Get to know Wylie’s Valedictorian Ayden Gertiser and Salutatorian David DePrang. The two seniors share about becoming the number one and two highest ranked students in the Class of ‘23 and more.
EARNING THIS LEVEL OF ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT IS NOT EASY. WHAT STEPS DID YOU TAKE TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOAL?
AG: “I tried to surround myself with people who had a similar mindset to mine academically, and that accountability was crucial to maintaining motivation in school. At the end of junior high, I decided to take tests to skip Geometry and Algebra II. Many told me that without those Honors points it would be near impossible to be valedictorian. To be honest, I was okay with that. It was only later, when I found out I was in the running for this award, I decided to show younger kids that getting ahead in math does not have to mean giving up on being the top of your class.”
DD: “Doing well academically has always been important to me, and I hadn’t focused on class rank until entering my freshman year. Starting my freshman year, I made sure to enroll in all the AP and honors courses I could. With a rigorous course load, I spent a lot of time studying. However, as I progressed through high school, I put less emphasis on grades and more on thoroughly understanding the concepts. It’s helped me do well on the AP tests and will hopefully help me do better in college, too.”
WHAT OR WHO INSPIRES YOU?
AG: “I’ll try to steer away from more cliché answers like friends and family, even though these people inspire me to be better every day. Outside of them, the person who inspires me the most is Richard Feynman. He was an incredible physicist and even won the Nobel Prize in 1965, but the part that inspires me is how he lived. He was a semi-professional bongo player, was a huge practical jokester, and even learned Portuguese just to give a conference in Brazil. He lived his life to the fullest, and that really inspires me.”
DD: “My dad. I’ve picked up most of my values from him, and I’ve become a better person by modeling his actions. I admire his incredible ability to stay calm in any situation and also methodically reason his way through any problem. I’ve tried to apply that in my own life, at least the best I can.”
WHAT IS SOMETHING OTHERS MAY FIND SURPRISING ABOUT YOU?
AG: “I loved watching the Denver Broncos and still do; the athleticism and analytics are amazing to me. So, I joined the football team in junior high until I realized it takes a special kind of person to succeed in that environment.”
DD: “I do fencing after school. Right now, I’m competing using the épée.”
WHAT IS A CHALLENGE YOU OVERCAME, AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM IT?
AG: “One of the hardest challenges I’ve overcome is accepting that you can’t change who someone is. I spent years trying to get my sister to get into math/science and band, and even more time convincing other friends to join UIL. It taught me the importance of individuality and not letting other people define who you are.”
DD: “Since eighth grade I wanted to start a chess club. So as a freshman, I requested a meeting with Mr. Smith and sold my idea of creating the first chess club at our school. Unfortunately, there was little interest, so I was forced to disband it. Determined to keep the dream alive, I reinvented the club in my junior year. Through advertising, offering snacks, and adding Jessica Hunter as my new vice president, our membership increased to 21 within a year. These days we compete in tournaments across Texas with our sponsor, Mr. Tsuneki, coaching us along the way. Watching members laughing, learning, and making friends is immensely rewarding, and I’m thankful for not having given up on chess club.”
WHAT IS YOUR BEST MEMORY OF HIGH SCHOOL?
AG: “Probably playing in “Shrek the Musical”. I remember laughing so hard when I saw Mark Huffines as Lord Farquaad come on stage on his knees. It was also my first (and so far, only) time playing my French horn in a pit orchestra.
DD: “The band trip to Disney World during spring break. I made a lot of good friends who made waiting in the lines actually fun.”
WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO MAJOR IN AND WHY?
AG: “I’m majoring in physics, just because I find it the most interesting option. With physics, you can appreciate the world on a profoundly deep level, from why things fall down and not up, why your car doesn’t explode when you combust gasoline, and why atoms come together the way they do to form the entire world you see around you. For me it was never enough to know ‘how’; I am majoring in physics so I can find the ‘why’.”
DD: “I plan on majoring in chemistry. Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to know how things worked, and when I would search for that answer, I found out it was chemistry pretty much every time.
IN ADDITOION TO YOUR NEWLY ANNOUNCED AWARD, WHAT OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE YOU PROUD OF?
AG: “National Merit Scholar, AIME Qualifier, 5-time UIL State Medalist (maybe more this year).”
DD: “I’m president of Medlife, a volunteer organization at Wylie. We’ve fundraised over 3,000 dollars for people facing food insecurity in Peru. I’m also president and founder of the chess club (Knights of the Square Table) where we develop strategies together and compete in tournaments across Texas. Finally, I was a section leader of the front ensemble in band this year.”
What is your favorite subject and least favorite subject, and why?
AG: “My favorite subject is math. I think it’s incredible that only using logic, you can go all the way from 1+1=2 to calculus and beyond. It’s all connected. My least favorite subject is history, but I think that’s only because I never understood it as well as other subjects. I spent a lot of time just memorizing, and it didn’t always “click” on how certain things were related.”
DD: “Chemistry intrigues me most because it explains how simple principles dictate the universe’s complex, seemingly unpredictable behavior. My least favorite is language arts because the correct answers feel really subjective.”
Are there any teachers or others you would like to thank or give credit to for helping you during your high school years or time at Wylie in general?
AG: “I’d like to thank my four English teachers first, Mrs. Gilbreath, Mrs. Brandon, Mrs. Kirby, and Mr. Thaxton. I’m a predominantly left-brained person so English as a subject was never my favorite. But English as a class was always one of my favorites. These teachers made me think and question things that I took for granted, and I always felt smarter after leaving their classes.”
DD: “I have so many incredible teachers that I want to thank, but I can only fit two. Mrs. Lang for supporting MedLife. Without her, MedLife would not have accomplished as much as it has. She puts so much care into all the fundraisers we do. She individually wrapped the brownies for the bake sale and attached ribbons to all the cowbells we sold at the football games. Mrs. Kirby for requiring us to think outside-the-box. Each assignment had us critically think about the topic, which is such an important skill for us to learn. She also made the AP test feel like a breeze.”
Where are you planning to attend college? What drew you to that school?
AG: “I plan to attend UT Austin. The main thing that drew me there is the research opportunities for freshmen. In the FRI (Freshmen Research Initiative), I’ll be getting real lab experience as soon as I start school.”
DD: “I will be attending Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia mainly because of the vast amount of chemistry research opportunities available to undergrads. I thrive in small, tight-knit communities, which is why I think Emory is a great fit for me.”
What other activities have you been involved in over the years?
AG: “UIL Academics (Math and Science), Wylie Pure Gold Band, Steel Band, Abilene Youth Orchestra, and a YouTube channel where I make videos and livestream to help students without access to their own coach.”
DD: “I earned the position as a paid intern at ACU’s Nuclear Experimental Testing Laboratory (NEXT Lab) last summer where I solidified chemistry as my target career. I was the freshman class president and president of National Honors Society. I am part of the leadership team for Student2Student. I compete in Lincoln-Douglas debate, and I am in band, playing saxophone and piano. I have a piano teaching business outside of school where I have taught kids ages 5-30, and I deliver meals with the volunteer group, Meals on Wheels, each Saturday.”
By Kristen Johnson
Photos by Tim Nelson