Takoma Academy’s Valedictorian and Salutatorian Leave a Lasting Impression
Interview by Salena Fitzgerald
Kristi Barnes and Mari Dortch, the Class of 2020 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, for Potomac Conference's Takoma Academy (TA) in Takoma Park, Md., were recently interviewed on their experiences and memories at TA and what the future holds for them.
Q: What was your favorite thing about TA?
Barnes: The sense of family camaraderie within the student body. You might not talk to everyone everyday, but we will still look out for each other. I also appreciate the teachers caring about our emotional and spiritual development in addition to academics.
Dortch: The relationships with my friends that turned into family.
Q: What inspires and motivates you?
Barnes: I am inspired and motivated to do well in everything I do to make my community, God, family, friends and anyone who has made a sacrifice for me proud. I am also inspired by music; when my world is at war, music becomes my weapon of choice. When I perform, the world stops, my stress and worries disappear and what remains is music and me. It is my outlet for expressing my emotions. I desire to fulfill God’s plan for my life by making the world a better place.
Dortch: My friends and family motivate me and push me to be the best I can be. I am inspired to do the work that I do so that I can give back to others and give to others something that was not always available to me.
Q: Are there any “stand-out” teachers who've particularly influenced you along the way?
Barnes: I would like to thank all of my teachers from my 13 years of education. Each one has played a very important and unique role in my academic, mental, physical and spiritual development. I would like to thank Mr. Mason for taking the extra time to teach me the binary number system and for advising me to take pre-calculus over the summer into my junior year. I would also like to recognize Ms. Wood, although she taught History—one of my least favorite subjects. She was very structured and challenged me to be the best student I could be. Finally, I would like to acknowledge all of my engineering teachers, specifically Mr. Davis who encouraged me to apply to a NASA internship in the summer of 2019 and served as a strong mentor within the engineering field.
Dortch: All of the teachers and staff at TA have influenced me along the way. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge them all in their roles in my growth during each year.
Q: What extracurriculars were you most involved in at TA?
Barnes: I played basketball and track and field. I sang and served as a soprano section leader for the Chorale and Camerata, played and assisted as flute section leader in the Flex Band and played soccer in which I acted as co-captain. I was also a member of the Junior National Society of Black Engineers Chapter and I devoted my time as the Programs and Financial chairperson. Lastly, I was a very energetic TA Ambassador and member, co-treasurer and vice president of the National Honor Society (NHS).
Dortch: I was most involved in the girls’ varsity basketball team and in the Music Department. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I had in each, from trips to islands in the Caribbean to winning championships with endless memories.
Q: How did you strike a balance between studying hard and having a social life?
Barnes: Finding a balance between school and social life is often easier said than done. For this reason, I made a conscious effort to surround myself with like-minded and motivated individuals. We worked hard to study and do well in school, but we also made time for each other to hang out and have fun.
Dortch: Something that kept me balanced was that most of the time my friends were studying with me. Sometimes that meant forfeiting social events to study, while other times I was able to do both.
Q: What is the least expected thing to have happened to you during your time at TA?
Barnes: One of the reasons I joined the choir at TA was travel, but I never would have guessed or predicted the number of states and countries to which I would travel. I will hold the experiences, memories and worldviews of South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, etc., close to my heart for my lifetime.
Dortch: When I came to TA, I knew I would make friends, but I had no idea I would be leaving high school with such a group of amazing, talented and supportive friends that I call my family.
Q: What advice do you have for students going into TA’s senior class this coming fall?
Barnes: Stay focused. Be proactive. You have time now to get ahead of the game by applying for colleges and scholarships. Finally, remember this crisis the world is currently going through is not the end. Do everything to the best of your ability, trust God and let Him do the rest because He has a plan for you.
Dortch: Do not compare your progress to others because everyone is on a different path and going in different directions. It is OK to not have everything planned out or have everything together. You will learn about new opportunities as they come along; when they come, take them! Most importantly, include God in all your plans.
Q: What are your current career goals and/or what do you plan to study in college?
Barnes: I plan on studying chemical engineering in college. I am most interested in the pharmaceutical branch of chemical engineering and hope to find my career path in this field. I want to play an active role in the upcoming “Biological Age” by engineering organisms to create technologies that transform agriculture, electronics, energy, information storage, medicine and manufacturing. My hands could produce the future of engineering and medicine and possibly cure the world’s deadliest and chronic diseases.
Dortch: In college, I plan to study psychology. My current career goals are to be a school counselor and eventually run my own practice.
Q: What college will you be attending? What are you most looking forward to in college?
Barnes: I will be attending North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. I'm most looking forward to meeting new people from all different walks of life and backgrounds.
Dortch: In the fall, I will be attending Oakwood University (Ala.). I am looking forward to meeting new people and growing spiritually.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Barnes: I see myself thriving in my career as a chemical engineer with a bachelor’s degree and possibly a master’s/Ph.D. I will be well-traveled and surrounded by supportive family and friends. I will continue to make plans for life, as I am doing now, but I will continue to prepare to roll with the punches and unpredictability that life brings. Finally, I hope for my relationship with God to be the strongest it has ever been, with exponential growth ahead.
Dortch: I see myself working on a doctorate degree in clinical psychology and building and/or furthering my business.
Q: What is the best advice you have received that you’ve found helpful?
Barnes: To be yourself because everyone else is taken.
Dortch: Your best is enough.
Q: What does being the valedictorian/salutatorian mean to you?
Barnes: Coming into high school, I set the goal of becoming my class valedictorian, and I am very happy that I accomplished it. This title means to me that I can accomplish anything I want as long as I put my mind to it and put my trust in God.
Dortch: Being salutatorian proves to me that hard work pays off. I did not enter high school with the intention of being either valedictorian or salutatorian, but this has shown me that by working hard, giving your all and doing your best, you will come out on top.