LI valedictorians: 10 years later
Ten years after they graduated, we caught up with some of Long Island's 2003 high school valedictorians to see what they're up to. Their experiences, as you might expect, have been diverse. Some took the paths they originally set out to follow, while others have landed in completely different careers. All have fascinating stories to tell.
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ALICIA PERRY, PORTLEDGE SCHOOL
Alicia Perry grew up in Port Washington but the 28-year-old now has a few places she calls home.
Currently studying medicine at Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University in Israel, Perry said she has come to love living in Israel so much that she made aliyah -- the important Jewish cultural practice of immigrating to Israel.
She also considers California a home. After graduating from Portledge, Perry studied chemistry and religious studies at Stanford University and then spent about four years rotating through different jobs in California. Her fiance still lives there so she splits her free time between Long Island and California.
In Israel, Perry is going into her third year of med school and also plays for the Israeli women’s national lacrosse team, which will make its World Cup debut in July.
Perry suggests this year’s graduates “be open to new experiences” -- a view that has led her to where she is today. --ERIN GEISMAR
THOMAS DEPRIMA, DEER PARK HIGH SCHOOL
Thomas DePrima grew up on the same Deer Park street as his wife, the former Nicole Gorospe. They graduated high school together, but it wasn’t until the pair went to separate Massachusetts colleges — he to Harvard University, she to Boston College — that they started dating.
The newlyweds live in Manhattan, where DePrima, 28, works as a resident doctor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital. The Miller School of Medicine graduate plans to pursue a fellowship in childhood psychiatry. “There is an opportunity to reach people at an age when you can have a pretty big impact,” he said.
Although he wanted to be a doctor, DePrima used his time in college to pursue a passion he wouldn’t have time for once he began medical school: music. He played percussion in university orchestras and started a quartet.
DePrima advises graduates to use the “dynamic” environment college offers to “have an enriched experience and grow as a person.” --TARA CONRY
ERIC KOUSKALIS, DEER PARK HIGH SCHOOL
Eric Kouskalis spent the summer of 2004 teaching in a town near Namibia, in southern Africa. He was 19 and one year into his Harvard University education. His oldest student was 23.
On the day Kouskalis was scheduled to fly home, the economics and sociology student decided to stay, putting college on hold. In Namibia, he helped set up computer labs and train local teachers.
He returned to Namibia twice more before graduating from Harvard in 2008. “The experiences in southern Africa were bittersweet,” said Kouskalis, 28. “I was able to accomplish a lot … and get a ‘jump start’ on my career.”
Kouskalis is now living in Kenya helping to provide safe drinking water to 730,000 Africans with the group Innovations for Poverty Action.
“You are entering the perfect time of your life to take chances,” he tells 2013 graduates. “Don't be afraid to take some risk. You never know where you might end up!” --TARA CONRY
TAI VIVATVARAPHOL, HICKSVILLE HIGH SCHOOL
Tai Vivatvaraphol, a corporate lawyer with the global law firm Linklaters in London, said she has always known she wanted to be a lawyer and was thrilled to be the first in her family.
“Every day there’s a different problem to work through and I love that,” said Vivatvaraphol, 28, a Hicksville native. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2007, then studied law at Fordham University graduating in 2010.
Vivatvaraphol’s advice to current graduates is to take college as an opportunity to follow your interests and don’t let anyone deter you from that. “You don’t get do that again and it’s the one point in time people are willing to indulge you in giving you time to figure yourself out,” she said.
After graduating from Georgetown with a degree in finance and law school at Fordham in 2010, she landed a job with Linklaters, where she had previously interned.
Although Vivatvaraphol is unsure of her next step, she’s not ready to go home yet. “I’m playing it by ear to see where this experience takes me,” she said. --BRITTANY WAIT
ERIC AKER / EASTPORT-SOUTH MANOR JUNIOR-SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL
After graduating from the University of Washington in Seattle, Eric Aker spent four months in India, where he rode a camel and an elephant, hiked through the Himalayas and visited the Taj Mahal. But but the main purpose of his stay was software training.
Infosys Technologies hired Aker, an informatics major, out of college. He worked for one year at the company’s Denver site and two at its Seattle location before quitting in 2011 to take several months off. “I wanted to take a step back and enjoy life for a little bit,” said Aker, 27.
In 2011, he joined Accenture, an IT and management consulting firm in Seattle. He’s been working there as a deployment manager.
