OHS top 2 an example of hard work paying off

Odessa High School salutatorian Lesly Pallares and valedictorian Anika Gundlapalli pose outside the school Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Pallares plans to start studying to be a vet at UTPB and Gundlapalli is heading to Stanford University. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Odessa High School seniors Anika Gundlapalli and Lesly Pallares have found themselves in the top two spots of their class this year.

Gundlapalli is the valedictorian and Pallares is the salutatorian. Both are 17 and will be graduating at 8:30 p.m. May 24 at Ratliff Stadium. A livestream will be available at www.bronchosportsnetwork.com/broadcasts

‘I was grateful for all the support I got from my family and my teachers that helped me become valedictorian,” Gundlapalli said.

Pallares was surprised.

“I didn’t expect it. I just, I worked really hard the past four years and I wasn’t expecting it, to be top 10,” Pallares said.

She also expressed gratitude to her parents for their support.

“They always told me to work hard for what I wanted and that with a good education, you can do anything. So I owe it all to them,” Pallares said.

Gundlapalli is committed to Stanford University where she is going to major in symbolic systems.

“It’s a multidisciplinary major. It’s a mixture of all these different types of disciplines and areas of study that you can almost go into any profession with … You can go into medicine, you can go into entrepreneurship, so I really like the flexibility that the major offers,” Gundlapalli said.

Pallares is going to University of Texas Permian Basin to do her basics and major in biology. From there, she wants to go into the veterinarian program at Texas A&M.

She has mixed feelings about graduating.

“It’s bittersweet, because I just didn’t think it would have come this fast. I remember my freshman year. Some of the seniors would tell us that it’s going to go really fast; just expect it. I was thinking I have four more years. I think that’s enough time, but it really does fly by and you need to learn to appreciate every moment, no matter how small or big it might be,” Pallares said.

Gundlapalli agreed that it is bittersweet.

“There are a lot of teachers that I really enjoyed taking their classes and learning from them here at OHS and I made a lot of really deep friendships that I’m really sad to leave behind,” she added.

Gundlapalli said she got into some Ivy League colleges, along with Stanford, but when she visited Stanford she felt a sense of belonging.

“The students were passionate about what they were learning and they were extremely committed to serving their community. Actually, I talked to a few students there and I realized Stanford was the best place for me and it was the place I fit into the most,” Gundlapalli said.

Pallares said she has visited UTPB and said it seems very big to her.

“It’s a lot of buildings that I’m not used to yet,” Pallares said.

She is planning to take a tour of the campus, so that should be helpful. Pallares also plans to participate in orientation during the summer, which includes an overnight stay, games and other activities to make the students feel welcome.

Gundlapalli and Pallares don’t know each other well. Gundlapalli was in International Baccalaureate classes.

Pallares said it wasn’t in her plans to be in the top 10.

“It kind of just happened. I honestly didn’t even know what it was freshman year until sophomore year when they told me I was number three,” Pallares said.

After that, she started working to get all A’s.

“That was one of the main things that I focused on like every six weeks have an A in all my classes and turning my work in on time,” Pallares said.

Gundlapalli said she didn’t really feel pressure to be in the top 10.

“A lot of people asked me if I was in the top 10 and if I was valedictorian, but I never really knew until they announced it. But my teachers were extremely supportive of all my academic endeavors and I was really appreciative of that,” Gundlapalli added.

If younger kids wanted to get into the top 10, Pallares said she would tell them to work hard and not to procrastinate.

“That was one of the main things that I went through. I would procrastinate and I had to work on that for sure. And also to not let one bad grade ruin the rest of your hard work. There’s always another test that you can take, you can go to for reviews. It won’t hurt you as much as you think it will,” Pallares said.

Gundlapalli said she would advise students to start working on keeping their grades high freshman year and to challenge yourself with the classes you take.

“Go to tutoring and instead of just trying to make good grades in your classes, actually learn in your classes and understand the material that they’re teaching you,” Gundlapalli added.

Gundlapalli was in Chorale, which is Odessa High School’s varsity choir. She tutored students for the SATs and PSAT.

“I was a volunteer at the Crisis Center of West Texas. I was president of the Junior Volunteer Teen Leadership Program at Medical Center Hospital, and I started a mental health education club here at OHS and a foundation for mental health education in Odessa,” she added.

Gundlapalli said the foundation focused on community outreach.

“We would work with other students to start clubs and we created a website with a blog about mental health,” she added.

At Stanford, she hopes to start a mental health club or join one and start an undergraduate peer therapy group here.

She’s not sure if the mental health efforts will continue at OHS after she graduates.

“I’ve tried to find an underclassmen who’s passionate about that and I’ve definitely found many, so it’s up to one of them to continue it,” Gundlapalli said.

Pallares was a varsity cheerleader all four years of high school.

“I was also enrolled in the agriculture program at OHS, so basically, it transferred into my pre-vet med and I got to go to the Angel Vet this whole senior year. We did a test the last week and I passed it so I got my CVA (certified veterinary assistant) certification,” she added.

Pallares said she loves animals.

“Since I was little I’ve always wanted to be a vet. I’ve never changed career paths or anything. I hope to become one in the future,” she added.

Gundlapalli has a brother and Pallares has one older brother who is studying to be a doctor.

“We’re both in the medical field … and actually he’s one of my main role models because he has worked really hard and I look up to him a lot,” Pallares said.

OHS Principal Anthony Garcia said the future is bright for both girls.

“Their accomplishments are an example of hard work and dedication. Our staff at OHS couldn’t ask for a better example of Broncho Pride,” Garcia said.