Co-Valedictorian Emily Storms: ‘Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do’

From left: Principal Tom Waszak, Co-Valedictorians Emily Storms and Victoria Manesh, and Fr. Vincent Gilmore. Photo by Eric Simonson.
Emily Storms, co-valedictorian of the 2010 class at JSerra Catholic High School, once told her father, Russ, what music she wanted played at his funeral.

“What kind?” he asked.

“I can’t tell you!” she said. “I want it to be a surprise.”

When she was 10 and 11, she was the only girl on her Pop Warner football team. She started on both sides of the ball. Despite being smaller than her teammates, she was the hardest hitter.

Storms’ humor and can-do spirit shined through in her June 5 graduation speech at JSerra – a speech in which she reminded the class of 2010 that the high school experience is about more than academic performance.

“It is not how we looked on paper or our specific individual achievements that I will remember most, however impressive these may be,” Storms said.

“No, I won’t remember the fame or glory we earned when we beat Santa Margarita in football, but rather the overwhelming feeling of community that flooded my senses as we all rushed the field together.

“The grades, assignments, homework and tests that we worked so hard to excel on will all be forgotten, but the vision of my friends and peers studying together every morning as I walked through the doors of the center room is branded upon my mind…

“It is the memories we share that I could never forget.”

Storms has a big brother who inspired her. Evan Storms, a graduate of Fairmont Preparatory Academy in Anaheim, also was class valedictorian. He will be a sophomore this fall at Stanford, where he is getting straight As majoring in economics and philosophy.

As much as Evan has served as a role model, however, Storms has forged a path that is as unique and singular as the comment in her senior yearbook: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do, just get out of my way.”

A highlight of her time at JSerra was her co-founding of the Peru Club, which led to four trips to the impoverished South American country. The club is dedicated to raising money for orphans. The trip made a big impression on Storms.

“When you go to a foreign country, especially a country drowning in poverty, you are exposed to radically different ways of life, and you are forced to question your own,” Storms said.

“A lot of times, in the whirlwind of day-to-day life, it’s easy to get lost among the stress and routine of it all. But, after going to Peru, I had to ask myself what my motivation was for everything I was doing – if it was truly making me happy, and how it was impacting those around me.”

Storms will be attending Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. – a small school, with about 1,500 students. “It really takes a unique approach to education, with a strong emphasis on writing and a weaker emphasis on exams,” she said.

Her mother, Kathleen O’Connell, predicts she’ll continue to be successful because of her work ethic and natural talent.

“More importantly, she values relationships and friends above everything else. She is kind and caring to others,” her mother says. “She also has a great sense of humor!”

Emily plans to become a professor of psychology at a major university.

“Oh, and I want cats!’’ she said.