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Environmental advocacy, leadership hallmarks of Laurel’s valedictorian and salutatorian

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Posted on: July 13, 2023

By Angie Latham Kozlowski 

Laurel High School (LHS) valedictorian Javier Fuentes will be taking his passion for working with people, for social justice and for the environment to the University of Maryland (UMD) next fall, where he will study public policy.

Fuentes was very involved in environmental issues at LHS. Laurel Green Club advisor Beth Gallagher wrote in an email “Javier joined the Laurel Green Club as a freshman, and he has been the president of the club since his sophomore year. …Javier has testified before the Maryland State Legislature and the Prince George’s County Town Hall in support of environmental issues. He was featured in an article in Maryland Matters, ’Laurel High School’s Eco-Activism Has Global Reach.’”

Virtual learning  during his sophomore year due to the pandemic  made hands-on environmental projects with Green Club and practicing the clarinet remotely with the jazz band challenging. Fuentes said that “Because we had so many different education experiences, [the class of 2023], can provide a lot of creative solutions to the problems in the world today.” 

While at Laurel, Fuentes particularly enjoyed history and  participated in Envirothon, a county- and state-level competition focused on environmental topics. His team won the county-level competition both junior and senior years and went on to participate in the state level competition. 

In his speech at graduation, Fuentes spoke about overcoming  and the importance of teamwork and  learning from each other. “High school is what you make of it,” he said, stressing the importance of “building relationships with staff, teachers and students.” 

Salutatorian Abner Calleja is also heading to UMD; he has been admitted to the university’s College Park Scholars and the College Student Success programs.

LHS salutatorian Abner Calleja
Courtesy of Abner Calleja

Gallagher taught  Calleja and Fuentes during their junior and senior years. ”They were remarkable students, lucid, intelligent thinkers and writers. I will always remember Abner for his leadership and maturity, and for the joy he brought to those around him.”

Calleja’s  favorite subject is math and he looks forward to majoring in mechanical engineering. An avid soccer player, he enjoyed playing for LHS his senior year. He also played intramural, student-led futsal in the spring of his junior and senior years.

In his speech at graduation, Calleja talked about the importance of taking risks. ”There is value in every single risk taking you out of your comfort zone,” he said, adding “it becomes [either] a success or a learning experience.”

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