When the new principal arrived at school for the first time, Abinav Katuru had something to tell him.
Abinav, a 2016 graduate of Cleveland High School, was second in the class rankings at the time. When he met the new principal, Kendrick Byrd, they shook hands.
And Abinav told him, “I’m going to the be valedictorian.”
He did it half-jokingly, mainly for the comical effect, he says, but he was serious about his goal. And he wanted to show the new principal how competitive the class of 2016 was.
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“He said it was a good goal to work toward,” Abinav, 17, recalled.
Sure enough, Abinav achieved that goal, even after starting his senior year ranked No. 2 in his class. He finished his high school career out at the top of his class with a 5.33 grade point average, the result of 15 AP courses and hard work. His unweighted GPA was a 3.8.
“I commend him for following through on it,” Byrd said. “He has a tremendous work ethic and a desire to be successful so I’m not surprised. And the other gentleman he was battling with, Harrison Allen, they both are tremendous kids.”
Abinav compares his accomplishment to his favorite athlete, tennis star Rafael Nadal.
“There’s one year where he was injured really badly, then he came back really strong and took the No. 1 ranking back,” he said. “And that was the same for me. I told my friends I came back like Nadal in 2013. That was kind of my mantra this year.”
Abinav was born in New Jersey. The son of Indian immigrants, Ragau and Apurna Katuru, he and his family moved to Johnston County in 2006 when Abinav was seven years old. His dad, a doctor, had recently started a new practice in Smithfield.
Abinav said he is motivated by success and the ability to help others succeed. It was something his parents taught him.
He said his parents aren’t strict, but they always encourage him to try his hardest.
Abinav did. But it did take a few eye-openers during his time at Cleveland High School.
He was taking AP U.S. History in 11th grade and he received a 35 on the first quiz.
“I realized, ‘Oh my,’” he said. “That was the moment I realized I hard to start working harder.”
Abinav studied more and cut back on video games, and eventually pulled his grade up to a B. He also scored a five out of five on the AP Exam.
Always motivated by success, he wanted to help others succeed too.
He said one of his biggest accomplishments was tutoring his classmates who were struggling in certain subjects, and finally seeing them do well in their classes.
“The friendships I made from tutoring, I probably would have never met them if not for peer tutoring,” Abinav said. “To have the realization that you actually changed their path,” was the best part, he said.
Abinav will attend UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall.
He said the day he received his acceptance to the school was one of his most proudest moments. He had come home for lunch and knew that he had a notification from the school. He wanted to check but his mom wouldn’t let him check until after he ate his lunch.
“She told me not to rush,” Abinav said. “It was awful, because my parents are a little superstitious. They said if you don’t eat lunch and don’t get in you’re probably not going to eat lunch for the rest of the day.”
He ate his food fast anyway, and afterward, rushed to his room to check his email.
It said he was accepted. Abinav said he was excited but “in a calm way.” He told his mom and called his dad at work. They were both excited too.
Abinav plans to study bio-medical engineering and pre-med when he starts school in the fall. His ultimate goal is to be a surgeon.