Elizabeth Zarrilli and Julia Barrow have some advice for the students of Broadneck High School.
"Take the classes you enjoy," Zarrilli said.
That may come off as simple and straightforward advice, but the valedictorian of Broadneck's 2020 graduating class speaks from experience.
"This makes higher-level classes much more bearable and is definitely the best way to reduce stress while still taking highly weighted classes," Zarrilli said. "It doesn’t feel like as much work when you’re interested in the material."
Zarrilli, who finished at the top of her class with a 4.5877 GPA, was followed closely by Barrow, and her 4.5636 GPA.
"Just stick to your own path and make choices based on who you are, not what other people tell you," Barrow said. "There were plenty of times where people told me things would be too hard or that I had to follow a certain path in order to be successful, and that’s just not true. I’ve seen people get caught up in that, and it’s just not necessary."
Along with sharing top academic honors this year, Zarrilli and Barrow also share a strong friendship that developed from their studies.
"By the end of last year, we figured out that we were at the top and we just had a lot of fun with it," Barrow said. "It's something really cool to be able to share with her."
Both Zarrilli and Barrow credit a challenging physics class that they took together, during their junior year, for pushing them academically and developing their friendship as well.
"Elizabeth, especially last year, helped me with a lot of my classes," Barrow said. "Not only are we friends, but there's always been a mutual respect, which has been really great."
By the end of their junior year, the two shared the No. 1 spot for their class rank. That situation allowed for a unique opportunity when it came to applying for colleges.
"We applied to colleges as kind of like co-valedictorians, if you will, which was really, really cool because we were really good friends after the year," Zarrillli said.
In the fall, Zarrilli will attend Clemson University and plans to major in economics. She was also accepted into the Lyceum Scholars Program, which studies the political and economic foundations of the country.
"I've known that I wanted to go south for a while," Zarrilli said. "Then I got into the Lyceum program which was a big draw for me."
Barrow will attend the University of North Carolina next year, following in the footsteps of her father, who was a Tarheel as well.
"It's always been on my list. I've grown up rooting for them at basketball games," Barrow said. "It made sense. It was the right fit."
As for now, she plans to study public policy in Chapel Hill but will keep her options open to follow her passion for mathematics.
While the 2020 school year may not have finished like anyone expected, Zarrilli and Barrow never wavered in their studies or in their friendship.
Zarrilli said, "I told her, 'If you're up there, I'll be happy no matter where I am,' because we are friends."