By Leah Chiappino
Kings Park High School graduating seniors Celina Ma and Taryn O’Connor have earned the title of valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.
With the coronavirus, Ma and O’Connor have had to make the best of celebrating the conclusion of their senior year of high school in the face of a pandemic. Ma says that she has found positivity through the darkness.
“Losing my senior year to the COVID-19 pandemic was heartbreaking and disappointing, to say the least,” she said. “But through adversity, comes growth. While we have all experienced a great loss, I think the Class of 2020 has also gained a new resilience and strength that will serve us well for the rest of our lives.”
O’Connor added that while the restrictions have been disappointing, she has hope for
“I was definitely disappointed over losing the end of my senior year due to COVID-19, she said. “I found it difficult to transition to online classes, as I find that I work best in a classroom environment. I was also looking forward to all the events for the seniors that happen in the final months, whether it be prom or the Senior Countdown on the field. However, I’m happy that the school is trying to arrange an in-person graduation ceremony, and I’m hopeful that restrictions will eventually loosen so that the class can get to graduate together.”
Ma earned a final grade point average of 108.42 and will attend Duke University in the fall to study in their pre-med program. Well on her way to a career in medicine, Ma has conducted biochemical research at Peter Tonge’s laboratory at Stony Brook University on the “development of novel, boron-based bivalent inhibitors against Staphylococcus aureus” over the past few summers.
“It really opened my eyes to what the science research field was like, and I learned so much during those 10 weeks,” she said. “It was also super fun being able to get hands-on doing different chemical reactions and laboratory procedures.”
She has won multiple awards for her research. Ma is also a National AP Scholar and a National Merit Scholar. She is the captain of the varsity tennis team and is a co-president of Independent Science Research, Model UN and Science Olympiad, as well as the vice president of Mock Trial. She volunteered as the entertainment chair of the Kings Park Relay for Life and at her local food pantry. A dedicated piano player, she was an all-state qualifier, playing as both a soloist and an accompanist.
Despite all of these accomplishments, Ma said her favorite high school memory has simply been relaxing with her friends during junior prom. “[It] was a rollercoaster of a day,” she said. “I had two AP exams back to back, going from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. I was super stressed after I finished because I was already late to prom pictures and still had to get ready, but I think the anxiety of the day ended up making the fun of the night all the more memorable. I made a fashionably late entrance to prom pictures and had a blast dancing with my friends all night.”
In line with her favorite memory, she advises next year’s seniors to “make the most of every moment. After the stress of applying to college is over, enjoy your final days of being a high schooler, and don’t forget to thank all the teachers/faculty you’re leaving behind.”
Ma credits those around her for helping her achieve her success.
“There are so many people who have helped me get to where I am today,” she said. “I’d like to thank my family first and foremost, my friends, my teachers and administration for their endless support. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
O’Connor finished high school with a final GPA of 106.59 and will attend Harvard University in the fall where she is set to study applied mathematics.
A daughter of Irish immigrants, her family settled in Kings Park a few years before she was born. O’Connor said she loved growing up in Kings Park’s tight-knit community. “Throughout my time in Kings Park, I have spent a lot of time with friends, and have made many memories along the way, whether it be from walking on the beach or getting a slice of pizza,” she said. “In school, I made invaluable connections with my teachers that I will never forget.”
The salutatorian cited the school’s annual Relay for Life event as her favorite high school memory.
“Each year, it was a fun-filled day with friends, whether it be at my team’s tent, on the field, or walking around the track,” she said. “Plus, the event sheds light on the importance of supporting the fight against cancer, and I believe that it is a great way to get the community together.”
O’Connor was also the captain of the Math Team and Trivia Team, the co-president of Model UN and Independent Science Research, the vice president of Science Olympiad, the treasurer of the Mock Trial team and a member of the Relay for Life committee. She was a member of the National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society and ran in the cross country, winter track and spring track teams.
When asked to give advice for next year’s seniors, O’Connor stressed the importance of setting goals and sticking to them. She added her teachers and parents have helped her to do so in her own life.
“Their guidance ultimately helped me to achieve the goals that I set for myself,”