Recognizing this year’s top CMSD graduates was the first item of business at Tuesday’s Cleveland Board of Education meeting. The district celebrated the achievements of the 62 valedictorians and salutatorians along with their families at a dinner and ceremony in their honor before the board meeting.
Across the district’s 30 high schools, this year’s graduating seniors received nearly $8 million in scholarships. This does not include Say Yes Cleveland scholarships.
Jon Benedict, spokesperson for Say Yes Cleveland, said 62% of the students in the graduating class are approved to receive money from the program pending class registrations.
Here is a list of all of the CMSD high school valedictorians and salutatorians, where they’ll be going to school next year, and how much money they’ve received in scholarships.
Signal Cleveland spoke with a few students to learn their plans following graduation and some of their reflections on high school.
Pieper Bell, Cleveland School of the Arts – Salutatorian
Pieper Bell is a violinist at the Cleveland School of the Arts, and her high school experience inspired her to pursue music after graduation. She’ll be studying music therapy at Cleveland State University starting in the fall. She said she has received more than $5,000 in scholarships for her first year, as well as money from Say Yes Cleveland.
Talking with mentors at school and through her own research, she realized studying music therapy matched well with her interests.
“When I found out about music therapy, I realized I can help people and I can learn different instruments,” she said. She said studying music therapy at CSU, which has a highly rated program, will give her the knowledge to “play the songs that I love for other people,” which is a personal goal. She said it will also be nice to stay in Cleveland and be near home, at least for her first year.
While she has focused mainly on violin since middle school, Bell said she hopes to learn to sing and play guitar in college.
Her dreams don’t end there– she also said she wants to minor in writing. “I’m going to write a book eventually,” she said.
Bell said attending CSA was a journey, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic interrupting almost half her time in high school, but the friends she made there and the experience of being at the school for the arts made it worthwhile. She shared a moment she said was particularly memorable.
“I saw all the students get up on the desk and start singing like a high school musical. That’s what a lot of people expect CSA is about, and then when it came through, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is it,’” she said.
Valerie Solano, Lincoln West School of Global Studies – Valedictorian
Valerie Solano is passionate about makeup and cosmetology, but she wants to take things a step further–she plans to open her own salon one day. To make that dream come true, she’ll be enrolling at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, to get a degree in business.
Along with her hopes for success at Miami, Solano said she is the first person in her immediate family to go to college.
Solano said she grew close with her social studies teacher, Milena Wick, a Miami University grad herself. She said Wick mentored her over the years and helped fine-tune her interests. Solano said Wick encouraged her to attend Miami to study business.
She said Wick also pointed her to another opportunity–joining her school’s chapter of Civics 2.0, a district-wide afterschool program dedicated to learning about government and how to be an active citizen. Wick advises Lincoln West’s chapter. While a member of the club, Solano helped lead a district-wide tour to increase awareness about gun violence.
Nouh Shaikh, John Marshall School of Engineering – Salutatorian
Nouh Shaikh spent his afterschool hours working at the Cinnabon in Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport. During his breaks, he sat by the windows, watching planes take off and land. This fall, he’ll be attending the University of Akron to study aeronautical engineering. He’s also the first person in his family to attend college.
Shaikh said this fascination with planes led to a passion. He found himself watching educational videos about how planes work and the technology behind that. And he has put in the work to make his dreams of becoming an aeronautical engineer a reality. During his time at John Marshall, Shaikh took classes at Cuyahoga Community College. Through the College Credit Plus program he got a head start on his degree.
The program allows students to receive college credit while still in high school – books and tuition are all free.
Shaikh is also a chess player, and a good one. He said he found his community by joining John Marshall’s chess team. The team has brought home two national championships since he joined. He said playing chess, hanging out and laughing with his friends are some of his best memories from high school.
Chess aficionados can check out his U.S. Chess Federation rankings here.
He offered some advice for his younger classmates still in high school: Take advantage of opportunities that interest you.
“People miss out a lot. It’s better to do it than not and then regret not doing it, you know?” he said. “I would say that mainly for me, there are so many resources I did not reach out to. And, you know, many people should take advantage of all the resources that are given and use it to the fullest.”
Meet more top grads – click on the arrows below
Graduation ceremonies schedule
The Class of 2023 commencement ceremonies will be held between May 31 and June 17 at various locations. Here’s a full schedule of the ceremonies.