’t want to do it because I couldn’t. My body would tell me I needed to sleep. On days like that, I would wake up really early to finish what I needed to do.”
However, during senior check-out, Valencia was informed that she would graduate No. 1 in her class.
“When I was told by my counselor that I was going to be valedictorian, I was so happy because I did three sports this year, band and winter percussion,” she said. “Being able to become valedictorian is wow.
“I don’t know how I was able to do it. I had a lot of support from my family and friends. I did cross country and swim this year for the first time, and the support that those sports give and make you feel like a part of the family made the sport easier so when I went home, I had the motivation to do my work to make people proud.”
Before her senior year, Valencia was involved in the band. She played alto saxophone and was the section leader. She also played for the Coyote soccer team and earned a starting spot on varsity her junior and senior seasons. While most students would take it easy their senior year, Valencia decided to run cross country and join the swimming team.
“I want to be a triathlete and I knew cross country always needs people,” Valencia said. “My friends wanted to try it so I said I would join. It would help me in soccer. That’s what made me decide to do cross country so I could keep fit for soccer.”
She had her struggles with cross country, but kept at it and eventually learned to like it.
“It was exhausting,” she said. “I never wanted to run again. It never happened because I had other sports to do. It was a great experience. I really enjoyed it. I wish I would have done it sooner.”
However, her cross country season helped her during soccer season where she played right wing.
“I was able to keep my stamina,” Valencia said. “I had to run back and forth.”
Valencia had simple explanations on why she decided to join the swimming team during the spring season — that’s what her best friend did and it would teach her a skill that would benefit her.
“During soccer, I met my best friend Jessica Diaz,” she said. “I had known her since the third grade. We got back to each other when soccer season hit. She is a swimmer and water polo player. I also have a lot of friends who are swimmers. It was between track and swim. I really don’t know how to swim. I know swimming is a vital thing we need to know. Why not go to a sport that has a friendly environment and also teach me that I would need to know and stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Valencia will attend Fresno State. She had a choice between UC Berkeley and Fresno State. She chose Fresno State because it was cheaper and FSU has a nursing program.
“I am proud of myself in a way,” she said. “I look back and I wonder how I was able to handle and do all of that. My only regret is I wish I would have tried more sports. However, if I did more sports, then I may not have had that high of a GPA and wouldn’t be scholar athlete of the year or not have been valedictorian. I’m satisfied with what I did. I am very excited to go to Fresno State. That’s what everything is for — your degree and college.”