Top of their class

Central District’s vals, sals give thanks, offer advice


As the school year draws to a close, the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District has announced six students in the Class of 2018 who have distinguished themselves in academics and beyond.

“These students deserve to be praised for their hard work and consistent dedication to their education over the years,” Superintendent John DeTommaso said. “I would also like to extend a special thank-you to their parents, families, teachers and classmates for their support and continued encouragement.”

The Nassau County Council of School Superintendents also honored the valedictorians and salutatorians from John F. Kennedy, Mepham and Calhoun high schools on June 1.

David Flatley, the council’s president, gave words of encouragement to the class of 2018. “Question everything,” he said, before quoting President John F. Kennedy, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”

In order to strive for excellence, Flatley advised, the best and brightest minds must reject the status quo and never settle for what appears easy.

Mepham valedictorian:

Gina Connors

Gina Connors, of North Bellmore, belongs to several honor societies, including math, Italian, English and Tri-M Music. This fall, she plans to attend the University of Notre Dame, where she will study chemistry.

Connors said that she was particularly proud of the work she did at Mepham as a peer tutor. “Using the knowledge I acquired throughout my four years of high school, I was able to help my peers and make a difference in their lives as students, which I take pride in,” she said.

Class adviser Erica Wagner-O’Rourke was a big help when it came to dealing with academic stress, Connors said. “It was her help and advice that allowed me to be proud of the results of all of my hard work, instead of being so quick to critique them,” she said.

Connor warned incoming seniors that the academic year would be hard work.

“Between college applications and heavy course loads, it’s normal to feel stressed,” she said. “But stress shouldn’t take over your life, especially not in your last year of high school. Continue to work hard and excel, and be proud of all that you accomplish. The school year is not as long as it seems, so make the most of it. Enjoy what the remainder of the high school experience has to offer.”

Mepham salutatorian:

Isabelle Chan

Isabelle Chan, of Bellmore, is headed to Boston College to study biochemistry. In her four years at Mepham, she has served as vice president for the school’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, and been a member of the National Honor Society — as well as the English, Math, Science and Spanish honors societies.

Also an athlete, she is varsity volleyball captain, and was on the varsity track and field team.

Chan said that she was particularly proud of her work with Habitat for Humanity. “I got to be a part of something greater than myself,” Chan said, “and I’m extremely grateful for that.”

Calhoun valedictorian:

Joy Ma

Merrick resident Joy Ma has big plans for her time at Yale University, where she will be on a pre-med track while studying molecular, developmental and cellular biology.

Ma was involved in many extracurricular activities during her four years at Calhoun. She is proud of her fencing accomplishments, including ranking fourth in the nation and receiving a silver medal in the 2016 and 2018 Junior Olympics, as well as being a 2017 Cadet PanAmerican Champion in Cuba.

She was also involved in research at Cornell University, was a pianist for the Calhoun jazz band and the first flutist for Nassau Suffolk Wind Symphony, and was a member of the English, social studies, math, science, music, Italian and national honor societies.

Ma reflected on the influence from her fencing coach Vladimir Gofman, who recently died. “He was one of the main reasons I am the fencer and person that I am today,” she said.

She also thanked her science and ASR teacher, Jennifer Pefanis, for “creating a home away from home.”

For incoming seniors, Ma had this advice: “Take time to enjoy senior year,” she said. “Whether or not you loved your high school experience, you don’t realize that you’re going to miss it until you’re saying goodbye. Appreciate the people who have helped to shape your life for the past four years, perhaps even longer.”

Calhoun salutatorian:

Amelia Seabold

Amelia Seabold, of Merrick, will attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she will study biology.

At Calhoun, Seabold was a member of the national, science, social studies, English, Tri-M Music, Italian and math honor societies. She also received both the Research Report and the Student Initiative Badges for Regeneron STS 2018.

Seabold thanked Jennifer Pefanis, her research adviser who she said helped her tremendously in both research and life, and Dominic Ciavatta, her mentor while she conducted research at University of North Carolina.

“Don’t get too caught up in applications and tests,” she told incoming seniors. “Take a deep breath and take it all in because you only get to experience high school once.”

Kennedy valedictorian:

David Kantor

David Kantor, of Merrick, will attend Dartmouth College to study economics. During his four years at Kennedy, he was involved in sports and music as a varsity tennis and junior varsity soccer player and a euphonium player for the wind ensemble and jazz band.

Kantor takes pride in helping others. He was a weekly volunteer at Sensory Beans, where he worked with children with special needs. He also was the president of the Key Club, for which he thanks his mentor Jessica Chilton.

“I would like to thank Jessica Chilton for being such an amazing Key Club mentor over these past four years,” he said. “Without you, our organization wouldn’t be complete, and we wouldn’t be able to do the service that we do. Thank you for taking the time out of your life to better the world around you. You truly inspire me.”

For incoming seniors, Kantor said that they should focus on finding a place to belong.

“Don’t focus on building a college resume, “ he said. “Focus on pursuing your academic and extracurricular interests. Once you have discovered your interests, explore them. Become engaged and immersed in whatever it is that you care about. If you have trouble finding your path, try a wide variety of clubs, classes, etc. Eventually you will find your calling and the rest will work itself out.”

Kennedy salutatorian:

Dylan Judd

Bellmore’s Dylan Judd will attend Wesleyan University, and said he is excited to see where his interests in environmental science, chemistry and statistics will lead him.

Judd is passionate about sports. At Kennedy, he played varsity baseball and volleyball, and was a member of Athletes Helping Athletes. He is a two-time winner of the Varsity Coach’s Award and a three-time county champion in volleyball, and received the New York State Sportsmanship Award. The volleyball team was also the 2017 Long Island Champion.

“I am so happy that I was able to find a proper balance between sports, school, and life in general. In my mind, this is my greatest accomplishment,” he said.

Judd said he owed much of his success to his chemistry teacher, Helmut Schleith, and his English teacher, Jennifer Sapir.

“You two have been such an influence on my life and have supported me in my pursuit for higher education, pushing me to new limits that I didn’t even know were possible,” he said. “Mr. Schleith and Mrs. Sapir, you both were amazing educators and people that I will never forget.”