A new challenge is a thing to embrace for Christopher Sollenberger. The tougher the better.

That natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge has boosted him to a level of achievement few of his peers can match. And he eagerly anticipates tackling future challenges that await.

The Highland High School valedictorian is the Beacon Journal's top-ranked 2019 Star Student among all nominees from high schools in the Akron-Canton region.

On his final day of classes earlier this month, Sollenberger said he was looking forward to making his valedictory speech. One of his favorite activities is participating on the school's speech and debate team.

"The type of speeches I write are not really personalized," he said. "They're more objective. So I talk about some of the words of wisdom from my favorite philosophers. Dostoevski, Friedrich Nietzsche ... Kanye West.

"So I gave a bunch of quotes and kind of wove it into this storyline of 'find what you love and do it.' "

Sollenberger placed first in his class of 276 with a 5.019 GPA while taking the most difficult advanced placement courses he could find.

Once he finished all the AP science and math offered at Highland, he took some more at the University of Akron.

"It is rare to have a student with such potential and drive who continuously reaches higher academically," school counselor Molly Pellerite said. "It was no surprise when Christopher was named a National Merit Finalist and scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT."

Sollenberger, 18, recently decided to continue his education at Northwestern University, where he plans to major in biomedical engineering.

In addition, he will take an integrated science program that includes extra science and math courses — essentially the school's honors program.

From there, he could seek an advanced degree or possibly attend medical school.

"Either way, I really want to be working with cancer treatment and cancer care, whether I'm an oncologist or biomedical engineer," he said.

He participates in a host of school and community activities. An Eagle Scout, he volunteers at food banks and homeless shelters. He is a member of Life Teen at his church. As a peer leader, Sollenberger works with younger students in the school district.

He was the Academic Challenge team captain.

He also placed fifth in the 2019 Ohio Speech and Debate Association state tournament. "We joke around and say that we make America's biggest fear our weekend hobby," he said.

He is a three-year varsity letter winner for Highland's soccer team, and ran hurdles for the school's track team for the first time this year.

"I really like track and I kind of regret not doing it for four years," he said.

Sollenberger credits his parents' influence as a motivator.

"They really encourage me to do well," he said. "They've always taught me that learning can be very enjoyable and very fun, and I always kind of want to push myself to learn as much as I can and to be as good as I can be."

While he enjoys free time with friends, he realizes he needs the self-discipline to juggle work and pleasure.

"There have been instances where someone says, 'Hey, you want to hang out?' " he said. "And I have to unfortunately say, 'No, I can't. I'm busy today.' "

Knowing who you really are is the key, he said.

"Part of the struggle is finding what you excel at," he said. "But then I think it's being comfortable at what you're good at."