Top of Their Class: Meet the Valedictorians and Salutatorians

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Mepham High School

Valedictorian Rachel Jozwik worked tirelessly to juggle her regular course load in addition to being a part of Mepham’s Advanced Science Research Program. Her payoff was being named a Regeneron STS Semifinalist earlier this year.

Jozwik was one of among 300 nationally recognized semifinalists in the country’s most prestigious pre-college science competition often considered the “Junior Nobel Prize.”

“I submitted a paper I'd been working on over the past three years and I was really proud of the research I'd completed,” she said.

Her research was about a specific gene receptor and its connection to stress levels in high school students. Jozwik said she learned a great deal under the mentorship of science teacher, Dr. David Kommor.

“He's always been so supportive and encouraging and has helped me a lot over the past three years,” she added.

Other accolades include being a member of the National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society (member and officer), Science National Honor Society, English National Honor Society, French National Honor Society and a Bausch and Lomb Award recipient. Jozwik was also one of three students in the district to be named a National Merit Finalist. Approximately 15,000 students nationwide achieve this distinction.

She plans to study biology at Johns Hopkins University in the fall.

“It's good to get started early on college applications and to stay on track with them,” she advised incoming seniors. “It makes the first half of senior year really busy, but once they're submitted, things get easier.”

Kristina Schwab, Mepham’s class of 2017 salutatorian, has immersed herself in high school life throughout the years, joining several teams and clubs – all while keeping academics at the forefront.

She is on the varsity tennis team and is captain of the badminton team, is a Relay for Life Leadership officer and captain, the S.A.D.D. Club treasurer, a member of Leo Club (the district’s first such club) and a member of the Math team.

Schwab has been named to the Math, French, National Science, Art and National English honor societies. She attributes her endless pursuit of knowledge to a special educator at Mepham who helped foster her resilience and commitment.

“I'd like to thank Mrs. Siegelaub who has inspired a passion for learning that continues to drive me to pursue new goals,” she noted of the now retired French teacher.

This fall, Schwab plans to study neuroscience at the Honors College at the University of Pittsburgh. She offered the following advice to next year’s seniors:

“Things are not always going to work out in the way you expect, but you just have to keep moving forward and grab the opportunities presented to you,” she said.


Kennedy High School

Alixandra Wilens has a way with words. She used her pen – and insatiable thirst for learning – to lead the Kennedy class of 2017 as valedictorian.

Editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, the Cougar Crier, Wilens’ biggest academic accomplishment was being named a Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Gold Medal Writing Portfolio recipient earlier this year.

“I was chosen as one of eight recipients out of 330,000 national submissions,” she said. “This is the culmination of everything I have worked toward as a writer, and it is only the beginning.”

Wilens is a National Merit Commended Student, AP Scholar with Honor, and member of Mu Alpha Theta, National, National English, National Foreign Language and New York State Science honor societies. She is also a board member of the National Honor Society and Mock Trial.

She attributed some of her academic successes to teachers who influenced and inspired her; including her writing mentor and English teacher Vivian DiGennaro. “I wish her class had lasted all four years. I will never see literature the same way again.”

Another teacher who made a positive impression on her was social studies teacher Erin Coman. “She made history sound like a best-selling novel,” Wilens said.

Wilens will double major in history and psychology at the Hofstra University Honors College. Her advice to incoming seniors is to slow down.

“When you are on a tightrope between high school and college, do not rush to either side. Just walk.”

Salutatorian Rebecca Stekol makes sweet music with her violin to accompany her stellar academic career at Kennedy High School.

“Throughout high school, I have tried to contribute as much to the arts programs as possible,” Stekol said. “Whether I was acting in the plays, playing violin in my school's string ensemble, or putting together volunteer performances with my chamber group, I love how the arts is a uniting force. I am so grateful to have been able to work with so many of my talented classmates.”

She performs with her school orchestra and the Long Island Youth Orchestra, founded an extracurricular chamber orchestra, is the president and editor of the school’s literary magazine, Magnum Opus and is a four-year member of the Drama Club, Pit Band and Mock Trial.

“Being a member of Magnum Opus for the past four years and the editor for the past two years was so much fun and allowed me to appreciate, learn from, and celebrate the artistic work of the students at JFK,” she added.

Stekol was a National Spanish Exam gold medalist in her first three years of high school, a National Merit Commended Student, on the executive board of the National Honor Society, president of National English Honor Society, as well as a member of the Tri-M, New York State Science and Spanish honor societies and Mu Alpha Theta.

