Class of 2015 valedictorian, salutatorian share struggles, plans

Katelyn Connolly

Calvin Ly, Valedictorian

University of Texas — Austin

Computer Science and Electrical Engineering


Lulu Allan, Salutatorian

Vanderbilt University



What was it like working towards the top of your class?


Calvin: It’s taken a lot of hard work, I guess — obviously — but it doesn’t feel like a lot of pressure or anything. It’s just that I’m trying to do my best and that’s kinda where it’s gotten me. I’ve gotten a lot of help my friends and teachers, though. It’s not just been me doing everything, it’s been a lot of people helping, too.

Lulu: Basically, it was never my goal to be here, which is probably gonna piss some people off because some people’s goal is this. But it’s my OCD-ness that is probably what got me here. I was never, like, “I wanna be valedictorian or number two,” it was just that if I do an assignment, I have to put my all into it. And that can be extremely stressful and I don’t like that quality about myself… But also I don’t feel like it ruined my life. I feel like it was definitely worth it, but it wasn’t easy at all, it was stressful. If I could go back, I wouldn’t re-do anything differently, because I know I’m going to be the same way throughout my entire life. If you give me a project I can’t half-ass it. I have to go all out. It kinda sucks.


What pressures did you face during your high school academic career?


Calvin: I haven’t really felt like our class is cut-throat, but I’m friends with a lot of the people that work really hard at school. And it’s not really like we try to backstab each other or anything, we just try to help each other out whenever we need it… My parents didn’t really put pressure on me. More than my parents, I would say my [friends had] expectations of me, I think. It’s not like if I do badly they’d be criticizing me, it’s just if I do badly they would not expect it, and so I would feel pressured by that to… maintain my status or something. My parents don’t really check my grades, they don’t ask me every day, or anything like that.

Lulu: It’s completely myself. This is a funny story… I was studying and I was freaking out, because I was afraid I wasn’t gonna get a good grade [on a Texas History test in seventh grade]. And my mom was like ‘I dare you to fail.’ She literally said ‘Please fail, just fail and see that it’s gonna be OK.’ And I was like ‘OK,’ and I ended up getting a 92 on the test. My mom, or my dad, they just don’t care. They were never the parents to be like ‘What’s your homework? Let me see your Assignment Notebook. Let’s make sure you get this done.’  They were hands-off. And my mom’s always said to do what you want to do, and if college isn’t your thing, then don’t go to college. I picked my own path, and it kinda bugs me whenever people see achievements and say ‘Oh, I feel bad for her, because her parents are probably pushing her.’ With me, that’s totally not the case, which I appreciate. I kinda feel like it works better if you just let the kid do what they wanna do.


What kind of non-academic activities did you focus on in high school?


Calvin: The activity I spend all my time on is pretty much robotics. I spend sometimes more than 20 hours a week there after school and on weekends. I enjoy robotics and I have a lot of friends in it. The stuff I’m doing is really cool, and I wouldn’t have a chance to do any of this in any other school program. [I went to] the world championships [this year] in St. Louis for my third year in a row. There’s a lot about the robotics culture that is hard to understand and takes time to embrace, but it’s amazing to have something in common with so many people around the world.

Lulu: I didn’t really realize it, because I always thought that rowing added stress to me because it took so much time, but it’s so nice to just be removed from my house and from Westlake for two and a half hours downtown, on the water. I think that actually helped more than I know because even though I thought it was adding stress as I wasn’t getting my work done, you’re just stranded from school and doing nothing else but working out. I’m totally one of those people where if I don’t work out I just get bad vibes. I’ve become addicted to it. If I don’t work out for five days, like when I’m on vacation, I get in a pissy mood. It’s awful. So I think rowing has really helped me a lot, in hindsight. While I was doing it I bitched about it a lot, but looking back I’m so grateful for it. It saved me. It’s all been worth it, and now it’s ending and it’s kind of sad. Vanderbilt has a club crew so I might [row]. Watch for me. If I really miss it I’ll definitely join, but I don’t want to do varsity because that is too much time for me in college.


Do you have any current plans for the future?


Calvin: Career-wise I want to go into software engineering, the same field as my parents. The job that I want is something that I actually find fun, not something that’s boring. Sometimes school is really boring — OK, most days school is boring, right? — so something like that would suck. But something that doesn’t feel like work, I guess. And I’m not really sure what that’s gonna be for me.

Lulu: Honestly, the only reason why I picked engineering was because I think it’s cool to build things and I find it interesting, but I’ve also just always been good at math and science. Which is a lame reason to pick something, but I haven’t really found what I’m passionate about. So I don’t really know, career-wise. I’m planning on just figuring it out as I go… But I do know that I wanna be creating things or just making a difference. That’s so cliche but… I just wanna make an impact, a lasting impact on society, because I feel like that is important when you’re just gonna die. You have to leave something behind.


When you give the dreaded speech at graduation, what is something you will tell your peers to remember about high school?


Calvin: The details that we go through now aren’t gonna matter that much in the future. What matters, what we’re going to remember from right now, is just our general feeling of this time, how we felt as we got through high school. I don’t know, I’m pretty bad at speeches so [I’m] scared. I’m terrible at speeches.

Lulu: Everyone always tells me ‘Look at your grades,’ and ‘Both of your parents went to Stanford, you could have gone to Stanford!’ But I visited Stanford and I didn’t like it. What everyone [else] is shooting for, sometimes you don’t even want. You just have to really know yourself, and I think the most important thing in high school is finding at least one really solid friend. Having just that one person helps so much. No matter what issues you have, it’s always nice, because high school is kind of a brutal place and there are a lot of fake friends. If you can find one [real friend] it’s very helpful. Anyway, you’re going to end up happy no matter what college you go to — or no college. You’ll end up being fine. Some people would be better off not going.


How do your friends and family know you?


Lulu: People don’t expect how quirky and weird I am. I’m not shy, but I don’t really branch out and I’d say I’m an introvert, kind of. When you get to know me, people are always like, ‘How do you think of that stuff?’ because I come up with weird hypotheticals and — I’m just really an odd person. My mind works in an odd way, and I don’t think that people always see that. And I’m sure some people don’t like it, but once you get to know me it’s like ‘Oh, she might be the weirdest person I’ve ever met in my life!’