One could say that just making it to the end of the school year amid a global pandemic is an accomplishment in and of itself.
So, to emerge at the top of the class following an academic year that had students learning at home, in classrooms with masks on and in all sorts of other unprecedented ways, makes crossing the finish line just that much sweeter for Moorestown High School’s valedictorian Annabelle Jin and salutatorian Maria Heffernen.
“It’s definitely been hectic; there’s been no normal,” Heffernen said.
The pair were in high spirits as they posed for a photo outside Moorestown High School on Monday, June 14. Both prom and graduation were slated for later in the week, and the weather forecast was sunny. Heffernen said despite these events looking a bit different than in years past, she was grateful to attend at all.
Both women were decidedly humble when discussing their ranking. Jin stressed that while grades are important, they’re certainly not everything.
“Grades should not be what defines you,” Jin said. “There are more important things than grades, like making an impact in the world.”
When senior year started, Jin was part of the hybrid model. Around November, as cases started to rise, she switched to the full remote model until April when MHS returned to five day, in-person instruction.
She said remote instruction was a mixed bag. While it proved easier to manage her time, Jin found staring at a computer screen for five hours a day difficult and not seeing her friends got lonely. Interacting with teachers also proved more difficult via Zoom.
Heffernen, on the other hand, was part of the hybrid model throughout the entire school year (apart from the instances when the entire district went remote). She said this past academic year certainly felt different than years prior. While the workload was seemingly lighter, there was an added level of stress that tinged the year given the hectic and unpredictable nature of how it unfolded.
Despite the last abnormal year, it’s the typical high school experiences that both women will remember fondly. For Jin, it’s the pep rally days she’ll miss most. She said when the entire school is in the gym cheering, singing and stomping it’s a surreal feeling of unity that washes over the room.
Heffernen said she’ll miss her extracurricular activities most. She said it was her experiences as a member of Moorestown Robotics and MHS’ softball team that proved most enjoyable and allowed her to connect with new friends.
While Heffernen said she wasn’t surprised to learn she was salutatorian given the amount of work she’d put in, the news came as a shock to Jin.
“I was completely surprised,” she said. “I hadn’t expected to be first. It was completely out of the blue.”
Both women are bound for the ivy league with Jin headed to the University of Pennsylvania while Heffernen is headed to Princeton University.
Jin plans to major in biochemistry and will be part of the Benjamin Franklin Scholars program, an interdisciplinary course of study within the university.
For Heffernen, the future is a bit more uncertain. She hasn’t decided what to study yet.
“It’s pretty open ended from here,” she said.