Aker enjoys Seattle’s access to the ocean, lakes, rivers and mountains. He advises 2013 graduates to “pick a college … in a region where you want to end up living in the next five to 10 years. More companies are sourcing recruits from local schools.” -- TARA CONRY
SHYAM K. TANGUTURI, BAYPORT-BLUE POINT HIGH SCHOOL
Bayport native Shyam Tanguturi considers himself a New Yorker at heart, but he’s grown to love Boston. It’s where he became a doctor, a husband, and soon a father.
“It’s grown with me,” said Tanguturi, 28.
He completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard University, where he also graduated from medical school and met his wife. The couple is expecting their first child in July.
Tanguturi is a resident doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital. He and his wife were working at BWH on April 15 when victims of the Boston Marathon bombings were rushed there.
“It was scary ... but comforting to be in a city where everyone was leaning on one another," he said. --TARA CONRY
PETER RICKERT, LONG ISLAND CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
Peter Rickert has been on top of the world. Now he’s nearly on the other side of it.
The 2008 New York Institute of Technology architecture graduate interned for more than a year in the historic preservation area of Thornton Tomasetti, where he climbed brick buildings — such as the Williamsburg Savings Tower in Brooklyn and the Union Club on Park Avenue in Manhattan — to do mandatory safety checks.
After graduating, he left for Berlin to study architecture at Fachhochschule Potsdam, from which he earned a master’s degree in 2010.
After freelancing for a time, he started an architecture firm with a partner called Staycation Design. It’s based out of a Berlin storefront, where they have monthly exhibitions and performances. The firm’s bread and butter, he says, is old building restorations. Its philosophy is based on the idea that the lines between work and leisure are blurring. --CARL CORRY
ZACHARY ZWILLINGER, WARD MELVILLE HIGH SCHOOL
After graduating Ward Melville with a 5.27 GPA, Zach Zwillinger went to Yale, earning a degree in ethics, politics and economics in 2007.
Soon after, he headed to Dallas to work for a year at Habitat for Humanity, then decided to return to the East Coast to pursue a law degree at Harvard.
After graduating in 2011, he headed back to Dallas for a year to work under A. Joe Fish, a federal district court judge.
In 2012, he married his Yale sweetheart Lauren Yee. “When we first met, I noticed she had a surprisingly strong handshake,” said Zwillinger.
Zwillinger is now in the litigation department at the New York firm Cravath, Swaine and Moore.
His best advice for 2013 valedictorians? “Family is the most important thing of all.” -- QUINN O’CALLAGHAN
TRACY DOBIE, WEST BABYLON HIGH SCHOOL
After more than a year studying computer science at Princeton, Tracy Dobie, who was accustomed to working with children and leading community service projects, decided she wanted a more social career. So she switched to psychology, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2007.
She’s since taught kindergarten at the Harlem Success Academy charter school and was the office director of an educational therapy firm. Working mostly out of its Washington Crossing, Pa., office, she kept track of lesson plans and curriculum, and taught math, primarily to students with learning disabilities.
In 2010, Dobie, the daughter of a Newsday editor, entered the learning sciences PhD program at Northwestern University. She is studying ways to motivate students to learn math.
After she graduates, likely in 2015, she plans to become a professor. “I want to remain really connected to schools and teachers,” she said. -- CARL CORRY VIDEO: Tracy Dobie
DEREK SUDAN, CHAMINADE HIGH SCHOOL
After graduating from Princeton in 2007 with a bachelor’s in economics, Sudan spent two years in traditional investment banking before discovering his niche: real estate.
“I learned the broad brush strokes of general finance in banking, but for me, it was exciting when I realized I could do real estate at any scale and scope from multi-billion-dollar real estate transactions to an acquisition of a three-unit apartment building in Brooklyn,” said Sudan, 28, who now lives in Tribeca.
For the past three years, he’s worked at Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm in Manhattan, focusing on commercial real estate investments.
Sudan suggests new graduates find a company that will allow them to learn and grow.
“There’s no substitution for experience. A career lasts a really long time, so there’s no sense in rushing the process.” --TARA CONRY
HULDA MAZARIEGOS, WYANDANCH MEMORIAL HIGH SCHOOL
After coming out of Wyandanch Memorial at the top of her class, Mazariegos was told that her full ride to St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue was rescinded and that she risked deportation. Mazariegos and her family came to the United States illegally from Guatemala when she was 7.
Mazariegos was represented in immigration court by David Sperling, who advocated for her citizenship based on her exemplary academic record. After receiving a green card, Mazariegos started at St. Joseph’s in 2004.
“It was crazy,” said Mazariegos. “The whole journey from getting an attorney to having my passport stamped, learning that I was a legal citizen and that I could go to college.”
