Every year, we are fortunate to celebrate each graduating class as they leave Randolph with the knowledge and skills to succeed in a complex, interconnected, and changing world. Among these graduates are exemplary young adults who have excelled inside and outside of the classroom. Each year, one valedictorian is selected for earning the highest academic achievement in their graduating class. While achieving this recognition in and of itself is a tremendous honor, very rarely is this honor bestowed upon two individuals. This year is one of those rare circumstances. Seniors Katrina Lanese and Kole Luckett were selected as the Class of 2023’s Co-Valedictorians after both students received the same final grade point average. What is most unique about Katrina and Kole is that they are also best friends, who were brought together by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as their love of the music program in Randolph.
Katrina and Kole had some classes together in the 8th grade. However, they didn’t become close until their sophomore year of high school during the pandemic. They worked virtually on a project together in their United States History class and the students were also preparing for a Science Olympiad event. These experiences led to many phone calls as they each navigated the challenges of the pandemic, and from that adversity a friendship blossomed which has shaped their lives forever. “When the pandemic first started, I was fine with attending classes virtually. However, overtime, I started to feel some social struggles. I think at the time, I was driven by the idea that things were going to get better and that it was just a tough moment that I had to work through. Seeing other people going through the same challenges was helpful to not feel alone. Although there were some things I lost, there were also things I gained like the new friendships I formed. Katrina and I met during COVID-19 and was one of the first people I started connecting with during hybrid learning. She was the person I had to talk to during the day and listen to music in the hallways with. Her friendship was very much needed during that time and has grown ever since. Katrina is very kind, considerate, and has taught me to live in the moment. Sometimes I get a little too far ahead of myself, but she keeps me grounded in the moment instead of worrying about the next thing I may be thinking of. She’s been such a great friend, and a very important part of my life.” Kole said. Katrina added: “Kole has always been there for me and is one of the kindest people I have ever met. He is always considerate of my feelings and makes me feel better when I need it. When we became friends during the pandemic, there was limited social interaction to look forward to, especially face to face. My conversations on the phone with Kole really helped. When we were able to go back to school during hybrid instruction and I could actually talk to Kole in-person, we would walk around the hallways before we had to go to class together. It felt very meaningful to know that we had gotten through this together. I have always been a perfectionist and when something has an unexpected outcome, Kole is the one who can console and help me realize that things don’t always go as planned. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, but I can control the way that I react to it.”
In addition to the pandemic, both Valedictorians’ love of music had a significant impact on their success and journey in Randolph. It provided a meaningful connection point for them to be a part of something greater than themselves alone. “Being a part of band is like being a part of a little family or community of people who have the same interest in music as you do. We had a lot of band performances, and it gave us the opportunity to do the same thing that we love. It was a bonding moment whenever we had band together,” Katrina said. Kole added: “Although Katrina and I were in different music sections, that connection of being in the same ensemble, going to the same activities, and having that same understanding of band culture was a great addition to our friendship.”
For Kole, Marching Band was a place where he invested his heart and soul in the program. He found his role in the band as an opportunity to learn the value of hard work, perseverance, and the importance of compassion for others. Band became a safe space and a refuge for him to develop into the person he has become. Now, Kole views the next chapters of his life as a collective of “ensembles” or communities. In these “ensembles,” he believes he is well prepared to make a difference both in the world and in the lives of others wherever his path ultimately leads. “Band was a defining period in my high school career. As a freshman, I was very much reserved and insecure about myself, but band helped me push myself out of my comfort zone so I could learn how to work with other people. Despite the setbacks the band faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was determined to restore the band I am so fond of. As a drum major my senior year, I developed a positive community of musicians and I helped to pay it forward. In doing so, I found the confidence to stand atop a six-foot podium and conduct our 76 aspiring musicians. I found the drive to push through 8-hour rehearsals and still uplift the band with shouts of inspiration. Most importantly, I had fun without worrying about how others may perceive me,” Kole said. “I have realized that my role was more than mastering conducting patterns, it was having a positive influence on my peers. After instructing rookie rehearsals and dancing in the stands with insecure freshman this past year, I have discovered my own definition of ensemble. An ensemble is a group of individuals to be viewed as a whole, but its success is driven by how we uplift and support each other, regardless of our independent mistakes and talents. We work to improve ourselves and reach our goals, but we must also enjoy our limited time together. Internalizing this truth, I have learned that I should not strive to appease others or seek their approval, but to better myself and give back to my community. I aspire to share these lessons with all the future ensembles I will encounter throughout my life.”
For Katrina, band was an opportunity for her to find herself and use music as a tool to enhance her overall wellness. Regardless of what challenges she faced, music taught her that her capabilities were a result of hard work and the importance of having a dedicated passion. “Band has been something I have been a part of since elementary school. I remember in the 4th grade trying on different mouthpieces of the different instruments. The brass instruments didn’t seem comfortable, but the clarinet and flute pieces did. I had a choice of what instrument to pick, and I chose the clarinet which I have enjoyed playing and grew to love overtime. I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I’ve been playing now since I was in the 5th grade,” Katrina said. “Life is constantly changing, but band has always been that one part of my life that has stayed relatively the same and what I could always go back to. It brought me joy to play and whenever I was feeling stressed or overwhelmed from my coursework, I always had that 7th period band class that I could rely on to help boost my spirit. Over time, my love for band has inspired me to pursue other musical opportunities outside of the classroom, such as participating in Jazz Ensemble, Pit Orchestra, and the Honors Band Program. Even after 8 years of taking private lessons, I still feel challenged and am learning more about the clarinet every day. When I had a difficult composition, it was gratifying to return to some sections after spending a lot of time working on them and be able to play it well. Through music, I also love that I have the ability to make others happy without even saying a word.”
After graduation, Kole will be attending Purdue University in the fall where he will major in Applied Statistics with the goal of pursuing Computer Science. Having both a creative and analytical personality, he believes that pursuing this path can help him apply his love for mathematics to the design of solutions in either the software or cybersecurity industry. Katrina will be attending Rutgers University where she will be enrolled in a 6-year Doctor of Pharmacy program. Given her passion for biochemistry, she sees pharmacy school as an opportunity to explore careers in research and development in the pharmaceutical industry.
Although Kole and Katrina are being recognized for their academic success, both believe it’s important to acknowledge that this achievement does not define who they are or ultimately what they will accomplish. “I am more than just my academic achievement. While I am very proud to be selected as Co-Valedictorian, I am a person and more than just an individual who got good grades. I am very close with my family, friends, and I have a lot of experiences outside of the classroom that are more important than how I performed in a class,” Kole said. Katrina added: “I never want to feel like I have been put in a box, and I learned over the past four years the importance of taking risks and working hard at whatever you do. I am proud of this achievement and thankful to have been recognized with Kole. At the same time, being Co-Valedictorian doesn’t change who I am or highlight everything I have done. There are more important things in life than just grades alone, and I hope that I can be remembered more for the person I am and the hard work I put into anything I want to accomplish.”
Randolph Township Schools is incredibly proud of Katrina and Kole for all that they have achieved, as well as the friendship they formed during their time in Randolph.