Meet Newday's 2021 Extraordinary Seniors. We asked them who were their heroes during their senior year. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara, Raychel Brightman, Alejandra Villa Loarca; Barry Sloan, Linda Rosier, Randee Daddona, Gordon Grant/Thomas A. Ferrara, Raychel Brightman, Alejandra Villa Loarca; Barry Sloan, Linda Rosier, Randee Daddona, Gordon Grant

Gratitude. Kindness. Determination. Flexibility.

These are some of the lessons Newsday’s Extraordinary Seniors have drawn from their final year of high school, a year of extraordinary challenges. It would be a mistake to believe these are the only extraordinary high school seniors on Long Island. Each student graduating this year navigated tumult: the COVID-19 pandemic, national political conflict, a public reckoning over the structure of American society. Add to that hybrid, or completely remote education, unexpected school closures and diminished opportunities for extracurricular engagement.

Yet, these 13 seniors epitomize the heart and grit many have brought to their endeavors this year. Some have campaigned for voter registration or advocated for climate justice and marginalized communities; others have focused their leadership on lifting school spirit or mentoring classmates; many have survived health challenges.

We can all take a bit of credit for these students, who represent the best Long Island has to offer the future.

— Rosemary Olander, LI Life Editor

Massapequa High School senior Grace Schafer.

Massapequa High School senior Grace Schafer. Credit: Barry Sloan

Speaking the language of accomplishment

By Joe Dziemianowicz / Special to Newsday

Grace Schafer, a senior at Massapequa High School, is known for working her way around seemingly impassable roadblocks.

Born with albinism, a pigmentation disorder, and legally blind, Schafer, 17, has distinguished herself in her pursuit of biliteracy that includes American Sign Language and leadership in her school’s sign language community.

"I can see, but my vision is blurrier than most people," she said, adding that she began studying ASL in ninth grade. "I just love it."

That ASL is a visual language and her eyesight makes mastering signs a challenge hasn’t been lost on her or her family.

"When Grace puts her mind to something, passion takes over," said her father, John Schafer, 51, a financial adviser. "She doesn’t let anything hold her back."

A closed-circuit TV device that magnifies what her teachers are signing has helped her learn signs. She’s used that tool and her own determination to land in the top 3% of her graduating class.

"I won’t let my visual impairment stop me from doing something that I want to achieve," said Schafer, who lives in Massapequa.

"Grace is a strong advocate for herself," said Patricia McCarthy, an ASL teacher at the high school, "and she is ready to help others. Grace’s tenacity for learning and succeeding is remarkable."

That includes creative interests of art and dance. "Dancing gives me a way to express myself and stay active," Schafer said. One of her sculptures, a life-size paper dress, could make Christian Siriano sit up and take notice.

Asked to share a favorite ASL sign during a Zoom interview, Schafer turned the invitation into a teachable moment.

"I like the meaning behind the sign for ‘I love you,’" she said, pointing to shapes formed by her fingers. "There’s the ‘I,’ then the ‘L’ and then the ‘Y’ — 'I Love You.' It makes sense when you know that and see it."

HIGHER ED: Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, majoring in American Sign Language interpreting

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I’m really excited to meet new people, learn new things about sign language and just to have a whole different experience."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "Cherish every experience and memory, because life changes so fast."

Darvin Chacon Ramirez, a senior at Roosevelt High School, wears scrubs...

Darvin Chacon Ramirez, a senior at Roosevelt High School, wears scrubs from the BOCES Medical Assistant Program as he holds an award from the National Technical Honors Society. Credit: Linda Rosier

Fighting spirit drives his success

By Arlene Gross / Special to Newsday

When Darvin Chacon Ramirez left Honduras with his older sister in May 2018 to join their parents in the United States, he was determined to learn English.

"I was always asking questions. I was always reviewing books. I was always looking for the lyrics of songs," he said.

Before long, Chacon Ramirez, 19, a Roosevelt High School senior, became proficient in English (with tutoring classes and summer school) and was accepted into the BOCES Medical Assistant Program.

As he was settling into his junior year, Chacon Ramirez was stricken with terrible headaches and dizziness in September 2019. He was diagnosed 13 months later with Schwannomatosis, which causes benign tumors that grow on nerves, impairing neurological function. In November 2020, he underwent surgery to remove the brain tumor.

"It was pretty hard for me," Chacon Ramirez said, explaining that his hand trembled when he wrote and his vision became blurry. "But now everything is coming back; everything is getting to normal — not that fast, but it’s coming back," he said. "I’m a fighter. I always love to do the best I can, and my education is the most important thing in the world."

Last year he became a member of the National Technical Honor Society.

His parents also take pride in his success. "I’m happy because of all the achievements and awards that he’s obtained in this country," Maria Ramirez said, her son translating from Spanish.

