NTO seniors eager to embark on next steps

New Tech salutatorian Sophia Robles, left, and valedictorian Kubra Kocak pose for a photo Monday, May 20, 2024. Robles, who is graduating early, will be attending Texas Tech University and Kocak is heading for UT Austin. Their graduation is set for 7 p.m. May 22 at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Kubra Kocak and Sophia Robles, George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa’s top two students took different paths to this milestone, but they are both excited about their next steps.

Kocak, the valedictorian, is going to University of Texas at Austin to study pre-pharmacy. Robles, the salutatorian, plans to attend Texas Tech University and major in biology with a minor in chemistry. She wants to become a neurosurgeon.

Graduation is set for 7 p.m. May 22 at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center. The senior class is 113 this year.

Both have been working to be in the top 10 since they were young.

“I found out freshman year that I was in the running for the valedictorian position. Ever since then, it became one of my priorities to put my best foot forward in all things academic. But I think it was, I can say this for both of us, we felt like it was our responsibility to make our parents proud as children of immigrant parents who’ve worked so hard to give us this opportunity for quality education,” Kocak said.

Kocak’s parents are from Turkey and Robles’ parents are from Mexico.

Robles is graduating early at 16. “Ever since I was little, my parents taught me to always try my best and to try to be the best of the best. With that mindset coming into high school, it was sort of a goal of mine to get to the top 10. I never expected to be this high in the top 10, but I’m definitely glad I’m in the top 10. I’m also glad I’m doing this with Kubra because she’s been such a great help. She’s one of the most amazing and kind people and I couldn’t have done it without her,” Robles said.

Graduating early feels unreal because she wasn’t expecting it. Everything was sped up, but the people from her class have helped her integrate and the teachers have helped a lot as well.

Kocak said she has a lot of admiration for Robles because it takes a lot for someone to reach that achievement.

Commencement for Kocak feels like the achievement of a dream.

“We’ve definitely both worked very hard. It’s a moment, like I said, that we’ve dreamed of. I can’t believe it’s finally here, but I’m also excited for what the future will bring. I think this new chapter is going to be exciting for both of us,” Kocak said.

Kocak said there is a lot that goes into achieving the valedictorian and salutatorian rank.

“It’s not just our efforts, the support our families, our teachers, our facilitators. They play a huge part in it, but if I had to give one (piece of) advice, it would be to persevere and to know that even though you have those hard days and you have some times where you have to prioritize studying and pursuing academics over what some other people might seem like is a better social life, or experiencing that high school experience it will be worth it. Keep pursuing it. If you know that you can achieve it, keep working hard for it because it will pay off in the end,” Kocak said.

Robles said she would tell younger students to take it one step at a time.

“It doesn’t come easily and it’s definitely going to be a challenge, but if you really put your mind to it and if you take it step by step, goal by goal, set small goals and small tasks to achieve, maybe turn in all my work on time this year or get all A’s, you can definitely achieve a high position doing that,” Robles said.

She added that students should know what they’re capable of and not try to overexert themselves or put themselves under too much pressure.

“Because at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that you’re happy and that you’re satisfied with your own position and that you know that you gave it your all,” Robles said.

Both said going to New Tech was the best choice for them.

Robles said the project-based learning helps prepare students for life.

“When I first came to New Tech, I was incredibly shy,” Robles said.

“I had no presentation skills whatsoever and I was so nervous to talk to anyone. As the years developed, they work on that a lot and they work on your presentation skills, on being able to talk (and) being able to improvise. I think it gave me some of the core skills that I’m going to be needing, especially when (in) college. I’m really grateful that I chose New Tech as my school,” Robles added.

Kocak said the project-based learning really stood out for her when she was choosing a high school.

“It was really the one clear choice on where I wanted to spend my high school years. Like Sophia was saying, PBL aspect, preparing you for public speaking, time management, study skills, I can’t compare it to any other experience. It truly has prepared us to take that next step in life,” Kocak said.

Robles said the fact that it’s a small campus gives you the opportunity to interact with everyone and form friendships. Both girls said it is truly like a family at NTO.

Kocak and Robles both earned associate degrees in general studies from Odessa College.

Kocak said Robles was the valedictorian of the junior class before she graduated early, so Kocak had heard of her as being in the running for next year as valedictorian.

“It wasn’t until I found out that she was graduating early and being ranked with us that I got to know her and meet her,” Kocak said.

Robles was involved in honor societies at NTO and Odessa College because she earned her associate degree. She was also involved in the junior/senior board.

Kocak said she was in the National Honor Society, served as student government treasurer and secretary at Odessa College for three years and was in the junior volunteer program at Medical Center Hospital. She also interned at the MCH pharmacy for a couple of months.

They were both Texas Scholars.

Robles couldn’t intern because you usually do that your senior year.

Principal Abel Avila said Kocak and Robles are both hardworking and committed.

“They’ve strived to do their best throughout the entire year,” whether it’s in the classroom or the community, Avila said.

“They’ve always looked forward to the challenge that’s presented to them, so they’ve taken that head-on. They’re the top two because of the perseverance that they have and that hard work ethic they have instilled in them,” he added.