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Long Island's 2008 valedictorians 10 years later

Newsday caught up with some of Long Island’s high school valedictorians from 2008.

Their journeys from high school to college and their professional careers have seen them change job aspirations, cities and perspective. These experiences have covered fields from law to teaching and taken them all across the country.

Read about their stories, the lessons they've learned over the last decade and their advice for today's graduates.

The following images were provided by the valedictorians.

Paul Marano

Former Commack High School valedictorian Paul Marano in
Credit: Courtesy Paul Marano

Former Commack High School valedictorian Paul Marano in 2008, left, and in 2018.

High School: Commack High School

College: Princeton University, Class of 2012

Job: Doctor at University of California, San Francisco

Lives in: San Francisco, Calif.

When Paul Marano graduated as Commack High School’s valedictorian in 2008, he hoped to find a job that enabled him to have a positive impact on others and made him excited to go to work each morning. He found that in medicine.

After majoring in chemistry at Princeton University, Marano attended Harvard Medical School. Upon graduating, he matched into the University of California, San Francisco, a process by which students apply to residency programs and are assigned to one by the National Resident Matching Program. He is in his second year of residency.

“I’ve been lucky,” Marano said of finding work he is passionate about. “I hope to continue to work toward improving the lives of the patients I see.”

Marano said high school provided an introductory lesson in prioritization, something he continues to work at. Balancing his time in school clubs, the band and a part-time job challenged him to find what motivated him the most and pursue it in earnest. That mentality, he said, helped lead him to the field of medicine.

Perhaps most valuable, though, was the mentoring he received from his high school teachers.

“Each important experience in my life, from high school through residency, has been defined by and made meaningful by the people [who] I've shared it with,” Marano said. “I've learned how important it is to appreciate the peers and friends [who] share my experiences.”

Jessica DeLalio

Former Shoreham-Wading River High School valedictorian Jessica DeLalio
Credit: Jessica DeLalio

High School: Shoreham-Wading River High School

College: University of Notre Dame, Class of 2012

Job: Attorney at Ropes & Gray LLP

Lives in: Boston, Mass.

Ten years ago, all signs pointed Jessica DeLalio toward a career in science.

“Between my high school science curriculum and volunteering as a paleontology lab assistant at Stony Brook University, I developed an early appreciation for all work with a microscope and the acronym STEM,” she said.

But when the Shoreham-Wading River High School valedictorian went to the University of Notre Dame, there was a slight change of plans. An assistantship with a cancer diagnostics company opened DeLalio up to the idea of working not in the medical field, but in law. Using the company’s patented technology introduced her to intellectual property law, a field in which she said she could envision herself incorporating her science training.

After graduating from Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in science, DeLalio obtained a master’s in biotechnology from Columbia University before graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law. She worked as a law clerk at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., and then joined Ropes & Gray LLP as an associate at the law firm’s Boston office, where she works today.

Since graduating high school, DeLalio said she’s learned to not let fear dictate her decisions, particularly the fear of failure or of the unknown.

“Transitions are not always comfortable at first,” she said. “Have faith that you can rise to any challenge.”

For today’s graduates looking to carve out their own career paths, DeLalio said it’s never too early to begin networking, and that doesn’t only mean going to career fairs or handing out business cards.

“In your day-to-day interactions, be genuine and willing to seek advice,” she said. “Ask questions and get to know colleagues, student peers, professors and staff.”

Tiffany Cheng

Former Hewlett High School valedictorian Tiffany Cheng in
Credit: Tiffany Cheng

High School: George W. Hewlett High School

College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Class of 2012

Job: Research and development manager at Oxford Performance Materials

Lives in: San Francisco

Back at George W. Hewlett High School, Tiffany Cheng juggled her extracurricular activities -- musical theater, math team and earth club -- along with homework and a heavy workload from her AP classes. So by the time graduation rolled around, Cheng had a variety of interests; she just didn’t know how to mold them into a career path.

