Meet 13 of Long Island's extraordinary and inspirational seniors. They were selected by Newsday from dozens of letters submitted by guidance counselors and principals across Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Samantha Ambrico studies and teaches dance, works as a camp counselor and holds down a part-time job — all while living without the benefit of sight. She is legally blind as a result of Lebers Congenital Amaurosis. In the 9th grade she had an aide who helped her with schoolwork and getting from class to class at Islip High School. She now has a guide dog, who will accompany her to college, where she plans to earn a graduate degree in dance therapy and open her own dance studio for children with special needs. (June 3, 2013)
Read more about Samantha.
Greenport High School senior Megan Demarest doesn't like to see other students dine alone. “No one should eat lunch by themselves,” she said. “I want people to know they’re special.” Demarest, who is salutatorian of her class, and a friend created the "We Can Make a Difference Scholarship" to help two students pay for college expenses. (May 27, 2013)
Read more about Megan.
After his brain surgery two years ago, Andrew Fierstein joked to his guidance counselor that doctors “took out the smart parts.” It’s safe to say his intellect is intact. Fierstein has been named salutatorian of his class at North Shore High School despite a 13-year battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Over the past eight years, Fierstein has helped raise about $250,000 through Relay for Life to benefit the American Cancer Society. (June 1, 2013)
Read more about Andrew.
Nicholas Franzi has spent his entire senior year at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. He is battling chronic myelogenous leukemia, which is currently in remission. He wants to make it back in time to graduate with his class at Sachem High School North. "After graduation, I can't wait to just hang out with my friends and family," he said. (June 4, 2013)
Read more about Nicholas.
Tiana Hudson-Jerman likes to challenge traditional boundaries. In doing so she has made history at Uniondale High School, becoming the first female on the Junior Varsity football team. She is in the top 10 percent of her graduating class, is a member of the National Honor Society and is on the track team and in the marching band. She plans to go to medical school and study anesthesiology. (May 31, 2013)
Read more about Tiana.
Stefanie Kaufman likes to get people talking, especially when the subject is suicide prevention. It was a lack of conversation about mental illness that spurred her to create Project LETS, which stands for Let’s Erase The Stigma. Kaufman, a student at W. Tresper Clarke High School, is applying for nonprofit status for the program and is working with two state assemblymen to propose a bill that would require suicide prevention training in schools. (June 3, 2013)
Read more about Stefanie.
Travis Leard started smoking marijuana in seventh grade. Within two years, he was abusing prescription drugs, which he bought from the kids he skated with in Port Jefferson, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and taking other drugs. After his sophomore year he decided to turn his life around and quit taking drugs. He later shared his story with faculty to inspire them not to give up on the students who seem the most hopeless and unreachable. (May 31, 2013)
Read more about Travis.
Brendan Liu's "willing to help" attitude is evident in his actions. The Jericho High School Senior collected books from schools and libraries to send to survivors in Sichuan province, China, after the devastating 2008 earthquake, and created a partnership with a shipping company to help defray costs so he could get the books delivered. When he visited his grandparents in China and discovered their water was brown instead of clear, he spent two years developing an award-winning filtration system that purifies water. (May 31, 2013)
Read more about Brendan.
Christopher McAvoy is a local historian of sorts, and his passion for research led him to extensively investigate West Hempstead’s history — ranging from old buildings to influential people — after noticing a lack of in-depth information at the West Hempstead Historical Society. The West Hempstead High School senior created a photo archive for the historical society on Facebook and won a New York State Archives Certificate of Merit from the Department of Education in 2011. (June 1, 2013)
Read more about Christopher.
Mehul Patel and a friend are developing kwiq.me, a social networking site. On a site like Facebook, for instance, “what you see is not necessarily what you want to see,” Patel said. “Our goal is to make that happen, to achieve relevance for the user.” Patel moved to the United States in 2009 speaking Hindi but barely any English. By the time he entered Hicksville High School in 2011, Patel knew much more, having set himself a goal of learning 150 new words a day. (June 3, 2013)
Read more about Mehul.
Doris Quigley of East Hampton High School took a dive in the ocean last summer after her lifeguard shift and broke her neck on a sandbar. The months since have been a grueling regimen of physical therapy and tutoring sessions, but Quigley can walk again and has even returned to swimming. (May 16, 2013)
Read more about Doris.
Joseph Skrzypek, of Ward Melville High School, knows exactly what he wants to be when he grows up. After spending countless hours in physical therapy to treat his spina bifida-myelomeningocele, a congenital defect that affects the spinal cord, Skrzypek figures it’s time to give back. He plans to be a physical therapist and will attend Quinnipiac University in the fall. (May 31, 2013)
Read more about Joseph.
McKingsley Ryan Williams is beloved at South Side High School in Rockville Centre. Classmates applauded when he was beamed into an International Baccalaureate class after heart surgery, he was voted Homecoming King and has returned to the principal’s advisory committee. (May. 22, 2013)
Read more about McKingsley.