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top of the class

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.”

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.

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.”

By Desirée Keegan

Local school districts took pride in their highly accomplished students at the top of the class this year. Last weekend, valedictorians and salutatorians from Miller Place, Mount Sinai,
Rocky Point and Shoreham-Wading River took to the stage to address their peers during the Class of 2017 commencement ceremonies.

Miller Place

William Sussman and David Argento were the school’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

William SussmanSussman, who graduated with a 101.4 GPA, was a National Merit Scholar and Advanced Placement Scholar with Honor.  He was president of the Future Business Leaders of America and received U.S. State Sen. Kenneth LaValle’s (R-Port Jefferson Station) Youth Leadership Recognition Award. Enrolled in nine AP courses throughout his years at Miller Place, including AP Chemistry and college computer application, he served as the Mathletes team captain, and was a member of the National Honor Society and the Foreign Language National Honor Society.

He will attend Yale University in the fall to major in electrical engineering.

“I think the best way to put it is gratification,” Sussman said about being named valedictorian. “After years of putting in hours of work — staying up late to do all the homework and projects in addition to extracurriculars — it felt good to be recognized.

Sussman followed in the footsteps of his father, Dr. Howard Sussman, an associate professor of clinical family medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine and valedictorian of his own high school in 1988.

“It’s kind of exciting and poetic,” Dr. Sussman said. “He values education incredibly highly and he’s really gone above and beyond to learn all he can.”

David Argento

Argento, who is heading to Providence College in the fall to study finance on the school’s St. Thomas Aquinas scholarship, was named salutatorian with a 99.1 GPA. With a loaded schedule, he was a National Honor Society parliamentarian, co-captain of the varsity tennis team, an Eagle Scout, and was also a member of Mathletes, orchestra and a jazz combo musical group. Like the valedictorian, he has taken nine AP courses at Miller Place. Argento said he hopes to have the opportunity to run his own business someday.

Argento’s older brother Chris was valedictorian at the school in 2012. He said he never expected to be in the position he is now.

“It feels great, but I didn’t really have it as a goal to be salutatorian,” Argento said. “I just tried my best and it seemed to work out.”

He said he chose his college because of its similarity to Miller Place, which he called a very positive environment.

“Both schools are rather small, and I just felt very comfortable there right from the start,” he said.

Mount Sinai

At the top of Mount Sinai’s class are Ben May and Helene Marinello.

May, the school’s valedictorian, graduated with a 103.97 GPA, and is known for his environmental work. He was the founder of Mount Sinai’s Model United Nations and environmental outreach club, was on the Matheltes team, and was captain of the Ocean Bowl team, which won a national title this year. He took three AP classes as a sophomore, four as a junior and six his senior year.

Benjamin May

“The school was very receptive to me wanting to challenge myself academically,” he said. “Over the past three years we’ve made the school very sustainable [through the environmental outreach club]. We started a recycling program, we do annual cleanups with about 70 students cleaning up Cedar Beach.”

Outside of school, the valedictorian was also on the planning committee for the first Long Island Youth Conservation Summit and is the group’s current national communications coordinator, writing the emailed newsletter. Through the Sea Youth Rise Up campaign, he won a video contest last spring, was selected to travel to NYC and Washington D.C., where he participated in a live internet broadcast, met with the president of the United Nation’s general assembly and met with former President Barack Obama’s (D) environmental quality council.

“It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, because with that meeting, we were pressing them to found a new national monument at the marine protection area called Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument,” May said of the new marine protected area Obama established last fall.

His passion is meeting with politicians and pressing for environmental changes. He plans to double major in international relations and economics at University of Pennsylvania this fall and plans to become proficient in six different languages.

“I could use that for international diplomacy through political advocacy when it comes to the environment, which is what I hope to do in the long run,” he said.

When he thinks about his time spent in Mount Sinai, and when asked how and why he’s striven for success for so long, May recalls the instant he knew he was chasing the No. 1 spot he’s in now.

