Graduations

School board President John Swenning honors Nicolas Robinson, Tyler Jensen, Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield and Bernadette Reyes during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Anthony Petriello

Applause could be heard far and wide June 21 at Comsewogue High School’s graduation ceremony.

Nicholas Robinson waves to the crowd during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

The applause rained down from the packed bleachers on the varsity football field for all of the graduates, but for a select few there was a bit more meaning behind the cheers. Five graduates were honored for their brave decision to enter various branches of the U.S. armed forces rather than attending a traditional two- or four-year college. Twins Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield, Bernadette Reyes, Tyler Jensen and Nicolas Robinson are the Warriors preparing to serve their country.

Comsewogue High School Principal Joseph Coniglione summed up his feelings watching the five students accept their diplomas and prepare to move on to their next steps in life.

“These students worked hard to get where they are,” he said. “They have made a commitment to this country and, without any doubt, made this community and this school very proud.”

Three out of the five students recognized will be enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, including the Whitfield twins. They are following what they called their dream, but also a dream their mother, Keira Whitfield, said she had always had but was not able to fulfill.

“They are living out my dream of joining the Air Force,” she said. “In doing so they will become independent, productive citizens of the United States and that’s all I ever wanted for them.”

Originally from Queens, and with a family background in both the Air Force and the Navy, the Whitfields are looking to brighten their futures.

“I hope to become a more disciplined person,” Jarrett said.

During graduation, the five students were called up to the stage to be honored and recognized individually. District administration knew the special ceremony was coming, but left it a surprise for the students.

Bernadette Reyes receives a certificate from school board President John Swenning during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I was very surprised to be honored,” Jaeden said. “It didn’t feel real. It felt like a dream … having my recruiter there helped me feel more comfortable.”

Tyler Jensen is the third student who enlisted in the Air Force. He is following his grandfather’s path to the Air Police, which is an arm of the Air Force Security Forces along with the Military Police and the Security Police. As a member of the Air Police, Jensen will be working to protect the assets of the Air Force, as well as securing Air Force installations and other facilities operated by the military branch.

Jensen attributed his desire to serve his country not just to honoring his grandfather but also out of a sense of civic duty.

“I am also joining because not enough people in my generation are enlisting and there is not enough help,” he said.

Comsewogue school board president John Swenning, who led the way honoring the students during graduation, also beamed with pride referencing the graduates-turned-armed forces members.

“On behalf of the Comsewogue board of education I would like to publically thank these young men and women who have decided to serve in a branch of the United States military,” he said in a statement. “It is their selfless commitment to protect our freedom and liberty that allows the rest of us the opportunity to chase our dreams.”

Robinson enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He said he has had a desire to join the Marines since 2005, when he was only 5 years old after his brother had enlisted.

“He is my role model,” Robinson said of his brother.

Whitfield twins Jarrett and Jaeden look at a certificate with classmate Tyler Jensen during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

Robinson said he often thinks about the day his brother graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina.

“When I saw my brother graduate from Parris Island, it gave me chills,” he said.

He is proud to have enlisted in the Marines and isn’t worried about the life change he is about to encounter.

“It’s like any other job,” he said.

Reyes is headed to the U.S. Army, also following a family trend, as her father is an Army veteran. She said she was unsure of her path after high school, but after meeting with an Army recruiter at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, she made the decision to pursue a career in the military.

Reyes said she was ecstatic to have been honored at the graduation ceremony.

“It was a great feeling to be introduced in front of the students, parents, administration and the board of education,” she said.

Reyes plans to complete basic training and continue her education through the Army.

Ibuki Iwasaki, Eli Doyle, Luke Begley, Charles Clark finish atop their classes

By Anthony Petriello

Ibuki Iwasaki. Photo by Alex Petroski

At the conclusion of the 2018 school year at Earl L. Vandermeulen and Comsewogue high schools, four graduates stood at the top of their respective classes. These extraordinarily talented students include valedictorian Ibuki Iwasaki and salutatorian Eli Doyle from Port Jeff and valedictorian Luke Begley and salutatorian Charles Clark from Comsewogue.

