The top two honor slots this year were separated by only 0.007 of a point, but when the tally was final Mariela Bravo was named valedictorian and Alex Burney salutatorian of Sulphur Springs High School Senior Class of 2014.
Mariela Bravo, daughter of Gerardo and Mary Bravo, finishes with a 5.55769 weighted grade point average. Burney, son of Bryan and Sharon Burney, graduates with a 5.550 grade point average.
“We are very proud of them. I’ve only known them a year since I’ve only been here a year. They’ve put in an awful lot all four years of their high school experience,” said SSHS Principal Josh Williams.
“It feels good, really good to be here, a lot of hard work paying off,” Burney said when asked how it felt to be this year’s salutatorian.
Some of that hard work includes about 15 hours of college credit attained while in high school.
Among the advanced work Bravo has undertaken at SSHS are AP English, AP calculus, AP honors Spanish, dual credit government and economics.
Burney also took AP calculus and English as well as dual credit government and economics classes too.
Both students in addition to academics, have also been involved in extracurricular activities at SSHS. Both are in the National Honor Society, Bravo serving as president of the Gladys Alexander Chapter.
Bravo also was involved in UIL, particularly social studies. She not only advanced to region with first place honors at the district social studies contest, but also scored the highest score in state at district. She advanced to the state UIL contest to be held later this month after earning second place honors in social studies at the regional UIL meet.
She was a part of Interact, the Rotary Club’s youth organization, which recently hosted the crawfish event downtown. Presidents’ Council is also another of her honors and activities.
When not attending to school work or activities, Bravo enjoys traveling, music, history, classical cinema and “anything chocolate.” She has been to most of the states in the U.S., and some in Europe. She also reads music and has been playing violin for several years. Her activities at the Jehovah’s Witnesses church in Sulphur Springs also keep her busy as well.
“I did a lot of academic, but no sports. It was time consuming, you have to balance time. I go to church a lot. It’s a big balancing act,” the valedictorian acknowledged, adding that success in her experience requires two elements. “You have to have confidence in yourself and have to be balanced. Don’t study too hard, have some fun too, but stay focused on the big picture.”
He also enjoys football and baseball, having played as a member of the Wildcats teams, and says weightlifting is a great stress relieving activity. He was named All-State Academic Elite Football Team, Second Team All-District baseball his junior year and First Team All-District football his senior year.
When not attending to academics or sports, Burney says his hobbies include “writing and recording raps with my friends.”
He said that keeping up his academics while being involved in sports and other activities taught him an important skill.
“I’ve learned to manage time. It was fun. Being involved in football and baseball taught me time conservation,” Burney said.
He said it is possible to be involved in academics and sports and be successful in both, adding that with good time management students can “focus on sports and still get the job done in the classroom” as he did.
After graduating June 6 from SSHS, Bravo plans to attend the School of Radiologic Technology in Tyler, where she will study radiology to become an MRI and CT scan specialist.
“I knew I liked the medical field but didn’t want to be hands on in the hospital all the time. This is a nice balance that will help me do something hopefully I will enjoy,” Bravo said when asked about her intended career choice.
Upon completing her schooling, Bravo plans to return home to Sulphur Springs to work in that field. She said she’s grown up in Sulphur Springs, attending all 12 years of her schooling so far in Sulphur Springs Independent School District, including Travis Elementary School.
“I was raised here. I love this atmosphere,” Bravo said. “I love to travel, but I always want to come back home here.”
After graduation, Burney plans to attend Texas A&M University in College Station to study petroleum engineering. He said he’d received information from other universities, including East Texas Baptist University, but has known since his junior year of high school that A&M is the right fit for him.
While he considered other schools where he could have possibly had the opportunity to focus more on sports, he opted for Texas A&M in order to better focus on his school studies.
As to his chosen field of study, the salutatorian finds it a good fit since math is his favorite subject. He became interested in it after a coach suggested he speak with 2009 SSHS graduate Jake Russell, who has chosen that field as well. Interest sufficiently piqued, he decided on petroleum engineering.
Bravo offers thanks to Spanish teacher Renee Maeker who was a “huge help,” mentor and always encouraging. She also thanks math teacher Gerald Grafton who “got us through calculus.” She also gives a nod to middle school teacher Johnny Wells, a “great” gifted and talented teacher.
Burney, too, has grown through the Sulphur Springs school system, including Bowie Elementary.
He offers special thanks to Gerald Grafton, who is willing to do whatever he can to help students be successful, as well as to teachers Gina Wilder and Gail Herman. He said the teaching sisters have been “a big help as well.”
Both of the top students also credited their parents for their support, and gave special thanks to their older siblings too.
“My parents are very supportive,” Bravo said. “They keep me going to be my best. My older sister Ariana is my biggest supporter. She’s helped me, been a mentor. She just graduated from Tyler.”
“My two brothers, Kyle and Zach, are my biggest supporters,” Burney acknowledged.
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