Top two at NTO have their futures mapped out

For George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa valedictorian Serena Hernandez and salutatorian Saray Navarrete, it didn’t matter which one wound up in the top ranking.

They have a mutual admiration society.

Hernandez, 18, is planning to attend the University of Texas of the Permian Basin to study business. She also has an 11-month-old daughter, Scarlett.

Navarrete, 18, is planning to attend Texas Tech University, major in biochemistry and go into premed to ultimately become a pediatric surgeon.

They are two of NTO’s 330 students. Graduation is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center.

Navarrete also graduated summa cum laude May 12 from Odessa College with an associate degree in general studies.

Hernandez also took dual credit classes at Odessa College, but while she gathered a lot of credits, they were not all in the same area.

She was secretary of the National Honor Society, president of the robotics club, in academic decathlon for two years and octathlon, which she said is for lower grades, for one year.

Hernandez also worked at the writing center for about two and a half years helping students with their papers and works full time at Cinergy in Odessa. She was recently promoted to a supervisor, so she now works 40 or more hours a week.

Navarrete was president of the National Honors Society, was in Odyssey of the Mind for three years, academic decathlon for two years, Student Council for one year and a cheerleader for one year.

Navarrete also works at Aeropostale and Jorge’s Cafe in Midland.

She has been at NTO for three and a half years, having attended Claude High School for one semester.

Navarrete said being in the top 10 was always something she and Hernandez set as a goal.

“It was really competitive. The way I saw it was we were competitive, but I’d always told her no matter who came up on top, whether she (was) No. 1 or I (was) No. 1, that I hope that it’s either one of us and I’d be proud of both of us for accomplishing so much,” Navarrete said.

Last year, Hernandez said Navarrete passed her in the rankings. But Navarrete said this year, it was the difference between how they did in certain classes that determined their rankings.

“I was No. 3 my sophomore year. Then I went up to 2 last year. Then the first semester this year, I was No. 1. Then in January she passed me,” Navarrete said.

Hernandez said she was always bouncing between No. 1 and No. 2.

Her mother, Sheila Hernandez said she always had top grades.

Navarrete said she and Hernandez have known each other since sophomore year. Both said they encouraged each other to do well.

“I think we motivated each other a lot,” Navarrete said.

“I think we were constantly like, ‘We can do it; we can do it,” Hernandez said.

Navarrete said they didn’t care who came up No. 1, but they wanted to be in the top two. Hernandez coming up No. 1 didn’t surprise them.

Navarrete said she had a feeling it was going to be Hernandez because Hernandez did better than she did in one or two classes.

Both said they think New Tech provided good preparation for college because it introduced them to the college application process, visiting colleges and dual credit.

“I think it made us realize that we were in charge of our own learning,” Navarrete said.

“We had our future in our hands. I feel like that’s what New Tech has taught us a lot,” she added.

Hernandez said she never expected to be raising a daughter and going to school at the same time, but she’s glad she did.

She added that she had a great support system to help her care for Scarlett. The daycare center provided at Zavala Elementary School also helped a lot, she said.

UTPB suggested Hernandez look into the child care center on their campus for when she’s at school.

If not, Hernandez said she’d figure something out “because I always do.”

Navarrete said she feels Hernandez could be a role model for all students and she’s an inspiration.

“I was even going to say it in my salutatorian speech at graduation that I was extremely proud of her because I knew her before Scarlett and she was always very motivated. … And when she did get pregnant, there were a lot of people who I feel played a role in trying to bring her down …,” Navarrete said.

People would tell her she was No. 1 in the class currently, but she would slide because she was pregnant. She proved them wrong, Navarrete said.

She added that she knows that when Scarlett gets older she’ll admire Hernandez, as well.

Navarrete said her mother was a teen mother, too.

“I’ve always felt proud of my mom for raising me the way she has, so I feel like Scarlett is going to be able to be like, ‘Hey, my mom did this when I was little. She was valedictorian of her class.’ I feel like she’s going to set a model for Scarlett,” Navarrete said.

School counselor Clelia Carrillo said she has seen Hernandez and Navarrete grow through the years.

“They have matured. They’re great examples of what our school is hoping to have as graduates,” Carrillo said.

George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa salutatorian Saray Navarrete and valedictorian Serena Hernandez stand back to back last week at the school.

By Ruth Campbell