OCA top 10 diverse, persistent

Odessa Collegiate Academy’s top 10 students are a diverse group who have all put in the effort to get where they are.

The valedictorian is Lizeth Rios and the salutatorian is Jasmine Porras.

Rios said she didn’t expect to be in the top spot.

“But I really do give thanks to everybody around me because I’m the result of everybody who supported me to get here because ultimately it’s thanks to them that I never gave up,” Rios said.

Rios, 18, is heading to Texas Tech University Honors College to study nursing.

She said being in the top 10 and valedictorian is not something she came in wanting.

“It’s just … something that happened and I stayed ranked No. 1 freshman year through senior year. I never dropped,” Rios said.

She added that she spent lots of nights staying up really late to do homework.

“My sleeping schedule is messed up,” Rios said.

But she feels like the effort was worth it.

“Because that’s how I’m getting college paid for,” Rios said.

Porras, who plans to attend University of Texas Permian Basin to study psychology, said it’s quite an honor to reach this milestone and that everyone has worked hard to maintain their grades.

This is something 18-year-old Porras has been working for since middle school, but she said she couldn’t believe she had made salutatorian.

“At first, I was very surprised to hear that I was salutatorian and this was my junior year. And so I wanted to keep that spot and I wanted to see if I could maintain being salutatorian, even throughout my senior year. I was very happy to say the least,” Porras added.

She said there wasn’t competition between her and the valedictorian as much as with No. 4 in the class, Lucas Williams, who was in the No. 2 spot at one point.

“… I wanted that second place, so I worked hard to get back up there,” Porras said.

Williams said he thought that was fun and he wasn’t mad about it.

“I was just happy to be in the top 10,” Williams said.

Arleen Sanchez, 18 and No. 3 in the class, said her status is a really big accomplishment. She’s going to study chemistry at UTPB and become a forensic science technician.

“Because no one in my immediate family has ever been either top 25, top 10. So the fact that I was No. 3, I felt really accomplished and I was able to make my parents really, really proud; even more proud than how they have been before,” Sanchez said.

In middle school, she said she wasn’t really thinking about top ranks as much.

“But whenever freshman year came and I found out that I was No. 20 … I had that competitive spirit where I was like … I have to make my parents proud. I have to be in the top five at least,” Sanchez added.

Williams, 18, said it’s a great honor to be in the top 10. He’s going to Texas Tech to study mechanical engineering.

Williams said he wasn’t aiming for the top 10 necessarily.

“I just kind of went with the drift and ended up there,” he added.

Maryna Khan, 18, is going to UT Austin to be a biology pre-med student and also to be in the FRI, Freshman Research Initiative, which is part of the College of Natural Sciences. She plans to become a pediatrician.

“I’m originally from Ukraine and I’ve always been at the top of my class like number one, number two all the time. And then I moved here a couple of years ago and I was the worst student, almost. I didn’t know any English; like zero. I had to start all over, so I learned English as I was going to school in middle school. Then I went to Odessa Collegiate Academy. I still had like three years of English … I didn’t really like I didn’t know a lot of things, so I didn’t even know what top 10 was. My family has a lot of expectations for me because both of my parents are very educated; have master’s degree engineers … so tried to fulfill them. I worked like 10 times harder than, I would say, other people who knew English,” Khan said.

When she came to OCA, she said she was not top 10 at all.

“I only made to top 10 my senior year and I didn’t even expect to be number five, but I just worked my hardest. I stayed up all night. Sometimes I didn’t even eat. I was like, no, I had to do homework. It was so much effort I had to put in to just be here,” Khan added.

She said she speaks three languages fluently and can understand more.

Khan said she is still learning English, but it took her about a year before she could have conversations with people.

Khan said her grandmother and cousins are still in Ukraine, which has been difficult because of the war between Russia and Ukraine. Her parents and her brother and sister are here.

“It was really stressful, but I had to just keep pushing, keep pushing my way through it,” Khan said.

Her brother and sister are here.

Akram said as a freshman, he didn’t really care about his grades.

“I recall that last year, I was about 14 or 13 in rank. I used to be a 20 in rank. So I’d say the progression would be natural and that I slipped in because others got a lot more lazy, I’d say,” Akram said.

He has five sisters and one brother.

He would advise students who want to be in the top 10 to be consistent.

“… I wouldn’t recommend not caring in the initial years. I would say don’t do that. You have to be driven from the start …,” Akram said.

Principal James Ramage said these are a great bunch of students and “very much student leaders.”

“They’re heavily involved in school activities. The students very much see them as student leaders here at school. I have no doubt they’ll be successful as they transfer to universities and finish their bachelor degree there. I’m quite certain they’ll be leaders in their community as they turn into adults; just a really polished group of young men and ladies,” Ramage said.