Brenna Kern and Chelsea Bulger seem to be constantly in motion. Bouncing from one extracurricular activity to the next, all while juggling a high academic workload, the two close friends have a deep drive to succeed. Their final assignment as Steel Valley students will be to usher their classmates into the future. Kern has been named the Class of 2023 valedictorian while Bulger is the Class of 2023 salutatorian.
Joining them in the Steel Valley Class of 2023 Top 10 are Randy Keller, Kendall McConnell, Gabrielle Matusky, Breanne Francis, Ariel Mariani, Myrian Perez-Paulino, Lawson Carter and Brooke Farrah. You can see the full Top 10 here.
In the conversation below, Kern and Bulger reflected on their achievements, shared their college plans, and reminisced on their time at Steel Valley. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
What does it mean to be part of the Top 10 and to receive this kind of academic honor as valedictorian and salutatorian?
BRENNA: It really is an honor. I feel like I've spent all of my high school life working really hard and trying to learn everything that I could. It’s just crazy to get rewarded for it.
CHELSEA: It feels like my hard work paid off. All the times of just being stressed out, it paid off. I think having a good work ethic definitely helped.
Was high academic achievement, whether you were Top 10 or not, always a goal? Or did this come later in high school?
BRENNA: Well, I'd say ever since elementary school. School was always really important to me. That was my main focus. And once we got to high school, we were both tied for number one. It was just like that once we were first, I wanted to do my best to stay there.
BRENNA: It just made me feel like we said before, that all of our hard work paid off.
CHELSEA: Yeah, definitely since elementary school, I've always had that goal, just of being like top three. I agree with Brenna, though, especially as soon as you see that report card and it says like one or two, you really want to stay there and it makes you want to work harder.
You are both very active in various activities and clubs. What all have you been involved in during your time at Steel Valley?
BRENNA: I've been in the drama club for four years. I was on the cheer team for four years where I served as captain my senior year. I was part of the volleyball team for four years. Then for National Honor Society I served as Vice President, History Club for two years, French Club for four, SADD President, and Student Council secretary. I was also on the Pennsylvania SADD Student Leadership Council, and I served on the partnerships chair committee.
CHELSEA: So, I swam for three years. I was on the soccer team and served as captain my senior year. I did cross cross country for two years. I’m also SADD President and I’ve been in SADD for four years. Student Council member for four years, French Club for three years, on the Student Leadership Council, and I’m the NHS President.
What is next for you?
CHELSEA: I'm going to attend Clarion and pursue a biomedical degree. I'm also going to play soccer.
BRENNA: I'm going to St. Francis University, and I'm going to double major in accounting and business analytics and then minor in theater.
Chelsea, what was it about Clarion? What drew you to it and what drew you to your field of study?
CHELSEA: I've always been interested in like the medical field. It's always something that, out of all the careers, it was one that really piqued my interest. I really liked Clarion because it feels like a college town, especially in the fall. It's beautiful. I also really enjoyed the feel up there with the campus, and everyone was extremely nice.
And how important was it for you to pursue soccer in college?
CHELSEA: Ever since I was a sophomore in high school, I decided that I wanted to play in college. It just became a goal of mine to be able to play in college because soccer is something I love doing. It helps me clear my head.
Brenna, what drew you to St. Francis and the business track?
BRENNA: I was obsessed with the business school, the Shields School of Business. All of the professors that I've talked to seemed like they wanted me to have the best future possible. And they basically guaranteed me a job straight out of college. I'm not going to pass that up. I love the campus, love the professors. There's so many different organizations for students. And for me, business has been has seemed like the right track because I've been so on top of my academics, I've had to stay so organized, and I could continue organizing things. Plus, I love numbers.
And why was it important for you to be able to continue with theater and musical side of things?
BRENNA: Musical theater has allowed me to be like my true self. I've always danced since I was little and I never put dance, singing and acting together until my freshman year. And it just changed my life.
When you think of your time here at Steel Valley, is there a club, activity, event, class, or anything in particular that first comes to mind?
CHELSEA: I would say definitely playing soccer and getting up every single morning to train and building that bond with your friends. It’s just really nice. It just makes you feel closer with everyone.
BRENNA: Every time I think of Steel Valley and Drama Club, I always think of my sophomore year. We did "Godspell." I always had my wonderful group of friends but I found more people that had the same interests as me and really pushed me to do my best in theater and also academically.
Favorite classes and/or favorite teachers?
BRENNA: I'd say one of my favorite classes and one of the most brutal classes was chemistry – CHS (College in High School) Chem. It really pushed me, but whenever I would grasp a concept, it made me feel like I can do anything.
CHELSEA: I love Ms. Logan. She felt like a second mom to me, especially in her chem class, like Brenna said. It was really hard, but she pushed you. And as soon as you understood a topic, you just felt so good about yourself. I also loved Ms. Maddigan, even though her biology class was definitely a challenge because it’s CHS (College in High School). She’s also another science teacher I just loved so much.
You're each involved in a lot of different clubs and activities, and you've done really well for yourselves. Younger students may look up to you for inspiration or for guidance. For students who may want to achieve some of the same things you both have achieved, do you have any advice?
BRENNA: I would say stay dedicated no matter what. If it's what you want to do, you have to be willing to work hard. But also don't forget that there's other people that are there to support you throughout your journey, throughout whatever you're doing. Find those people. I still ask my older friends every day for help, and there's no shame in that. You need to do what you love and continue doing it. Staying organized and time management - those are big, big parts of it. But doing all the different activities help you build those time management skills.
CHELSEA: I would say never stress yourself out too much. It's important to stay dedicated but have sympathy for yourself. Understand that you're working hard. You need a happy medium – you need to work hard, but don’t push yourself to the point where you are burnt out and you don't have time for yourself.
What does it mean to you to be a Steel Valley graduate?
CHELSEA: For me, it meant growing up in a tight knit community and just really being a part of everything. It's different than living in a bigger area like Peters or Moon where you don't know everyone. It's nice living in this community because everyone knows each other and everyone's super close and there's such a close bond, especially within our class.
BRENNA: I'd say the same thing. I haven't had very many bad experiences here, whether it's teachers or students. There's always been that support, that community that really binds us all together. And I feel like my education has been very cared about by my teachers, too.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BRENNA: I just think it's great to have these titles. Chelsea and I are best friends. We’re super close. We’re always so stressed. And the fact that we got to this point where it's all paid off, it’s just crazy.
CHELSEA: It feels really good. Literally since freshman year, we were always so stressed, and it’d be over the dumbest stuff. So, I’d also like to add that – don’t stress over the small stuff. Push yourself, but don’t burn yourself out.
BRENNA: Also, be kind to others.
CHELSEA: Yes! Be kind to everyone, because it pays off.