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Valedictorian prepared to forge ahead in a challenging world

by Lori Goldstein

On Saturday, August 1st, Alexandria Ziegler of Lower Southampton delivered her valedictorian speech twice to the graduating class of Neshaminy High School. 

The class was split into two groups, designated by last names (A-L and K-Z), so as to reduce the crowd size, with everyone wearing a mask and social distancing.  Reflecting on this year of the pandemic, Alexandria sagely predicted that “this will not be the last issue facing our life, state, country, or world. There will always be another challenge awaiting us once the current one is solved. We must accept these challenges and forge our own path of discovery.” 

If there is anyone who is best prepared to forge her own path of discovery, it is Alexandria, who is now a freshman at the Schreyer Honor College of Penn State University. 

She has her eye on a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in environmental engineering. 

One influence on her choice of major was the many days she spent in hospitals due to sports injuries; the other was a fifth grade summer camp in engineering, which ignited her interest in building and problem solving, and led her to take courses in engineering and robotics. 

Alexandria also has an interest in children with disabilities. 

For the past three years she has assisted in the Bucks County Special Olympics, running with the athletes and cheering them on. 

In 2018, she was the PIAA State Representative to the Indiana  Leadership Conference in Indianapolis, where she worked with the Indiana Special Olympics and buddied with a Special Olympiad. “It was a life-changing experience for me, just seeing how passionate and driven they were to have fun and play sports. It really made me appreciate the many opportunities I have, that they do not, to play sports.”

Ultimately, Alexandria would like to combine her passions to develop a soccer program specifically for Special Olympiads and those with physical disabilities.  The program would be held at environmentally-sensitive facilities for people with disabilities, utilizing recycling waste-streams and minimizing carbon output. 

Of the 20 awards and scholarships that Alexandria received during her high school years, she is most proud of the Union League of Philadelphia’s Good Citizenship Award she won in 2019, for which she was selected on the basis of her leadership skills, volunteer experience, and overall academic success. 

The award involved a day-long conference in Philadelphia on how to grow your leadership abilities.

An AP Distinguished Scholar with a G.P.A. of 4.73, Alexandria was dually enrolled at Gwynned Mercy University, taking a macroeconomics course during her junior year, which she found comparable to her 13 AP classes. 

Alexandria has been a varsity soccer and basketball standout at Neshaminy, as both a district and state finalist; she intends to play club or intramural sports at Penn State when it is safe to do so.

Alexandria has an older sister and two older brothers. 

Joey, her oldest brother, is her personal mentor. 

At age 25, he is on the pandemic frontline, as a U.S. postal service worker in Langhorne. “It’s been inspiring to see Joey out there doing what he has to do.  Even when I was younger, he always motivated me to push my hardest in school and sports.” 

Safety – that is not typically the paramount issue for a  college freshman. 

Yet in 2020, it is for Alexandria, and for many incoming freshmen like her around the world. 

She had intended to start the first semester in person. 

But just after the graduation ceremony, when she learned that all her courses could be taken online, Alexandria decided to stay home. 

“It was a tough family decision for us,” says her mother, Colleen Ziegler, “because we wanted to give her the greatest opportunity to blend with the college, but we also wanted to keep her safe. The final decision came down to Alexandria.”

Alexandria admits she’s disappointed that she will miss learning in person and experiencing that first semester on campus. 

However, she has already been communicating with her intended roommate, and has been informed that online study groups will be set up so she can interact with classmates. 

Who knows? 

With her problem-solving and leadership skills, Alexandria  just might already be engineering a way to create academic and social bubbles so that all students may attend Penn State on campus safely next semester. 

PHOTO CAP: Alexandria Ziegler

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