Rancho Bernardo High School said goodbye to 564 seniors on June 9 as members of the Class of 2022 received their diplomas.
Among these students were Valedictorian Ryan Chaiyakul and Salutatorian Carter Lankford.
“I was pleasantly surprised because the competition was very tight,” said Chaiyakul, 18, of the top academic spot with a 4,601 GPA. “It was satisfying, but never explicitly my goal. I just attended courses that I enjoyed and that I found interesting.”
Chaiyakul said he has taken 14 Advanced Placement courses. His favorite class of the past four years has been AP Literature during his senior year because it was “eye-opening” to his unfamiliarity with the subject.
“It was a different field than I considered, so I’m grateful for that,” he said.
“It was a surprise,” said 17-year-old Lankford when he learned he had been awarded second-best academic place. He had expected to finish third or fourth.
Lankford said being among the top graduates in his class was a goal, but one he didn’t think he would achieve because he was taking the Advanced Placement Physics Electricity and Magnetism Senior Year.
“It was the toughest class of my high school,” Lankford said, adding it was also his favorite, “mainly because of the people in the class. We get on well together.”
In the last four years he has taken 14 Advanced Placement courses and has a GPA of 4,583.
The two had to study virtually for the last part of their sophomore year and their entire junior year due to the pandemic. They had different views on this experience.
Distance learning was “pretty difficult because when it was virtual, it was difficult to stay engaged,” Chaiyakul said.
Things like organic conversations among peers were lacking during virtual study, he said.
“It’s great that we came back last year,” said Chaiyakul. “It was surprisingly easy to come back after such a long break. I felt pretty good when I came back.”
“I was fine with the online school, it was easy and I enjoyed it more than I did in person,” Lankford said. “I liked working at my own pace…a faster pace than many students, so it was easier for me to get things done.”
A few months into the pandemic, Lankford founded the nonprofit Coaching with Carter to provide free tutoring to kindergarten through 12th graders. He also helped some college students. While he was able to tutor in many subjects, he mostly helped out in math.
Some families wanted compensation, so he accepted donations for Feeding San Diego and raised more than $4,000.
“It was a cool experience,” Lankford said, noting that after a year and a half he recruited a few students to tutor.
While his on-site tutoring began, his parents’ social media attracted students from New York, Philadelphia, and Texas. The latter was a third-grader homeschooling and using a math textbook from the 1870s, so Lankford said he learned some ancient math techniques.
“It was really interesting to see that syllabus,” Lankford said of the 150-year-old math book.
Both were also busy with various activities outside of their studies.
Chaiyakul’s program included the robotics program, he was event director for the Science Olympiad, and he participated in the breakdance program. While at school he was also with Scouts BSA and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.
Lankford captained the college basketball team and received an All-League Honorable Mention. He has also served as peer counseling president, bronco ambassador, and leader in the Men of Character Club.
Chaiyakul’s favorite high school memory was first made during RB High’s spring dance concert.
“It was final hooray with those who introduced me to school and mentored me,” he said.
As for Lankford’s favorite memories, it was about the school spirit during senior year.
“We had a fantastic senior class who were so happy to be back for in-person gatherings and football games,” Lankford said. “It was a different level of excitement compared to year one and year two.”
Even for younger students, the top graduates had a few words of wisdom.
Chaiyakul said, “Try whatever interests you. You only have four years. If it’s something you’re not good at, try anyway. That’s the number one way to find out what you like.”
Lankford said students shouldn’t push themselves so hard academically that they miss other aspects of their teenage years.
Chaiyakul, a Poway resident and son of Viraphol and Kay Chaiyakul, said his plan after graduation is to study computer engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles. Though he doesn’t know what he wants to do for a living, Chaiyakul said the focus of his college studies was influenced by his years on RB High’s robotics team.
Lankford, a resident of Carmel Mountain Ranch and son of Courtney Granick and Jesse Lankford, said his plan is to study bioengineering and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley for various career opportunities.
“Biotech is growing fast right now, or I could go to medical school for neurology,” Lankford said. “I connect with it because I have epilepsy, so I’m passionate about that area.”