Olivia March has always been able to successfully balance work, friends, sports and academics, so the fact that she is the Wesley Chapel High Class of 2021 valedictorian isn’t a big surprise.
But Olivia’s greatest skill, other than managing her time, might be surrounding herself with the right friends, according to her mom Trish.
While she may not have been thinking about her daughter being her school’s valedictorian, it was in middle school that Trish says that she realized Olivia would definitely be near the top of her class.
“The kids she hung around with were always taking the toughest classes,” Trish says. “We knew that they were the kids who were going to succeed in high school.”
She was right. Olivia took the toughest classes, but still compiled a 4.71 weighted grade point average while at Wesley Chapel, tops in her class, and also earned an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree from Pasco Hernando State College.
Next year, she will follow in her father Ron’s footsteps when she attends the University of Florida in Gainesville, choosing to be a Gator over schools like the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Clemson University in Clemson, SC, and Florida State University in Tallahassee. “I always knew I kind of wanted to go there,” she says of U-F.
Olivia edged out her friend Michelle Joo, the salutatorian who will attend Yale University in New Haven, CT. To Trish’s point, Olivia and Michelle were friends and study partners at Wesley Chapel. They were sitting together at lunch when it was announced that Olivia was the valedictorian.
“They came out with cake and flowers,” Olivia says. “It was exciting. We weren’t really thinking about it, so it was a surprise. We’ve had classes together since freshman year and have been friends throughout high school, and it was a healthy competition. I think we were both happy for each other.”
It was during a field trip in the seventh grade at Weightman Middle School that Trish says she was struck by her daughter’s ability to surround herself with the right friends. She now holds that ability, an under-appreciated quality, in the highest regard.
“Olivia was a Montessori kid, and we were a little nervous about bringing her into the traditional school setting,” Trish says. “It was funny, on that field trip, I just thought ‘she is good at choosing friends.’ I saw all the kids she had to pick from, and who she chose, and I thought, ‘O.K., those are good choices.’ I had never thought about that before that day.”
Olivia found out she was in the mix for valedictorian prior to her junior year, which would end up being disrupted by Covid.
When she knew she had a chance to be No. 1 in her class, it was the first time she started thinking about it. But, since she had already registered for four dual enrollment classes — which helped boost her GPA — before finding out she was in the top 4, there wasn’t much she could change when it came to her course load.
“So, I just kept doing what I was doing,” she says. “I just followed the steps I was already planning to follow.”
However, Covid threw a wrench in those steps. Taking classes online, especially math, required a lot more time and were more difficult to schedule. Because she also works as a lifeguard at the Epperson Ranch lagoon, her time management skills were put to the test.
She had honed those skills her first three years at Wesley Chapel while competing in athletics, which only seemed normal in a family where mom (a court reporter) trains at Crossfit and dad (a Pasco County Sheriff’s Office deputy) is one of the better local tennis players in the area.
While she was challenging herself academically, Olivia competed for the Wildcats in volleyball, track, cross country, weightlifting and tennis. She was named as one of Wesley Chapel’s Athletes of the Year her freshman and sophomore years.
Olivia is looking forward to her speech to her classmates at graduation. So is Trish, who expects to burst with pride, and Ron, who Trish is predicting will shed a few tears.
While Olivia hasn’t written it yet, she say the speech will focus on what the future holds for the 2021 graduates.
For Olivia, that is enrolling at Florida and finding her way to a career. She isn’t sure what she wants to do just yet — nothing science or medical related, however — but will minor in business, because she thinks it’s good to have.
“Other than that,” she says, “I’m wide open, and looking forward to it.”
The Wesley Chapel High graduation is scheduled for Friday, June 4, 7 p.m. at the school’s football stadium.