BURRILLVILLE – It was a friendly rivalry dating back to freshman year for the two top students at Burrillville High School, and it formally ended this week in a tie.
Paul Miller and Gianna DeSante were both named valedictorian of the Class of 2019.
School officials tried to choose a winner, but decided to call it a draw after realizing the students had tied GPAs going back four decimal places.
DeSante, the daughter of David and Lisa DeSante, was an active member of the Student Council, serving as president in her freshman year. She also played on the girls basketball team.
But DeSante says she discovered at BHS that her true passion was playing music.
“I am a four year member of the school’s wind ensemble and marching band,” DeSante told NRI NOW.
DeSante was also vice president of the school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, helping to run fundraising events for local charities or families in need.
In her junior year, she received the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award, the Clarkson University High School Achievement Award, and the Bauch & Lomb Honorary Science Award. She was also awarded various academic awards throughout her high school career, including Excellence in Spanish II and Excellence in Honors Chemistry.
“Although I was unable to complete the Biomedical Pathway, I completed the first course, Principles of Biomedical Sciences, and I absolutely loved it,” she said.
DeSante credited her parents with inspiring her to be a high-achieving student.
“Without them, and their constant support and motivation, I have no idea if I could have made it this far,” she said. “I owe everything to them. My success is because of them.”
She said teachers Gennaro Ferraro and Micheal Kropman also deserve credit.
“They have both spent so much time and energy giving me advice and guidance,” said DeSante. “I could never thank either of them enough.”
DeSante will attend Eastern Connecticut State University in the fall as a member of their Honors Program studying biology.
“I want to help cure diseases, and make the world a better place,” she said.
Miller , the son of Peter and Cathie Miller, participated in cross country, track and swim, and was a member of the school’s championship-winning Robotics Club. He was a member of the Math Club, National Honor Society and Boy Scouts, earning his Eagle award earlier this year.
He said he also participated in karate and worked part time at Wright’s Farm during his time at BHS.
Miller was a recipient of the Rensselaer Medal and the Rhode Island Civic Leadership Award.
He joined BHS’s engineering pathway in the second year of the academic program.
Miller credits his parents with motivating him to achieve academically, but also points to a unique life experience that made him evaluate his priorities early in his high school career.
The student had a stroke during his freshman year, caused by a blood clot that traveled through a small hole in his heart.
He notes that he has since learned that 80 percent of undiagnosed childhood strokes don’t happen again.
But for Miller, the experience served as something of a wake up call.
“It was what made me want to start doing better in school,” Miller said.
He said that teachers Ferraro, with whom he took his first AP class, and Andrew Aldrich, who served as his robotics coach, also helped him along the way.
In fall, Miller will attend Wentworth College in Boston, Mass. to study electromechanical engineering,
Miller said that he and DeSante are very friendly, having shared most AP classes during their time at the high school, and many mutual friends.
In their freshman year, Miller was the class’s 9th place student, before he and DeSante began vying to come in first academically. Until this year, he was in the lead.
“It’s been like a competition the whole time,” Miller said.
DeSante said she and her four-year academic rival are “definitely friends.”
“Because we are both academically driven, we have shared many classes,” she said. “The nature of our relationship is very comfortable, but there is definitely a measure of healthy competition there.”
The students will both leave BHS with a 4.31 GPA.