Marena DeBruyne (photo above left) and James Nolan (photo above right) were Wheatland-Chili’s valedictorian and salutatorian this year. Photos provided by Wheatland-Chili High School

Marena DeBruyne and James Nolan pursued their own paths to academic success at Wheatland-Chili High School, but the two share a similar passion for knowledge and that carried them to the top of the Class of 2024 at the school.

DeBruyne, the daughter of Susan and Timm DeBruyne, is the Wheatland-Chili Class of 2024 valedictorian. She will be attending Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall with plans to pursue an accelerated bachelor’s and master’s degree with a bachelor’s in packaging science and a master’s in materials science. She also looked at Michigan State and Virginia Tech.

“Michigan State and Virginia Tech were the only other universities with a packaging science program,” DeBruyne said. “But, I have been set on RIT pretty much all my life. My family and I have gone there for hockey games and I have cousins who graduated from there. My reason for majoring in packaging science and materials science is that I began looking into them after I saw something about the topics in a flyer. I was looking for a cross between art and math because I love both subjects. This looked like a good way to merge the two.”

DeBruyne carried an academic average between 96 and 97 (4.0 grade point average). Her academic courseload featured Advanced Placement courses in U.S. History, English Language and Composition, Calculus AB and 2D Art and Design. She also took Elementary Spanish Conversational and Writing, Introduction to Economics and Photography for Non-Majors through Monroe Community College’s dual enrollment program.

Along with her academics, DeBruyne was very involved in school activities. She was a member of National Honor Society for two years, a member of the International Club where she served as Vice President and then as treasurer, the high school Art Club and the Ski Club. As a freshman and as a sophomore, she played tenor saxophone in the band. DeBruyne also starred in athletics, playing varsity soccer for three years. The starting goalie all three years, DeBruyne scooped up 86 saves this fall and had a sparkling 1.58 goals against average for the Lady Wildcats. She is not currently planning on playing soccer in college, except maybe at the club level.

Outside of school, DeBruyne was a part of the First Lego League Girls Scouts of Western New York Robotics team called the Hippie Pandas from Chili, FC Dynamo Thruway Girls Soccer Club and the R-H Girls Competitive Gymnastics team. She began with the R-H Girls Competitive team at age two and was with them for 13 years and volunteered as an assistant coach for the 8-10 year old age group in gymnastics. She played on the Western New York Flash Soccer Club and also with the R-H Falcons Travel Soccer team. She has worked at Southside Hearing Center, DiBella’s Italian market and is currently at Country Max.

Awards and honors have come DeBruyne’s way. She has been on the High Honor Roll all through high school, received Outstanding Achievement Awards for AP English Language and Composition and U.S. History and academic awards for Portfolio Art and Spanish 4. In art, she received Best in Portfolio Prep her junior year at the New York State Art Teachers Conference Exhibit and this year in the art show Runner-Up in Photography. She received the Senior Award in Art, the Exceptional Photography Award and Exceptional Award in AP 2D Art and Design. She has received the University of Rochester Bausch & Lomb Scholarship, the RIT Women in STEM Scholarship, a New York State Scholarship for Academic Excellence, a Wheatland Historical Association Scholarship, the World Languages El Premio de Quixote (Spanish) Award, the Valedictorian Award, a President’s Award for Educational Excellence, a Scholars of Distinction Award, a Mike Skivington Memorial Scholarship and a U.S. Army Scholar Athlete Award. For soccer, she was selected as an Exceptional Senior and played in the Genesee League’s Exceptional Senior Game.

Asked about teachers or coaches who have inspired her or been mentors for her, DeBruyne easily named three teachers and a coach.

“Kara Soule is a teacher I had in Middle School and High School with one of the courses being AP English Language,” DeBruyne said. “She made me sharpen my writing and was great at editing my essays. I had Valerie Savage for multiple art classes and she always took the time to push me and push my art to places it would not have been otherwise. Anthony Mannara was always able to put the fun in math class and it was a great learning experience in his class. Jennifer Quinn was my high school soccer coach and she has been an amazing mentor. She tailors training for us and listens to the needs of her players like if we needed a break due to academics but she also pushed me to be the best I can be as a player and as a person.”

Two of DeBruyne’s favorite memories come from the International Club and its trips to Europe in 2022 and in 2024.

“In 2022, we went to Paris, Madrid and Lisbon and in 2024 we went to Athens, Rome, Sorrento in Italy and Barcelona in Spain,” DeBruyne said. “It was a great learning experience, learning about other cultures and being with my friends. Another favorite memory, although it wasn’t from high school, was in sixth grade Ski Club and it was my first time ever skiing and I went down a hill going super-fast. I forgot to slow down and I went into the parking lot, under a rope and into a building. I wasn’t hurt but it was memorable.”

James Nolan, the son of Beth and Andrew Nolan, is the Wheatland-Chili Class of 2024 Salutatorian. He will be attending the University at Buffalo to study chemical engineering. The only other college he seriously considered was Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“When I was in 10th grade, I took Chemistry and I found I had a passion and interest in it,” Nolan said. “I love science and math in general and I want to continue that.”

Nolan, who carried an academic average of around 96, took four Advanced Placement courses: AP Biology, AP Calculus AB, AP English Literature and Composition and AP U.S. History.

Along with his academic work, Nolan immersed himself in several school activities. He was a member of National Honor Society, serving as the group’s historian, was on the Ski Club and was a three-sport athlete in soccer, indoor track and outdoor track. He played varsity soccer for three years. A co-captain as a senior, he was a midfielder and recorded eight goals and five assists, both of which led the team. He was named to the Section V Senior Select Game and was an All-League 1st team selection as a sophomore and as a senior. Nolan served as a captain of W-C’s new indoor track team this past winter and competed in the 55 hurdles and triple jump. He placed fourth in the triple jump at 37 feet, 11 inches and sixth in the 55 hurdles at 9.56 seconds at the league championship and second in the triple jump (37-10.25) and sixth in the 55 hurdles (9.64 seconds) at the Section V Championship. A three-year member of the varsity outdoor track team, he was a captain this spring and competed during the league season in triple jump, high jump, long jump, 110 hurdles and shot put and was 7-2 during the league season in the triple jump. He competed in the pentathlon at the league championships where he took second with 2,387 points but did not place in the event at sectionals. He was an All-League 1st team selection in outdoor track. He was the team Most Valuable Player in both indoor and outdoor track. He does not plan to play a sport in college except at the club or intramural level.

Outside of school, Nolan worked at Altitude Trampoline and also played on the Caledonia-Mumford Cougars travel soccer team. He was a Boys State representative between his junior and senior year of high school.
Nolan has received several awards. Among them are the RPI Medal, an Etta Fraser Miller Fund Scholarship, a New York State Scholarship for Academic Excellence, the Salutatorian Award, a President’s Award for Educational Excellence, a Scholars of Distinction Award, a Mike Skivington Memorial Scholarship, a U.S. Air Force Varsity Excellence Award (track and field) and a U.S. Army Scholar Athlete Award.

Nolan said his family has been a big inspiration to him as have several teachers and coaches.

“My family has pushed me to do my best in all I do and to work hard toward my goals,” he said. “Garhett Varin and Steffan Domina, my coaches in soccer, have helped me in so many ways. My chemistry teacher, Mrs. Iovoli, and biology teacher, Mrs. LaSalle, are both very good teachers who inspired me to pursue my interest in science.”

Nolan said his favorite memories of Wheatland-Chili are being with his friends.

“Being able to hang out with my friends and create great memories in class and through sports are what I will always remember,” he said.

©2024 Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel

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