When those who knew her talk about Annie Le, they do so in superlatives best student they ever had, most dedicated volunteer, smartest teenager they’ve ever known.
So it was not surprising when her classmates at Union Mine High School in California’s Sierra foothills voted her the female student “Most Likely to be the Next Einstein,” according to the class yearbook from 2003, the year she graduated.
“She was just a wonderful person, a great student, driven, vibrant, energetic, well-respected by her teachers and by her peers, one of the best students who’s ever attended this school,” said principal Tony DeVille.
On Monday, authorities in New Haven, Conn., confirmed that a body found in a Yale University medical laboratory building was that of Le, a 24-year-old pharmacology graduate student. Her body was discovered Sunday, the day she was to get married.
Teachers who recall her as a top student were so distraught they did not want to talk, said DeVille, who was not at the school during Le’s time there but spoke with those who knew her.
He said she was class valedictorian, a member of the National Honor Society and knew early on that she wanted a career in medicine. A yearbook picture from her senior year shows Le wearing a lab coat dissecting a cat in a human physiology class.
In a yearbook posting, Le said her goal was to become a laboratory pathologist, a career she said would require about 12 years of higher education. She was so dedicated that she spent an hour or two every night applying for scholarships, DeVille said, eventually being awarded more than $160,000.
“I just hope that all that hard work is going to pay off and I’m really going to enjoy my job,” Le wrote in her yearbook.
DeVille said Le’s teachers were upset because they knew she was going to be successful once she left the high school near Placerville, which sits in a mountainous, densely wooded region about 45 miles east of Sacramento.
“One of the things they said is what a terrible waste of potential,” DeVille said. “Who knows what this young lady was capable of, given her caliber and her drive.”
Le appears to have come from modest circumstances. The house she is believed to have lived in while attending Union Mine High School sits 16 miles from Diamond Springs, a town of roughly 5,000. Miles of narrow mountain roads wind through thick trees before giving way to a gravel road. Two miles past the end of the pavement, atop a hill, sits a single-story ranch house Le shared with a brother and other family members.
On Monday, the yard around the house was filled with children’s toys, a pile of firewood, a partially finished tree house, a tire swing and jungle gym. A knock on the front door went unanswered.
Outside school, Le volunteered at a hospital in a program designed for high school students who want to enter the medical profession. She was named volunteer of the year during her senior year.
She worked alongside doctors at Marshall Medical Center in Placerville to further her interest in pathology, the study of disease, and shared her experiences in her high school science classes. She once arrived with a replica of a brain, fascinating her classmates.
Dr. Gary Martin, director of operations for the hospital’s pathology department, said Le was the best student he’s ever had in the volunteer program.
He called Le, who was 4-foot-11, “a little stick of dynamite. She was smart, she was vivacious, always cheery, a ton of energy,” he recalled.
“It’s difficult when you’re a supervisor and the student is smarter than you,” he said.
Martin said Le also stood out because she was warm and friendly with others. She was brainy but made friends easily and was humble about her accomplishments. Her high school yearbook shows numerous pictures of her with a beaming smile, surrounded by friends.
Martin said Le was particularly interested in cell structure and cell biology, and he was pleased that she went on to pursue the field. He said the two exchanged a handful of e-mails over the years.
“This is a big tragedy,” he said. “This is a person that was ready to go out in the world and help people.”
Associated Press Writer Tom Verdin in Sacramento contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com