HARLINGEN — She didn’t know what a GPA was before attending Early College High School. Now Hannah Jane Powell, 17, is this year’s valedictorian.

“I’m very surprised,” she said about being at the top of her class.

“I didn’t expect to be here and I’m honored that I’m able to be in this position,” she said.

Hannah attended St. Paul’s Academy before beginning her freshman year at ECHS.

“It was definitely the two years of free college, and at the time we had the half-day Friday so that was a major plus,” she said.

The ECHS salutatorian, Taylor Ann Garcia, 18, wasn’t surprised at all she was in the number two spot.

“I kind of already knew since I had been in the very top since freshman year and then sophomore year,” Taylor said.

Neither she nor Hannah had consciously set their goals on being at the top. They just persevered to the best of their abilities and this was the result.

“I think I made it to salutatorian by just trying to do my best,” she said. “A lot of kids don’t realize that everything counts. They didn’t start working until the end of high school. I’ve been working hard all through high school.”

It’s a similar story with Hannah. She was number four in her freshman year, number three in her sophomore class, and the following year she was in the number two spot. At the end of her junior year she learned she was valedictorian of her class.

But she didn’t start aiming to remain valedictorian. She continued her study routine she’d always maintained.

“I felt like if I worried about it too much that would hurt my performance,” she said. “I just kind of kept doing what I was doing.”

And what was that?

“I’d come to school every day and then usually when I got home I’d take a nap before I’d do my homework just to be prepared,” she said.

And there were some late nights, very late.

“The latest I’d stay up is like 3, but I tend to go to bed around 1:30 or 2,” she said. “I tend to call myself nocturnal, actually.”

She plans to study information systems at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

“I’ve kind of been around computers my whole life so I’d like to stay around computer games,” she said. “I think you could get careers like data analytics and things like that.”

Taylor wants to study math at Texas A&M University – College Station and eventually become a math professor.

Not surprisingly, her most difficult subject was history, which isn’t mathematical at all.

But, she had a plan.

“I just tried harder, because I knew I was going to struggle having to retain all the information,” she said. “I just looked up videos and that’s not normally what I do for my other classes.”

Hannah’s biggest challenge has been math.

“I’ve never been that great at math,” she said. “I’ve always had a hard time understanding.”

But she got by with a little help from her friends — and teachers.

“The teachers here are really good and really helpful,” she said.

She may not have understood GPAs when she arrived at ECHS, but she’s got a pretty good handle on it now. That’s why she’s heading off for classes at UTRGV armed with intellect and a well-developed set of study skills.

Hannah Jane Powell

AGE: 17

WHAT: Valedictorian

WHERE: Early College High School

PARENTS: Joe and Tiffany Powell

Taylor Ann Garcia

AGE: 18

WHAT: Salutatorian

WHERE: Early College High School

PARENTS: Carol Ann Garcia and Rudy Garcia