Heritage High School valedictorian Saulye Nichols was born in the Republic of Kazakhstan in Central Asia, but she hasn't given it much thought. Perhaps because she's been too focused on being the head of her class.
Adopted at 9 months old, Saulye said she has no memory of her native country, nor her birth family.
"I have gotten a little more curious recently, but I haven't really wondered about it much," she said in an interview.
She said that could be in part because there are a few other young people around her age from Kazakhstan.
"I don't really know why they are here," she said. "I just know them."
That budding curiosity about her past could also be in part why, when asked about might make her story interesting enough to be featured in a newspaper article, she wrote: "A young girl is adopted from Kazakhstan and exposed to countless opportunities in America that would have been otherwise unattainable."
Saulye spent much of her early life in Ooltewah with her parents, Kim and Gary Nichols, but the family moved to Ringgold, Georgia, about 10 years ago.
Being named valedictorian has been her goal since middle school, she said.
"I don't want to brag, but I had the highest grades in middle school, and people said things like, 'I guess you'll be valedictorian,' so I wanted to live up to that. I spent a lot of time studying."
She was also active in extracurriculars such as Beta Club, National Honor Society, Student Government Association, National English Honor Society and the varsity swim team. She was so focused on attaining her goal, she didn't consider the consequences of being named valedictorian.
"There was no wavering," she said.
"I really wanted to do it, but I was hesitant about having to make a speech, but then I thought, 'I've made it this far. I can do it.'"
She said the speech went well, and "I got a few good laughs from everybody."
She said the gist of her speech was that each of her classmates had their own memories of high school, but together they all had four good years.
Saulye plans to attend Georgia Institute of Technology, where she will major in biology.
"My proudest personal accomplishment is going to Georgia Tech because that is where my grandmother always envisioned me attending," she wrote in her survey for this paper.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.