By Seth Daniel
Both Ashley Salazar and Tracey Flores have become accustomed to being side by side – starting out together in kindergarten at the Early Learning Center (ELC) and finishing up neck and neck for the top two spots in the class at Chelsea High School (CHS).
On Monday, June 5, CHS revealed that Salazar was the Valedictorian and Flores was the Salutatorian of the Class of 2017, sending a shock to both girls who didn’t expect the honors. “I was completely shocked,” said Salazar. “My parents were sobbing.”
Salazar, 17, went to elementary at the Kelly School and then to the Wright Middle School before coming to CHS. In the fall, she said she will be attending Cornell University in Ithaca, NY to study food sciences.
“My sister is a nutritionist at the MGH so I always had that as an influence in my life,” she said. “Growing up in Chelsea, I was always known as a health freak to everyone. I’m the one who checks all the nutrition information labels and tells people we shouldn’t be eating these things. I knew I wanted to do something around food. I also knew I wanted to do something in high school that involved the sciences. I decided I should just combine the two.”
Salazar said she was first introduced to Cornell though a program called Newton Scholars that she participated in early in her high school years. However, her main inspiration was teacher Matthew LaBranch, who taught her to be authentic. She said he teaches desktop publishing at CHS, which she has no interest in, but the character lesson was the thing that stuck with her.
“He taught a subject I’m not interested in , but he always preached to us about being your real authentic self. He made me realize that we control our own destinies. I needed to hear that because I’m reserved. When you hear that message in the back of your head it helps you to keep going and take more risks.”
Salazar, 17, said she wasn’t able to participate in extra-curricular activities because she was busy taking care of extended family at her home.
She said she was worried that would hurt her college process and acceptance, but after explaining her situation, it wasn’t held against her.
“It all worked out,” she said.
Flores, also 17, said she has worked really hard to be second in the class, and credited others with giving her the confidence to work harder so that she can achieve the success.
“I was always very quiet and I”m not confident in my intelligence at all,” she said. “Mr. (Wes) Peacock taught me to believe in myself and have confidence…My mom was very proud. She sees me stay up late and doing my homework. I don’t have the natural talent for academics, so I try to work even harder. I put in the time and worked really hard for this.”
Flores plans to attend Tufts University this fall, and will major in biochemistry with the idea of becoming a doctor. She said her two siblings have autism, so growing up she was always going to appointments with them. Then, two years ago, her father passed away. That was followed by her mother developing cancer, which was caught early and eliminated.
Those experiences, she said, gave her an appreciation for those in the medical field, and impressed upon her to go in that direction.
“I don’t want anyone to have to watch someone die of cancer,” she said. “I wanted to do something with my life that makes a difference for others so that they don’t go through what I went through.”
She also credited Teacher Ilana Asher with influencing her at CHS.
“She’s like my high school mom,” she said. “She helped me with the college application process and my essays. I don’t know where I’d be without her.”
Flores participated in the Mock Trial, Girls Track, the ALS Walk, InterAct, National Honor Society and Girls 101.
Salazar is the daughter of Julio and Giselle Salazar.
Flores is the daughter Ruth Flores and the late Carlos Flores.