At Earl L. Vandermeulen, Iwasaki finished the year at the top of the class with a 101.4 cumulative grade point average. Iwasaki was president of the National Honor Society and a member of the Mathletes team, for which she competed in more than 20 competitions, and won the All-County title for the 2017-18 school year.

“I am self-motivated,” she said of her academic drive. “My mother trusts me to seek out challenges.”

She attributed her success to her natural curiosity.

“I like to learn and try out new things whenever I can,” she said.

Eli Doyle. Photo by Alex Petroski

Iwasaki was also a member of the Science Olympiad team, where she was a first-place and third-place winner in various competitions. The team travels to universities near and far to compete against other high schools in a sports-style science tournament sponsored by organizations like NASA, Lockheed Martin and the United States Air Force. Iwasaki had also been a player on the varsity tennis team since eighth grade and was undefeated individually in the league this year. She is a National Merit Scholarship recipient, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and had earned a perfect score for three years at Level IV NYSSMA on the violin. Iwasaki will be attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall but said she has not declared an official major.

“I want to take advantage of all the opportunities MIT has to offer,” she said.

Eli Doyle finished high school with a 100.9 GPA. Doyle said he is grateful to the high school faculty for allowing him to achieve greatness.

Luke Begley. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I appreciate the opportunity my school has given me to achieve what I have achieved,” he said.

In addition to being an exemplary student, Doyle excelled on the field as well as the stage, having played tennis since ninth grade, earning honors from the Suffolk County Junior Tennis League, and working as part of the stage crew for school plays, musicals and concerts. He also volunteered at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket and spent his time with the residents, earning him the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Like Iwasaki, he was also a member of the Science Olympiad squad, finishing in first place in both optics and astronomy competitions. He was a member and officer of the Student Organization for all four years of his high school career and had the opportunity to participate in the Simmons Summer Research program at Stony Brook University where he studied ferroelectric fluid, which is a type of magnetic fluid that can be used in many applications from computer hard drives to rocket fuel. Doyle will be attending Brown University this fall where he will study engineering physics.

At Comsewogue, Luke Begley was named valedictorian, finishing with a 101.5 GPA. Begley is a music-minded scholar as well as a scholar-athlete. He was a member of the NYSSMA All-State Orchestra on the double bass and played midfield on the Comsewogue varsity soccer team. He attributed his academic success to his parents and his teachers.

Charles Clark. Photo by Alex Petroski

“They always motivated me and created an environment where I could succeed, and my teachers always knew how to keep me interested and engaged,” he said.

Begley was also the president of the French National Honor Society, captain of the Academic Quiz Bowl team and an AP Scholar with Distinction during his junior year. He credited his drive to succeed to his close friends.

“We keep a good balance of competition and cooperation where we compete to be the best academically but still help each other when it is necessary,” he said.

Begley will be attending Princeton University this fall where he will be double majoring in physics and music.

Comsewogue salutatorian Charles Clark had a 101.3 GPA to wrap up his senior year. He could not be reached for comment.

Meet the valedictorians, salutatorians from Cold Spring Harbor, Elwood, Harborfields, Northport and Huntington school districts

Huntington High School held its 157th commencement exercises June 22. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Across the Town of Huntington, hundreds of graduates stepped forward to receive their high school diplomas this week. Among the graduates are those who have excelled academically, achieving consistently high marks to rise top of their class to earn the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian.

Huntington High School Valedictorian Aidan Forbes. Photo from Huntington school district

Huntington High School

Aidan Forbes has been named valedictorian of Huntington High School’s Class of 2018. Sebastian Stamatatos is this year’s salutatorian. The spectacular pair has enjoyed exceptional four-year runs packed with academic and co-curricular success.

“I am extremely proud to be named valedictorian,” Forbes said. “It is the culmination of years of hard work and I couldn’t be happier.”

