Anya Niven (left) and Grace Gocher (right) are Wheatland-Chili’s valedictorian and salutatorian this year. Photo provided by Wheatland-Chili Central School District

There are many things that Anya Niven and Grace Gocher have in common, many of the same classes and extracurricular activities like National Honor Society, Masterminds and the Drama Club, and also a love for learning. That latter commonality led the two of them to wind up at the head of the Wheatland-Chili Class of 2023.

Niven, the daughter of Kirsten and Steven Niven of Scottsville, is the valedictorian with a 98.99 academic average. She is headed to Drexel University in Philadelphia where she will major in interior design with a focus on sustainability at the university’s Westfall College of Media Arts and Design. Her second choice was Rochester Institute of Technology.

“I chose Drexel because of its internship opportunities,” Niven said during an interview. “I’ve always been creative. I took an online course on interior design through school and learned a lot about the science and sustainability behind it. It combines my creative side and sustainability which are two things I value.”

Niven challenged herself academically with three Advanced Placement courses: AP Biology, Calculus and U.S. History.

Along with being the Class of 2023 President since freshmen year, Niven was a member of National Honor Society. She was in the Leadership Asset Training program and in Masterminds. Niven was the lighting director for the high school’s musical all four years but was only a member of the Drama Club for the past two years.

Niven is also busy outside of the school setting. She does some babysitting for local families, helped organize events for kids during COVID through the PTA and has volunteered with the Wheatland Senior Center. Her biggest and perhaps most satisfying volunteer work has been a project with RocMaidan, a charitable arm of the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Rochester.

“A couple of other students and I did a donation drive,” Niven stated. “We based it in the school but extended it out to the community. In addition, we organized a Zoom meeting for students from TJ Connor Elementary here in Scottsville with students from an elementary school in Ukraine. I thought it would be a good experience as a cultural exchange for elementary kids here to make connections with kids in Ukraine. I believe in the work RocMaidan is doing and it was nice that the Zoom meeting was a student-led idea. Because of the war in Ukraine, we are trying to make the plight of the people there, particularly kids, stay in the forefront of people’s minds.”

Niven has received several awards, including the Notre Dame Junior of the Year and the American Chemical Society Award for chemistry as a junior. She made the High Honor Roll each year of high school. At an awards ceremony for graduates last week, she received the Lions Club of Scottsville Award, a New York State Scholarship for Academic Excellence, the Thomas J. Connor Scholarship, a Wheatland Historical Association Scholarship, Le Prix de Versailles (French) Award, the Valedictorian Award and a President’s Award for Educational Excellence.

Among the many teachers she admires are Miss Mitchell and Miss Zinone, who were the Class of 2023 advisors and Mrs. Wilson.

“Miss (Kaylee) Mitchell and Miss (Marissa) Zinone taught me the importance of hard work and leadership skills,” Niven said. “Mrs. (Karen Lee) Wilson is a tireless champion of student involvement and reinforced in me the importance of making a difference in the world.”

School events are two of Niven’s favorite memories.

“The Homecoming Parade and building floats with my classmates every year is one favorite memory,” she said. “The other is the Cultural Diversity activities that we restarted this year at school.”

Gocher, the daughter of Donna and Jon Gocher of Chili, is the salutatorian of the class with a 98.48 academic average. She will be attending the University of Vermont as a biology major. She also seriously considered and was accepted at the University of Rochester.

“I chose Vermont because I wanted to experience a new environment,” she said. “As far as choosing biology as a major, I took Advanced Placement Biology and really enjoyed the class. I feel there is so much about the subject I haven’t learned and would like to learn more about it. I am not really sure what direction it might take me in as a career path, but I am leaving all opportunities open and see what I really enjoy.”

In addition to AP Biology, Gocher took four other Advanced Placement courses: Calculus AB, English Literature and Composition, Music Theory and U.S. History. The other honors course she took was Spanish 4 through Monroe Community College.

Numerous school activities also filled Gocher’s day. She was Vice President of the National Honor Society and involved in both band (playing the bassoon) and chorus throughout high school. She was in the International Club, Masterminds and a member of the Drama Club since eighth-grade, serving as President of the Drama Club as a senior. She also was on the varsity cross country running team for five years, finishing 67th with a time of 24 minutes, 13.3 seconds at the Section V Class D Championships last fall. She also was on the varsity swim team as a freshman, sophomore and junior.

Outside of school, Gocher played bassoon (an instrument she has played since fifth grade) in the Hochstein Youth Wind Symphony, starting with the Hochstein Junior Youth Wind Symphony in middle school. She has worked at Panera Bread for about a year-and-a-half.

Gocher has received many honors, including being named to the All County Band and All-State Band. She has received several department awards for her academic work. As a junior, she received the Bausch & Lomb Award from the University of Rochester and the Innovation and Creativity Award from Rochester Institute of Technology. As a senior, Gocher received the Jill Skivington Jackett Memorial Scholarship, a New York State Scholarship for Academic Excellence, the Salutatorian Award, the El Primio de Quixote (Spanish) Award, the John Phillip Sousa Band Award, a President’s Award for Educational Excellence, a U.S. Air Force Varsity Excellence Award, a U.S. Army Scholar Athlete Award and a Presidential Scholarship from the University of Vermont. She has also been named Most Valuable Player for the cross country team three times.

Although she is not planning on running competitively in college, Gocher plans to continue running for fun.

Among the many people in her family and on the staff at Wheatland-Chili who she admires the most are her mother and Mr. Brian Glass, W-C’s cross country coach.

“My mom has always been there for me; she has been like my rock and is very selfless,” Gocher said. “Mr. Glass, my cross country running coach, has known me since seventh-grade. He has been super supportive of me, not just coaching me athletically but also academically. He is very easy to talk to.”

Her favorite memory of high school is a trip to Europe that she took as part of the International Club.

“We went to France, Spain and Portugal,” Gocher said. “I was with many of my friends and it was so amazing to experience new cultures and ways of living.”

As a member of the Class of 2023, most of Gocher’s high school years have been dominated by COVID. She says that while she was hindered by the pandemic like all of her peers, it also taught her something about herself.

“Academically, I think it hindered me and others because there was no 1-on-1 time with the teachers,” Gocher said. “I really think students need that personal connection with their teachers, that 1-on-1 interaction in person with teachers and other students. The pandemic, however, also made me more resilient.”

©2023 Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel

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