By Jill Webb
At the top of their respective classes at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School and Comsewogue High School are five talented and smart 2017 graduates.
Chiara Rabeno has earned her place as Port Jeff high school’s valedictorian. She will graduate as an AP Scholar with Honor with eight AP credits and has received a National Merit Scholar letter of commendation along with earning a gold award on the National Latin Exam three years consecutively.
In addition to her commitment to academics, Rabeno was an active participant in athletics during her high school career. She played softball and field hockey, earning an All-Conference distinction two years in a row.
Rabeno was president of National Honor Society, and balanced the rest of her time as a member of the Interact Club, Environmental Club, Science Olympiad, and a participant in the STEM program.
The valedictorian attributes her success to having supportive family and friends who encourage her, along with finding time to focus on things she enjoys.
“Ultimately by doing what you love to do, I think that you’ll end up doing well in everything else,” Rabeno said in an interview.
In the fall, Rabeno will study biology at Boston College, on the pre-med track to become a doctor.
Like Rabeno, salutatorian Xinyi Hong has received a gold award for three straight years on the National Latin Exam. She has a lengthy list of academic achievements, including being a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and earning the American Chemical Society Award.
Hong’s parents emigrated from China, and Hong herself was born in Germany. Her family came to the United States when she was six years old, moving to Port Jefferson when she was in fifth grade.
Hong served as co-captain of the Science Olympiad team, treasurer of the Environmental Club, and sits first chair viola in the school’s orchestra.
She said one of her proudest accomplishments is overcoming shyness as a way to contribute to her own personal growth.
“I would be scared to say hi to people,” Hong said in an interview. “That’s something I’ve definitely had to work towards as opposed to something that came easily to me.”
When she attends Duke University in the fall, Hong said she will pursue a science-related field.
During graduation June 23, Rabeno and Hong broke with tradition somewhat, delivering their valedictorian and salutatorian addresses together on stage. They shared the stage and spoke in tandem about the gifts the other possesses. The address touched on the honesty of Hong and the sentimentality of Rabeno, delivering the ultimate message of needing balance in order to achieve their full potential.
At Comsewogue High School, Marissa Kaye Lehner has been named the class of 2017 valedictorian.
A Nation Merit Scholar, Lehner took nine advanced placement classes during her time at Comsewogue. She was a part of several national honor societies, including music, English, math, science, social studies, and Spanish.
Outside the classroom, Lehner was co-captain of the tennis team, winning a doubles match during the Section XI conference championships. She was a part of the academics club, math team, Bringing Unity Through Youth club, robotics and Girl Scouts.
Lehner said a key trait in her development as a student and person is she isn’t afraid to ask for help, and frequently encourages others to “rely on the people you have around you.”
Attending the University of New Haven this fall, Lehner will major in national security, working towards a career as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. government.
Two students had matching grade point averages for second place in Comsewogue’s senior class and will share the salutatorian position — Lauren Ehrhard and Lucas Szeto.
Along with taking seven AP classes throughout high school, Ehrhard has been involved with athletics, including softball, and Athletes Helping Athletes, a club designed to teach elementary school students what it means to be a good athlete.
She was a member of Task Club, a community service organization called BUTY, chamber orchestra, and pep band.
One of her favorite experiences was being the director for a Night For Jason, an annual talent show that raises money for Friends of Karen, an organization supporting families with children suffering from cancer.
The biggest force driving her academically is having “really big dreams ahead of me,” Ehrhard said. “I know that the only way to reach that is to get good grades and be the person I know I can be.”
Ehrhard will be studying criminal justice at the University of New Haven, where she will join the ROTC program in preparation for joining the Air Force post-college.
Like his co-salutatorian, Szeto took seven AP classes. Szeto said school has always been something that has come easy to him, though that didn’t stop him from putting in his full effort.
Szeto is also proud of his musical achievements — he plays the upright bass. He participated in two different music festivals, the Long Island String Festival and the Suffolk County Music Educators Association festival, and contributed to the Bay Area Summer Orchestra.
Lisa Szeto, his mother, recalled as a child Szeto told her he wanted to start playing video games. She told him she didn’t have time to teach him how, so Szeto took it upon himself to learn how to read so he could play.
“If he wants to learn something he will learn it with gusto,” his mother said of the memory. “If he doesn’t he will get through it.”
After graduation, Szeto will be attending Rochester Institute of Technology and majoring in computer science.