Forbes and Stamatatos both gave addresses at Huntington’s 157th commencement exercises June 22 in Blue Devil’s athletic stadium.

Huntington High School Salutatorian Sebastian Stamatatos. Photo from Huntington school district

“Aidan is an outstanding student and a very well rounded young man,” Huntington Principal Brenden Cusack said. “His years of hard work have paid off and I am so very happy for him. Sebastian is to be commended as well for this outstanding accomplishment, which apparently has become a family trait.”

Huntington’s top two seniors have captured the respect and admiration of their classmates and teachers. Their transcripts are filled with the most challenging courses the school district offers.

“Aidan and Sebastian have both achieved at the highest of levels academically and have taken complete advantage of all that the district has to offer,” Huntington Superintendent James Polansky said. “As importantly, they recognize the value of service and continue to represent our school community in the finest manner  possible. It will soon be time for them to further share their gifts with the world beyond Huntington. I wish them and their families the heartiest of congratulations and all the best moving forward.”

Northport High School Valedictorian Daniel O’Connor. Photo from Northport-East Northport school district

Northport High School

Daniel O’Connor is Northport High School’s 2018  valedictorian and said by school officials to be a shining example of the district’s mission— “excellence in all areas without exception” — has put hard work and effort into his high school career.

In addition to being involved extracurricular activities and running cross-country, he has been named an AP Scholar with Distinction, a National Merit Commended Scholar, a 2018 Town of Huntington Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and more. He will be attending Northeastern University in pursuit of a computer engineering degree this fall.

Northport High School Salutatorian Nicholas Holfester. Photo from Northport-East Northport school district

Northport High School salutatorian Nicholas Holfester’s passion for learning and internal drive has propelled him toward excellence throughout his high school career, according to school officials.

Even with a rigorous course load Holfester has excelled and received many awards and honors, including being named a National Merit Commended Scholar, a Rensselaer Medal winner and more. He will be attending the University of Notre Dame to study engineering in the fall.

Harborfields High School

Harborfields High School Valedictorian Emma Johnston. Photo from Harborfields school district

Harborfields’s valedictorian Emma Johnston, who will be attending Brandeis University to study neuroscience in the fall, had a successful high school career.

Along with being involved in many extracurricular activities, Johnston has received many academic awards and honors, such as being named a National Merit Finalist and a National AP Scholar.

Harborfields’ Class of 2018 salutatorian Sarah Katz led a well-rounded and successful high school career. Headedto either the University of Californiaor Berkley to dual major in business and engineering.

Harborfields High School Salutatorian Sarah Katz. Photo from Harborfields school district


She has been awarded many awards and honors, such as Rensselaer Medal Award Outstanding Academic Achievement in Study of Mathematics and Science, awards of academic excellence in English, French and art, and more.

Elwood-John H. Glenn High School

Elwood-John H. Glenn’s Valedictorian Kathryn Browne had a rigorous high school career, excelling in both academics and extracurricular activities. She was named a New York State Scholar Athlete all four years and was awarded multiple academic distinctions, including the Bausch & Lomb Honorary
Science Award.

John H. Glenn High School Valedictorian Katherine Browne. Photo from Elwood school district

She participated in multiple clubs where she assumed mentoring and leadership roles, and also enjoyed involvement in both the varsity track and soccer. Browne will be attending Boston College in the fall, where she plans on studying nursing.

Along with being at the top of her class, Elwood-John H. Glenn salutatorian Catherine Ordonoz-Reyes has been pursuing the family tradition of nursing throughout her high school career—and is a certified nursing assistant.

John H. Glenn High School Salutatorian Catherine Reyes-Ordonoz. Photo from Elwood school district

Along with her rigorous dedication to excellence in her studies, Ordonoz-Reyes has been an active member of her school and community. She has received academic distinctions, such as the National Academy for Future Physicians and Medical Scientist Award of Excellence. She will be attending LIU Post on a full scholarship to study nursing.

