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Wellington valedictorian aims to debunk ‘girls don’t do math’ stereotype

MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Olivia Pearson, 18

Though Olivia Pearson might be graduating with the most prestigious title of her Wellington High School senior class this year, there’s something that may be even more admirable about her.

She’s determined to break gender stereotypes.

Pearson, 18, is like most of the other valedictorians in Palm Beach County because she holds impressive grades, has memberships in high-ranking school clubs and has the tenacity to reach for the stars. But she’s also a young woman who plans to study mathematics in college, a subject often stereotyped as being dominated by mostly men.

Pearson hopes to change that.

“Math is what I’ve always been best at,” she said. “I’m only one of five girls in my AP calculus class. It’s rare to have girls high up in math levels, but I want to pave the way for other girls.”

You may wonder why it’s so rare to see a female studying math. Pearson said she believes it is because women aren’t encouraged to strive in the subject.

“There aren’t so many female math teachers. It’s not what we’re shown when we grow up,” she said. “I would like to change that. If I could help, that would be great.”

Pearson likes to help in other ways, too, and not just in school but also in her community. Besides serving as vice president of the Key Club and being a proud member of the various honor societies at Wellington High, she serves as a foster mom to puppies.

She works with A Second Chance Puppies and Kittens Rescue group in Royal Palm Beach, and she commits to caring for puppies in her home who arrive from high-kill animal shelters. She loves on them for at least two weeks while others in the group work to find the animals permanent homes. Pearson and her family — parents Steve and Nolie Mish, sister, Samantha Mish, 20, and brother, Michael Ginn, 28 — adopted a puppy from the organization about two years ago, and Pearson saw the good the group was doing and wanted to help.

“They don’t have a voice, so they can’t stand up for themselves,” Pearson said of the animals. “They can’t live on their own. They need help, so we have to give it to them.”

That’s the only downfall of college, she said — not being able to take her puppy with her during her first year at Florida State University. But she’ll likely be busy focusing on her studies and deciding on her future career. If math doesn’t work out, Pearson also has her eye on studying economics.

She’s graduating in May with a GPA of 4.0 (HPA of 5.2) and earning those good grades, as well as the title of valedictorian, was something Pearson said she has wanted since the eighth grade. That’s when she first learned what a valedictorian was.

“I told my mom that I could do it, and she said, ‘it’s OK if you don’t, though,’” she said.

But Pearson did do it.

And she admitted that there were times when it was downright hard to maintain that straight-A average.

“I just don’t get B’s in classes,” she said, adding, “I don’t think I can have the same goals in college, but I’ll for sure try. And I’m going to try hard.”

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