Most parents would be thrilled to have one child graduate at the top of their high school class, let alone two. Or three.
Yet at Shoreham-Wading River High School, that has been the norm for more than a decade, as five sets of siblings have been named salutatorian or valedictorian of their graduating classes since 2006.
This year, Anthony Peraza, 19, is continuing the tradition. He was named the 2017 valedictorian, following in the footsteps of his brother, Matthew, 20, who earned salutatorian honors three years earlier.
“For any student to become a valedictorian is an amazing achievement, but to have several sets of siblings be at the top of their classes really is a testament to the families,” said Dan Holtzman, who has been principal at Shoreham-Wading River for nine years.
Newsday spoke with four of the families about sibling rivalry, study strategies and what it takes to raise a valedictorian.
The Perazas: Matthew (’14) and Anthony (’17)
When your parents are both high school teachers, you learn early on that education comes first, said Anthony Peraza, class of 2017 valedictorian.
Peraza’s mother, Rosemary, teaches chemistry at West Babylon High School. His father, Tony, is a retired chemistry teacher and was also wrestling coach at Longwood Senior High School in Middle Island.
Academic excellence runs in the family. Brother Michael, 23, was one of the top five students in the class of 2011, and sibling Matthew, 20, was a salutatorian. Peraza will continue another tradition and attend Cornell University — his brothers’ alma mater — in the fall.
All three brothers were determined to do well in school, but being raised by teachers did give them a leg up academically, their father said.
“They wanted for nothing in terms of school materials,” said Tony Peraza. “They had all the books and computer programs and educational games that were out there, and we could help them along with some of what they were studying in their science classes.”
Says mom Rosemary: “You always want your kids to do better than you did, and I always told them they’d get there if they made education their priority.”
Their father also thinks small things — such as bringing them to the library often and requiring his sons to take part in weekly family runs — helped his sons bond and provided them with some structure.
“A little discipline, a lot of love and spending lots of time together were all very important,” Tony Peraza said.
The Maritatos: Maxwell (’14) and Nicholas (’16)
A dash of sibling rivalry, some brotherly love and a side of support from their parents drove the Maritato brothers to the top of their classes, they said.
Maxwell, 21, the 2014 valedictorian, and Nicholas, 19, the 2016 salutatorian, were both “extremely self-motivated” and had a natural aptitude for science and math, according to their mother, Dorothy. She said they got the knack from their father, Peter, the chairman of the engineering department at Suffolk County Community College, who stoked their interest in engineering as children by bringing home circuit models for them to play with.
“I always felt like we were very lucky with them,” said Dorothy Maritato, a physical therapist. “Sometimes listening to other parents talk about getting their kids to do homework, it sounds like pulling teeth. We always just stressed for them to just try their hardest. If they weren’t coming home with As, that was OK, but luckily they always did quite well.”
Maxwell, a junior studying chemical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate Troy, said he and his brother were very close growing up and harbored a healthy sense of competition with each other, whether it was in basketball or with video games.
Nicholas, a freshman biomedical engineering major at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said he felt some pressure to live up to the high watermark left by his brother, but mostly he regarded him as an inspiration.
“I felt like he was always there for me if I ever needed anything,” Nicholas said. “Seeing his work ethic and how much pride he had in his work really inspired me to approach life and academics the same way.”
The Gostics: Katelyn (’09), Michelle (’11) and Cari (’13)
The Gostic sisters established a dynasty during their time at Shoreham-Wading River. Katelyn was the 2009 valedictorian, Michelle was salutatorian of the class of 2011 and Cari was the class of 2013 valedictorian.
“Our parents really taught us all the value of hard work and to take pride and push ourselves,” said Katelyn, 26, who graduated from Princeton and is now pursuing a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA. “I give them a lot of credit. They were very supportive and always made a point to come to all of our games and activities.”
All three sisters had full plates in high school. They each took several AP courses and excelled at sports. Cari, 21, who recently graduated from Cornell with a degree in atmospheric science, said that their schedules were “brutal” and that the time management skills they picked up from their parents Rich and Cheri, were key.
It also didn’t hurt that their father was a biology teacher, said Michelle, 23, who is earning a master’s degree in coastal engineering and is currently studying at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
“He really encouraged my interest in science and helped us all develop good study strategies,” she said of her father, who teaches at Hampton Bays High School.
The Throwes: William (’06) and Emily (’09)
“The biggest thing they did was give us an environment where we were encouraged to learn things and be creative,” said William, the school’s 2006 valedictorian.
The Throwes were raised by two physicists. Their mother, Jane, is the editor of a physics journal, and their father, Tom, works at Brookhaven National Laboratory. William said their home always had an “academic feel to it,” and that he and his sister were both naturally inclined to reading and thinking about complex math or science problems.
William went on to study physics like his parents. He double-majored in physics and mathematics at MIT and is now pursuing a doctoral degree in physics at Cornell University. His sister, salutatorian of her class, followed a different path. She, too, attended Cornell, but for veterinary school. Emily said she knew fairly early that she wanted to be a veterinarian and was grateful for her parents’ support.
Jane Throwe advises parents to focus not on ranking but on learning.
“Don’t worry about trying to make them a salutatorian or valedictorian,” she said. “The point is to interest them in what’s going on in school and out of school, and give them the opportunity to pursue their interests.”