Editor’s note: Cold Spring Harbor High School does not formally recognize a valedictorian or salutatorian, but rather has a tradition of speeches given by reflection speakers with four to nine individuals selected each year. 

Meet the Class of 2018's valedictorians, salutatorians and honor speakers in Smithtown

Commack High School's Class of 2018 throws their caps skyward in celebration. Photo by Karen Forman

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Across the Town of Smithtown, hundreds of graduates stepped forward to receive their high school diplomas last week. Among the graduates are those who have excelled academically, achieving consistently high marks to rise top of their class to earn the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian. 

Commack High School Honor Speaker: Matthew Ciurleo. Photo by Karen Forman.

Commack High School

Honor Speaker: Matthew Ciurleo

GPA: 105.12 (weighted)

College: Harvard University

Major: Economics

Ciurleo served as president of the National Honor Society, a captain of the varsity boys golf team and was a member of both the Boys Scholar Athletic Leadership Club and Italian Honor Society.

 

 

Kings Park High School Valedictorian Lina Rohrer. Photo from Kings Park school district

Kings Park High School

Valedictorian: Lina Rohrer

GPA: 106.04 (weighted)

College: Not disclosed

Major: Physics

Rohrer plans on continuing her education by studying physics.

 

 

 

Kings Park High School Salutatorian Keiffer Acoba. Photo from Kings Park school district

Kings Park High School

Salutatorian: Keiffer Acoba

GPA: 105.01

College: Carnegie Mellon

Major: Computer Science

Acoba was named among the Top 300 Scholars in Regeneron’s Science Talent Search, a Coca-Cola Scholar finalist, and a Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Regional finalist. He was vice president of the Independent Science Research, co-captain of the math team,  head programmer of the robotics team and president of Science Olympiads.

 

Smithtown High School East honor speaker Matthew Timmel. Photo from Smithtown school district

Smithtown High School East

Honor speaker: Matthew Timmel

GPA: 4.13

College: Florida State University

Major: Business finance, computer  science

Timmel served as president of DECA, senior leader of RYLA, a member of the National Honor Society and played on the varsity boys badminton team.

 

 

 

Smithtown High School West Honor Speaker Kevin Camson. Photo from Smithtown school district

Smithtown High School West

Honor Speaker: Kevin Camson

GPA: 4.08

College: University of Notre Dame

Major: Political Science

Camson served as student liaison to Smithotwn’s board of education; founder and president of Student Pipeline; member of the teen council for the Robin Hood Foundation; founder and leader of Project Smith-Stead; founder of Tables to Enable; a member of the School Start Time Steering Committe; and on track and field.

Mount Sinai’s valedictorian Jonathan Yu and salutatorian Jack Pilon are like many other students in their class, looking forward to college, and even further, future careers.

Yu finished with a 103.12 GPA. The senior was the environmental club vice president, a National Merit Scholarship award winner and he ran winter and spring track.

Mount Sinai valedicotiran Jonathan Yu. Photo from Mount Sinai School District

He said his proudest accomplishments were as a member of the school’s Ocean Bowl team. The team is made up of four students who travel to competitions where they test their knowledge of marine sciences, including biology, chemistry, physics and geology. This year the team won the regional Bay Scallop Bowl at Stony Brook University and went on to compete in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, where it placed eighth.

“It was a great accomplishment,” Yu said. “It was great to explore, go to different places and meet new people.”

Yu will attend Georgia Institute of Technology where he plans to study physics, a subject which to Yu is a means to understanding a complex world.

“The world is so complicated — so it’s nice to simplify it,” Yu said. “At the simplest level everything in the universe follows a certain set of rules, and I think that’s amazing.”

Yu said he hopes to take his passion for the subject to work as a researcher, and added if he had any choice of destination, it would be to work in Antarctica. 

“It just seems like a really interesting place,” Yu said. “There is so much going on, from ice movement to the wildlife.”

As a word of advice for incoming high school freshmen, he said kids have to help each other so that everyone can succeed.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” he said.

