KHS Top Grads 2019

KHS Top Graduates 2019
By: Todd Martin
The top two graduates of the Killeen High School Class of 2019 have learned through the International Baccalaureate program to think deeply and to maintain a sense of humor – about their future, the needs of others, even the sneakers they wear.
The valedictorian is Michael Tran. The salutatorian is Joseph Denton.
Tran held the top rank in the class for four years and said he takes seriously the status of No. 1 in the class. “The valedictorian represents the school. It’s a great deal of responsibility.”
He said the IB program has led him to “dive under the iceberg” to find the truth beneath the surface. It’s easy to look at the senior year as a series of “lasts” ending with a big goodbye. He said, though, it’s also a year of firsts as many students are the first in their family to go to college or earn a scholarship. He was part of the school tennis team that was the first to make it to the playoffs.
For all the contemplation, Tran said his address to his classmates will stay on the lighter side. After all, he is known to many as the “sneaker guy.”
The top-ranked KHS senior has accumulated a collection of sneakers that he said speaks to his own individuality and tells a story. He wore a pair most of last summer, for example, that now makes him think of the time he spent with his cousins in Philadelphia.
When he looks at a pair of shoes, he considers who inspired the design, how did the wearer acquire the sneakers – hard work saving the money or an indifferent choice of fashion, and how does one incorporate the footwear into life.
Entering high school, Tran said he wanted the most rigorous path and found that in IB. He has also taken lots of Advanced Placement courses. Both, he said, end up with one test that determines how much credit you receive.
He credits his parents, Zizi Nguyen and Jason Tran, along with school counselors and teachers for allowing him to break out of the typical mold in challenging himself academically.
He plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin and study neuroscience in hopes of becoming a physician and a university professor.
The class salutatorian also comes at life outside the traditional mold.
“I wasn’t focused on class rankings, but I pushed myself harder to challenge myself and just kept going,” Denton said. “I was surprised (at the final rankings). It was like icing on the cake. Really, I was just trying to further myself.”
The IB path requires significant community service and while pursuing that aspect, he found that those he wanted to help inspired him. Working in a local food bank and delivering food to residents, Denton developed an easy rapport and clients became friends.
“The smallest efforts on my part made a difference and inspired me and made me want to do more,” he said. He plans to go to the University of North Texas and study social work.
He has also considered his speech to his peers. “I want there to be humor,” he said. “I think a lot of us take life too seriously. You can only control yourself and it’s important to laugh instead of just complain.”
The salutatorian praised his teachers and said the IB program pushed him to learn time management skills, to embrace community service and to pursue well-rounded studies.