A new crop of the state’s best and brightest eighteen-year-olds are settling into college this month, and in one way or another, their heritage will be on full display. Meet eight of this year’s valedictorians, the products of schools across Texas, from El Paso’s Silva Health Magnet to Houston’s Westbury High. 

Photographs by Leann Mueller.


Preston Pierott, Westbury High School, Houston. Birth date: February 7, 1994. Birthplace: Houston. Interests: Karate, cross-country running. College: University of Houston. Intended major: Computer engineering.

In ten years, I see myself married, possibly with one child. If everything goes well, I hope to be a successful actor. If that doesn’t happen, I see myself starting my own technology company. Wherever life takes me, I’ll probably end up finding my way back home to live: being a Texan means saying that Texas is your home.


 Abigail Strickland, Canyon High School, Canyon. Birth date: August 3, 1994. Birthplace: Amarillo. Interests: Tennis, piano. College: Texas Tech University, Lubbock. Intended major: Biochemistry, with a double minor in Spanish and biology.

My high school was small, so all the students grew up together and are close-knit. I never thought about what it meant to be a Texan until I went on a Mediterranean cruise two summers ago. As soon as I told everyone I was from Texas, the people from England and Scotland started asking if I rode a horse to school. It was funny to tell them that not everyone in Texas is like that. And they’d never heard the expression “fixing to.” At one point, I said I was “fixing to go to my room,” and they were shocked. They thought I said I was going to be “fixing my tooth.”


Luis Marin, Laredo Early College High School, Laredo. Birth date: August 4, 1994. Birthplace: Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Interests: Italian, piano. College: Texas A&M International University, Laredo. Intended major: Biology.  

Laredo, being a predominantly Hispanic Texan city, exemplifies my heritage, and I would like to practice medicine in South Texas. There’s a need for doctors to stay around here. Whenever there’s an emergency—like if you hear about a bad car accident on the radio—the story always ends with “And they’re being flown to San Antonio.” But Laredo is the tenth largest city in the state, and we should be more concerned about having specialized doctors. I want to help fill that need.


Catherine Cooke, Abilene High School, Abilene. Birth date: March 16, 1994. Birthplace: Jackson, Mississippi. Interests: Soccer, reading, the outdoors. College: Elon University, Elon, North Carolina. Intended major: Biology.

My family moved back to Texas when I was two. My dad is a doctor, and we were in Mississippi and Florida for his residency. He’s from Kermit, and my mom is from Eagle Lake, so they both wanted to be back in Texas. And I want to practice medicine here too, close to home. There’s a pride Texans take in their work and where they come from, and that makes people work harder and produces higher-quality work. Having roots here is a big deal. A lot of where you go builds on where you began.


Cristina Vera, Silva Health Magnet High School, El Paso. Birth date: July 30, 1994. Birthplace: El Paso. Interests: Reading, violin. College: Texas A&M University, College Station. Intended major: Biomedical science.

I graduated from one of two high school vocational nursing programs in El Paso. That means after I take my state nursing exam this year, I’ll be eighteen years old and a nurse. Ultimately, I’m going to go to veterinary school, and my nursing background will help. You treat patients the same way, whether they’re a dog or a person. You have to give the same level of care and respect. Eventually I want to come back to El Paso to practice. The city’s creatures face a lot of border problems: illnesses in the animals from Mexico, financial need, and lack of knowledge about caring for a pet. I think that being raised as a Texan will help me in my career. It means a certain standard of behavior, a certain etiquette. Texans are very good with people—and pets.


Andrea Huerta, John Tyler High School, Tyler. Birth date: February 3, 1994. Birthplace: Chicago. Interests: Dancing, volunteering at the East Texas Food Bank. College: University of Texas at Austin. Intended major: Political science and communications.

I moved from Chicago to Houston a few months into first grade. At first I was like, “I’m a Chicagoan.” But now I’m definitely a Texan. The transition took place during middle school. I was so proud of my school, and its musical performances and assemblies instilled Texas pride in me. Eventually I want to go to law school and practice criminal defense because I have seen innocent people lose cases. A friend’s brother was convicted of something far worse than what he did because he didn’t have good representation. And I’ve seen parents get divorced and mothers—not having the funds to hire someone decent—lose a lot. Part of being a Texan means holding your head high even when others look down on you.


 Patrick Liu, Carroll Senior High School, Southlake. Birth date: December 13, 1993. Birthplace: Arlington. Interests: Ice-skating, teaching Mandarin to children. College: Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Intended major: Engineering or economics.

I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, and although everyone thinks the state is so conservative, Dallas is pretty fair-minded. But my grandparents, who live in Taiwan, still think everyone here owns guns and has duels. I’ve been to Taiwan twenty times. It’s a big part of who I am. Those visits also make me realize how blessed we are to have open spaces in Texas. My only complaint is the public transportation here. My parents are really protective, so I wasn’t allowed to drive until my senior year. I hated seeing my friends drive wherever they wanted. After college, I want to trek through Europe, but I like warm weather, so I’d like to come back home.


Melody Grant, Temple High School, Temple. Birth date: January 5, 1994. Birthplace: Galveston. Interests: Hiking, babysitting, church youth group. College: University of Texas at Austin, College Station. Intended major: Biology and German.

When I was younger and my dog got sick, I was able to correctly diagnose her because I watched so much Animal Planet. I was also the reporter of Temple High’s FFA, and I showed rabbits at a competition. After I graduate from UT, I would like to go to A&M vet school and do critical care for small animals. I love traveling and speaking German, but I can’t imagine living outside Texas. I don’t think people from other states fully understand the pride Texans have.