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Highland High School Names Top Students of Class of 2024

Highland High School (HHS) is proud to announce that Alexander (Alex) Papazov has been named valedictorian of the Class of 2024, and Alice Dong is this year’s salutatorian.

Alex, the son of Vladimir Papazov and Vesselina Papazova of Highland, earned a grade point average (GPA) of 103.90. He has taken advantage of many of the Advanced Placement (AP) and college-level courses offered at HHS, and will be graduating with an associate degree from SUNY Ulster.

A Highland student since Kindergarten, Alex has been heavily involved in extracurricular activities and sports. He is the founder and president of American Sign Language (ASL) Workshops, president of the Future Medical Professionals Club, and co-president of Science Olympiad. He is also a member of the National Honor Society, the Tri-M Music Honor Society, Mathletes, Interact, and Model UN (he was named “Best Delegate” an impressive three times).

As a student-athlete, Alex has competed in Gymnastics, Cross Country, and Indoor and Outdoor Track (he was a three-time State qualifier). He currently works as a coach at Peak’s Gymnastics—formerly Mr. Todd’s Gymnastics—where he competed for almost 12 years. He has studied many languages, including French, Korean, Italian, Chinese, and ASL, and volunteers as an “unofficial” interpreter at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck.

As for college, Alex is deciding between several prestigious schools, including New York University, Columbia, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard (though he says he will likely choose to attend Harvard). He will be pursuing a dual major in Linguistics and Neuroscience and following a pre-med track.

“During my time as an undergrad, I plan on becoming a certified interpreter for sign language to work with the deaf community, and then go to medical school once I graduate to become a neurosurgeon,” he said.

Alex appreciates the supportive faculty members who have helped him throughout his time at HHS, including French teacher Lionel Heath, who, he said, encouraged him to explore his interest in language, and Physical Education teacher Katie Mancuso, for supporting him and encouraging him to push himself athletically.

Alice, the daughter of Mei Zhu Zheng and Jing Cheng Dong of Highland, earned a GPA of 103.08 while maintaining a rigorous course schedule of AP and college-level classes.

As a HHS student, Alice competed on the Cross Country and Indoor and Outdoor Track teams. She serves as vice president of the Future Medical Professionals Club and co-president of Science Olympiad. She is also a member of Interact, Model UN, Book Club, Mathletes, the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, and the Tri-M Music Honor Society.

A Highland student since Grade 1, Alice said that many of her favorite memories are tied to the classroom. She credits retired AP Biology teacher Daniel Lynn with deepening her interest in the subject, and Citizenship in Action teacher Christina Saylor with teaching her about the many vital aspects of the community.

“With [Mrs. Saylor’s] help, I was able to have a positive impact on the local Asian American Pacific Islander community, a group that is so meaningful to me,” she said, referring to her decision to form the Mid-Hudson Valley Asian Student Alliance this year.

Reflecting back on her time in the Highland Central School District, Alice says she truly values the sense of community she found there.

“I never expected to be so comfortable or have the relationships that I do with my teachers, but it is something that I think is so unique about our school,” she said. “Also, having grown up with these same classmates for 12 years, I have shared experiences with and created memories that I cannot replicate anywhere else.”

Alice will attend SUNY Binghamton in the fall, where she will major in Biology and follow a pre-med track. She also plans to join the Scholars program and the First-Year Research Immersion program at Binghamton. “I can see myself either working as a biologist or as a doctor, maybe in family medicine or emergency medicine,” she said.

HHS also recognizes the accomplishments of its other high-achieving graduates. Rounding out the Top 10 for the Class of 2024 (in order of rank) are: Nicholas Fiorese, Grace Koehler, Emily Kandetzke, Abigail Maier, Jack Schneider, Ved Patel, Maryanna Scalo, and Arianna Wallen.

Principal Kevin Murphy is very proud of the seniors and their accomplishments. “The Top 10 students of the Class of 2024 are an impressive group,” he said. “They have each made us proud during their time at Highland High School, and we look forward to seeing what the future has in store for them.”