Destined for the honor: Santa Clara University-bound Justin Peel named Whittell’s top academic
Justin Peel’s grade-point average used to be higher than his 4.28 but he ran out of Advanced Placement and honors courses to take.
The Whittell High School valedictorian learned the day before graduation that he earned the honor. But the goal to become valedictorian was set his freshman year.
“Academics is one thing I can do well and I figured if I can do it well why not do it the best,” Peel, 18, said.
The National Merit Scholarship winner bound for Santa Clara University where he will go for a dual major in physics and engineering, admits some jitters in cramming for a valedictorian speech.
“I’m a little worried about it because I know it will be the lasting impression on a great deal of people before I leave,” he said.
Peel did seem destined for the honor. His mother, Lisa, said he always seemed to have his nose in a book. The level of his grade-point average was a perpetual concern and he was devastated when, in his freshman year, he received a B in art class, Lisa Peel said.
But he bounces back like a super ball.
Teacher Steve Vaughn recalled how Justin struggled a bit in a second-year Spanish class but worked hard enough so “at the end he was clicking along pretty well.
“I think he is definitely a standout student,” Vaughn said. “We get our fair share at Whittell but he’s definitely a standout.”
On an airplane recently stuck for two hours on the runway, Peel ended up sitting next to an engineer, his mother said.
The engineer gave Justin a business card and told the student to give him a call after two years for an internship.
“So he impresses people when he talks about where his heart is,” Lisa Peel said.
The graduate hopes to travel Europe, hitting spots in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, for a few weeks this summer before hitting the books at Santa Clara University. His mother says the sky is the limit.
“I’m as proud as they come,” she said. “He’s been driven his whole life. He is bound for achieving whatever goals he wants. A parent couldn’t be prouder.”
Whittell High School is having its graduation on campus today at 3 p.m.
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