When Kristin Olson started kindergarten, she was labeled Title I for several years, disadvantaged and almost failed.
Next week, 17-year-old Olson will speak to the senior class at Knightdale High School as the class valedictorian, boasting a 5.22 GPA, 13 Advanced Placement exams and straight-A’s.
Olson, daughter of Curt and Debra Olson, hasn’t let the labels define her – she strongly rejects them – though she has kept tabs on each one.
“Academic achievements are really important to me,” she said.
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During a meet-the-teacher event before entering 4th grade, she noticed the list of awards students could earn and informed her mom that she would achieve the classic reader award. Of course, she did.
In 5th grade, she was marked most improved student, and in middle school started on track as a straight-A student.
“I definitely had to work to get where I am today,” she said. “I pushed myself ... If you put in the hard work it pays off.”
At KHS, Olson dove into the competitive swim team, waking up at a 5 a.m. each morning for practice.
Her senior year, she took only Advanced Placement classes. Each afternoon after school the past four years, she has filled the time with National Honors Society, Student Government Association or tutoring other students.
After a summer of travel and lifeguarding at Raleigh Country Club, Olson will enter the chemistry program at UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall. She chose the chemistry program in part because she can’t decide between math and science and chemistry combines them.
“I love writing about math and writing about the research,” she said. “I’m looking forward to that in college, the research aspect.”
The Knightdale resident can also list student body vice president and vice president of the National Honor Society on her resume.
Like herself, she tells other students to work hard, let teachers push them, to seek challenges and dismiss labels.
“Despite what labels people put on you, if you have motivation, you can achieve anything,” she said. “You can do it.”