Deckard, Johnson are HVA valedictorian, salutatorian for Class of 2023

Hardin Valley Academy announces two of its top students, valedictorian Grace Deckard and salutatorian Elijah Johnson.

“I felt very honored that I achieved such as prestigious honor,” said Deckard, the daughter of Edward and Victoria Deckard and sister of Joy Song Deckard. “It means a lot to me because it makes all the hard work this past year feel worth it.”

Deckard recalled she was “a little surprised” of the news she was chosen “because it was very close between me and the salutatorian.”

At HVA, she is student representative for Knox County Schools Board of Education and a member of Mu Alpha Theta, Technology Student Association, Student Council, National Honors Society and projectU.

“I have enjoyed Hardin Valley Academy very much throughout my high school career,” Deckard said. “The friends I have made have always helped me if I’m struggling with a class or getting a project done for a club. The teachers and staff have also always helped foster my growth both in and out of the classroom.”

Regarding who most inspired her, Deckard replied, “I think my friend, Iris Li, inspired me the most because she showed me what it meant to be both a leader and woman in STEM.”

After graduating from HVA, Deckard plans to major in civil engineering at Vanderbilt University.

“I want to pursue a career in civil engineering because of my desire to help others and my passion for STEM,” she said. “Civil engineering interests me because I have always had a passion for building and designing.

“I believe that seeing the joy from others pushes me to always want to find the best solution for every problem,” Deckard said. “Thus, I believe that civil engineering will allow me to take my childhood passion of building to help me achieve my desire of helping others.”

As salutatorian, Johnson recalled he was extremely excited to be chosen for that designation.

“This designation is very meaningful to me, as I feel it represents the culmination of my work throughout high school,” said Johnson, son of Perry and Courtney Johnson and brother to Conner Johnson,

However, he recalled he was not surprised at the news.

“This was something that I had been working toward since my sophomore year of high school,” Johnson said.

He is an Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction; a recipient of an AP Capstone Diploma; a National Merit Semifinalist and Finalist, for which he was awarded a scholarship. He also earned the Quest for Excellence National STEM Award, is an NSLI-Y Department of State Mandarin Scholar (Summer 2022), a researcher for Oak Ridge National Laboratory Summer Math Science Institute and a 2023 QuestBridge National College Match finalist, which he matched to Columbia.

Additionally, Johnson is involved with HVA’s Mu Alpha Theta chapter, STEMbassadors, National Honors Society, a Language Immersion Program through his Chinese class and is employed with Double Dogs along Kingston Pike.

”The Language Immersion Program is particularly meaningful to me because, when I studied abroad in Taiwan, I was able to meet my language partner, which to me, felt like actualizing our friendship,” Johnson said. “I also played basketball for Hardin Valley during my first three years, but I decided to take my senior year off in order to work, pursue other interests and focus on my college applications,” he added.

“I think Hardin Valley Academy is a phenomenal school. It has provided me with so many resources and opportunities to pursue my interests and has fueled me academically.”

One of the things most special about HVA “is the faculty members,” Johnson said.

“Several of the staff here have made a lasting impact on me, such as Ms. Sanford, my STEM counselor; Dr. Chen, my Chinese teacher); Ms. McInturff, my calculus teacher from junior year; and Ms. Fox, my junior and senior year English teacher,” the senior added.

However, “I would say the person that has most inspired me throughout my high school years has been my father,” Johnson said. “He is my favorite source of inspiration, as no matter what obstacle he faces, he never shies away from the challenge at hand.

“His unwavering persistence and unwillingness to give up instill within me confidence that I can achieve my goals,” the son added.

After high school, Johnson plans to attend Ivy League Columbia University, majoring in mechanical engineering and minoring in Chinese language and economics.

“I also hope to continue to study mathematics at Columbia,” he added.

“My dream career is definitely some kind of engineer, a research economist or a mathematical/physics researcher/professor. I am really interested in Chinese and math; so as long as I am able to incorporate them into my career, I think I will be extremely happy.”