Mount Sinai salutatorian Jack Pilon. Photo from Mount Sinai School District

Pilon graduated with a 103.52 GPA. The senior has been team captain for spring and winter track, National Honor Society president and a member of the school’s orchestra, but his highlight moments were spent as this year’s class president.

In his junior year, Pilon and his fellow class officers created committees on prom, homecoming, fundraising and class trips that were joined by students interested in having a say in running the school events.

“These were students who wouldn’t have originally had the opportunity or even interest in school government, and we were able to get them involved,” Pilon said.

Being class president is just a part of Pilon’s interest in government and politics. It’s why he plans to major in government while attending the College of  Arts and Sciences at Cornell University.

“It kind of drew from what I did as class president — you’re really able to create change, and it’s something I’m really interested in,” Pilon said.

But that isn’t his only interest. He is attending the arts and sciences college to see which of his interests — medicine, government or business — draws more of his attention.

Pilon said anybody who wants to enjoy high school should look to get involved.

“Use the opportunities given to you,” he said. “Explore everything you can, take the hard classes and be up to the challenge.”

By Amanda Perelli

The recognized valedictorians and salutatorians of the Middle Country school district were active community members who set a positive example for this year’s graduating class. The driven students excelled in and outside the classroom, engaging in several extracurriculars and college-level classes.

Centereach valedictorian Anthony Roman and salutatorian Olivia Zhu. Photos from Middle Country school district

Centereach High School 

Valedictorian Anthony Roman graduated with a 98.2 GPA and was recognized by the college board as an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Merit Scholar. He was enrolled in 14 AP classes at Centereach and four other college-level courses.

Roman was a member of several clubs and organizations within the district, including the Thespian Honor Society, Italian Honor Society, National Honor Society, the school newspaper and Science Olympiad team.

He is attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall to study mechanical engineering and computer science. 

Salutatorian Olivia Zhu, who graduated with 11 AP courses and two college-level courses under her belt, also earned the recognition of National AP Scholar with Distinction from the College Board.

A member of National Honor Society, Tri-M Music Honor Society, and Math and Science Olympiad teams, Zhu also made time for sports, competing as a member of the varsity tennis team since eighth grade. She served as captain and earned most valuable player nods from her coach the past two seasons.

She will be attending Cornell University to study computer science and engineering this fall.

Newfield valedictorian Photos from Middle Country school district

Newfield High School

Valedictorian Logan Ortiz graduated with an unweighted GPA of 98.7 and more than 40 college credits. He participated in student government, National Honor Society and Tri-M Music Honor Society and served as
captain of the Mock Trial team while also remaining president of the Video Club.

Ortiz was also busy serving as captain of the golf team.

He plans to attend Georgetown University next fall and study political science. He said he hopes to attend law school and has his eye on becoming a government official.

Salutatorian Diogo Martins finished his high school career with an unweighted GPA of 98 and more than 45 college credits.

During his four years at Newfield, Martins helped out with almost every fundraising event in the school and served in leadership roles in the Thespian Honor Society, World Languages Honor Society and National Honor Society.

Martins will attend Villanova University in the fall and intends to major in finance.

Shoreham-Wading River seniors Christian Wesselborg, left, and Calvin Schmalzle, right, were named this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Photos from Shoreham-Wading River school district

Shoreham-Wading River’s valedictorian Christian Wesselborg and salutatorian Calvin Schmalzle both managed to achieve high marks while squeezing in a helping of extracurricular activities.

Wesselborg earned a 101.42 GPA. He is a gold medalist at the Al Kalfus Long Island Math Fair, a winner of department awards for both AP Biology and AP Statistics, was named an AP Scholar with Distinction and
was honored with a Rensselaer Medal for excellence in math and science. 

Wesselborg participated in several sports, including wrestling and winter and spring track. He was also recognized as a member of the academic All-County team as a member of the Wildcats varsity soccer team. The senior also spent his time as the robotics team captain and a member of the jazz band.

