When Sonya Patel walks across the stage as Wharton High’s Class of 2022 valedictorian during the school’s graduation ceremony on May 25, she will do so with its highest-ever GPA — 9.40.

Sonya didn’t set out to break any records. In fact, being valedictorian wasn’t even her goal. 

“But,” she says, “I did want to push myself to do my very best.”

She wanted to learn as much as she could and take advantage of every opportunity placed in front of her. Her incredible work ethic led her to set that new high mark for future Wharton students to aspire to beat.

Sonya spent all of her school years in New Tampa, starting at Pride Elementary and going to Benito Middle School before attending Wharton.

When she graduates, she’ll stay close to home. She plans to attend the University of South Florida in Tampa and major in biomedical sciences on her way to a career as a doctor.

“I plan to apply to medical school in the future,” Sonya says. “I currently have fields that interest me but I’m keeping an open mind about what I actually want to do in the medical field.”

When she started high school, Sonya wasn’t sure she wanted to be a doctor. She signed up for dual enrollment (DE) classes at Hillsborough Community College that sounded interesting, and the more classes she took in the medical field, the more she became sure she wanted to one day help people in that way.

While those dual enrollment classes helped her solidify her future plans, along with a lot of Advanced Placement (AP) classes, they also helped her earn that sky-high GPA.

“I counted at least 15 science classes that she’s taken, and it blew me away,” says Christi Atkinson, who is Sonya’s Marine Science teacher this year. “She takes on so many activities and is capable of managing her time and getting everything done. It’s amazing.”

Knowing it’s a long journey through med school and residency, Sonya’s AP and DE classes will help her get her undergraduate requirements out of the way, and because she’s a high school student, the classes have been free.

“It seemed a great way to work on my future goals,” she says, earning credits toward her undergraduate degree while learning about what she calls “cool subjects.”

While she’s worked hard in school, she enjoys spending her free time painting, doing henna body art and cooking. She says her most fun class has been orchestra, where she plays the cello.

Her orchestra teacher, Elise Prather, says, “She has been a dream student. She is respectful, kind, communicates effectively, is a great team player, gives 110% on everything, and is very helpful to me and other students.”

While Sonya was accepted to several schools, she decided USF was the most convenient and least expensive choice. 

“And it has great opportunities, so I’m not missing out,” she says.

When she graduates from high school, Sonya will have earned 62 credit hours from Hillsborough Community College, plus many hours from her AP classes, which will help her fulfill her college general education credits. She hopes to finish her Bachelor of Science degree at USF within two years.

She says she loves volunteering, especially at the local Bay Chapel food pantry, because she appreciates that her community has a local food pantry to help those who need some help.

In addition to her difficult academics, orchestra and volunteering, she also serves as co-president of Wharton’s Mu Alpha Theta National Math Honor Society club, secretary of the Science National Honor Society and orchestra clubs, and is a member of the school’s National Beta Club and National Honor Society.

“She’s just a really good kid,” Atkinson says. “She’s someone you can rely on and depend on.” 

And while Sonya and her peers dealt with a lot of adversity due to Covid-19, Atkinson adds, “she adapted very well and rose above the challenges.”

That’s what Sonya intends to do in the future, too. She’ll keep setting goals, working hard, making practical decisions, and taking the next step forward.

As she moves from one chapter of her life to the next, she says, “I’m looking forward to new experiences, whatever they may be.”

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