Mazariegos graduated in 2008 with a major in English and political science and a minor in American studies. She now works as a paralegal in Sperling’s Huntington law office and is now studying for the LSATs. --QUINN O’CALLAGHAN
JUSTINE STEFANOU, W.T. CLARKE HIGH SCHOOL
It wasn’t until Justine Stefanou graduated from W.T. Clarke High School and left her hometown of Westbury for New York City that she fully grasped how big the world was.
Though she had traveled with her parents when she was growing up, starting her freshman year at New York University immersed her in a wealth of different cultures and experiences.
Stefanou, 27, graduated NYU with a degree in marketing and is currently the global marketing director for Coty, an international beauty company, where she oversees the production of new fragrances. She also continues to travel as often as possible, taking three to four vacations a year. She has been to more than 30 countries so far.
“One of the best ways to learn and to be continually inspired is by traveling the world,” she said. “You will form new relationships, have unique experiences that no one else will have, and change the way you view your life.” --ERIN GEISMAR VIDEO: Justine Stefanou
JONATHAN LOTRIDGE / BRENTWOOD HIGH SCHOOL, ROSS CENTER
Sitting in his first math class at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Jonathan Lotridge was taken aback by his classmates’ knowledge.
“Wow, these guys know way more than I do,” he recalled thinking.
Lotridge, 27, of Manhattan, said that moment “lit a fire” in him.
After graduating from RPI with a bachelor’s in mathematics/computer science, he worked for SunGard Financial Systems until May 2011, when he joined the software firm Infusion.
He advises 2013 graduates to never stop challenging themselves.
“Wherever you end up over the next few years, don't let yourself become too complacent,” he said. “Once you do this, you will stop improving.” --TARA CONRY
CHRISTIAN HUDSON, MATTITUCK HIGH SCHOOL
Christian Hudson knew he would probably become a lawyer somewhere down the road, but a dalliance with sports broadcasting almost took him off that track.
“I jumped into broadcasting my junior year, essentially on a lark,” says Hudson. “I knew I was good at talking, and I liked sports, so it seemed like a good fit. I had no idea it would eventually become a potential career.”
After graduating from Yale with a bachelor’s in political science, Hudson became the public relations and broadcasting director of the Trenton Devils of the East Coast Hockey League, a minor league affiliate of the NHL.
Hudson left the Devils after the 2008 season to study law at New York University. He’s now working at the powerhouse New York law firm Gibson Dunn. --QUINN O’CALLAGHAN
MICHELLE LAHTONEN, WEST ISLIP HIGH SCHOOL
Michelle Lahtonen, 27, graduated from the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania last month and is set to join the marketing department at American Express’s Manhattan offices in August.
A 2007 Princeton economics graduate, Lahtonen saw the extreme highs and deepest lows of the financial industry as a management consultant right out of school. Over four years, she helped financial companies get through the financial crisis, spending six months in Australia and representing other clients in Atlanta, Milwaukee and Buffalo, among other places.
But she knew it wasn’t something she wanted to do as a career and entered Wharton in 2010.
She advises 2013 valedictorians that they won’t be able to plan for everything. “At the same time,” she said, “you need to have an end goal, so that you do end up where you want to be.” --CARL CORRY
MARK SOWUL, LINDENHURST HIGH SCHOOL
Mark Sowul has always had an interest in building things.
After high school, he attended Stony Brook University and graduated in 2007 summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and applied math and statistics. That prepared him to start his own company. In 2012, he launched SolSoft Solutions, a software company.
“I’ve always liked Legos and building things when I was a kid. Now I’m building invisible ideas,” he said.
In 2006, he studied abroad in Russia. The experience changed his life, he said. He has since been to 25 countries and accompanies Stony Brook students on study-abroad trips to Russia as a mentor.
“Try to make the most of the freedom that you have before you start your ‘real life,’” Sowul advises. “You don’t always succeed when you take risks, but you’ll never succeed if you don’t take risks at all.” -- AMY ONORATO
KRISTEN VICEDOMINI, EAST ISLIP HIGH SCHOOL
Kristen Vicedomini, 27, spends more time with social media than social work -- the career path she had originally expected to follow.
As the national director of the Project Vote Smart, a nonprofit voter education group, Vicedomini leads a team that compiles and packages information on every political candidate and public official on the national and state level.
Vicedomini graduated from New York University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and joined PVS in 2008.
Her first assignment: working on the 2008 presidential election. She was promoted to national director in 2010.
“I hope I haven’t peaked, but I am certainly happy where I am now,” she said. --TARA CONRY