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Maximizing their potential

Valedictorians say key to success is making most of experience

June 14, 2007

When the Bay View High School Class of 2008 graduated in ceremonies at the Milwaukee Area Technical College Cooley Auditorium on June 8, it celebrated the accomplishments of not one, but two, valedictorians.

Anh Nguyen, 18, and Erik Munoz, 17, both graduated at the top of their class with 4.0 grade-point averages.

Both students played soccer during their high school careers, and both plan to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Anh will study chemical engineering and Erik plans to major in civil engineering.

Anh Nguyen

Anh said his family, which includes a younger brother and sister, came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 2002. Anh's choice of chemical engineering as a major was inspired by his father, who was a chemical engineer in Vietnam.

"And I'm comfortable with math and feel pretty confident about chemistry," Anh said.

He found it difficult to adapt to an American school system during his first year in Milwaukee, "but after that I was comfortable (enough) to do my best."

In Vietnam, Anh said, his parents helped him with homework, but since they are not as fluent in English as he, they were not able to assist him as much after the move to Milwaukee.

"And they have a lot of important stuff (going on) in their lives, too," he said.

Anh said one of his most meaningful experiences at Bay View High School was participating in the Milwaukee Public Schools Explorer program. Soon his Explorer group will be presenting its project - an experiment to convert wave action into usable electricity - at Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin.

Anh said he was a little bit nervous as he prepared to walk across the stage to accept his diploma, but he also was excited about being named one of the school's valedictorians.

"I expected to do my best in high school, but didn't expect to be No. 1," he said.

Erik Munoz

Erik said one of his most memorable high school experiences was participating in Bay View's construction specialty program. Students in that specialty track built a home at 1523 S. Third St.

"We built the house from the foundation up - roofing, drywall, painting, you name it," Erik said. "Mr. Bajurny, our construction teacher, he just made the whole project a fun process."

About 30 students were working on the project when it began in 2005, Erik said, but by the time the home was completed, about 12 students remained.

Proceeds from the sale of the two-story, three-bedroom home, expected to bring about $170,000, will be returned to the construction specialty program to build another house, he said.

Erik, who followed in his older brother's footsteps when he joined the construction specialty program, said he plans to make construction management his career.

"Building bridges, highway systems - I just love that whole idea," he said.

Advice from graduates

The co-valedictorians said Bay View High School specialty programs prepare students for future careers by allowing them to develop specific skills that can be used in the workplace.

Anh's advice for incoming Bay View High School students is to "just try hard, and you can be successful if you know how to pick the best classes for success."

Erik said Bay View High School is "really a great school" because of the opportunities it offers students - "a law specialty, a math and science specialty, a construction specialty and the great programs they have to help you out with your future career."

Both Erik and Anh said their Advanced Placement classes, designed to help students earn college credits by demonstrating their knowledge on AP exams, were among their most challenging courses.

Erik, who was active in many extracurricular activities, offered some words of advice to incoming freshmen: "Stay focused and join as many clubs and activities as you can. And try to get into one of the specialties - it's a great process."

Nan Bialek can be reached at (262) 446-6632 or amuehlbauer@cninow.com.

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