Other than school, Wesselborg participated in Relay Iowa, an adventure over 330 miles long.

After four years of high school, Wesselborg plans to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
in Troy, where he will study biosciences.

Schmalzle finished with a 100.09 GPA. He is a National Merit Scholarship Commended Student, a Brookhaven National Laboratory High School Research Program summer intern and placed first at the Suffolk County Math Teachers Association precalculus contest.

Outside of the classroom Schmalzle was also a member of the school robotics team. After school he played volleyball and ran track and field, earning an All-American nod during winter track and to the All-County academic team during volleyball season.

In the fall Schmalzle will attend Clarkson University where he plans to study mechanical engineering and explore his passion for math and physics. He said he’s hoping to land a job in the engineering field.

“Christian and Calvin are both exceptional students who represent the well-rounded education at Shoreham-Wading River High School,” Principal Frank Pugliese said. “Their commitment to school, community and
extracurricular activities will certainly drive their future successes.”

Schmalzle said the things he would miss the most from his time in high school are his friends and family. He said other students that look to do well should do their due diligence.

“Work hard and believe in yourself,” he said.

Kings Park Principal Lino Bracco gasps as he's given a standing ovation at the June 21 graduation ceremony. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Lino Bracco has become a member of the Class of 2018 by announcing his retirement as principal at Kings Park High School. Bracco has served the school district in this position for the last eight years.

“Mr. Bracco has done an amazing job moving the high school forward academically during his tenure as high school principal,” Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen said. “He will be sorely missed.”

Bracco has had a nearly 40-year career in education, out of which he has spent 20 years as a high school building principal. He was given a standing ovation by the students, their parents, teachers and faculty attending the district’s graduation ceremony June 21.

“I am immensely grateful and humbled to know that my life’s work has bettered the lives of others in some small way,” Bracco said in his retirement letter to the members of the Kings Park board of education. “By continuing this mission of challenging our students’ minds with rich academia embedding choice and challenge, they will continue to find success.”

The Kings Park board of education members, students and staff of Kings Park High School are what he will miss the most, Bracco said in an email. But he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife Sandy and their three grandchildren.

His retirement will take effect Aug. 31. Jason Huntsman, assistant principal of Smithtown High School West, will be filling Bracco’s position. Huntsman has served as an assistant principal for four years, according to Eagen.

Miller Place High School valedictorian Nicole Cirrito and salutatorian Victoria Calandrino have worked hard both in the classroom and on the sports field.

Cirrito graduated with a 100.77 GPA and won several academic awards, including the Rensselaer Medal Award for Excellence in Math and Science, the Advanced Placement Language Expository Writing Award, scholar-athlete awards in track and field hockey and was named an AP scholar with honors. Her SAT score sits at a healthy 1520.

Miller Place valedictorian Nicole Cirrito. Photo from Miller Place School District

Cirrito is an active member of the school’s yearbook club, service club and the Foreign Language Honor Society. As an athlete, she has been recognized as All-League and All-Division on her spring track team. She also ran cross-country.

“I’m going to miss my friends the most, that and running track,” Cirrito said.

Some of her proudest accomplishments were done as vice president of the National Honor Society, where she participated in setting up blood drives, food drives and other charitable events. 

“We got to do things for our community and we were able to become very involved in all the planning and executing” Cirrito said.

She will be attending Stony Brook University in the fall where she will study math in the honors program with the hopes of becoming a math teacher.

“I like the ability to figure out what problems are ahead of you just using what you know,” Cirrito said. “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher since I was younger, and when I got older and I learned I liked math. I just knew I wanted to be a math teacher.”

Calandrino graduated with a 99.87 GPA and received high marks on advanced placement exams, including a perfect score in AP Psychology. She is the receiver of awards for excellence in AP Psychology, AP World History and AP Language and Composition. In school she has been active as a member in the school orchestra and on the school soccer and track teams.

