Vincent Zhu thought it was possible, but he didn’t know for sure until the night of Cheshire High School’s Honor Cords ceremony.
It was there that the final rankings were announced, and Zhu officially heard the news: He would be the CHS Class of 2022 Salutatorian.
“I thought it was even likely, but until that night I didn’t know for sure … so it was a nice surprise,” said Zhu.
With that announcement, though, came another responsibility: Zhu would have to compose a speech to deliver in front of his classmates on June 15. “In the past, I know (the salutatorian) had more time to prepare, but this year there wasn’t that much time, so I sat down and began writing,” he explained. “I was a little nervous at first, but it just came naturally to me.”
Quickly, Zhu decided on the theme of his speech: Finding out who you are and learning about your character. That’s because, for Zhu, his experience at CHS had been a journey of self-discovery, confirming some things he had believed about himself before arriving at the high school as well as revealing other things.
“I think for almost everyone, when you’re entering high school, you’re going to be a bit nervous,” he said. “I was definitely the same as everyone else.”
The freshman found that his classes at the high school were more challenging than they had been at the middle school, but that increase in difficulty only helped to persuade the young student that his initial interests were truly his passion.
“Even before high school, I knew I was more of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) person,” he said. “Then, when I got to CHS, I realized it even more.”
It didn’t take long for Zhu to excel. His interest and acumen in math and science ensured that he ended up in some of the more challenging classes at CHS, including Advanced Placement Calculus and Advanced Placement Biology. But Zhu’s accomplishments didn’t stop there.
He was inducted into the National Honor Society and Science National Honor Society, was a competitor in the Math League and Science Bowl for four years, serving as captain and president of the Science Bowl team this season, and he was also a member of the Geography Team.
In this, his final year at CHS, he put together a GPA of 4.961.
Outside of classes, Zhu balanced a love for swimming with a passion for music, specifically the cello. He was a member of the CHS Swim Team, as well as the Sea Dog Swim Club, where he competed for eight years.
His ability to juggle academics, athletics and extracurricular activities is a skill he shares with his friend, Tyler Tan, who came in one spot ahead of Zhu to be named the CHS Class of 2022 Valedictorian. While some may assume that there was a healthy rivalry between the two top students, Zhu insists that wasn’t the case. They were not competitors, only friends who supported each other.
“We do our own thing and focus on ourselves,” said Zhu. “We just do the best we can … we are not academically competitive at all. I never considered (Tan) a rival, just a friend.”
“He is one of the smartest, brightest people I know,” Zhu continued,” and I am super-excited that he was (named valedictorian).”
The two top students will have a chance to continue their friendship this coming fall, as both Zhu and Tan are headed to Yale University. For Zhu, whose father works at the University, there was already a familiarity not only with the campus in New Haven but also with the surrounding area, so when Zhu applied for “early action” — the process of applying before regular admission period has officially begun — and was admitted, he made the decision to go.
“I just love the environment,” said Zhu. “The students there, they don’t seem to be competitive … more collaborative in nature, and that’s really what I am looking for.”
While Zhu is technically still undecided when it comes to his major, he expects to gravitate towards something in the STEM field, whether that be computer science or some other technical area of expertise.
For now, however, he’s taking some time to reflect back on not only the last four years at CHS, but also these final two in particular. And last week, when The Herald caught up with Zhu, the graduate was excited for what his final night as a student at CHS would look like.
“Ever since COVID (began), I just feel so much more grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend with friends, especially outside of school,” he said.
“At graduation, it’s just going to be an amazing experience,” he continued, “especially to be able to speak directly to my classmates. It will be nerve-wracking, but one I am looking forward to.”