For some students, high school is more than a bridge to adulthood — it's an opportunity to prepare a foundation for college and life after graduation.
"Looking back, I'm not sure how I did it," Arielle Williams, Wilson High School graduate and valedictorian, said. "I tried to not leave any stone unturned."
Williams is only 17, but has managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA as well as participate in after-school clubs, tutor her Wilson peers in physics and calculus and win medals on the Bruins track and field team.
"In a word, she is a bit of a powerhouse," Jason West, Williams' advanced placement (AP) literature teacher, said. "She leads discussions, she arrives at conclusions seconds before anyone else and she is constantly looking for deep, higher-level meaning and thinking."
West added that he would often witness Williams's love for learning daily in the classroom, recalling a class discussion on the novel "A River Runs Through It."
"We got to a point (in the discussion) where none of class made a connection to a Biblical allusion in the book," he said. "Arielle's response to herself (upon realizing the annotated connection) was 'Man, I love books.'"
"It was obvious that she not only realized the well-crafted allusion, but she appreciated the work that went into it."
And her appreciation for academics and learning was apparent in everything she did, according to West.
"I always enjoyed learning new things," Williams said. "Mathematics and physics especially."
"Physics is something you see everywhere, from baking a cake to riding a bike," she said. "When you use calculus in a particular way, it can contribute to the greater society."
Her passion for academics drove her to take on seven AP classes this year — including physics and math — and despite her heavy work load, she continued to maintain a 4.0 grade average.
She also was approached by faculty to tutor her peers who were struggling in their math-based classes.
And with a full set of AP classes and tutoring, Williams found plenty of time for extracurricular activities at Wilson.
"Arielle Williams is involved — and successful — in nearly all aspects of Bruin life," West said about Williams' busy schedule.
Williams has participated in a number of different clubs during her four years at Wilson, becoming club president of several.
She has maintained the title of president of the Female Leadership Academy since her sophomore year. The club focuses on female empowerment and team building.
"It's a club of over 40 or so girls," she said. "It's important that women continue to empower one another."
Williams also is club president of Wilson's National Honors Society and Young Black Scholars Club, as well as a member of the school's A Capella and choir groups and Zygomas "Z-Girls," a club comprised of the 25 most active girls in the senior class, focusing on academic excellence and volunteering for school events — she was also voted homecoming queen.
And if that wasn't enough for the busy Bruin, Williams helped establish the school's first robotics club during her junior year after falling in love with her AP physics class.
Her efforts, she said, were not only to create a club for interested Bruins, but to encourage her female peers to participate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) activities. The field is currently dominated by men.
"We raised $500 at homecoming to build our first robot," she said. "We're blazing a new path to normalize the STEM field for women at Wilson."
She added that seeing women in the STEM field — especially minority women — is rare.
"You realize pretty quickly that you're one of the only females in the room who are interested in STEM," she added. "Not only that, but also a minority."
And Williams is hoping to be one more woman to pave the way for others to pursue the male-dominated field, starting with attending college at Stanford University and majoring in Management Science and Engineering.
"As long as we keep exposing everyone (to STEM), regardless of their background, we'll see more women, I'm sure," she said.
As accomplished of a teenager she is, Williams said that she's humble and wouldn't have been able to accomplish everything that she wanted to throughout high school if it weren't for her supportive teachers and parents.
"I definitely want to thank Wilson for everything these last four years," she said. "Ms. Medina, Mr. Miaga and Mr. West and all of the teachers who poured into me."
Finally, Williams doesn't plan on staying away from Long Beach too long. She added that she wants to return eventually and plant roots for students the same way her support group of teachers and family did for her.
"It's very important for me to come back to Long Beach," she said. "I wouldn't be where I am today without the people I love here."
Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.