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South Otago High School head boy James Briones puts his drive for success down to his migration at a young age.
Arriving from the Philippines aged 7, the outgoing youngster determined to make the most of every opportunity his adoptive country offered.
James’ list of achievements speaks to this immersion in his community, as he approaches each new challenge with equal enthusiasm.
His breadth of interests means he is yet to fully decide on a future path, he says.
"I plan to take a gap year next year.
"I’ve got a few ideas of what I could do — maybe something in engineering or tech, or perhaps architecture — but a year gaining work experience and reflecting on my future will help."
As the first in his immediate family to attend university, his Class Act nomination was greeted with shock, he said.
"Everyone was pretty pleased. It was a big surprise for all of us, but I guess school saw something in me."
A strong all-rounder, James takes as much pleasure in an hour on the badminton court as a day spent studying.
He also enjoys the limelight, and takes the stage regularly in singing and other performance arts.
"I had to MC the Filipino Clutha District Christmas Celebration in 2019. That was pretty nerve-racking, but I still enjoyed it once I was into it."
Aware of the benefits he has gained at school, James tries to give a little in return.
"I’m proud to be head boy.
"One of the highlights for me is being able to organise student events. It’s just one small way to be able to give something back after five years."
Achievements: NCEA levels 1 and 2 endorsed with excellence (2018-19); Hands-On at Otago physics programme; Otago University Science Academy programme; Australian Mathematics Competition distinction (2017); SOHS prizes (2019): excellence awards in chemistry, digital technology, mathematics and statistics and physics, academic blue (2018-19); speech competition winner (2015-17); F & E Cooke Scholarship (2019); Morrison-Palmer Cup (2019); South Otago Badminton Association men’s doubles handicaps B grade and championship C grade winner (2020); SOHS badminton (2017-20); SOHS volleyball (2017-18); Young Enterprise (2019); vocal group member (2018-20); debating (2019-20); Envirogroup (2019-20); SADD committee member (2019) and leader (2020); 40 Hour Famine organising committee (2019) and leader (2020); senior production (2019); bronze and silver Duke of Edinburgh Awards (2017-19); Salvation Army volunteer (2019-20); SOHS head boy (2020); Clutha District Youth Council (2020); peer support leader (2020); KickStart Breakfast leader (2020); canteen worker (2017-20); Greenpark leader (2020).
Role model: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, for her leadership during the international Covid-19 crisis.
Hopes for the future: To become a software developer or architect.
South Otago High School pupil Luka Wilson is gunning for the top.
Seemingly a master of time management, the Tuapeka Mouth 17-year-old packs more into his day than many do into a week.
Luka is taking 11 scholarship subjects this year, four of which he works on at home, simply to fit them in.
"I actually enjoy the process of learning, and the detail of how to achieve to my maximum.
"It’s cool to see myself grow in my achievements," he said.
He also finds time for wide-ranging hobbies and interests, including online gaming.
"I spend a fair bit of time playing esports. Again it’s the system I like — when you get all the factors right, it clicks."
Within the school framework, Luka enjoys singing, debating and his role as a student librarian — a breadth of interests encouraged by his school, he says.
"South Otago is great for those who want opportunities to grow and improve themselves. It fosters autonomy and independence."
Although wide-ranging academic interests could lead him down any one of a dozen paths, genetics occupies his attention at present.
"I’m hoping to study chemistry, physics and genetics next year, possibly at Otago.
"I really enjoy science and picking apart how the world works. It’s a good base to view the world from."
He said the recent global Covid-19 pandemic had only sharpened his interests in the field.
"I was actually thinking about virology as a possibility before coronavirus came along. But it’s easy to see how genetics in general has so many useful real-world applications."
Achievements: NCEA levels 1 and 2 endorsed with excellence (2018-19); service industries vocational pathway award (2019); SOHS high achiever’s scholarship (2018-19); studying 11 scholarship subjects; SOHS prizes (2019): excellence awards in biology, chemistry, geography, mathematics and statistics, and physics, Academic Blue, C.J. Wood Scholarship and library service award; New Zealand Chemistry Olympiad bronze (2019); Education Perfect awards: humanities (2020) elite (13th in NZ, 29th worldwide), mathematics (2019) elite (23rd in NZ, 40th worldwide), English (2019) gold, science (2019) bronze; student council member (2020); tutor/house group leader (2020); peer support (2020); 40 Hour Famine organising committee (2019-20); vocal group member (2019-20); canteen worker (2017-20); bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award (2019); senior production (2019); Young Enterprise (2019); football (2019); Students Against Dangerous Driving committee member (2018-20); student librarian (2017-20); Envirogroup (2018-20); debating (2018-20).
Role model: 2018 Prime Minister’s Award for Academic Excellence recipient Yang Fan Yun has inspired me to do more scholarship papers this year.
Hopes for the future: Maybe a career in virology, working to improve human health.