Toren Stearns was the valedictorian for Tokay High School in 2006.
Q: What was your favorite memory from high school?
A: My favorite memory is printing out 100 copies of my university admission letter and taping them all over, and completely covering the car of Travis Hull, who I was competing with for the title of valedictorian. When he saw it, he walked up to me and said, "I hate you, Toren," and punched me squarely in the chest. I keeled over on the floor hysterically laughing. There's no hard feelings. We joke about it now, but it's one of the defining moments of my high school experience.
Q: What are you doing now?
A: I went off to University of California, Los Angeles, for undergrad and studied neuroscience. I then went to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor for medical school. I'm currently in my first year of medical school. I plan on becoming a psychiatrist.
Q: What one thing did you learn or retain from high school that got you where you are today?
A: What really got me interested in medicine was being so involved with Science Olympiad and Science Bowl. Also, Mr. Porter's Biology AP class was the hardest class I took in high school, and because it was so difficult, I studied for it a lot and really grew to love the material. Dissecting pigs was an amazing experience too.
Q: Was there anybody in high school who really made a difference for you? If so, how?
A: My friends, Stephen Primack, Kris Midgley and Bobby Margelin, who I am still very good friends with to this day, tremendously influenced who I am today. I am very much indebted to them for their deep friendship. I would say they are more influential than any teacher ever could be. They broke me out of my shy, insecure shell and really helped shape my exuberant personality. I actually chose UCLA over Stanford because even though it is less prestigious, UCLA would help me become the type of person I wanted to be. I realized that there is much more to life than just exceling in academics — thanks to these guys.
Q: Is there anything you regret about your high school experience?
A: I regret not giving back to the school that has given so much to me. I regret not maintaining the club I founded my senior year, the Brain Power Club. The club was a forum for discussing all aspects of college — applications, testing, mentoring by people who were already in college, etc. I think the club disintegrated once my favorite teacher and my club mentor, Faith Harper, retired.
I really wish I would have had the time to come back, start the club anew, and mentor Tokay's students about how awesome going to university is, and share my fun college experiences with them. I always had this in mind after graduating. It was impossible, though, because I was always at UCLA during Tokay's school year.
I would like to give students perspective on how their actions in this crucial time in their lives affects the outcome of the dreams they hope to live out.
Q: What advice would you give high school students today?
A: Take high school seriously. Take this time to set yourself up for the future you want to live. Take time to get to know adults on a personal level. Don't be afraid to ask for advice. Listen to your parents' advice, your friends' parents' advice, your teachers' advice. Once you graduate and life in the real world knocks you down, it is a whole lot harder to stand back up than it is if you had known beforehand what was coming up ahead.
Also, more advice. Go to a prestigious school where you will actually learn. A lot of students go to school thinking that they will automatically have a job afterwards. This isn't the case anymore. In order to find a job after college, you need to have gone to a top university. I even know several UCLA classmates who haven't found work after they graduated. One works at the same McDonald's he worked at when he was in high school. The school you attend and the connections you make therein will follow you for the rest of your life. Don't waste your time, money and dreams on a dead-end university.
Q: Name one thing you miss most about Lodi.
A: Honestly, this is what I miss the most: I miss driving around aimlessly being bored and thinking of something to do.
Now, living in big cities like Los Angeles and Ann Arbor, there is always something fun to do, somewhere fun to go, some fun people to see. Life is always on the go. I miss the feeling of quiet, lazy days.