Graduations

Smithtown class speakers celebrate at the county School Superintendents Association’s Valedictorian Luncheon late last month. Seated in the middle are Rebecca Cheng from Smithtown High School West and Brian Righter from Smithtown High School East with Cheng’s mother Pei Cheng and Righter’s father Glenn Righter seated along side each. Photo from Smithtown Central School District

School superintendents, administrators and parents acknowledged and honored the highest achieving students of Suffolk County’s Class of 2015 during the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association’s 21st annual Valedictorian Luncheon, held at the Hyatt Regency Wind Watch Hotel in Hauppauge.

Brian Righter from Smithtown High School East and Rebecca Cheng from Smithtown High School West represented Smithtown Central School District at the luncheon. While the Smithtown CSD does not name valedictorians for their respective high schools, class speakers are chosen to represent each building. The top academic students (with a 4.0 GPA) in each of the two schools vote on whom amongst their peers they would like to see represent them at graduation.

The celebratory event was punctuated with music provided by the Islip High School Jazz Ensemble, who performed under the direction of Steve Campanella.

Congratulating all of the valedictorians and student representatives on their hard work and academic achievements were Roberta A. Gerold, SCSSA president and Middle Country school district superintendent of schools; Susan A. Schnebel, SCSSA president-elect and Islip school district superintendent of schools; Charles T. Russo, SCSSA vice president and East Moriches school district superintendent of schools; and Lars Clemensen, SCSSA secretary and Hampton Bays school district superintendent of schools.

Keynote speaker Roger Tilles, a member of the New York State Board of Regents, encouraged the valedictorians to always put things in perspective, develop a backbone, become proactive and involved, use imagination and creativity to propel forward, and find a job that matters.

“Love what you do, and feel that it matters,” Tilles said. “There is no greater fun than that.”

Each valedictorian was called to the stage to receive a certificate and gift of recognition. During their acknowledgment, the universities they plan on attending were announced, along with their intended majors.

The impressive and prestigious list of schools included Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, Duke University, Fordham University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Villanova University and Yale University. The SCSSA and its corporate partners also awarded 10 scholarships to graduates planning to pursue a career in education or social services.

Hannah Lawrence leads the Comsewogue high school seniors this year. Photo from the school district
Hannah Lawrence leads the Comsewogue high school seniors this year. Photo from the school district
Hannah Lawrence leads the Comsewogue high school seniors this year. Photo from the school district

By Rachel Siford

Two Warriors and two Royals are leading the pack as they look forward to throwing their caps on graduation day.

Hannah Lawrence and Renuka Diwan were named Comsewogue High School’s Class of 2015 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

Lawrence is finishing her high school career with a 102.61 GPA. She is attending Yale University in the fall, majoring in applied mathematics. Lawrence comes from a long line of valedictorians: her mother Cindy, brother David and sister Rachel all graduated at the top of their classes at Comsewogue High School.

Renuka Diwan leads the Comsewogue high school seniors this year. Photo from the school district
Renuka Diwan leads the Comsewogue high school seniors this year. Photo from the school district

Lawrence kept herself busy throughout high school playing varsity tennis, helping to integrate new tech in her school as a Comsewogue Student Technology Specialist, and participating in the Women in Science & Engineering Program (WISE), Math League, the National Honor Society and the Academic Club. She is also a National Merit scholar.

Diwan wrapped up her high school career with a 101.39 GPA. In the fall she will start college at Brown University but is undecided about her area of study. She was a National Merit Scholarship Program finalist and was involved in the National Honor Society, varsity tennis, the Academic Club, the French Honor Society and the WISE program. She also practices Indian classical dance outside of school.

Noah Davis leads the Port Jefferson high school seniors this year. Photo from the school district
Noah Davis leads the Port Jefferson high school seniors this year. Photo from the school district

The Earl L. Vandermeulen High School announced Noah Davis as its Class of 2015 valedictorian and Natalia Zaliznyak as salutatorian.

Davis, the younger brother of 2013 valedictorian Gabriel Davis, is continuing his studies at Duke University this fall, majoring in biomedical engineering. He is an AP Scholar with Distinction, participated in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Partners for the Future research program and is on the Science Olympiad team.

Davis has already made strides in his career by submitting a patent for an environmentally friendly flame retardant and was a semifinalist in the Siemens Foundation Competition in Math, Science and Technology.

Natalia Zaliznyak leads the Port Jefferson high school seniors this year. Photo from the school district
Natalia Zaliznyak leads the Port Jefferson high school seniors this year. Photo from the school district

Zaliznyak is also an AP Scholar with Distinction and a member of the Science Olympiad team. She is a National Merit semifinalist and a member of the Latin Club. She participated in the Simons Summer Research Program at Stony Brook University and in a local Russian theater group. She is attending Yale University in the fall to study molecular biophysics.

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