Personality: Sanaa Hayes

Spotlight on Richmond Public Schools top 2022 valedictorian with 5.03 GPA

6/9/2022, 6 p.m.
It was in early May when Sanaa Hayes learned that she was an extraordinary academic achiever, not just for her …

It was in early May when Sanaa Hayes learned that she was an extraordinary academic achiever, not just for her high school, but the entire Richmond Public Schools system.

That revelation followed a RPS valedictorian ceremony in which Sanaa was announced as the valedictorian for Open High School. And while she was proud of the hard work required for her to earn a 5.03 GPA, she had no idea that her work and persistence placed her at the top of the city’s entire graduating class.

“I was surprised because I had no idea that I had the highest GPA in RPS,” says Sanaa when asked about her reaction to the honor. “I was very proud of myself because I knew that I had put in a lot of hard work and effort into my academics through high school.”

Becoming RPS’ top valedictorian is a challenging prospect, and reaching that point was just one of many challenges Sanaa encountered during high school. She has learned both in person and online during the pandemic. During her senior year all of her classes have been in person and for Sanaa’s last two years, several of her courses were at Reynolds Community College as part of Open High’s early college program.

Now, with the end of their high school education in sight, Sanaa and her senior classmates are eager for new experiences.

“All of the seniors now feel like the weight of finishing our last high school classes is being lifted off of our shoulders,” Sanaa says. “We are now just pushing to make the most of our last days together before we move on into the world of adulthood.”

Looking beyond Open High, Sanaa plans to attend the College of William & Mary, which she chose because of the “campus sights” and the financial aid package she received.

Sanaa plans to enter a pre-medical program at William and Mary, and hopes to enter medical school upon graduation. Her grandmother’s battle with breast cancer sparked her interest in oncology, but she may explore other areas of medicine, she says.

Her experience at Reynolds likely will be an important part of her collegiate life. In addition to earning an associate’s degree from the community college, she also learned other lessons.

“It has really taught me how to manage my time better and how to find answers for myself beyond what is given in the classroom,” Sanaa says. “Most of all, it has given me a hint as to what I can expect at a four-year institution, academically and socially.”

Time and work management are central to Sanaa’s life, even outside of school. She is currently the shift leader at a local Tropical Smoothie Cafe, and moves between working as an intern at the Science Museum of Virginia, babysitting and tutoring throughout the year.

Sanaa plans to apply the commitment and hard work necessary not just in writing her valedictorian speech, but also in her life as she continues to move forward.

“You should not live up to anyone’s expectations but your own,” Sanaa says. “You know yourself better than anyone else. Nothing can hold you back from what you dream of accomplishing.”

Meet Richmond’s top valedictorian for 2022, Sanaa Hayes:

Latest honor: Richmond Public Schools 2022 top valedictorian.

G.P.A.: 5.03

What makes a GPA soar beyond a 4.0: Putting in dedication and hard work toward rigorous courses can make achieving a high GPA possible.

High school: Open High School.

Size of my high school Class of 2022: 45.

Extracurricular activities: I currently work as a shift leader at a Tropical Smoothie Cafe. During the summer I am an intern at the Science Museum of Virginia. In between, I work as a babysitter and a tutor. Over the course of my freshman and sophomore years of high school I volunteered at Linwood Holton Elementary School to help with school plays, school events at Open High, and the Richmond Folk Festival.

Leadership roles in school activities: I was the sophomore class vice president. I also was a part of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council during my sophomore year.

Family: Mother, Terri James, an absentee coordinator for Chesterfield County, and siblings Damon (25), Dominic (23), Jada (12).

Date and place of birth: Jan. 17 in Richmond.

Reaction to valedictorian honor: I was very proud of myself because I knew thatIhadputinalotof hard work and effort into my academics through high school.

Reaction to being named No. 1 valedictorian of RPS: I was surprised because I had no idea that I had the highest GPA in RPS.

Family’s reaction: I honestly think that my family was and continues to be more excited than I was (when the honor was announced). They were crying and yelling happily when they heard the big news.

Main point I will make in valedictory address: You should not live up to anyone’s expectations but your own. You know yourself better than anyone else. Nothing can hold you back from what you dream of accomplishing.

The university I selected: The College of William and Mary.

Reason: William and Mary was my top school before I started my college applications. In seeing how much I loved the campus (after a visit) and looking at the amazing financial aid the university provided, I was certain that William and Mary was the school for me.

How attitude impacts scoring high: Having a negative attitude can only hinder your chances of success. Negative thoughts = negative results.

What truly motivates me to study: The idea of failing scares me the most. I always like to know what is going on

in the class so that maybe I can help a classmate who may need assistance.

How much time I devoted to studying: I usually study when I feel the need to. I study about 5-10 hours a week, depending on when assignments and tests are due and how well I understand the information.

What really makes me smart: I am just blessed with a good brain.

A good teacher is: Someone who takes time to answer questions and acknowledges the differences in how each student retains information.

Career goal: I wish to work in the medical field as a doctor but I am not too sure on the exact specialty.

The secret to earning “A’s”: The secret is being able to constantly challenge yourself and push your limits when you think it’s impossible.

Biggest adjustments I’ve made during COVID-19 pandemic: Although I prefer to have class in person, I have adjusted to learning at home in both asynchronous and synchronous classes.

Silver lining of pandemic for me: When I was able to go back to school in person for my senior year of high school.

Resilience is: Pushing through the impossible and making it possible.

Most unforgettable experience during high school: When I received my associate’s degree before I graduated high school.

Teacher who influenced me the most: Irina Alekseeva.

How: She always encouraged me to pursue a career related to mathematics and sciences as she knew they were my strongest subjects.

Hobbies: I like banking, watching horror movies, shopping, and spending time with my friends and family.

A perfect day for me is: Going to the mall with my friends on a shopping spree and then watching horror movies with my siblings late at night.

A quote that I am inspired by: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” — Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 12

Best late-night snack: Kettle corn popcorn.

Three words that best describe me: Gracious, tenacious and bright.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I love watching true crime documentaries.

The person who influenced me the most: My grandmother is one of the strongest women that I know.

What I would like to change in the world: I would like to lower the gas prices across the globe.

In my community: I would like to advocate for the mental health challenges that are faced by everyone, including my classmates during hard times like now.

Kindergarten taught me: How to stay focused on my given tasks.

The book that influenced me the most: “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.

What I’m reading now: “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley.

My next goal: I plan to effectively transition from high school to college and maybe plan to study abroad.