Helene Marinello

In his AP World History class, for every chapter read, students needed to create an outline. Grades would be given from 1 to 5, depending on how much work seemed to be put in. May’s friend would spend half an hour on his assignment and get a 4, and May put in two hours with each assignment, and received at 5.

“Almost every single time we’d get the grades back, he’d ask me why I put in so much work — What matters getting that extra point?’” May recalled. “I just wanted it. I felt I knew I could get that extra point if I put in a little extra effort, and I kept that mindset throughout high school and put in that extra bit of time to get the better grade. It’s super fulfilling. It shows it pays to put in the extra work.”

Marinello graduated with a 102.04 GPA. She said high school has left her with many
memorable moments, but enjoyed a trip to Disney World this past March the most.

“I felt as though our whole school bonded as one large group, instead of the usual cliques,” she said. “I got to become closer with people I normally would not have talked to.”

She said she felt honored to be at the top of her class.

“The competition between class rank was very vigorous, so it is truly a privilege to be recognized for what I was able to accomplish,” she said. “Seeing all my hard work finally pay off, in a way other than just good grades, brought me great pride. These past 13 years at Mount Sinai have been an all-around learning experience that I don’t think any other school district could have given me. Between the amazing faculty at this district and the community that surrounds the school, I will never be able to forget the memories I have made.”

Rocky Point

At the top of Rocky Point’s Class of 2017 were Pooja Deshpande and Nicholas LoCastro.

Pooja Deshpande

Deshpande graduated with a 105.38 GPA and was a member of the National Honor Society,
vice president of the Math Honor Society, president of the Human Rights Club, the Interact Club and Thespian Society, was a mentor of the North Shore Youth Council’s Big Buddy Little Buddy program, which pairs high school students with younger ones, and tutored students in subjects ranging from mathematics to French.

Taking 10 AP courses, the valedictorian won the Principal’s Leadership Award, became an Advanced Placement Scholar with Honor, received the National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award in writing and won numerous awards at the Long Island Science Congress. She’s also been involved in the school musical every year.

“I have grown so much over these past years, and I am so thankful to have been raised by such a community,” Deshpande said. “The Rocky Point School district has taught me that not only is being unique accepted, it is celebrated, and the differences that everyone has should be used to bring us closer together, as a strong community.”

Through the Interact Club, she  assisted in a Camp Pa Qau Tuck cleanup in Center Moriches, the school blood drive, fundraised for various organizations and was a mentor to students with various disabilities.

Nicholas LoCastro

“I have learned through these experiences that although I may not be able to change the world, I have the power to change a life, and to someone, that can mean a world of difference,” she said.

She will be attending Stony Brook University’s Honors College in the fall, majoring in neuroscience with a minor in mathematics, on the pre-medicine track.

Close behind was LoCastro, with a 105.13 GPA. Taking seven AP courses, he was also a National Merit Scholar, AP Scholar, was president of the Science Club, member of the honor society, math honor society and thespian society. He played Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound Of Music”, was in the tech crew for spring pocket theater, was a member of guitar club, participated in New York State Council of Administrators of Music Education festival mixed choir and Suffolk County Music Educators Association festival choir.

“Rocky Point has an excellent music and theater program,” he said. “It also let me broaden my horizons and perform in school musicals, something I had never done before high school but am glad I did.”

Natalie Bazata

Rocky Point also had an exhortation speaker in Natalie Bazata, who graduated with a 104.64 GPA.

For all four years, she participated in chamber orchestra and pit orchestra, ran the variety show, a demonstration of the immense musical and artistic talents of Rocky Point students, during her junior and senior year, and also dabbled in school organizations like human rights club, Be A Nicer Neighbor club and Big Buddy Little Buddy.

“The teachers and other staff of the Rocky Point district are caring, passionate and knowledgeable in their fields, and I am incredibly thankful to have crossed paths with them,” she said. “I usually have a huge fear of public speaking, but for some reason, I felt more proud and excited than scared in that moment. Words mean very much to me, so it was an honor to craft a speech that said things exactly how I wanted to say them in a
moment of celebration.”

