MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Jacqueline Chen, 18
For those high-schoolers who blame their schedules on why their grades might not be so great, check out what Jacqueline Chen does each and every day.
Chen is an 18-year-old who takes advanced classes at Suncoast Community High School and spends her nights studying as much as she can before she dozes off to sleep. She’s a dancer – experienced in ballet, jazz and Chinese dance, and is also a bit of a tae kwon do expert, having trained for five years. She voluntarily signed up for a public speaking class and she’s currently a cheerleader for the high school’s varsity basketball team. She’s also performing in Suncoast’s spring musical because she wanted to keep busy once cheer season ends.
Oh, and Chen is graduating the top of her class – a feat that she’s pretty proud of, considering that her schedule sounds more demanding then some adults’.
So how does she manage to squeeze all of this into her day and still manage to pull of being valedictorian of her graduating class?
“I always have to take lots of breaks because otherwise I’d probably breakdown,” Chen, of Wellington, said. “But (extracurricular activities) are stress relievers for me. When I do those things, it makes me want to finish my work.”
Chen is the daughter of Ming Chen, a soil chemist, and Donghui Shui Chen, who teaches Mandarin. She has two sisters – Rosaline, 6, and Catherine, 19. Catherine graduated valedictorian last year from the Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach and now attends the University of Southern California.
Her older sister is her biggest hero, Chen said, because she’s a workaholic who is also creative, and Chen strives to be like her.
“If she was the average person, I would be considered lazy,” Chen said. “I learn faster than her, but she’s a hard worker. Chinese people have a proverb that says, ‘The clumsy bird flies first.’ I look up to her. She works so hard all the time.”
Though her big sister attended Dreyfoos, Chen decided to go to Suncoast because she felt it was more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) driven. An adult had told her at the time that it would be more difficult for Chen to graduate as one of the top students because Suncoast had so much competition.
Chen is happy that she proved that person wrong.
“I got to number one because I was reaching for the moon,” said Chen, who holds officer positions in all of the honor society clubs at Suncoast.
Chen is graduating with an unweighted GPA of 3.99, and she plans to become an architect so she can design buildings and homes that are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Chen, who speaks fluent Mandarin, said there are times when she puts too much pressure on herself to succeed, and, when that happens, her parents encourage her to take breaks and enjoy the outdoors. She finds solace when she’s surrounded by nature, she said.
“Being outside helps calm me in a sense,” Chen said.
Her hard work has earned her multiple college entries, including to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Miami and University of Florida. She’s waiting to hear from Cornell University and Yale University and admitted that the more colleges she’s accepted to, the more difficult it is to make a decision on which one to choose.
But Chen seems to know what’s best for her and will likely choose the school that will allow her to continue her path of excelling not just in academics, but, simply, in life. Because that’s when she’s at her happiest.
“When there is an opportunity,” she said, “I take it.”
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy Chinese dancing, listening to music, watching movies, taking evening walks and working on hands-on projects. Most of all, I love hanging out with close friends, but I wish I had more time to do so.
What would you do if you were invisible for a day?
I would go to various theaters to watch all of the movies that I’ve been missing out on. Maybe I’d even hop on a flight to New York to see a couple of shows on Broadway.
If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?
Leoh Ming Pei. He was one of the first architects that I looked towards as I became interested in the architecture field.
What is the best advice you ever received?
My favorite line of advice I learned from a friend is “work now, cry later,” but my own advice is to surround yourself with colorful and encouraging people. Success is not without sacrifice. While sleep may be the first thing you sacrifice, your happiness should be the last.
What event in history would you have liked to have witnessed?
I would have liked to have witnessed the construction of the Great Wall or the Grand Canal. Seeing how projects of this scale have affected the prosperity, shortcomings and culture of society allows me to envision a better future.
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Making pillow forts and listening to my older sister improvise bed time stories about the “Two Sisters.” This was all before my younger sister was born.
Who is your hero, someone who inspires you?
Most definitely my older sister Catherine. I have never met anyone else that is as creative and hardworking as her. Though we fought a lot as children, we’re very close. She continues to inspire me to work harder and to be passionate about the things I do.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I’m afraid of the dark, I’m often more immature than either of my sisters, and I sometimes zone out during class because I’m bouncing between decisions, daydreaming or having an existential crisis.
What three things would you bring with you if you were stuck on a desert island?
A hatchet, a two-liter water bottle and anything else I need to build a home.