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SEAS valedictorian, salutatorian look beyond GPAs

Claire Duvallet, SEAS ’13, has a public service announcement for Columbia: “Go the fuck to sleep.”

Duvallet, who was named the School of Engineering and Applied Science salutatorian last month, said that she believes getting a full night’s sleep and doing well are “totally correlated.”

Both she and SEAS valedictorian Joseph DelPreto regularly get a full night’s sleep, she said.

“I don’t care about my GPA—I care about learning things for the sake of learning it and doing well for the sake of doing well,” Duvallet said. “And that’s how I approach everything in my life. So I have fun.”

DelPreto, too, has made time for interests outside of his coursework. In his time at Columbia, he participated in a variety of student organizations, including the University’s archery, bowling, and parkour clubs. His automated Christmas light shows, which he creates for fun, were even featured on Bwog back in 2011. 

This past weekend, DelPreto and his senior design group traveled to Florida for the Cornell Cup USA, a design competition sponsored by Cornell and Intel, and received an Honorable Mention for their capstone project—a robotic assistant to help elderly people carry objects.

“We were there for the competition, but the last few days we get to hang out in Disney World,” DelPreto said in a phone interview from the theme park, laughing as his friends joked in the background of the call.

Both DelPreto and Duvallet said they were surprised and excited to find out the news about their class rank, but Duvallet had been thinking about the topic for a while.

“I was thinking about it over winter break, like, ‘I wonder if I could be, like, valedictorian,’” she said. “And then I realized, ‘No way, people like Joe DelPreto exist—there’s no way I’m going to be up there.”

Friends say that DelPreto is a modest person and has a childlike sense of wonder, and describe him as “just Joe.” 

Duvallet, who is a resident adviser and the first SEAS student ever to be named a Luce Scholar, said she strives to be “a really genuine person” and hopes people see that.

Both valedictorian and salutatorian have plans to earn Ph.D.s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—DelPreto in robotics and Duvallet in biological engineering, after her year in Asia funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Neither is sure of his or her next step after the Ph.D., but Duvallet said she may consider pursuing her senior design project further after graduation. Her team of students has created a mosquito trap to help prevent malaria in refugee and displaced person camps in sub-Saharan Africa.

Still, both Duvallet and DelPreto said it is not their grades or class rank that they will remember about Columbia.

“It’s all the different people that you meet and friends you make. That’s what will make college something meaningful and something you’ll remember,” DelPreto said.  |  @abby_abrams


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Steve C. posted on

Amazing people. First met them in Accelerated Physics, which was definitely a bonding experience. They've only continued to do fascinating things, generally outside the classroom, ever since our birth through fire together.

Anonymous posted on

Easy to "look past" GPA when your's is amazing.