Odessa High School valedictorian Sejal Yadalla and salutatorian Aakash Angirekula are heading to different universities, but they have created a bond over the last three years that they hope will carry on for years.

Yadalla has been at OHS since her sophomore year, moving here from Lock Haven, Pa., a town of about 10,000 people.

She and Angirekula were recognized as National Merit Commended Scholars, along with Faith Fulbright from Permian High School. Yadalla was recognized in the rural/smalltown classification. Both were virtual students all year.

Over the last few years, there was just a friendly competition between Yadalla and Angirekula.

“We’re always helping each other out with school work, too. We definitely depended on each other throughout the (years). I think we’re both glad to have each other,” Angirekula said.

Yadalla said her parents and Angirekula’s are close and she’ll be curious about what’s happening with Angirekula and will be texting him whether he wants her to or not.

Yadalla plans to attend the University of Miami in Miami, Fla., and Angirekula is heading to University of Texas at Austin.

Yadalla said she chose University of Miami because it is one of the best STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) schools in the country.

“Also, my family is really familiar with Florida and they want to retire in Miami, so me going there just kind of worked out,” Yadalla said.

She described the university as being a close-knit urban campus with an “amazing” biology program.

“I think overall just all factors considered it was a perfect fit for me. Then they gave a president’s scholarship … They gave me $100,000, and that honestly really helped to compel my decision …,” Yadalla said.

She plans to study biology and hopefully pursue genetic research.

“Genetic research isn’t really big right now, but I’m hoping it’s going to get robust in the future, so I was thinking about studying things like CRISPR technology and genetics modification in people, but only for health reasons like medical problems and hopefully just for people (with) medical anomalies before they appear in the phenotype. That’s pretty much my dream of what I want to do with that,” Yadalla said.

According to the Jain Foundation website, a phenotype includes characteristics such as height and hair color. A genotype refers to the genetic characteristics of an organism like eye color or other physical characteristics.

Angirekula plans to major in biology, but have a business minor.

“I’m hoping to take a premed track getting ready for medical school,” he said. He added that he’s not sure what specialty he’ll go into, but he has some interest in dermatology and radiology.

“I think I still need some exposure to those fields,” said Angirekula, whose father is a cardiologist.

Yadalla said her mother is an obstetrician-gynecologist at Medical Center Hospital.

“That’s kind of where I got a lot of medical influence because she’s always talking about surgeries and stuff that she does,” she added.

Reaching valedictorian in her class, she said, took a village of her teachers, parents and friends.

Yadalla noted that she and Angirekula are in the International Baccalaureate program at OHS and have a lot of the same classes.

“All of us just really help each other and I definitely can’t take the credit alone because it’s been everybody’s help and support and the community around me. I’m just really proud to be here and to have the amazing people around me that have helped me to get here,” Yadalla said.

Angirekula said he agreed with Yadalla and is thankful for all the support from his family and teachers at OHS and throughout his career at ECISD.

“ … I’m super excited for what’s to come next,” Angirekula added.

Both are happy, but nervous about commencement, which is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Friday at Ratliff Stadium.

“To be honest I am a little nervous to actually be going into the real world, but at the same time I think I’m ready to take on whatever challenge comes next,” Angirekula said. “I’ve been comfortable here, so will be a shock to be done with my school year but I’m definitely excited to move on to college.”

He added that because he and Yadalla were in the IB program, which is known to be rigorous, it will help them in college.

Yadalla said she is glad they will be graduating in person. She said letting go of Odessa and OHS is going to be bittersweet because this has been “the most amazing three years of my life.”

“… But I’m hoping it will prepare me for the next chapter of my life in Miami, and hopefully I’ll just keep going up from here. But yeah, I hope after I graduate I can figure out some way to give back to Odessa and OHS because they’ve helped me so much and I’m kind of sad to leave,” she said.

Yadalla said she will miss the teachers and the students in the IB program the most. She said the teachers have helped shape her and allowed her to become the person that she is.

“I really couldn’t have done anything that I’m doing today without them and to be losing that safety net and community of support is really scary to me,” Yadalla said. “I think that’s what I’m going to be really sad about leaving.”

Angirekula echoed her sentiments.

“The little community that we’ve formed with IB, I think we’ve all gotten to know each other well over these past three or four years and I know I’ve made a lot of good friendships throughout the program …,” Angirekula said.