Rockville Centre students share school choices on College Decision Day


May 1 was National College Decision Day, which for many high school seniors is the deadline to choose the college they’ll attend in the fall. Whether they made their decision minutes or months earlier, South Side High School students wore their college gear that day, in anticipation of the next chapter of their lives.

“I’m just ridiculously proud of them,” said Principal John Murphy, noting that the class of 2019 is the first to have attended the school for all four years while he was principal. “This cohort of students is very successful and motivated. Of course I’m proud of the ones going to prestigious schools, and I’m just as proud of the students who are the first college attendees in their families and attending colleges within their means.”

Some will stay close to home. Others will travel out of state. From SUNY schools on Long Island to private colleges in Ohio and Georgia, students said they chose the schools that fit them best — not just academically, but based on campus culture, too.

Murphy said that the graduating class understood that college isn’t simply job preparation, and that their majors would not necessarily define their careers. He described the diversity of students’ college commitments as “a reflection of their open-mindedness and world view.”

Valedictorian Samantha Ying was torn between two of the schools that accepted her, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, until the morning of May 1, when she chose MIT.

“My heart said MIT and my head said Harvard,” Ying explained. “I fit better in the community at MIT, and I instantly clicked with the group of people I met during Accepted Students Weekend.”

Ying plans to study business management and brain and cognitive science.

Salutatorian Katarina Mazzanobile chose to attend Emory University in Atlanta to study international relations, with a minor in Spanish. The aspiring lawyer applied to the school through the early-decision process, committed to attend over a month ago, after being accepted.

“I knew that was where I really wanted to go, because I love the South and the warm weather,” Mazzanobile said. “I’ve been talking to other students going to Emory from Peru and Australia and all over the country. I’m just excited to meet new people from all over the world.”

Meanwhile, fellow senior Jack Ajello chose to stay on Long Island, enrolling at Stony Brook University, drawn by its established science program and lower tuition for state residents.

“It’s only an hour away, so I can come home quickly if I need to,” Ajello said, noting that he also chose the school for its affiliation with Brookhaven Labs. Like many of his fellow seniors, Ajello, who will study chemistry, is looking forward to living on campus.

Others wanted to be a bit farther from home. “I’m excited to see a different life outside of Rockville Centre,” said Annie Baker, who will enter the nursing program at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “The school has a small, campus feel, but there’s also the Metro stop right next to it, so you can go into a big city.”

Brooke Brown, who will attend Ohio’s Kenyon University and is interested in studying psychology, shared similar feelings. “I thought it’d be nice to go a little farther away to a school that maybe not a lot of kids go to around here,” she said. “I’m excited to have more independence. It’s such a unique experience to go away, figure yourself out and enrich your education.”

Lauren Thomas, the class president since sophomore year, will attend Cornell University in the fall. After attending a seminar at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in September, she submitted an early-decision application, and was accepted in mid-December. “I was just, like, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be,’ because [the seminar] focused a lot on leadership,” she said. “I felt like that was the perfect place for me.”

Thomas, president of the Internet Culture Club at South Side, said she looked forward to leadership roles in college. She’ll study industrial and labor relations and computer science.

Anthony DeFalco, who will attend Harvard University in the fall, also found an academic program that fit his interests. He will enter Harvard and Berklee College of Music’s dual-degree program, in which he could earn a bachelor’s in physics from Harvard and a master’s in songwriting and composition from Berklee in five years.

When DeFalco was accepted by Harvard, he expected to feel as excited as people he’d seen in YouTube videos “going crazy” when they received their acceptance letter, he said. Although he was happy, it wasn’t like that for him. “I just went in with the mindset where if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it’s OK.

“Work pays off, so just do the work, shoot big and go for it,” he continued. “Put in the time, and you might surprise yourself.”

Trent Davis also aimed high, initially being offered a $20,000 scholarship from the University of Chicago and negotiating with the admissions staff to increase it to more than $30,000. He looks forward to studying neuroscience at the school. “I sat in on a class there, and I just really loved it,” Davis said, noting that he would also study media arts and design.

“You’re not a statistic,” Thomas concluded. “Yeah, acceptance rates matter, but at the same time, you want to go where you feel most comfortable. There’s a school for everybody in which you can feel that sense of community.”

The future college students are set to graduate on June 28, at a commencement ceremony at Hofstra University.