Highland Park’s Top Scholars Found Joy in Schoolwork
Arya McCarthy and Ellie Reynolds, Highland Park High School’s 2013 valedictorian and salutatorian, have known each other since their academic careers began — way back in kindergarten, at Christ the King Catholic School.
McCarthy has been named a President’s Scholar at SMU, where he’ll study computer science and applied mathematics. Reynolds, an engineering major, is off to Vanderbilt.
Leading a class of nearly 500 students at a top-flight high school is obviously no small task, and McCarthy and Reynolds managed GPAs of 4.64 and 4.624, respectively.
So how does one do it?
“The strategy behind it is not to be meticulous about grades and how you do on the assignments,” McCarthy said. “It’s about finding what you like in each subject that you take. From the passion in it, performance follows, because you will want to do well — to show that you understand [the material] and want to do more.”
Reynolds “personally enjoyed high school a lot,” having headed up the Academic Decathlon team, the women’s service organization ASTRA, and Highland Park’s student paper, The Bagpipe.
“Finding that balance” — that sweet spot between having a life in high school and doing well academically — “is probably the most difficult part of getting here,” she explained.
By his own description, McCarthy has captained “the three nerdiest UIL teams” — math, computer science, and science — and this month led the latter to its eighth consecutive state championship. He’s also been pipe major in the school’s bagpipe corps.
“He’s unassuming. He’s humble,” AP computer science and Oracle Academy teacher Brenda McGurgan said of McCarthy, whose high-school programming work included an online study guide for his classmates. “He’s one who I would learn from every day as well. The learning went two ways with us.”
Calculus and pre-calculus teacher Melynda Wright described Reynolds as a focused, inquisitive, ever-organized learner.
“She’s never turned in anything late,” Wright added. “Never ‘my dog ate it’ or ‘my computer crashed’ — never. She’s always early or on time. And she’s just a fantastic young lady.”