This story is part of Newsday’s 2019 Extraordinary Seniors series showcasing 16 high school students from across Long Island with the vision and determination to transform their corners of the universe — and perhaps beyond. Click here to read more.
Helping others and making a difference. That’s been Elizabeth Sardes’ focus throughout high school — whether she’s tutoring other students in math during and after school or advocating for the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance Association, which she co-founded in 10th grade.
But as she prepares for the next chapter in her life, it’s clear that her efforts to help others has most dramatically transformed herself.
Sardes, 17, who came out as gay to her friends and family when she was a freshman, found it hard navigating the hallways at H. Frank Carey High School for a long time.
She described feeling unwanted, undesirable, alone — as if she would never fit in. She recalls overhearing slurs and hurtful comments about the LGBT community, making it difficult to be herself.
“I didn’t have an outlet,” Sardes said, looking back. “And I figured that if I felt alone, maybe others were feeling the same way.”
Her self-consciousness quickly turned into fiery passion. Sardes brought the concept of an organization that supports the LGBT community to the guidance office and administrators at school, voicing her anger that there wasn’t already such a group.
Sardes joined forces with a classmate, Victoria Arnold, who was pursuing her Girl Scout Gold Award for community outreach, and together they found an adviser, recruited members, and provided a place where, Sardes said, “young kids aren’t afraid to be who they are.”
SAGAA, which now counts dozens of members — of all orientations and age groups — meets biweekly to focus on education, understanding, current events and preparing students for the world outside high school.
“It’s about figuring yourself out,” Sardes said.
In meetings, Sardes counsels students about school life and home life, whether their families are accepting them, bullying and harassment from classmates.
“This association has been a huge part of who I am and has shaped what I’m doing and where I’m going and how I express myself and how I feel about the world — we’re just a group of people being ourselves.” she said. “I don’t know where I would be without it.
“I actually don’t think freshman me would recognize senior me at all.”
When she isn’t being an activist, Sardes' interests are wide ranging. She can be seen playing tennis or running track on school teams, writing articles for the school newspaper, The Clipper, reviewing Apple and its software as a writer for Apple Summit, or serving as the school’s Seahawk mascot. She also designs and sells her own T-shirts, based on music she loves, and has even taught an Advanced Placement physics class.
“[This year] for Student-Teacher Day, Liz asked to be me for the day,” said Nicole Sabbatino, her 11th-grade AP Physics 1 teacher. “She made her own lesson and taught kids a year younger than her and did a great job. She wouldn’t have done that when I first met her in the beginning of her junior year … I don’t think she gets just how absolutely amazing she is.”
HIGHER ED: Sardes will study mechanical engineering at The Cooper Union.
FRESHMAN YEAR: Sardes is looking forward to a change of scenery, city life and being inspired by all the people she meets.
IF I RULED THE WORLD “I would have tolerance for everyone no matter where they come from, who they are, or what they represent."