Helen Zhou named salutatorian


Kavya Desikan

Helen being honored as salutatorian at graduation

Kavya Desikan, Print Managing Editor

As the Class of 2019 prepares to pass through the doors of Westford Academy one last time, the school has recognized senior Helen Zhou as salutatorian, the student with the second highest GPA, of her class. After four years of hard work and determination to succeed, Zhou will now embark on her next great adventure: studying pre-med with a focus on chemistry, as well as linguistics, at Brown University.

Zhou is widely known by her peers and teachers as a hard worker, and she often takes on a lot of responsibilities to achieve her goals. When asked about her philosophy towards education and hard work, she put an emphasis on always maximizing her effort.

“I think I’m capable of more than what I do in all circumstances, so I do try to take on more responsibility than I may be comfortable with or more than people might expect of me to do,” Zhou said.

Though Zhou’s aspirations center mainly around STEM courses, she took challenging humanities classes and built for herself a well-rounded schedule. One class that Zhou enjoyed which may be unexpected of a science-heavy student is Latin.

“Latin is probably one of my favorite subjects. Mrs. Bjorkman and Ms. Chausse have always supported me and through that, they know how much I care about it,” Zhou said.

As one of two consuls leading the Latin Club, Zhou has spent a great deal of time with Latin teacher Colleen Chausse. She was also one of Chausse’s very first students at WA.

“She’s been [president consul] for the past year […] and she’s a great advocate for Latin because she really likes it a lot and isn’t afraid to tell anyone,” Chausse said.

Zhou also found a great love for chemistry after taking AP Chemistry her junior year with chemistry teacher Timothy Knittel.

Knittel, like Chausse, saw how invested Zhou was in his classroom, and recounted her enthusiasm for the course material.

“Helen excelled in all aspects of AP Chemistry, most notably in the laboratory […] her infectious enthusiasm made the class more interesting to her peers by sparking discussion about the various topics studied in Chemistry,” Knittel said.

Outside of the classroom, Zhou dedicated herself to being an active member of the Chinese-American community in Westford and volunteering in community service. For Zhou, wanting to better her community took her down a path of civic engagement.

“A lot of the stuff I do is campaign work or in politics,” Zhou said, “I’ve campaigned for Mingquan Zheng for Westford School Committee and Charlie Baker for governor. I place importance on participating in local politics and ensuring that Asian-American people are voting, and that they know their vote will make a difference. Although Chinese-Americans are a small group compared to other groups, if we make voter turnout really high, then we can actually make a difference,” she continued.

According to Zhou, her place in the community has also made her more cognizant of the issues which affect it and has steered her into pursuing psychiatry, a career path which she believes can benefit her community.

“In the beginning, I didn’t really know why I wanted to be a doctor- probably because of the money or prestige. But now I think I have much more of a clear idea of why I’m [studying medicine], because with Asian-Americans especially and similar minority groups mental health is a big issue. [Often] I see it being swept under the rug and hearing people say that mental health is not nearly as important as being successful. I think that some of the mindset is that if you are in a good place in your career, then you will be as well, mentally,” Zhou said. “In my experience, that’s not true.”

Zhou leaves her younger peers with a piece of advice:

“[You should] be looking towards something beyond high school, even it’s your friends, even if it’s having independence in college, or striving for the career you really want, I would say definitely look towards that instead of getting stuck in the moment […] know that beyond grades or beyond anything else that happens in this little town and, know that there’s something else out there,” Zhou said.