Valedictorian and Salutatorian of 2017

By Esther Babawande, News Editor

 Magdalena Price-Johnson : Valedictorian

When she was first diagnosed with bilateral high frequency hearing loss, the doctor pulled her mother aside and told her to brace herself for her child’s future academic troubles.

Today Magdalena Price-Johnson, fondly called Lena by her friends, is the valedictorian for the Class of 2017. Recently, Lena’s mother shared her story of uncommon perseverance and strength at her sister’s bridal party. From the very beginning Lena has never let anything stop her from achieving her dreams and that is what has gotten her to this point.

I never really considered my hearing or my size or my gender or my ethnicity to be a limit to how much I can achieve,” Price-Johnson said.

For Price-Johnson who will be attending MIT this fall, Lane has cultivated her dynamic spirit above all.

I was definitely more quiet at the beginning of my high school career. I think I’ve become more comfortable with who I am,” Price-Johnson said. “I’ve become more confident and outspoken.”

One could say Price-Johnson developed these traits, not only from Lane, but also from her greatest inspiration, her mother.

“My mom inspires me,” Price-Johnson said. “I like her independence and how she values taking care of others so highly. She’s always focused on what she wants in life and she doesn’t let anyone tell her what she can and cannot do.”

In retrospect, Price-Johnson recalled the moment she got the news that she would be valedictorian. It was April, after varsity soccer practice. Lena has participated in Lane’s program as well as 2 club teams for 3 years, but practice never gets easy. She said she was so bone-tired that she couldn’t even express her excitement fully. Price-Johnson received this email after an interesting application process.

Ever since Lane got rid of class rank a couple years ago, the administration devised a new way to choose the class valedictorian and salutatorian. According to Assistant Principal Ms. Hanly, the process starts with the Lane Scholars, the top students in the senior class. The scholars are sent an email questionnaire to gauge their school spirit. The choices get narrowed down, and the remaining students in the running participate in one-minute auditions where they present a written piece and the administrators observe their content and presentability.  

“This is a fairer process. It still rewards the top students by GPA and it also kind of allows for us to have more engaging [speakers],” Hanly said.

The result of this new system can be seen in this year’s valedictorian Lena Price- Johnson and salutatorian Abigail Henkin.

Lena is in Alpha and Abigail is involved in our theater program,” Hanly said. “We’ve never had such a contrast before.”

For Hanly the most important job a valedictorian has is to tell their story completely and authentically.

“To get to where they are there has to be a story right? It takes hard work,” Hanly said. “Oftentimes there is some story behind that. We all know you’re going to tell the stories of your first day at Lane Tech, but it’s really about inspiring the kids in front of you or kids sitting out in the audience so they want to be that kid on stage.”

Price-Johnson completely agrees with this sentiment, and the confident young woman promises that at the end of her speech, everyone will be a little more familiar with who she is.

“I guess most of you probably don’t know me so I guess you’re going to get to know who I am,” Price-Johnson said.

 Abigail Henkin : Salutatorian

As she walks into the College and Career center, her cropped blonde hair moves with a self assured confidence that the little self proclaimed “LTAC baby” wouldn’t have possessed. She proclaims with an astounding intake of breath that it is truly hard to believe that it is all about to end.

For senior Abigail Henkin, who came to Lane six years ago as a 7th grader, Lane is her home and safe place. Like any sacred place, Lane has taught her who she is, and she feels comfortable being that actualized person here.

When I came as an LTAC baby, everything was new and intimidating and everyone was bigger than us,” Henkin said. “So it was a lot of figuring out our place and fitting in. Now this is my home and I’m here all the time.”

Henkin, whose mother is also an actor, found her place specifically in the Lane theater program. With the exception of the musical this year and Play fest last spring, Henkin has performed in every production the school put on since eighth grade. According to Ms. Meacham, drama teacher and one of Henkin’s greatest inspirations, Henkin is one of a handful of eighth graders ever cast in the mainstage fall play. On top of performing, Henkin has also found joy in having her one act play performed in last year’s Play Festival.

“It was one of the most thrilling experiences in my life,” Henkin said. “Seeing my work come alive was strange because I knew all the words but they were all so present and so alive and right there.”  

Going to a school that Henkin describes as promoting sports participation, she found that she wasn’t interested in playing any sports except for the one Lane doesn’t offer. Her nerdy glee shines when she describes broomball and how “it eliminates everyone’s prior skills” with the double factor of being on ice without skates.

The experience anyone would have playing broomball is reminiscent of the experience Henkin had finding her place as “one of the youngest students for so long.” Her journey inspired her to be an ACES mentor.

Being there for not only underclassmen but for everyone who encounters her, is a trait Ms. Meacham adores about Henkin.

I had her in my drama class and she is one of the most patient and talented students,” Meacham said. “She has this poise and she is unafraid to work with students less accustomed to theater.” Meacham describes this poise and patience that Henkin possesses as far above her years, and when she interacts with her she acknowledges her as thus.     

I think some of my favorite memories was being able to sit and talk with her about acting and about writing in a way that I would talk with an adult about acting or writing, because she works intellectually on that level,” Meacham said. “She has this great gift for language and she has such a tremendous voice and such a tremendous presence on stage, off stage, and on page. It’s amazing.”

Henkin cannot hide her passion for writing, language, and theater when one sits down with her. Her literary works are not limited to inspired screenplays, but instead Henkin prides herself in how many facets of storytelling she explores.

“I wrote my first book when I was 7 for school and it’s titled why the Virginian Opossum plays dead. He was playing a chess game and his bear friend got mad and pretended to chase him so he tried to play dead,” Henkin said about her whimsical first written work. “I’ve written for Young Chicago Authors after that. I wrote my first play as a freshman here. My dream is to be screenwriter someday. Telling stories, being involved in stories, that’s what I really identify with.”

Henkin finds her inspirations in many actors, producers, and directors. From “the modern day Shakespeare” Lin Manuel Miranda to Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, Henkin admires people who “pursue their craft” and “integrate heady abstract concepts” into their creations.

As Henkin and Price- Johnson look to the future, one of Henkin’s inspirations, Ms. Meacham  hopes the very best for her. Her last words can be applied to every student venturing on to this new facet of life.

I hope everything for her. I hope that she will make choices that she is proud of and I’m sure she will. I hope that she will be a person that she is proud of and I’m sure she will. I hope that the world recognizes her goodness, because it doesn’t always do that,” Meacham said. “I hope that she lives a life that is creative and satisfying, because I think she deserves that. I hope to read many of the books that she will write one day and I just hope that in twenty five years when she is winning her Pulitzer she’ll thank me or at least remember my name.”