Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
South Gwinnett's Emirami Pepe was one of the top student-athletes in the county this school year. He was the Comets' No. 1 singles tennis player, was the first chair violinist, participated in numerous clubs and is ranked No. 10 in his class.
For his final week of high school, Emirami Pepe didn’t study, take an exam or worry a final grade.
Instead the South Gwinnett senior slept in until noon, had lunch with friends and then relaxed in the afternoon.
“That’s basically it,” he said with a big grin.
The Pepe File
Who: Emirami Pepe
School: South Gwinnett
Favorite TV show “American Idol”
Favorite athlete: Rafael Nadal
Dream job: Cardiac surgeon
Were you ever worried about finishing your school work while at a tennis match? “Playing tennis you can’t really think about anything else, but the match. I know when I’m there and not playing I’m thinking about the homework and the amount of stress I’m putting on myself. It’s stressful when you think about those things because I care about my school work and the grades I get. ”
• Moved to the U.S. from Fiji when he was 9
• Will attend the University of Georgia this fall
• Graduated with a 3.91 GPA, earning only one B in high school
• Four-year member of varsity tennis team
• Member of several clubs including President of the National Honor Society, Beta Club, Gwinnett Student Leadership team, Comets in Action, a volunteer service club, Student Leadership Team and Relay For Life
• Was first chair violinist in South Gwinnett orchestra
It was a well-deserved relaxation period after years of late-night studying, playing tennis and balancing all of his other extracurricular activities.
Pepe finished all of his Advanced Placement classes a week early and his teachers let him have the week before Sunday’s graduation off.
“All my hard work through high school is finally paying off,” Pepe said. “Exempting all my finals is awesome.”
It’s been a busy four years for the native of Fiji.
Pepe will graduate with a 3.91 GPA, which included eight AP courses. He also juggled quite an impressive after-school social life. Pepe played varsity tennis for four years, led the South Gwinnett orchestra and was a member of several clubs, including president of the National Honor Society, Beta Club, Gwinnett Student Leadership team, Comets in Action, a volunteer service club, Student Leadership Team and Relay For Life.
“My friends tell me I’m too involved with school and I’m stretching myself out,” Pepe said.
Pepe only made one B during his high school career. The lone blemish came from his tennis coach, Doug Day, who was also his pre-calculus teacher last year.
“His focus is always impressive,” Day said. “He plays tennis, he’s the first chair violinist, he’s in numerous clubs and he’s No. 10 in his class.”
All of his activities, especially tennis, led to some late nights. The tennis team might not end an away match until late at night. By the time Pepe got home at 11 p.m. he would study until 2 a.m. for his demanding AP classes. He would be up by 6:30 for the next day of school. Never late and always with a smile on his face.
“Being on the tennis team has really helped me with my academics with prioritizing and scheduling what’s most important for me in school,” Pepe said. “Being in tennis has taught me how to balance school work and I know it will pay off when I get to college.”
Pepe will attend the University of Georgia this fall where he plans to major in pre-medicine. He chose the Athens school over Ivy League school Princeton for financial reasons.
Pepe wants to become a cardiac surgeon and help people in underdeveloped countries with the organization Doctors without Borders. He would also like to return to his native country of Fiji.
“It’s probably one of the most beautiful places (in the world),” Pepe said. “It has to be on everyone’s bucket list to visit there.”
Pepe moved from the tropical island, which is east of Australia, when he was 9 years old. His mother met an American and remarried, bringing his immediate family to the U.S.
It was a move that shaped Pepe’s life. He was never concerned with academics growing up, focusing on farming to raise money for his family and to help feed them. He likely would have grown up to be a farmer.
Now he’s on the path to be a doctor.
“Each day I’m grateful for this opportunity that my other family members are not getting,” Pepe said.
Pepe’s love for tennis came from his mother. After moving to the U.S., his mother always watched tennis on TV, especially Spanish star Rafael Nadal.
Pepe picked up an old racquet in the garage and began practicing, trying to do everything that Nadal would do with the ball.
“Even though he’s left-handed, I’d still try to emulate his top spin,” Pepe said.
After conquering that challenge, he picked up the violin. His step-father told him it would be too hard for him to learn. Pepe took the challenge and practiced for hours daily. The hard work paid off when he got to high school.
Pepe became the first freshman to be in chamber orchestra, which is the school’s highest level. He was also the youngest concert master, which is the first chair that leads the whole orchestra.
“I don’t know if I would say he’s a better student than athlete because he’s outstanding in both,” Day said.
Pepe didn’t have to come to school last week, but couldn’t stay away. After his late wake-up call, he made it to the school to clean out his locker and get his yearbook signed.
“They always ask me, ‘When are you going home?’” Pepe said. “I’m always around.”
For the last four years, South was his second home.
He was there early for school and stayed afterward for tutoring or tennis practice. The faculty and staff all know his name and greet him with a warm hello as he walked the halls one last time last week.
“I’m gonna miss it,” he said.