On June 13, Daniela Velazquez stood behind a lectern in front of her class at Passaic County Community College and delivered her speech as valedictorian. Just 10 days later she graduated from her high school in Passaic, where she was also the class valedictorian.
It's remarkable, said Passaic County Community College President Steven Rose. Few high school students become class valedictorians and even fewer go on to become college valedictorians. He's never heard of anyone who has managed to do both simultaneously.
"I am not sure that we will see that happen again," Rose said. "It is an incredible achievement."
A humble Velazquez said she found out in late May she was number one at Passaic Preparatory Academy, one of the city's three public high schools. She finished with a 4.576 GPA.
It wasn't until a few weeks ago that she learned she would also be Passaic County Community College's top student with a 3.99 GPA.
"I think she got like one A-minus," Rose said.
Passaic, along with a number of other area high schools, takes part in the Passaic County Community College dual enrollment program. Students like Velazquez are able to take college-level classes while in high school. In Velazquez's case, she was able to take enough classes to earn an associate's degree in liberal arts.
Going into her senior year of high school, Velazquez said she knew she was in the running for the top student position. She had spent most of her freshman, sophomore and junior years fixated on her grades.
"I would ask my teacher why I got 97 and not a 98," she said. "Yeah I was that kid."
But going into her final 18 months she lightened up on the grades a bit to enjoy life more, she said.
She and her best friend, Kimberly Daniels, who was Passaic Prep's salutatorian, began to worry less and became more confident they would be the top students.
Valedictorians were named in each of the three high schools in Passaic: Passaic High School named Emily Sanchez, Passaic Academy for Science and Engineering named Parth Rana and Velazquez for Passaic Preparatory Academy.
Passaic Preparatory Academy Principal Stacey Bruce called Velazquez exceptional, well-rounded, respectful and humble.
"She's a deep thinker," Bruce said. "When her former teachers heard, they said they weren't surprised. She's an amazing kid."
She also goes all out, Bruce said. As a member of the theater club, Velazquez was in the most recent production of "Beauty and the Beast."
Velazquez also served as Student Council vice president for two years and more recently as vice president for Passaic Mayor Hector Lora's Youth Council.
Bruce said in recent months Velazquez was unsure whether to attend the University of Pennsylvania or Columbia University. In trying to come to a decision, Bruce said Velazquez had a list of questions to help her decide. Not surprising, Bruce said.
"She did her homework," Bruce said.
Velazquez starts classes at Columbia University next week, a short summer session before she will attend full time in the fall. For her first year, Velazquez has a full scholarship to Columbia, where she will pursue a dual major in psychology and film study.
One of the career paths she's considering is being a therapist and maybe creating a counseling program.
"I'd like to help low-income individuals," she said.
As she prepares to move to Manhattan, the 18-year-old said she's "nervous" about leaving home and her parents Reyna and Ignacio, who emigrated from Mexico.
“Daniela’s achievements have made a Big Bang in Passaic,” Lora said. “In some ways, she is the Sheldon Cooper of our community!”
Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Passaic NJ student named high school, college valedictorian