“I knew I wanted to learn more about our earth system, climate change and its impacts on our human society,” Cheng said. “At the same time, I also wanted to dive into sociology and cultural studies. There's a lot of pressure in our culture for high school graduates to have it all figured out before they even have all the tools to do so.”

After high school, Cheng headed to Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She took on various internships each summer, even working for the EPA Region 9 Headquarters in San Francisco as a scientist in their air quality division.

Cheng graduated with a degree in environmental engineering and a minor in international studies and went on to Oregon State University to gain her masters in coastal and ocean engineering. Nowadays, she is living in San Francisco and working as a coastal engineer at Environmental Science Associates since September 2016.

“At this point, my goals are twofold,” Cheng said. “To help protect our coastal communities with environmentally friendly engineering solutions and to foster a better understanding of why the world around us is changing.”

Cheng offered real-world advice for this year’s graduating class as they move toward collegiate endeavors.

“We live in a fast-paced, ever-connected society, yet we are more polarized than ever,” she said. “Take the time in your college years to connect with individuals vastly different from you. Develop the ability to talk to anyone. Use your summers to get real-world experience, explore a new geography and start building up your network.”

Nicholas Vecchio

Former Shelter Island High School valedictorian Nicholas Vecchio
Credit: Nicholas Vecchio

High School: Shelter Island High School

College: Tulane University, Class of 2012

Job: Treasury manager at Southeastern Grocers

Lives in: Jacksonville, Fla.

Nicholas Vecchio will never forget when he decided to change his major from engineering to business. The Dow Jones dropped 700 points that day, he said.

“I changed to finance my second semester as the world was going through the financial crisis,” he said. “Good timing, right?”

Vecchio enrolled at Tulane University, majoring in biomedical engineering. But the Shelter Island High School valedictorian had an interest in finance dating back to an economics class he took in high school, so halfway through his freshman year of college, he made the switch. When he graduated in 2012, though, job prospects in a still-recovering economy were not great, so Vecchio went for his master’s in finance at the University of Tampa.

After completing his graduate degree, Vecchio worked in corporate financial planning and analysis before landing in treasury. He currently works as a treasury manager for Southeastern Grocers, a supermarket company.

He said he hopes to continue in corporate treasury management and one day become a treasurer or chief financial officer of a company, or perhaps start his own business.

Vecchio said he’s learned that if you want to try something different, it’s important to take the leap while you’re still young.

“It’s much easier to change your mind when you’re unattached,” he said.

For instance, Vecchio said any students considering pursuing a graduate degree like he did should do so as soon as possible.

“It only gets harder to go back to school as you get older,” he said. “I have the utmost respect for people who go back to school while working full time and having a family.”

However, he also understands that school isn’t for everyone, especially when considering the cost and student loans. Vecchio said that after completing an undergraduate and graduate degree, he may have considered other options if given a second chance.

“I’d probably own my own plumbing business by now if I’d have known how expensive college would be,” he said.

Christine Falce

During Christine Falce's valedictorian address at Island Trees
Credit: Courtesy Christine Falce

High School: Island Trees High School

College: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Class of 2012

Job: Research and development manager at Oxford Performance Materials

Lives in: Hartford, Connecticut

During Christine Falce’s valedictorian address at Island Trees High School, she recited a quote from Professor Randy Pausch: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

Over the last decade, Falce said she’s learned what that quote really means.

After graduating in 2008, Falce wanted to merge all of her interests into her career: art, math and science. She planned to do this by studying architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

But while there, she discovered a different path.

“During my freshman year, I decided to change my major from architecture to biomedical engineering,” Falce said. “This change still allowed me to combine art, math, and science into my career, however, by becoming a biomedical engineer I would also have the unique opportunity to improve patient quality of life through the design of medical devices.”

Now, Falce works as a research and development manager at Oxford Performance Materials (OPM) in Connecticut. She said her move from Long Island to Connecticut has been her most significant life experience to date.

