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Seniors Tiki Khan and Trevon Reid pose with their advice for 8th graders.

Message a Marauder

What better way for the seniors graduating from Mount Olive High School to leave a lasting legacy than by giving advice to the incoming freshmen?

Ms. Riley-Lepo, in conjunction with 8th and 12th grade English Language Arts teachers, arranged for the 8th graders to write questions to the current seniors, and then the seniors had a chance to respond. All of the messages are being culminated in a template that the seniors designed and will be sent to the 8th graders to read before coming to the high school.

8th grader, Safa Ashraf, was grateful to ask a question because, "If you're confused, it's helpful, and I felt like I could ask anything."

Another 8th grader, Jayden Silver, said, "I could be very open to the senior I was messaging and not feel like I was being judged by my question. The seniors have a lot of experience so they could help me think about my future at the high school."

Hoping to alleviate some anxieties for the incoming freshmen, the seniors gave advice on everything from schedules to navigating the hallways to sports and extracurriculars.

Mrs. Smith, a 12th grade ELA teacher, was excited for her students to help with the 8th graders' transitions to the high school. She said, "They constructed a letter to the 8th graders, inviting them to 'Message a Marauder' with questions about freshmen life. Mrs. Yanoso at the middle school helped facilitate the process over there. We received over 300 impressive questions on all kinds of topics: being a successful student athlete, participating in sports and clubs, understanding school policies and routines, developing habits for success, determining course information, and more."

Mrs. Smith and the other 12th grade ELA teachers then matched the 8th graders' questions with seniors who could be both informative and encouraging.

Trevon Reid, one of the seniors who participated in the program, is going to be attending Rowan University in the fall and majoring in Communications. Reid said, "This project was fun to see what the 8th graders are thinking coming into high school, seeing what their mindset is, and helping them out. It's something we didn't have coming into high school, and it takes some of the worry off the kids."

In regards to what he will miss about MOHS, he responded: "I'll miss the brotherhood from football. There's no bond that's tighter than the football team. You all go through the same training, and you're surrounded by the same people day in and day out. You grow to love everyone, despite any flaws."

Tiki Khan, another senior who responded to the students' questions, will be attending Stockton University and majoring in Psychology. He said, "I think it was cool to take you back to what you were thinking before freshman year. It would have been great if we had this when we had 8th graders, take some of the unknown out of that transition to high school. It should excite them to start high school a little bit."

Additional advice that Khan would give to the incoming freshmen is to "focus more freshman year. Socially, your friends may change between freshman and senior year, and that's ok. I still have a lot of the same friends, but I've made some new ones too."

He also said to say hello to his mom, Mrs. Khan, in the vice principal's office, when they are here.

For one less piece of advice Reid said, "Have fun! High school is the last four years you'll be spending at home for some of us, and you'll be off to college before you know it. It moves way too quickly."

Meet the valedictorian and salutatorians of the Class of 2019

Maya Shah, valedictorian
The Maya Shah that graduates as valedictorian of the Class of 2019 is not the same Maya Shah who first walked into Mount Olive High School four years ago.

"Freshman year I was just concerned with academics," she said. "I didn't let myself have time to have friends. I didn't let myself have time to go out and do things for myself. I was very shy and I didn't know how to make friends or how to talk to people at all."

Maya Shah has transformed. The introverted girl with her face buried in her schoolbooks has lifted her head and found balance, blossoming into a charming and friendly young adult. The girl who once knew only schoolwork now wants to experience everything in the world. Maya wants to discuss big stimulating ideas, travel the globe (she'll take on Europe this summer), and meet sincere people with different interests and life experiences.

At MOHS, Maya became actively involved in the school community which helped her shed her shyness. Her list of activities, volunteer work, and leadership roles is too lengthy to print (president of the National Honor Society, executive board member of the World Language Honor Society, and member of the Science National Honor Society, girls tennis team, and robotics team are just some).

Organization (and a perpetual lack of sleep) helped Maya juggle her schoolwork with all her activities and commitments. She has lists for everything – probably even a list of lists – and still keeps her dresser drawers labeled with their contents, something she did in middle school.

"Maya was beyond organized and always had all of her i's dotted in class," said math teacher James West. "She's an absolute perfectionist and wanted to get every aspect of every problem correct every time. She's extremely hard on herself. If she didn't understand something, she internalized it and thought there was something wrong with her."

Maya knows that she pressures herself too much to excel academically. Part of that stems from what social studies teacher Dan Grzywacz calls her "über competitive" nature. There's another reason, though, which strikes closer to the heart.

"My mom is from the Philippines and my dad is from India," said Maya. "Both came here when they were teenagers and they didn't have an easy time. Just seeing how hard they've worked and how much they've done to give me the life I have is a huge reason why I work so hard. I feel I owe it to them. I need to show them that what they did, all they went through, actually paid off. And once I'm older I want to be able to take care of them in the way that they took care of me."