Shoreham-Wading River

Anthony Peraza and Kyle Higgins finished at the top of the Class of 2017.

Anthony Peraza

Peraza, who continues a string of family success in the district, graduated with a 102.45 GPA.

He took 10 AP courses to be named an AP Scholar with Distinction, ran cross-country all four years, and was named captain, competed in winter  and spring track and played alto sax in jazz band.

“When I first got named, it felt surreal and didn’t really hit me for a while,” Peraza said. “I’ve kept expectations low — I knew I was high in my class, it wasn’t a focus during school.”

He will be majoring in biological engineering at Cornell University in the fall.

“I know academics are great and it will challenge me, which is what I want,” he said.

Higgins graduated with a 102.17 GPA. He took eight AP courses, to be named an AP Scholar with Honor, was vice president of the National Honor Society, a member of Natural Helpers Club,  a varsity lacrosse player,  a community program’s lacrosse coach, and was named academic All-County for varsity basketball and named second team All-Division in football.

Kyle Higgins

“I worked hard in school,” he said. “It was never really my aim to get to salutatorian, I just wanted to do the best that I could, so it was an added bonus just to be named that.”

He will attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall, majoring in aerospace engineering and will play lacrosse for the school. He was also the recipient of the  Thomas Cutinella Memorial Scholarship.

“There were definitely a lot of nights I stayed up way past when I should have because I had to get work done, but it’s just about being able to stay focused on what I was doing at the time and get done what I need to get done,” he said.

Kevin Redding contributed reporting

This article was updated to correctly identify the university that Benjamin May is attending.

Michelle, Cari and Katelyn Gostic are sisters who were each named valedictorian or salutatorian at Shoreham-Wading River High School. Photo from the Gostics

By Kevin Redding

At Shoreham-Wading River High School, siblings share more than genes.

When Advanced Placement student and track star Anthony Peraza graduated at the top of his class, he wasn’t just following in the footsteps of his older brother, Matthew, who was named salutatorian in 2014.

The soon-to-be Cornell University engineering student was also carrying on an ongoing tradition in the district, which, since 2006, has seen a total of five sets of siblings graduate in the top percent of their classes, as valedictorian or salutatorian.

Those on the list, which now includes the Perazas, are William Throwe, named valedictorian in 2006, and his sister, Emily, salutatorian in 2009; Katelyn Gostic, valedictorian of her graduating class in 2009, whose drive to succeed from an early age set the bar for her sisters, Michelle, salutatorian in 2011, and Cari, valedictorian in 2013; Iris Yu, 2010 salutatorian, and her sister, Spring, the 2015 valedictorian; and Maxwell Maritato, who was named valedictorian in 2014, two years before his brother, Nicholas, who gave his salutatorian speech in 2016.

“For any student to become a valedictorian is an amazing achievement, but to have several sets of siblings be at the top of their classes really is a testament to the families,” Shoreham-Wading River High School Principal Dan Holtzman said in an email.

“I think Anthony saw the adulation his brothers received and was like, ‘oh, I’m going to be like that.’”

— Rosemary Peraza

In the Peraza household, education was always priority No. 1.

Raised by two high school chemistry teachers, Anthony and his older brothers — Matthew, 20, entering his senior year at Cornell University this fall, and Michael, 24, a Cornell graduate working for the county as an environmental engineer — were taught the importance of structure and academics from the moment they could breathe, according to their father, Tony, a retired teacher and coach at Longwood Senior High School.

“When Anthony was about four, my wife and I used to run with him while [also] working on vocabulary and times tables,” his father said, laughing that he was the “drill sergeant” parent while his wife was the more affectionate one. “He knew what was expected of him as the youngest.”

Anthony’s mother Rosemary, a teacher at West Babylon High School, said the brothers are close, support one another and each have a strong work ethic.

“I think Anthony saw the adulation his brothers received and was like, ‘oh, I’m going to be like that,’” she said.

