#1StudentNWI: Merrillville High School’s valedictorian and salutatorian share journeys to success

#1StudentNWI: Merrillville High School’s valedictorian and salutatorian share journeys to success

As the school year at Merrillville High School (MHS) comes to a close, the senior class celebrates all the hard work and dedication each individual has put towards their studies these past four years, leading them on the path to success. Two bright young students, Salvador Contreras and Jameelah Ali, are representing the Class of 2021 as valedictorian and salutatorian with honor and joy.

Salvador Contreras - Valedictorian

Carrying a 4.561 weighted GPA, Salvador Contreras has gone above and beyond in his academic career at MHS, and in return, will represent the Class of 2021 as valedictorian. 

“Being at the top of my class, I feel the same as everyone else and that is not by any means a bad thing,” Contreras said. “I went through the majority of my first two years of high school without even thinking about possibly being valedictorian. The idea of it didn’t reach my mind until I neared the end of my sophomore year and I realized that I was on track to achieving this title. Even then, I still just took classes like normal and tried my best on my assignments.”

Outside of school, Contreras enjoys playing games, watching movies, and spending time with family and friends. After graduation, he plans on studying at Purdue University’s College of Engineering. 

Throughout his years at MHS, Contreras has taken nine AP and dual-credit courses and also competed in Academic Super Bowl and Spell Bowl, challenging him both academically and through extracurriculars. Contreras believes the motivation behind him, however, made it all possible. 

“Along the way, my family has had the biggest impact on my success,” Contreras said. “Having supportive parents and siblings has encouraged me to do the best I can during school. I am grateful to have achieved the role of valedictorian with the help of my family, friends, teachers, and staff at MHS.”

Like many students, one of Contreras’ most difficult challenges was meeting deadlines for assignments.

“I have a tendency to procrastinate, but I eventually would tackle my assignments by setting a specific time during the day to do my homework and by having a nice, calm work space,” Contreras said. “I managed to then turn in most of my assignments on time or early.”

Teachers shape not only a student’s education, but who that student becomes as a person. Although Contreras credits each and every teacher he’s had at MHS for their guidance and support, there is one who taught him like no other.

“One teacher that stands out to me is Mr. Boise,” Contreras said. “He had the biggest impact on me because his style of teaching challenged me every day, allowing me to look at math and learning in a new way. His class definitely left the strongest impact on me and is one that I will never forget.” 

Students like Contreras who take challenges head on and put their best efforts into their school work are what being a Pirate is all about. Contreras hopes to see future generations of Merrillville students find not only success, but happiness in their high school education.

“Take classes that you enjoy,” Contreras said. “I don’t think I would have gotten as far as I did if I didn’t enjoy the material we covered in class. Even though you have to take classes that are mandatory, explore other areas with your electives and try to genuinely like what you are learning. It will come to benefit you in the long run.”

Jameelah Ali – Salutatorian

Jameelah Ali has perfectly displayed the qualities of a leader and role model both academically and through extracurriculars throughout her high school career, leading to her recognition as this year’s salutatorian. 

Ali has taken on countless roles and responsibilities during her years at MHS, including serving as class body president, English as a New Language (ENL) Club president, Environmental Club president, and Interact Club vice president. She is also a freshman mentor, former Varsity Tennis player, and member of Academic Super Bowl, Spell Bowl, National Honor Society, Merrillville Rotary Club, and the Superintendent Student Advisory Council. 

Ali has taken nearly every AP and dual-credit course offered at MHS, putting her at a total of 16 courses combined and a 4.56 GPA. 

“To be completely honest, I often question how I am on the top of my class and even worry that I didn’t do enough to earn it,” Ali said. “But then there are moments when I am putting my heart into a project that I am reminded how hard work pays off. Since I began high school, I always had in mind that I needed to put my best foot forward and never settle for less. The goal wasn’t about being valedictorian or salutatorian, but rather reaching my full potential as a student.”

This fall, Ali plans on attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, majoring in both business analytics and supply chain management and taking medical prerequisites, along with a possible minor in Spanish. Ali attributes her accomplishments not just to herself, but also to those around her who have given her the opportunities to apply her excellence. 

“I credit my success to the wonderful people in my life that have given me the tools to succeed,” Ali said. “From my parents who sacrificed so much for me and my brothers, to my wonderful siblings that always pushed me to grow, to the amazing teachers and counselors I’ve had over the years that taught me so much more than academics, I am thankful for the resources and support that I am surrounded with and the simple luxuries that enable my growth and success.”

Ali said that before the pandemic, simply being in the classroom and paying attention was enough to get her classwork and assessments completed without much trouble. However, due to COVID-19, Ali, along with many MHS students, has continued to do distance learning virtually from home, bringing forth many different obstacles.

“The lack of connections and attention of this year led to some challenging experiences with my academics that I never expected to have,” Ali said. “It’s far more difficult to separate personal and family life fromacademics when you are studying from home. However, many lessons have come out of this experience, and for that I’m very thankful.”

Ali would like to thank all of the teachers and staff throughout the Merrillville Community School Corporation for the kindness and mentorship they have provided, helping her grow and develop not just as a student, but as an individual.

“I’ve had an abundance of spectacular teachers that have impacted me in more ways than I can describe,” Ali said. “Each one of them taught me to seek knowledge and continue putting out my best self. In these past years, Mr. Engle, Mr. Hinkel, Mr. Kaplar, Mr. Boise, Ms. Monix, Mr. Bedwell, Mrs. DaCostaGomez, Mr. Hoffman, and many other teachers played a major role in allowing me to succeed in both my academic and personal life. I am forever thankful for all the help and support these wonderful teachers have given me.”

Ali advises underclassmen to take the extra step by reaching out and making connections with teachers and staff in the building. 

“They are extremely useful and offer many tools to help you grow academically and personally. I promise that you will get far more out of a class if you learn to work with your teachers and have open and clear communication throughout your time in their classroom,” said Ali.

Top 10 students in the Merrillville High School Class of 2021

  • Salvador Contreras 
  • Jameelah Ali
  • Elijah Walker
  • Olusoji Oduneye
  • Izayah Edwards 
  • Donnicci Marshall
  • Erin Escobar
  • Sophia Lotkowski
  • Gavin Lipsky
  • A’Veyawn Madry