‘Study, study, study,’ the secret to Bil\u00E9’s academic success

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 6, 2005

Last week, Jean-Louis Bil\u00E9 was kicking back, finishing up his last week of Lakeland High classes. Then he heard the public address system blare to life.

Over the next few minutes, the Ivory Coast, West Africa native found that his name would be ingrained in school history. Of the hundreds of Cavaliers that would walk out the door for the last time in 2004-05, Bil\u00E9’s marks were the highest. He’d be the first black male to achieve valedictorian honors at Lakeland, and the second black student ever, behind 1993 honoree Saquilla Sebron.

But it was no big deal.

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&uot;I’m always calm and composed,&uot; Bil\u00E9 said. &uot;That’s just me. When they announced it, I was the same way.

&uot;Study, study, study,&uot; he said of his strategy for racking up the school’s highest grade point average. &uot;I have no life, pretty much.&uot;

Well, that’s not entirely true. Besides making All-Southeastern District soccer honors this past season, Bil\u00E9’s a member of the BETA club, Spanish Honor Society, CHROME and the Academic team.

Another member of BETA and the Spanish club would join him at the top of the education honors; salutatorian Teisha Swint, who helped mark the first time two black students have gotten the first two grading spots.

&uot;I just tried different things,&uot; said Swint, who was also a member of the school step dance team and performed both in the Lakeland drama club and the Original Performers acting troupe. &uot;When I was in school, I focused on academics. When I was out of school, I worked on other things, like the performing arts. It kept my mind busy.&uot;

Her mind will stay that way over the next few years as she attends Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., within a few hours of her hometown in Bethlehem, Pa. Swint said she planned to study biology and/or chemistry.

&uot;I’d like to become a medical scientist and find cure for diseases, like heart disease,&uot; she said. Heart problems nearly forced her to have a transplant as a toddler.

At Virginia Tech, Bil\u00E9 hopes to study electrical engineering and run his own consulting firm someday.

&uot;If you do that, you control your own destiny,&uot; he said. &uot;Success and failure are up to you.&uot;