WOONSOCKET — Julie Briere had an experience early in her life that is now directing what she will do next as the top student of Woonsocket High School’s Class of 2011.
Briere, Class Valedictorian, will join Jennifer Pierel, Class Salutatorian for 2011, in speaking at the school’s graduation ceremonies Friday afternoon at Barry Field, weather permitting.
Although planning to talk about her experiences as a student at the high school, Briere said this week it was her parents, Linda and Brian Briere, and her brother, Jared, 11, who played the biggest roles in her scholarly success.
It was the health crisis Jared faced early on in his life that set Briere’s sights on a future career in medicine, and her parents who gave her the focus on academics and hard work needed to achieve her goal.
Briere, a member of the school’s National Honor Society chapter, is headed to Providence College in the fall to take the biology and pre-med courses she hopes will lead to a future career as a pediatrician.
That path was inspired by the people she met as a six-year-old trying to understand why her newborn brother could not come home from the hospital.
Jared was born with a heart defect and had to stay in the hospital while being treated for the condition, his sister recalled.
“He was in the hospital for 16 days and the pediatricians treating him would always stop by and talk to me,” she said. The personal time they gave Briere was important to her because she was not able to see her brother initially.
“I wasn’t allowed to see him until he was a week old,” she said. During that time, Briere relied on the photograph one of her brother’s doctors handed her as a way to get to know him.
“It just inspired me,” she said of those experiences. “I’ve always wanted to become a doctor because of it,” she said.
Briere’s parents also helped her in pursuing her career choice by giving her the values she needed to work hard at her studies and succeed, she said. “They instilled in me the morals I needed to do good in school,” she said. Her parents were supportive and just wanted her to be a good student, she said. She, in turn, took on the course work, Advanced Placement Calculus, A.P. English, and Anatomy and Physiology, she would need under her chosen college program.
Briere said she also hoped to finish up her senior year with additional courses in Spanish but ran into scheduling problems and lost class time due to the winter’s severe weather.
Graduation, in fact, is a week later this year than it is normally held.
When it came time to find out who would be leading the Class of 2011 in those ceremonies, Briere said she was surprised to learn she would hold that honor.
“I had a good freshman year but it was still kind of a shock when I found out I would be selected valedictorian,” she said.
Jennifer Pierel said she actually found it amazing that she was selected as the second most successful student of the class.
“It is something I feel I earned because I worked hard, but when my guidance counselor told me I was second in the class, I didn’t expect to hear it,” she said.
Pierel believes her work as a junior and a senior helped to her rise higher in the class and “eek-out” other students for her honor.
Like Briere, Pierel pointed to her parents Andre and Suzanne Pierel, for supporting her in her school work and keeping her focused on success. She also benefited from the experience her aunt, Ann Swenson, had in achieving valedictorian honors at Blackstone-Millville Regional High School several years ago.
“She would help me with my math homework and knowing that she was a valedictorian at her school kept me striving hard to keep my grades up,” Pierel said.
A member of the high school’s music program, Pierel performed in the cast of “Godspell” this spring as one of her senior year highlights. “It was so much fun and I felt we were really able to make an impact with it,” she said.
Also a member of the school’s National Honor Society and a student of French, she is now planning to attend Rhode Island College in the fall to study musical theatre.
Pierel is working on her graduation day address and expects to recall things from her days as a student at the Leo A. Savoie Elementary School right through this year at the high school.
She might add a taste of the feelings she has over the end of her days at the high school.
“It’s bittersweet. There are things you don’t want leave and things you can’t wait for to be over,” she said. The latter would include waiting for cafeteria period to end so she could get back to class, she explained.
Briere is also hoping to touch her classmates with her speech and has been working hard to add a bit of humor to a somewhat momentous occasion.
“I am nervous about it, but I’m trying to make it somewhat lighthearted,” she said. “I hope everyone finds it interesting,” Briere said of her final challenge for WHS.
Briere was involved in a number of activities during her time at the high school, including Band, for which she was president during her senior year, and the Jazz Band.
She was vice president of the school National Honor Society Chapter and received the 11th grade History Award, the Dartmouth Book Award and the Holy Cross Book Award.
She attended the Our Lady of Victories Elementary School before transferring to city public schools and has been an active volunteer for her church, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. She works as a dietary aide for the Ballou Home for the Aged.
Pierel was a member of the school’s Select Choir, Theatre Arts program, Skills USA team and Digital Media program at the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center.
Pierel earned three solo and ensemble Excellence Medals in Choir, the Brown Book Award, and was voted the music department’s Outstanding Vocalist. She is the host of “SVI Sports,” an internet sports program.
Graduation, scheduled to begin at 4 p.m., will be held in the school gym in event of rain.