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District Announces 2023 Valedictorians and Salutatorians

Waco High School’s (WHS) Graduation will begin tonight, May 25, at 7:30 p.m. followed by University High School (UHS) Friday night, May 26, at 8:00 p.m. Both ceremonies will be held at Waco ISD Stadium where the district will be enforcing a clear bag policy. 

In addition to remarks from Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon, Board President Stephanie Korteweg and campus principals, each ceremony will feature two special addresses from the class’s top graduates. 

James Benjamin Vieira Ryan Burnias and Kayla Yae-Sul Cho have earned the top spots out of 402 WHS students graduating this year. Burnias was named valedictorian, and Cho achieved the distinction as salutatorian.

WHS Principal Sterlin McGruder said the class of 2023 has achieved so much despite obstacles thrown at them. “This is a class of students who have taken on the challenges of high school while navigating many unprecedented events,” McGruder said. “Burnias and Cho were both leaders for their peers, and I know they’ll launch into the world and do great things.”

At UHS, Vania Gonzalez has been named valedictorian, and Tirza Ralls was named salutatorian. Gonzalez and Ralls are at the top of a graduating class of 335 students.

UHS Principal Alonzo McAdoo has no doubt both young ladies will achieve all their dreams. “We are so proud of Vania and Tirza and the hard work that these academic designations represent,” he said. “I can’t wait to see where life takes them and all the wonderful things they will do that will benefit others.”

James Benjamin Vieira Ryan Burnias ,son of Joel Burnias and Dr. Sarah Ryan, has earned an impressive 111.2336 grade point average. He is a College Board Advanced Placement Scholar with Honors, has been recognized by the College Board as a National Hispanic Scholar, is a Superintendent Scholar, and a WHS Academic Achiever. 

Throughout his high school career, Burnias has excelled in many areas. He was a National History Day group performance finalist, has participated in academic competitions and placed first in UIL for editorial writing, impromptu speaking and oral reading, led the debate team to regionals and the mock trial team to district semifinals. 

Burnias is not only a scholar, but also an active participant in sports as captain of the varsity cross country team and a member of the area champion varsity soccer team. He was recently honored by Congressman Pete Sessions (TX-17) for his appointment to the United States Air Force Academy and will commit to the Air Force following his graduation.

Kayla Yae-Sul Cho, daughter of  Roy Cho and Sandy Kim, has also demonstrated exceptional academic performance earning a 109.7000 grade point average.

She was awarded the Texas Excellence Scholarship, UT for Me Award, and Waco Educators Alliance Scholarship and plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin where she will major in biology. Her long-range goal is to attend medical school and become a surgeon.  

Cho is an accomplished cellist and has earned awards in the TMEA Region String Orchestra and earned the highest score at the UIL Solo and Ensemble contest, advancing to state in 2021. 

Cho’s achievements include recognition as an AP Scholar, AP Scholar with Distinction, three-time Academic Achiever, Superintendent Scholar, member in good standing in the National Honor Society for 3 years and served as vice president of service this past year. 

She is a dedicated student who also made time to serve as a chair for the Mental Health Group in the Waco Youth Council and has been a student council member since 2021, most recently as the vice president.

Vania Gonzalez, daughter of Sergio Gonzalez and Maria Vargas has amassed a grade point average of 106.3. She has earned an associate degree with high honors, as a student in the ACCELERATE program. In addition to her degree, she is a three-time Academic Achiever and was recognized by the College Board as a National Hispanic Scholar.

Gonzalez will attend Rice University where she will major in psychology with a medical humanities minor on the pre-med track. She is the recipient of The Rice Investment which has covered full tuition, along with various other scholarships and grants. Gonzalez has participated in TAFE, Waco ISD Advanced Academics Committee, AVID, Yearbook, and held the position of secretary for the Art Club, National Honor Society and Student Council. 

She has also been featured as a Star Student in the Wacoan Magazine and has her own pen palling group named Chuu Mail since 2019. 

Tirza Ralls, daughter of Liliana and Skip Ralls, has earned a 104.4 grade point average. Ralls has earned an associate degree with high honors, as a student in the ACCELERATE program. In addition to her degree, she is a three-time Academic Achiever and has earned a CTE Certification.

Ralls plans to attend Texas A&M University and major in forensic investigation and bilingual education. She is the recipient of The Aggieland Bound Scholarship, a four-year scholarship, along with various other scholarships and grants.

Ralls has participated in National Honor Society, TAFE, AVID, UHS Art Club, Waco ISD Advanced Academics Committee, Upward Bound, and YES! Expo.