Miller Place salutatorian Victoria Calandrino. Photo from Miller Place School District

Outside of school she held several leadership positions, including secretary of the National Honor Society, in which she recorded meeting minutes and worked to help set up events.

The most fun she said she’s had in her activities out of school involved an internship for Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), where she aided the politician in the offices response to the White House attempting to lift the ban on wildlife trophies as well as the legislator’s efforts in dealing with local feral cat problems.

“In Miller Place we have a feral cat problem, and my family adopted a cat that we found outside, so I got to work with different vets around Miller Place and Mount Sinai to coordinate the office’s efforts,” Calandrino said.

She will be attending Boston University where she will be studying political science on a prelaw track. Though at the moment she intends on going into law, she said she is leaving herself open to studying politics or world history, specifically looking at working in international relations.

Calandrino said students entering high school who might think they enjoy a subject should use the available AP classes to see in which subjects they are interested. 

“Definitely don’t slack off and not take AP classes, because AP classes transfer to a lot of schools,” she said. “It’s very beneficial and it will help you figure out if you want to become something in that field.”

Ward Melville 2018 valedictorian Ethan Li, second from left, poses for a photo before graduation with Liv Halvorsen, salutatorian Michael Lu and student government president Jillian Becker. Photo from the Three Village Central School District

By Rita J. Egan

Ward Melville’s valedictorian felt like he had been checkmated, but then he heard some good news.

Ethan Li was at a chess tournament in Ohio, and he said he was feeling down after losing an important game when his friends started texting him. He discovered his 105.77 weighted average earned him the valedictorian honor for 2018.

Ethan Li

Li moved to Stony Brook from Arizona at the beginning of ninth grade, and it was a big transition from a small private school to a large school district, but he said he’s happy his family made the move.

“I definitely felt there were more opportunities for internships, research, just in general, meeting different kinds of people who had different talents in different fields [here],” he said. “And, I felt like that was a really helpful experience to be able to reach out to them and learn somewhat from them.”

Li said he’s been inspired by his classmates through the years. A couple are former students Hugh Ferguson and Josh Farahzad, who started the nonprofit Mission: Toothbrush, which distributes oral hygiene products to those in need on Long Island. This year Li became co-president of the nonprofit.

Li will attend Princeton University this fall where he will major in operations research and financial engineering — ORFE for short. He said he became interested in ORFE while talking to friends who were first- and second-year students at the university on the same track.

“Initially, I wanted to do neuroscience, but this program combines mathematical modeling with computer science and economics,” he said. “And this seemed a lot like what I was interested in. Ideally, I would still like to combine some kind of aspect of neuroscience in my eventual career, but this just hits so many points that I’m interested in.”

With this course of study, he said plenty of career options will await him when he finishes school. He said he would love to start a company that addresses or brings innovation from neuroscience to the public sector. He said if his plan to own a startup doesn’t work out, he can work in finance or for companies like Google and Facebook in their computer science departments.

Ethan Li and his date Catherine Jiang are all dressed up for prom. Photo from Ethan Li

He said a recent program conducted by Google caught his attention. It involved central processing units playing chess against each other and teaching themselves in isolated loops. He said research like this relates to what he wants to do in the future: applying machine learning and pattern recognition study to neuroscience and neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

In addition to his studies, which included several advanced placement classes, Li started the chess club at Ward Melville, and he volunteers to teach the game to students in the district. This summer he will travel to Paris, France, for a week for the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine annual meeting. The research project he did two years ago titled “Differences in Subcortical Brain Volumes Between Expert and Novice Chess Players” was selected for the conference.

Li said his dad Alan, who works in China for a construction business, and his mother Fung Wang, who works at Stony Brook Cancer Center in data sciences, have always inspired him with their work ethic. The valedictorian said his parents didn’t have any expectations, but instead just provided never-ending support so he could live up to his potential.

When it comes to juggling his education and activities, Li said he thinks of the old Nike ad, “Just Do It.”

“When you start doing one thing, it’s a domino effect upon activity,” he said. “You just want to do more and more.”

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