Most parents would be thrilled to have one child graduate at the top of their high school class, let alone two or three.
But at Shoreham-Wading River High School, 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, this year’s valedictorian.
Peraza’s mother, Rosemary, teaches chemistry at West Babylon High School. His father, Tony, is a retired chemistry teacher and also served as the wrestling coach at Longwood Senior High School.
He has two older brothers, Michael Peraza, 23, who graduated as one of the top five students in his class, and Matthew Peraza, 20, the 2014 salutatorian. And like them, Anthony will attend Cornell University in the fall.
“A little discipline, a lot of love and spending lots of time together were all very important,” Tony Peraza said.
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,” he said. “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.”
The father of three also thinks small things like bringing them to the library often and requiring his sons to take part in weekly family runs helped them bond and provided them with some structure.
“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,” Rosemary 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, the 2014 valedictorian, and Nicholas, the 2016 salutatorian, were both “extremely self-motivated” and had a natural aptitude for science and math, according to their mother, Dorothy Maritato.
She said they got the knack from their father, Peter, the chair 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. Sometimes listening to other parents talk about getting their kids to do homework, it sounds like pulling teeth,” said Dorothy Maritato, who is a physical therapist. “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 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 saw 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 the salutatorian for the class of 2011 and Cari was named valedictorian in 2013.
“Our parents really taught us all the value of hard work and to take pride and push ourselves,” said Katelyn Gostic, 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 at Shoreham-Wading River. They all took several AP courses and excelled in high school athletics.
Cari, who recently graduated from Cornell with a degree in atmospheric science, said their schedules were “brutal” and the time management skills they picked up from their parents were key.
It also didn’t hurt to have a biology teacher as a father, said Michelle, who’s 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,” Michelle said of her father, Rich Gostic, who teaches at Hampton Bays High School.
The Throwes: William (’06) and Emily (’09)
William and Emily Throwe say exploring their academic curiosity with their parents was key to their success at Shoreham-Wading River.
“The biggest thing they did was give us an environment where we were encouraged to learn things and be creative,” said William Throwe, the 2006 valedictorian.
The Throwes were raised by two physicists, Jane, the editor of a physics journal, and Tom, who 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 and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at Cornell.
But Emily followed a different path, she said. The 2009 salutatorian is also at Cornell, but for veterinary school. Emily said she knew fairly early she wanted to be a veterinarian and was grateful for her parents’ support.
“Don’t worry about trying to make them a salutatorian or valedictorian. 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,” Jane Throwe said.