As high school students begin a new school year, parents may feel the urge to impart words of wisdom. But kids often listen more to the advice of their peers. So Newsday asked students who made the most of their high school years — 2017 valedictorians from Long Island — to help out by sharing secrets of success with those still in the trenches. Here are their top tips.
Don’t compare yourself to others
“It’s overwhelming to think about test scores and everything — you could compare yourself all day long,” says Manhasset High School valedictorian Gregory Dellis, who is now studying architecture at Yale University. “The best way to have a great experience is having the mentality that you can only do the best you can do.”
Take an unexpected class
Gregory Dellis tried a life-drawing class offered after school — with nude models. The students initially were terrified, he says, but it was a great experience. “I wrote my common application essay about it and spoke about it at graduation,” Dellis says. Roslyn High School valedictorian Todd Warshawsky, also headed to Yale, echoes Dellis’ advice: “I wrote my college essay about teaching myself to speak Yiddish.”
Hold off on hot-and-heavy romance
“Don’t get a girlfriend or boyfriend,” advises Amityville valedictorian Esteban Idrovo, who is studying physics at Stony Brook University. “I started dating in ninth grade. I got too distracted. I ended up losing a lot of friends because I got so caught up in this relationship.”
Join what sparks passion
Avoid overextending to too many extracurriculars, several valedictorians say. Instead, dive deeply into what moves you. Amityville’s Idrovo, for instance, chose drama over track and ended up playing the role of Gomez in the “The Addams Family” during his senior year. He also volunteered with the Amityville Fire Department. “I’m looking back at it, and I made the right choices,” he says.
Establish your own organizational system
“The biggest thing is to stay organized,” says Bayport High School valedictorian Philip Tubiolo, whether it’s using a paper planner or online tools to help with academics. “Use electronics to your benefit. I would transfer notes online and make study guides. Everything was in one spot for finals and midterms.” Tubiolo, now at Stony Brook University, recommends Google Drive.
Do assignments as early as possible, so you have time to look them over and get help if needed, advises Babylon valedictorian Gabriella Albanese, who is majoring in chemistry at Stony Brook University. That also helps you avoid unforeseen last-minute glitches, such as a printer not working, she says.
Pay attention in class
“That’s where you do most of your learning,” says Massapequa High School valedictorian Daniel Urli, who is headed to Georgia Tech to study materials science and engineering. Don’t talk to friends, go on your phone or fall asleep. “It’s important you’re actually soaking in the information the teacher is telling you.”
Take as many AP classes as you can handle
“APs helped a lot,” says Amityville’s Idrovo, who took 10 Advanced Placement classes spread over 10th, 11th and 12th grades and started college with 33 credits. “I’m basically a sophomore,” he says. He still has to stay at Stony Brook for four years, but he can make each semester’s workload lighter or can try classes he might not have had time for otherwise, he says. Plus, challenging yourself with AP classes helps students get admitted to the more competitive schools.
But don't overdo it
“There’s only so much time in the day. I learned that the hard way,” says Babylon’s Albanese. One year she gave up her lunch period so she could take more classes, and simultaneously took an online class outside of the school day. “It was just way too much,” she says.
Find healthy ways to relieve stress and have fun
“It’s not just study, study, study,” says Roslyn’s Warshawsky. “I was a 12-season cross country and track runner. That was a stress reliever from academic work.” Sachem North High School valedictorian Erin Maryzek agrees. “Though academics are important, it’s equally important to have a little fun,” says the Northeastern University freshman.
Ask for help
“I think a lot of kids are afraid to ask for help,” Sachem North’s Maryzek says. If you don’t understand a concept, let the teacher know. “Most of my teachers offered extra review every day after school. Even if you’re not struggling, it doesn’t hurt to go over it again,” Maryzek says.
Research professional interests
“From the get-go I knew I was more of a science kid,” says Bayport’s Tubiolo, who is studying biomedical engineering. “I took AP Biology in 10th grade and absolutely loved it.” He joined his school’s Science Olympiad team, and that also exposed him to competitive events that involved biology and mathematics, solidifying his choice of college major.