“I am very excited to be working towards my ultimate career goal of improving patient quality of life through my direct involvement with the design, manufacture, and testing of 3D printed patient specific facial and cranial implants,” Falce said.

Falce attributes much of her success to her days at Island Trees.

“My high school experiences and education established my lifelong work ethic,” she said. “The extracurricular activities I participated in during high school shaped me as an individual who not only works hard, but who is also well rounded.”

Gautam Rao

Former Commack High School valedictorian Gautam Rao in
Credit: Gautam Rao

High School: Commack High School

College: Columbia University, Class of 2012

Job: Lawyer

Lives in: Los Angeles

Gautam Rao wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do after graduating from Commack High School in 2008. “I initially thought I might go into finance,” the valedictorian said “But [I] did not really have much of a plan.”

During his undergrad years, Rao intended to go into policy work at a think tank. But after his junior year, he changed his mind.

“I realized the work was too abstract and lacking in real world impact,” he said.

As captain of the Quiz Bowl Team at Commack, Rao’s love for general knowledge grew. He thinks this led him to his next career move: practicing law. Rao worked at a law firm in New York City for two years as a paralegal to gain some experience, and then attended Columbia Law School, where he pursued public service. He landed a clerkship with a judge, and hasn’t looked back since.

He said, “The most important [lesson] is that you'll probably end up somewhere different than what you originally thought, and that's okay.”

Any more tips? Rao added, “If you give a speech, don't reference ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost. It doesn't mean what you think it means.”

Kelly McGlinchey

Former Sachem North High School valedictorian Kelly McGlinchey
Credit: Joanne McGlinchey; Ellena Kim

High School: Sachem North High School

College: Dartmouth College, Class of 2012

Job: Vice president of operation at Butter Beans Inc.

Lives in: Manhattan

Back at Sachem North High School, 2008 valedictorian Kelly McGlinchey knew she wanted to explore far and wide after graduation. She just didn’t know exactly what her adventures would consist of.

“I had a general sense that I wanted to step into the environmental field,” she said, “but how that would manifest or what it meant for my career was largely undefined.”

McGlinchey ultimately headed to Dartmouth College, where her passion for the environment expanded to food sustainability.

“I worked at the college's bakery alongside a fantastic mentor that helped me understand kitchen operations, and I began increasingly seeking opportunities to look at the ecological story of our food,” she said.

After graduating in 2012, McGlinchey found herself working multiple part-time jobs in New York City. Within eight months, she dug up potatoes with Cornell Cooperative Extension, co-authored a study on urban beekeeping in the hospitality industry, and taught farm-to-table cooking classes. Eventually, a leadership position opened up at Butter Beans, Inc., a food education company. McGlinchey has been working there ever since.

“I am someone who tends to have her hands in half a dozen projects at any given time,” she said. “The nature of this is the days and weeks can fly by in a dizzying whir of multitasking madness, if I'm not paying close enough attention… I've learned that it's important to take these moments in your day to slow down, to be present. It makes us more productive when it's time to work, and more grateful for those moments of reflection when we have them.”

McGlinchey says she still keeps in touch with some teachers at Sachem North. Her advice to current high schoolers is simple: “Take time to meander, and appreciate the view while you're walking along.”

Lukasz Mosakowski

Former Manhasset High School valedictorian Lukasz Mosakowski in
Credit: Courtesy Lukasz Mosakowski

High School: Manhasset High School

College: Princeton University, Class of 2012

Job: Group product manager at Oscar Health

Lives in: Brooklyn

Lukasz Mosakowski said he devoted a lot of time in high school to research in the fields of mechanical engineering and physics; so much so that he said he would sometimes skip class and go to Columbia University to seek out mentorship on a science project.

