Lara Ocumen and Leanna Hao, the dynamic duo

Their story of hard work and dedication
By: Jessica McKeon
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The competitive, musically active, and intelligent Lara Ocumen and Leanna Hao are the Lincoln High School’s Class of 2017 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Both students were chosen for their incredible academic achievements throughout high school resulting in the highest cumulative G.P.A.s out of this year’s graduating class.

Ocumen and Hao both said they “were not surprised” when hearing that they had been given these scholastic honors.

“I feel happy that I have been able to make my family proud,” Ocumen said.

Elaborating, Ocumen expressed her gratitude specifically for her mother and her support while she was growing up.

“What really motivates me is the fact that my mom is always going to be there for me,” Ocumen said. “I wouldn’t be where I am now and headed where I am going without her and all that she went through for me just makes me want to be better.”

Hao said that being salutatorian “feels amazing because all of the work I have done in class has paid off. It always feels good to get [recognized] and for someone to explain that you spent the time and put forth the effort.”

The pair has been in marching band and concert band all four years of high school. Marching band requires lengthy rehearsals for three or more hours in addition to one-hour sectionals every week outside of school. Competitions for marching band take place on Saturdays, generally for an entire day. Every band member must memorize their music and remember the path of their marching steps on a massive field while still following their director to stay on the correct beat.

This last year, Hao became the well-qualified band president after undergoing A.P. Music Theory and two years of honors band.  

Not only was the duo in band but they were also in the National Honor Society and worked as peer tutors after school. Ocumen was a tutor for two years and Hao was one this year. Both girls were students in the National Honor Society and Homework Center supervisor Marilou Edwards’ A.P. Physics class.

Edwards also had Ocumen in A.P. Biology. After reflecting upon her years teaching and working with Ocumen, Edwards said, “[Lara] is a great student with a great personality. She works hard and gets top grades but she is also really good at helping others through tutoring and being active in clubs. I hope she continues to excel and do great in college.”

With this advice and A.P. experience in mind, Ocumen will attend University of California at Berkeley with plans to major in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis on immunology, and a minor in psychology and public health.

Hao has also found her passion to be in the science and research realm as she will attend University of California at Irvine with a major in materials engineering. Her inspiration for this field came from her years in Honors Chemistry and A.P. Chemistry.

Hao chose her major “to explore the uses and creations of different materials to make better materials and advance our electronics and move us forward in technology.”

Lincoln High chemistry teacher Tim Allen said that Hao “always impressed me because she did so well in chemistry but she also really loves chemistry, which is not very common. She probably loves science more than anyone graduating this year. I am so glad that she is going to continue to study science in college.”   
            Both Ocumen and Hao have taken eight A.P. classes throughout high school with a few honors classes in between.

“Homework for one day can take up to three to four hours to complete on a bad day,” Ocumen said.

To stay organized with their four A.P. courses this year, the two scholars managed their agendas with the same formatted style of scheduling called bullet journaling. The journals created a daily to-do list, listed future plans and kept important notes.

Maintaining these “nerdy” schedules, according to Ocumen, helped them check off what needed to be done with a central layout that granted efficient completion of every task they undertook.

  “The main thing is balance because you are going to get a lot of homework from all of your A.P. classes so you need to prioritize,” Hao said.

Hao encourages students to “keep working at it, even if you lose a little sleep. Working at something and then getting the payoff makes it all worth it in the end.”

Ocumen found that when she needed motivation to get something done, “the thought of sleep keeps me going.”

To Hao, taking a break is essential. She finds joy in playing the piano, crocheting, cross stitching, and even drawing. Ocumen plays the flute and the piccolo.

On top of it all, the duo also found time to spend with their peers.

Hao advises peers to “definitely know when to take a break because you won’t always know outwardly when you are stressed. When things get hard, take a break, talk to your friends and have fun. Don’t neglect your friends. Just know that sometimes getting an ‘A’ isn’t always the best thing for you.”

As graduation drew near last month, Ocumen advised, “If you are in the arts, then do a sport. If you are in athletics, then do an art. The people around you will help define who you are and help define what you are going to be later in life so don’t limit yourself to just one field. Try everything, meet everyone. Become the most well-rounded, educated person you can be and then later on you can figure out exactly what you want to do.”

Congratulations to the valedictorian and salutatorian for their hard work and ultimate achievements.


Jessica McKeon was the Zebra’s editor-in-chief at Lincoln High School this school year. McKeon is in the Lincoln High School Class of 2017.