With all her activities and schoolwork, the horror movie fan somehow also found the time to indulge her musical side and occasionally sing with her friend Alfonso Carandang at Mama's Café Baci in Hackettstown. Summer travel and college mean giving up those gigs, but you can check out her work on her YouTube Channel at

In the fall, Maya will attend Yale to study applied mathematics.


John Bigger, salutatorian

What did you do the summer between ninth and tenth grade? John Bigger taught himself pre-calculus in preparation for taking Calculus I, a senior level class, as a sophomore.

"The first week he was getting help from everyone," remembers math teacher James West. "The second week they were all working together. The third week, he was helping them. The kids completely respected him. John's one of the brightest, naturally gifted students I've taught in 20 years."

John's nothing like you'd expect a math whiz to be. (Get "The Big Bang Theory" out of your head.) He's friendly with an uncommon confidence and wry sense of humor. He's a regular guy whose school uniform is a tee-shirt and jeans.

"John was a beloved figure in class," said Dan Grzywacz, social studies teacher. "He's funny and warm-hearted. He was obsessed with maps and anytime we had to draw a map on the board, we'd have John do it and explain it, despite his lack of artistic ability. It was a fun running gag."

There's an interesting duality about John. He's got a core group of friends and enjoys going to dinner with them and just hanging out, but he's equally comfortable sitting alone at his computer. John, who in the fall will major in computer science at the Georgia Institute of Technology, loves coding.

"You've got the mouse, you've got the keyboard, and the amount of power that is at your fingertips with those two things is so immense. It fascinates me," John said.

His gateway to coding was video games – programming them and not necessarily playing them, although he now has a growing collection of vintage video games and video game systems. Nowadays, his future plan is to perhaps be involved in cybersecurity. That's far removed from his father's businesses of underwriting insurance and owning and running the Jersey Girl brewery. But John's father, Michael, has taught the co-salutatorian so much about the elements of success.

"His hard work and personality have gotten him so far in life," John said. "Just the amount of stuff that he knows in his field is amazing. I really look up to him every day."

John is extremely involved in the Boy Scouts, earning the rank of Eagle and serving as patrol leader and den chief. He was also co-president of the school's drone club and the chief financial officer of DECA.

In the next two months, you'll find John enjoying his last summer before college and perhaps playing the occasional game of Mega Man. Certainly no samples of Jersey Girl will be involved.


Colin McCutcheon, salutatorian

Colin McCutcheon wants to learn everything. Japanese and Russian make the list, which he keeps on his phone. Maybe even Latin. He's also got a list of books he wants to tackle. And programming languages, too.
Colin, who will study chemical engineering (with an eye on moving to physics) at UCLA in September, has interests wide and varied. It's something that defines him.

Just a glance at his MOHS activities will show you he's anything but one-dimensional. He's president of the Science National Honor Society, treasurer of the Class of 2019, and a member of DECA, Mu Alpha Theta (math honor society), the National English Honor Society, and the World Language Honor Society. That's science, math, language arts, foreign language, business, and government. (He also played tennis for three years.)

"At first I didn't know how smart Colin was," remembers fellow co-salutatorian John Bigger. But then you hear all these things about him. He doesn't show off or brag."

Colin likes to describe himself as "lazy," which of course must mean something different to him than the rest of the world. In addition to the activities listed above, he also found the time this year to take some college courses, including Calculus III at County College of Morris. And there are stories of Colin spending half a day solving a single math problem with an obsessive resolve. That's definitely not laziness.

"I would not be surprised to read in the future that Colin made some great breakthrough in science or physics," said David Silverstein, business teacher. "He's that talented and inquisitive."

There are perhaps two qualities for which Colin is noted: his analytical thinking that stems both from his wide knowledge base and natural disposition, and his easy-going personality.

"He's just always smiling," said Maya Shah, class valedictorian, who would often spend hours with Colin at Starbucks working on homework. "He's fun to be around and is always cracking jokes. I've never seen him stressed out. He's always willing to help anyone."

Just like valedictorian Maya Shah and co-salutatorian John, Colin has a high degree of self-awareness and can recognize the life lessons that his parents have taught him.

"The thing my mother has drilled into my head is to be empathetic," Colin said. "Don't ignore the human aspect of things. She's kind of pounded that into me that you need empathy in life to get anywhere."

Now just when you think you know Colin, here's the big left turn: He collects vinyl and loves hip hop, much to the dismay of his parents who at times just hear a lot of "screaming" coming from his bedroom. Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator are two of his favorite artists, and he'll listen for hours a day. Colin's tastes also include R&B, some punk, some rock and metal, and a lot of experimental and mixed genre. His music collection is as multi-dimensional as he is.

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