However, he said he hadn’t given his future career plans any serious thought until college. At Princeton University, Mosakowski said he often worked in a lab researching three-dimensional audio technology, which manipulates sound waves produced by devices such as stereo speakers or headphones to simulate natural sound. While Mosakowski enjoyed the topic, he discovered lab work wasn’t for him.

“We were working on bringing this novel technology at the time to people’s living rooms, and it was at that point that I realized what motivated me more than lab research was building real-world, people-centric technology applications,” he said.

Since then, Mosakowski has worked in product development at companies including ESPN and Etsy before going to Oscar Health, an insurance company.

Mosakowski’s suggestion to today’s graduates is to explore as many interests as possible to find sources of motivation.

“In high school, I was active in science research, music and various sports,” he said. “Those experiences conditioned me to experiment … push myself, make things and solve problems.”

And take care of yourself, he says. “Get lots of sleep, it makes everything better.”

Tiffani Milam

Former Malverne High School valedictorian Tiffani Milam in
Credit: Ada Dejesus-Milam, Irwin White

High School: Malverne High School

College: St. John's University, Class of 2011

Job: Math teacher at New York City Department of Education

Lives in: Valley Stream

Malverne High School valedictorian Tiffani Milam didn’t know exactly kind of career she wanted when she graduated in 2008. While attending St. John’s University in Queens, she worked as an intern at Atlantic Records. After graduation, she landed a job in the corporate buying offices of Macy's Inc. 

Milam worked there for three years before discovering what she really wanted to do: Teach.

“I explored many options until I found which one I felt best fit my personality, my educational background, and my long-term goals,” she said.

Milam said her high school experience had a huge impact on her character. “High school taught me life lessons about hard work and dedication,” she said.

Now, as a math teacher with the New York City Department of Education, Milam is married to a fellow Malverne High School graduate, and they have a 3-year-old son. 

“I've learned to always go with the flow,” she said. “Life never goes as planned—you have to be flexible and be able to adapt to change. You never know what life will give you.”

That being said, Milam believes this year’s high school graduates should be prepared to rise to the occasion.

“No matter what, be fearless and embrace all that college has to offer,” she said. “The college years go by in the blink of an eye.”

Jocelin Kalish

Former Bridgehampton High School valedictorian Jocelin Kalish in
Credit: Courtesy Jocelin Kalish

High School: Bridgehampton High School

College: SUNY Geneseo, Class of 2012

Job: Graduate student at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences

Lives in: Manhattan

When Jocelin Kalish was a junior at Bridgehampton High School, her mother was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer. This piqued her interest in pursuing scientific research after graduation.

“My desire was to positively impact families through translational research,” Kalish said, “just as those scientific contributions that have allowed my mom to remain in remission.”

After graduating as valedictorian, Kalish went on to SUNY Geneseo to study biochemistry. She ultimately went on to Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, where she is now earning her Ph.D. in pharmacology.

Over the last decade, some highlights for Kalish include studying abroad in Greece and running in the New York City Marathon.

“Running my first marathon was a challenge, both physically and mentally,” she said. “However, it was great to complete a lifelong goal while also raising money for cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a cause which I am passionate about.”

Looking back, Kalish is grateful for the opportunities Bridgehampton High School provided her.

“As you think about potential future careers that interest you, I would recommend taking every opportunity to familiarize yourself with those careers you are passionate about,” Kalish said. “Scout out volunteer positions, internships or part-time employment in fields that you are considering.”

Anthony Abbruscato

Former St. John the Baptist High School valedictorian
Credit: Courtesy Anthony Abbruscato

High School: St. John the Baptist High School

College: Northeastern University Class of 2014

Job: Clinical development specialist at Stealth BioTherapeutics

Lives in: Boston, Mass.

By the time Anthony Abbruscato graduated as valedictorian of St. John the Baptist High School, he knew that he wanted to pursue a career in health care.

“I was always fascinated by the sciences and wanted to help those afflicted by disease,” he said.

