If you had asked Christian Cang-Cuesta, East Meadow High School’s Valedictorian, before he spoke with the Herald, he would probably say he wasn’t looking forward to an interview.
“I quite frankly didn’t like the publicity,” he said, on earning the title at the top of his class. “I didn’t like how it became the definition of who I am . . . it’s not all I want to be know as.”
Asked what he would like to be known as, Cang-Cuesta laughed and said, “Ideally, I wouldn’t be known. I just don’t like attention.”
Instead, Cang-Cuesta lets his music speak for him. He plays the organ in his high school’s orchestra and at his Lutheran church in Plainview; he’s conducted the school’s orchestra; he plays violin, piano, percussion and bass in the school’s band; he plays violin and piano in the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, and he’s played various instruments in the school’s musical.
It was during this year’s production of Fiddler on the Roof that Cang-Cuesta faced a watershed moment. “I know I said I didn’t like attention,” he began as he spoke about coming down with a fever of 106 degrees and having to be rushed to the hospital during intermission.
After he was treated, however, Cang-Cuesta said the support he received from friends and family was eye opening. “It was a different type of attention,” he said. “It’s just different than being recognized for a title . . . people showed me compassion rather than recognition.”
Asked about Cang-Cuesta as a student, Christopher Hale, the district’s director of art and music and former music chairperson at East Meadow High School, said, “He’s very very consciences and very curious. From the second he stepped foot in the school, he constantly sought out resources and made the most of the music staff we had here at East Meadow.”
Cang-Cuesta will be pursuing a double-degree program next year — playing the organ at Peabody Conservatory while also earning a degree from John Hopkins University, where he is still determining his field of study.
“That’s the kind of program reserved for students at a very high level to allow students to explore,” Hale said, adding that Cang-Cuesta is sure to thrive there. “He’s very, very remarkable, very self-driven and an extraordinary talent.”
In addition to his musical pursuits and academics, Cang-Cuesta tutors his peers in math and science and works at his church in Plainview.
Glen Newberger shares Cang-Cuesta’s passion for music. “He came in and he had a natural ability,” Hale said.
“For Glenn, coming to band and coming to lessons was a part of his day that he really looked forward to. He made strong contributions to the music program and I think it’s because of how much he enjoyed himself.”
Newberger is graduating East Meadow High School as its salutatorian. While he said he is proud of the achievement, he noted that his classmates who also earned sports graduating top of the class should be recognized too.
“We all worked so hard to get here,” he said, adding that he is grateful for “all the support I’ve gotten from my teachers, my friends and my family.”
Newberger will be attending Cornell University in the fall to study business analytics in finance. In addition to playing percussion in his high school’s band, he was on the cross-country track team since freshman year, the math team, STEM club and a middle school tutor.
One of his proudest high school achievements included going to the state championship with his track team for the first time and making All County cross-country twice for winter track. “This year I’ve been getting awarded for all of my previous year’s work,” he said.