But while Matthew and Michael had to be pushed sometimes to get in gear, their father said that was never needed for Anthony.

“He was self-motivated — he would get up on time, would get most of his work done before he got home, [and] always gave us perfect report cards since grammar school, A-plus’s all the way down,” Tony Peraza said. “He just seemed to get it.”

Aside from running cross country and playing alto sax in the jazz band throughout high school, Anthony Peraza  took several AP classes, in physics, chemistry, calculus, music theory, U.S. history, literature and even scored a high grade on an AP biology exam his freshman year even though he did not take the class.

Michael, Anthony and Matthew Peraza have added to a sibling trend of valedictorians and salutatorians at Shoreham-Wading River High School. Photo from the Perazas

“My brother’s grades set pretty high standards, so I felt I needed to do that too, and not let anyone down,” he said. “Early on, it was drilled into my brain ‘do homework first, get it done.’”

On his younger brother’s achievements, Matthew Peraza said, “Anthony really got what he deserved. He’s worked hard and he had it figured out. I’m really proud.”

That same inherent motivation also drove the Gostic sisters in high school, where each of them excelled as three-season athletes, AP students and extracurricular leaders.

But as far as sisterly competition goes, Katelyn Gostic, 26, who was student government president, said there wasn’t much of it.

“We all sort of just followed each other’s examples … all three of us were independently wired to work really hard and take pride in what we did,” said the oldest sister, a Princeton University graduate currently pursuing her doctorate at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We were all so busy.”

Michelle Gostic, 24, currently at the Delft University of Technology Dutch in the Netherlands to get her coastal engineering degree, said having Katelyn as an older sister served as inspiration.

“I always admired her and had it in my head that she was in another league, so I never compared myself to her,” Michelle said with a laugh. “Any motivation we had was definitely from within.”

She said both her parents — Rich Gostic, a science teacher at Hampton Bays High School, and Sherry Gostic, a physical therapy instructor at Stony Brook University — instilled in them an appreciation for learning without putting pressure on them.

“My husband and I are proud parents, but I have to say the girls were very much self-disciplined and driven, and we really did not play a big role in what they have accomplished,” their mother said. “It just turned out the way it did without anybody really trying to accomplish any kind of goal.”

As the youngest, Cari Gostic, 22, said working hard was a habit that I grew up with and modeled.

“I came home and did my work because that’s what Michelle and Katelyn did, and it has worked out really well for me,” said the recent Cornell graduate, who finished a semester early with a degree in atmospheric science.

“We all sort of just followed each other’s examples … all three of us were independently wired to work really hard and take pride in what we did.”

— Katelyn Gostic

When Maxwell Maritato, 20, was in seventh grade, the engineer-in-training at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recalls coming home and asked his mother Dorothy, “What would you say if I got an 85 on my science test?” to which she responded, “That wouldn’t be too bad.”

But when he told her that was the grade he got on his science test, she said, “Aw come on, you can do better than that.”

“I was like, ‘alright, let me see if I can do better,’ so it started out as wanting to please my parents a bit and it took off from there,” said Maritato, whose father, Peter, is the chair of the engineering department at Suffolk County Community College.

His mother said family always came first but stressed the importance of school.

“We encouraged them to get their work done before they played,” the physical therapy instructor said. “They were both bright from the get-go, and mature for their age. We consider ourselves lucky they were such good kids.”

By high school, Maxwell Maritato was student government president, a member of the National Honors Society, a volleyball and track standout and leagues above his classmates when it came to academics.

But younger brother Nicholas, currently pursuing a biomedical engineering degree at Johns Hopkins University, said he never felt pressured to achieve anything his brother did.

“It was definitely more inspiring to see the work he did pay off the way like it did, and it pushed me to strive to do my best,” he said, adding that any competition between the two was in good fun. “We were really good friends growing up.”

When Nicholas, an AP student, varsity volleyball and track athlete and Eagle Scout, was named salutatorian, his brother Maxwell had just a few words to say: “I saw it coming from miles away.”

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