Sonoma Valley High valedictorian, salutatorian prepare for the world

All valedictorians and salutatorians are, of course, impressive, if only by virtue of the inherent definition of being at the top of their class. But spend time with Sonoma Valley High School valedictorian Christina Uzzo and salutatorian Jack Murphy, and you’re instantly convinced that they are extra special. Their intelligence is obvious, and their optimism is so pervasive, you can’t be in their orbit without believing it’s a promising world out there and we’re blessed to be sharing it with them.

Christina has been number-one since her freshman year, although early on there were others who shared the spot with her. “I’m not competitive,” she said, but once she entered advanced placement classes as an upper classman, there was no catching up with her. She is graduating with a 4.27 grade point average.

Jack, on the other hand, said he didn’t know and never gave a thought to where he placed, and it wasn’t until he examined his transcript while applying to colleges that he realized he was second in his class.

So he humbly said he’s not disappointed to be coming in second, with a 4.26 because, “I never knew I was in contention. I always wanted to get good grades but I didn’t think I would end up at number two. I was shocked. I didn’t think I was that high.”

For young adults who would have every reason to be maybe a little bit cocky, these two are brilliant yet understated. Their smiles are constant, and “honored” and “appreciative” seem to be their favorite words.

“I’ve always been really motivated and I’ve always loved school,” Christina said. She is a lifelong avid reader who attended Sassarini Elementary and Adele Harrison Middle School and can’t wait to go to the University of Chicago, her first choice, in the fall. She will major in either English or comparative literature, with a minor in human rights. She hopes to someday be a teacher or an educator with a nonprofit, possibly in a foreign country. She was also accepted to UCLA, but didn’t seriously consider going there because she thought it was too big and she was looking for a change by going out of state.

Jack is an athlete who played varsity baseball and basketball, and his favorite high school classes were metal shop and physics. “It seems like physics is everywhere, and I like the applications.”

He started school at St. Francis, switching to Prestwood Elementary and Adele Harrison Middle School. He plans on playing intramural sports at the University of Michigan, where he will major in mechanical engineering. He seriously considered UCLA, but like Christina, he wanted to leave California.

They each expressed an intrigue about living in cold weather that one might guess will quickly lose its allure once experienced.

Both Christina and Jack are excited about making their commencement speeches, and neither of them is particularly nervous. Christina, who adores Jane Austin and was never interested in playing sports, has been on the mock trial team since freshman year, giving her many opportunities to speak in front of an audience.

She also gave a speech at Girls State in front of about 600 people, in which she noted, “George Washington said we should avoid partisan politics or it would be the death of this country.”

Jack served as the financial advisor on the Leadership team this year, and gained speaking experience when running for the slate last year and while helping to organize the elections this year. “It taught me a lot,” he said, and now he is just “a little bit” nervous about his speech tonight. “I do want to make it a bit humorous,” he said.

“I am so excited to be able to speak to my class about what high school meant to me,” Christina said. She will also be looking to the future in her speech, and is not giving anything away in advance. “I’m keeping it a secret,” she said.

Jack describes himself as someone who was “the quiet guy” in his earlier years, but who “at the end of last year and this year I really started to put myself out there and started developing better personal skills.” He was pleased and surprised when we was chosen as Homecoming King. “It was really cool to be honored,” he said and described the experience of being on the float in the parade as “surreal.”

Christina was “shocked” when she was chosen as prom queen. “I felt like I must be liked and it made it easy to think that being a nerd is OK,” she said. (Although there also may be genetics involved, because her mother was once the prom queen at Justin Sienna.)

Jack and Christina each heaped praise on their parents for all the support given them towards achieving their academic success.

Christina said her parents, Mark Uzzo and Allyson and Mark Etherington have been wonderful. “They are all very hard working and very kind. They are all very involved in my life. They have really shaped me as a person and gave me their support and worked with me to help me get to where I am,” she said. She is also very close to her sister, Kimberly, 14, and has a grandmother, Kaeti Bailey, who lives in the Valley and is always there for her.

Jack had heartfelt praise for his parents, Jim and Kathy Murphy. “They always encouraged me and supported me, but they have never pressured me,” he said. “I am an absolutely huge fan of my Dad, he’s the best,” he said about his father, who is an Academy Award-winning animator at Pixar. “I love my Mom. She laughs at all my jokes and she’s never mean to anyone.” Jack has a brother he looks up to, William, 19, who is a student at Marquette University, and a “great sister” Louise, 14, who he said is an amazing horseback rider.

Even though they can’t wait to get to college, Christina and Jack each talked about how hard it will be to leave their families in the fall.

“I know it will be hard. But I’ll be home over the holidays and we’ll be in touch a lot with Facetime and texts. We’re so close, we’ll be able to stay in touch well,” Christina said.

Jack knows his parents and sister will be sad to see him go. “I do think they’ll miss me, but I don’t think they’ll miss the amount of food I eat.”

Until tonight, no one knows exactly what Christina and Jack will have to say to the graduating class of 2014, but surely somewhere in their sentiments will be their love for Sonoma and how much they enjoyed growing up here. “I love Sonoma,” Christina said, and Jack added, “I can’t imagine a better place to live.”

Even as they head out to Chicago and Michigan, with exciting challenges ahead, Sonoma will always be home.