She will study international relations at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.


Calhoun High School

A professional television actress, valedictorian Julia Losner is capable of commanding the stage – and the best from herself educationally.

An accomplished pianist, Losner has attained countless music honors, including Festival Disney Outstanding Accompanist Award and National Association for Music Educators All-Eastern/All-State/All-County Vocalist.

“Playing the piano has fostered collaborative relationships with others; it calms me down if I'm upset and cheers me up if I'm having a bad day,” she explained. “Being an accompanist has had a profound impact on me, and I am proud of the work that other musicians and I have done.”

Losner is also editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, Hoofbeats, a junior EMT and member of the Bellmore-Merrick EMS and a section leader in the Crescendo Show Choir.

Role models and mentors include teachers Jason Boland, Kim Lascarides, Sanford Sardo and Mary Reinhardt.

“They have all inspired me in various ways and have played an integral role in shaping me not only as a student but also as a human being,” she added.

Academic accolades include AP Scholar with Distinction, French, Math, Tri-M, Science, Social Studies, English honor societies, Students Building Bridges Award recipient, St. John's Women in Science Award recipient, National Merit Letter of Commendation, National Merit Corporate Award winner, three-time Durrell Blank Scholarship winner, New York Press Association High School Journalism award winner 2014, 2015, 2016 and the Le Grand Concours Certificat d'Honneur Laurete National – 2015 and 2016 Award winner.

She will attend Harvard University in the fall, with a focus on Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology.

As salutatorian of Calhoun High School’s class of 2017, Matthew Garber has maintained an impressive level of academic accomplishments. In addition to his class rank, he received a National Merit Scholarship Commendation, and is a member of the National Honor Society, Math, Italian and Science honor societies.  In an effortless way, he excels in everything, all the while contributing an enormous number of hours to his leadership and service commitments. 

Garber’s extracurricular interests run the gamut from baseball to Book Club to Science Club to Math Team.

Without question, his most meaningful pursuit is his leadership position as District Governor of New York District Key Club. He is the top Key Club officer in New York State, leading over 13,000 Key Clubbers from 240 organizations through a year of service.

“It has given me the opportunity to fall in love with service again,” he said. “The experiences I have gained in Key Club have helped me to grow as a leader and a person.”

As a school and community leader, Garber has had the opportunity to lead thousands of Key Clubbers towards a common goal. It has taught him public speaking and leadership skills  and has exposed him to people from literally all around the state, country and world who are different in all but one way; their love to make the world a little bit better. 

Garber plans to study Applied Mathematics/Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.


Meadowbrook Alternative Program

At the Meadowbrook Alternative Program, valedictorian Derek Baumann maintains an active and very present role in the school. A representative to the monthly board of education meeting, Baumann reports on happenings and achievements at MAP.

He is vice president of the school’s Key Club and has involved himself in various One Voice, One Message events and a Habitat for Humanity Build.

“One of the highlights of my career has been watching Derek become the young man he is today,” said Principal Susan Ellinghaus. “He has an incredible work ethic and gives 100 percent of himself to everything he does. He has been an officer in the MAP Key Club and is passionate about community service. One of his favorite memories was a trip to the Bowery Mission, which really helped to open his eyes to the issue of homelessness and hunger in society today. From one who stood on the side looking in, Derek is now the one to whom others look to lead the way.”

Baumann looks forward to studying liberal arts at LIU Post in the fall.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t worth it, because at the end of the day, the person that decides your life is you,” he offered as advice for fellow MAP students.

Known as truly supportive of others at MAP, salutatorian Hannah Kuzminski is a driven individual.

“Don’t be shy,” she advises underclassmen. “We are all one big support system.”

She is president of the school’s Key Club and a member of the Gay Straight Alliance. She has worked on various philanthropic projects including the Fall Harvest Ball and a Habitat for Humanity Build. Kuzminski is also the recipient of a Kiwanis Recognition Award.

“Hannah is a compassionate young woman who is planning a career in nursing,” said Ellinghaus. “She has worked very hard to get to where she is today and would probably tell you that her community service activities through Key Club are the things which keep her calm and focused. She has truly enjoyed the many hours which she has devoted to the Community Cupboard, helping to eradicate hunger in our community. Hannah is always surrounded by a group of friends who are, no doubt, drawn to her compassionate spirit and infectious laugh.”

Kuzminski plans to study liberal arts at Nassau Community College in the fall.