After Abbruscato graduated from Northeastern University with a doctorate in pharmacy and completed a pharmacy practice residency at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, his career shifted from patient care to research. 

He was accepted into a two-year fellowship program at Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, Abbruscato designed and led clinical trials, testing approaches to treat blood cancers. He then took his current position in clinical development at Stealth BioTherapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company, where he works with other medical professionals and regulatory agencies to drive research that brings new treatments to the marketplace.

“While I do miss working with patients directly, I believe that I can have a larger impact this way,” Abbruscato said. “My overall ambitions have remained the same. However, my approach to achieving those goals has shifted.”

Abbruscato’s advice for today’s graduates is to branch out while you still can.

“It was the only time in my life where I had the ability to explore so many different interests and possibilities at the same time,” he said. “Whether you are going to college or pursuing other opportunities, this is an exciting and unique time to grow both personally and professionally.”

Allyson Bunch

Former Riverhead High School valedictorian Allyson Bunch in
Credit: Courtesy Allyson Bunch

High School: Riverhead High School

College: Bryn Mawr College, Class of 2012

Job: Latin teacher at JFK Middle School

Lives in: Northampton, Massachusetts

When Allyson Bunch was 14, she made up her mind -- she was going to be a Latin teacher. The Riverhead High School valedictorian was inspired by two Latin teachers to pursue this path and hasn’t looked back since.

“My Latin teachers, Lorene Custer and Jeff Greenberger, were hugely influential on me in middle and high school,” Bunch said. “I essentially wanted to be Ms. Custer when I grew up.”

Mrs. Custer and Dr. Greenberger, who have been teaching in Riverhead for 25 and 30 years respectively, were two mentors who shaped Bunch’s high school experience. Bunch said that as a student, she was closer to her teachers than her peers. “I was a weird teenager, and the support of my teachers helped make school a wonderful space for me,” she said.

After graduation, Bunch went on to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania to study classics and linguistics. She welcomed the change in dynamic; Bunch said that before college, her view on intelligence and success was narrow and rigid.

“In high school, I was obsessed with academic perfection,” she said. “I based my self-worth on grades and winning. My college had a policy that discouraged students from talking about grades, which forced me to stop measuring myself against other people.”

After gaining her Bachelor’s degree, Bunch went on to attain her Master’s in Latin pedagogy from UMass Amherst. She currently teaches Latin at JFK Middle School in Northampton, Massachusetts. Four years into her teaching career, Bunch says she adores her job and recently became chair of the world languages department. 

Bunch’s advice to this year’s graduates is twofold: “Cultivate strong friendships with people who are supportive and open [and] seek out lots of opportunities to try things that you enjoy, but aren't particularly good at.”

Brittany Dukes

Former Hempstead High School valedictorian Brittany Dukes in
Credit: Courtesy Brittany Dukes

High School: Hempstead High School

College: SUNY Albany, Class of 2012

Job: Medical student at Saint Louis University

Lives in: St. Louis, Missouri

Hempstead High School’s 2008 valedictorian, Brittany Dukes, said she initially wanted to be an actuary. She attended SUNY Albany and earned her degree in actuarial science and mathematics, but had a change of plans after graduation.

“I graduated college and worked for an insurance company for a year when I realized that office life wasn't for me,” Dukes said. “I then begin to pursue a career in medicine.”

Dukes completed a post-baccalaureate program at Stony Brook University, and then started applying for medical schools. Now, she is about to finish her third year at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

While reflecting on the past decade, Dukes said, “I have learned to stay true to myself and to be confident in the goals I have set for myself.”

She added that her experience at Hempstead High School taught her that through hard work and determination, anything is possible.

“Plans change,” Dukes said. “Try to always follow your passion.”

Julia Craig Romano

Former East Rockaway High School valedictorian Julia Craig
Credit: Courtesy Julia Craig Romano

High School: East Rockaway High School

College: Wellesley College, Class of 2011

Job: Development associate at Wilson Center

Lives in: Washington, D.C.

