PHS seniors made their mark

Permian High School salutatorian Christian Rodriguez, left, listens as valedictorian Sapna Yadalla talks about being in the top 2 at Permian. Rodriguez is heading to UT Austin and Yadalla to UT Dallas. Both are going to be premed. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Permian High School’s top two students admire each other’s accomplishments and say they have helped each other to reach this status, but there was a little competition.

Sapna Yadalla is the valedictorian and Christian Rodriguez is the salutatorian out of a class of 825 seniors. Both are 18.

Yadalla plans to attend University of Texas Dallas to study medicine. She also got a full Merit Scholarship.

Rodriguez is heading to UT Austin and will major in biology and become an anesthesiologist.

Permian High School graduation is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. May 23 at Ratliff Stadium. To watch the livestream, visit

“We tried to maintain a friendship because we were both working toward these positions since freshman year. There’s been some movement within the top 10. I’m very proud of him for making it here. He’s helped me a lot and I am really glad that he’s number two at this moment because he’s a really great person. He’s a really studious and dedicated individual. I’m really proud that he’s gotten this far. I’m proud that we both get to be here and get to speak at graduation and do all these things together because he really is an amazing kid. I’m glad I’ve gotten to know him even better these last few weeks,” Yadalla said.

Yadalla said she decided on UT Dallas because of the scholarship they offered and its location. She added that her family really loved the campus.

“It’s very beautiful, very contemporary. From my research, they’re also very excellent for medicine, and I’m going to pursue the pre-med track. From their website, from their stats and from friends and family who have seen both campuses and have compared them, they have recommended, or have at least advised, that UT Dallas is a decent option. … Before that scholarship, before I’d heard from close friends and family, I didn’t truly consider it. But until I got that offer and until I thoroughly decided about what I wanted, it became clear to me that UT Dallas was the right school for me,” she said.

She’s not sure what type of doctor she wants to be.

“I’m really loving, either dermatology, neurology or anything genetics research related. Those are my three favorite fields at this point, but I hope that once I get to college and get to explore with researchers and doctors that I will clear up what area of medicine is best for me,” Yadalla said.

She added that she’s really honored to be valedictorian and appreciative of having the last few months for it to soak in.

“I know Christian and I have worked especially hard, and especially with COVID and all these other instances that have set back a lot of kids. I’m really proud of him and I’m proud of our top 10 and the rest of our student body for persevering,” Yadalla said.

As she walked around May 17, it was her last full day of high school so she was trying to remember every little detail.

“I’ve been here eight hours a day and for that not to be here anymore it’s a hard adjustment. I’ll manage, of course, as everyone does, but it’s difficult because Permian has been very good to me, very good to my family and to a lot of the other students. I’m very proud to come from Permian and I’ll really miss everyone here,” Yadalla said.

Rodriguez said he feels like all his hard work has finally paid off. He’s been driving toward being in the top 10 or top 2 since elementary school. Hard work became a habit for him.

“I never expected myself to be the salutatorian and I was always aiming to the top 10, but then as my rank got higher and higher, I noticed that I could potentially be the salutatorian. I just put a lot of time into school and all my effort and eventually I got there. I think it’s just a really good honor,” he added.

He noted that Yadalla helped him a lot in making salutatorian, urging him to work harder.

“She is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and I feel like me being somewhat near her just made me feel accomplished … Being near her, or being somewhere around her, was just a big compliment,” Rodriguez said.

If Yadalla was going to advise younger students who wanted to get into the top 10 or become a valedictorian or salutatorian, she said being in the top 10 or getting high grades shouldn’t be the primary goal. Her sister was valedictorian at Odessa High School and in the International Baccalaureate program.

“Your main goal should always be to expand your knowledge and try and learn the courses that will be relevant to you later. If you have your own passions, I would definitely pursue those first and I think being in one of these top positions, and I think Christian would agree, is you can’t solely focus on the rank. You have to know how to balance the social aspects of life as well as your academics and if you are sure you want to be valedictorian, or if you want to be in the top 10 position, I would urge all of you to take the hardest classes and push yourself and fight for every point, as one of my teachers always says … and communicate and help others. … When you help others, that energy will be brought back to you and that will help you in the long run,” Yadalla said.

Rodriguez quit playing varsity soccer after his sophomore year to focus more on academics. He agreed with Yadalla that you should try to balance academics, social life and extracurricular activities.

“But of course academics is the most important so whatever you strive for, just go for it,” he said.

Yadalla is the drum major for the PHS band and team captain for academic decathlon. She was in speech and debate and went to state for the last two years. She’s in the National Honor Society serving as vice president and is a member of the UIL math and science organizations.

Rodriguez said he played varsity soccer in his freshman and sophomore year. He has been in the National Honor Society since his sophomore year and is part of Permian Students in Philanthropy.

A lot of his friends were in SIP and encouraged him to join.

“I wasn’t expecting much, but I feel like it’s really helped me a lot just socially and just to help others and to become more aware,” Rodriguez said. He added that he hopes to do more volunteer work in college.

Yadalla said she will miss PHS because there are incredible teachers and the extracurricular activities are unmatched.

“I’ll miss the relatively close environment that we have in all my AP (advanced placement) classes, all the extracurriculars and I will miss Permian, of course. I really love this school for all its faults, for all of its highs and lows, I still love Permian. I’ll always be a Panther, but I’m really excited to start this next step in life,” Yadalla said.

Rodriguez feels the same. He noted that PHS has been a big part of his growing up.

“I just met a lot of special people here. My dad used to come here and my brother came here, so it’s taught me many things. I know a lot of people. Odessa, in general, I feel like I’ll miss because I grew up here. All my family is here and everyone I know is here, but I’m looking forward to starting another life somewhere else,” Rodriguez said.

Yadalla said she would like to encourage anyone who is involved in extracurricular activities, academics, sports or arts to always try and contribute to the community.

“I truly believe that whatever you give back to the community will be reciprocated. Odessa is a community with a lot of potential, with amazing people and amazing families. I would urge everyone to, as much as they can, try and help those around you, because to pursue your goals you have to help others first. We have to all lift each other up; lift our town up. We have to all work as a community again, and I think that will really impact our academics, our students and our families and all the kids in our community,” Yadalla said.

College and Career Advisor Jennifer Perkins got choked up when talking about Yadalla and Rodriguez.

Perkins said Yadalla and Rodriguez are sweet kids who are really smart.

“They’re great kids; great leaders. I don’t say it very often, so that’s why I got a little choked up. They’ll both be missed … and they’re so sweet. … They both think of each other. They think of their class. They’re not self-centered and that’s something to admire with two kids that are just as brilliant as they are. You just don’t see that very often. I know the entire Permian staff is super proud about them,” Perkins said.