No matter where she travels, Julia Craig Romano will always remember the importance of community because of her upbringing in East Rockaway. She treasures the neighbors she grew up with and specific moments from her childhood -- from learning how to drive to teaching younger kids how to play the violin.

“We all helped each other however best we could,” Romano said. “That sense of shared responsibility—the commitment we have to one another—has irrevocably shaped my decision making, especially about my career and my friends.”

After graduating from East Rockaway High School as valedictorian in 2008, Romano knew she wanted to work in international relations and public service. “In high school, I had my sights set on being Secretary of State,” she said. “I had always been interested in travel, languages, world history, and helping others, so international relations seemed like a natural combination of my interests.”

In 2011, Romano graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts with a degree in Middle Eastern studies. She had planned on heading to the Middle East, but ended up moving back to Long Island instead, due to Arab Spring. 

From there, it was straight to Washington D.C., where she obtained her master’s degree in Middle East studies from George Washington University.

Now, Romano works at the Wilson Center in D.C. as a development associate.

“I am still deeply committed to a career in public service,” she said. “However, I am now more focused on building a career where I can serve those in my community. I have realized that I most enjoy working one-on-one with people to help them achieve their goals. In that respect, I look forward to seeing how the next ten years unfold.”

As for the last 10 years? Romano has learned this: “My mother has been right about everything, and I really should listen to her advice more often.”

Eamon Glackin

Former Saint Anthony's High School valedictorian Eamon Glackin
Credit: Ray O’Connor; Eamon Glackin

High School: Saint Anthony's High School

College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Class of 2012

Job: Analytics manager at DraftKings

Lives in: Manhattan

Entering college during an economic recession taught Eamon Glackin to not take anything for granted.

“Fortunes can change in a hurry and nothing is guaranteed,” he said. “It’s important to like what you’re doing and really plan for the future, rather than just assuming everything will continue as it is forever.”

So whenever Glackin, Saint Anthony’s High School’s 2008 valedictorian, has found himself wanting to shift career paths, he hasn’t hesitated. A college internship in finance made him realize the field wasn’t for him. Then, after working in management consulting for two years out of college, he sought another change.

Glackin said he was always good at math and science, and he’s a sports fanatic. About seven years after graduating high school, he found a way to combine his strengths and interests. He went back to school, getting his master’s in business administration from New York University, then joined the analytics team at DraftKings, a fantasy sports site, where he’s been ever since.

So while Glackin does advise planning ahead, he said experiencing the unexpected can be just as helpful.

“Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you have everything figured out,” he said. “You’re not supposed to yet, and living through all the twists and turns, ups and downs is part of the fun.”

Tara Pesce

Former Lindenhurst High School valedictorian Tara Pesce in
Credit: Christine Pesce, Jaimin Shah

High School: Lindenhurst High School

College: Columbia University, Class of 2012

Job: Graduate student at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine

Lives in: San Diego, California

Lindenhurst High School valedictorian Tara Pesce said she wouldn’t have been the same without her high school experiences.

“They have been a solid foundation for me to build upon over the past decade,” she said.

Upon graduating in 2008, Pesce was focused on becoming a neuroscience researcher. She said that at the time, she was in a different mindset than she is now.

“When I graduated high school, I was under the impression that success and happiness meant earning a degree from a top-tier university and landing a prestigious job,” Pesce said. “Currently, I am more focused on finding career fulfillment through helping others.”

Pesce went on to study chemistry at Columbia University. She worked in pharmaceuticals for five years before taking a leap and moving to California to study acupuncture and Chinese medicine at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.

“It's okay to take risks, make mistakes or even fail and change your mind,” Pesce said. “I have also learned the value and importance of living in the present.”

As for the next chapter, Pesce will be getting married in August back in New York. Her advice to the Class of 2018 is invaluable: “Follow your heart and never let fear and doubt hold you back.”

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