That Chacon Ramirez has persisted through such struggles — and a pandemic — is "amazing," said Monica Seely, his BOCES instructor. "And he’s so humble about it, and he has such a big heart," she said. "It is amazing. He went through his brain surgery, and he still maintains a 100 average."

Adversity has helped Chacon Ramirez become a better person, he said. "It has taught me that I’m a strong person, that I’m capable of doing whatever I want," he said.

HIGHER ED: Stony Brook University, majoring in education

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I’m looking forward to knowing a lot of people from different backgrounds."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "Life is not easy … But we can still continue, and we can still accomplish our goals and dreams."

Smithtown High School East senior Katie Trebing, at her Nesconset home,...

Smithtown High School East senior Katie Trebing, at her Nesconset home, holds a photo of her with her brothers, Calvin and Christopher. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Being vulnerable prompted desire to help others

By Beth Whitehouse /

On the 15th anniversary of what Katie Trebing’s family celebrates as her "rebirthday," the Smithtown High School East senior sat in her Nesconset backyard and talked about how that day changed the course of her life and influenced her to enroll in the University of Miami's nursing program.

"I’m excited to start this new chapter in my life," Trebing said. "I think my doctors really inspired me to take on that career path of helping others."

Trebing, 18, was born with Diamond-Blackfan anemia, which prevented her from making red blood cells. On May 25, 2006, at age 3, she underwent a bone-marrow transplant at Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center using marrow donated by her then-baby brother, Christopher, now 16.

Her time in hospitals — she needed monthly blood transfusions until the transplant — led to her consider a focus on pediatrics and becoming a nurse practitioner after getting her nursing degree. "I’m very comfortable talking to doctors and talking about my story."

Trebing’s story involved her parents using cutting-edge science to conceive Christopher, who was out playing a varsity lacrosse game while Katie chatted with a reporter. Katie needed a sibling who matched her DNA; Katie’s older brother, Cal, now in college, was not a match. So, Katie’s parents, Steve and Stacy, went through in vitro fertilization and chose Christopher, whose embryo was a match.

The family’s journey was a series in Newsday in 2007, was publicized on various TV shows and became a book, reaching as far as a family in Singapore who said they used the Trebings’ experience as their "Bible," traveling to the United States to cure their child with a similar disease. Trebing met them and is still in touch.

In high school, Trebing had a 4.16 GPA and was captain of the field hockey team. Opening up about her experience, she said, has taught her to embrace being vulnerable because it can help others: "I can work on inspiring them to keep their hopes up and push forward."

HIGHER ED: University of Miami, majoring in nursing

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I’m excited about the new experiences I’m going to encounter."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "To live in the present, because you’re not guaranteed tomorrow, next week, really anything."

WATCH NOW: Katie Trebing talks about being born with a medical condition called Diamond-Blackfan anemia and how her journey affected her plans for college.

Jacob Isaac, a senior at Baldwin Senior High School, is...

Jacob Isaac, a senior at Baldwin Senior High School, is a gifted musician who plays trumpet and piano. Credit: Barry Sloan

Baldwin student campaigned for future voters

By Joe Dziemianowicz / Special to Newsday

Rock the vote — and voters-to-be.

Jacob Isaac, a member of Baldwin Senior High School’s Class of 2021, did exactly that when he launched a voter preregistration and registration campaign at his school during the 2020 presidential election.

"Getting young people interested in politics and ready for an election even before they’re of voting age sets up the understanding that their voices make a difference," said Isaac, 18, who lives in Freeport.

The campaign, a collaborative effort with peers and administrators, featured T-shirts and an entertaining classroom video made to speak to its youthful audience. "Voting is, like, supes important," a student says in it. As a result of the initiative, 900 students were signed up. Supes, indeed.

"It doesn’t have to be a slog or a drag to go and vote," Isaac said. "Voting can become a very emotional and energetic process."

Beyond social and political endeavors, Isaac is a gifted musician who plays trumpet and piano and is an across-the-board scholar. He has a knack for invigorating every endeavor and class, according to physics teacher Jared Saltzman, 26.

"Jacob came in with great energy and was ready to work," he said. "He asked deep, clarifying questions. He was always calm, even when the class got difficult."

Sheilah Jefferson-Isaac, 51, a Uniondale School District assistant principal, has observed and appreciated her son’s dual capacities for being a leader and a team player. "Jacob is mature and humble," she said.

Isaac’s college plans are informed by his passion for independent research developed through courses at Baldwin. "I definitely want to be part of an academic discussion on important issues that actually affect people’s lives," he said. "That really interests me."

In other words, it gets his vote.

HIGHER ED: University of Pennsylvania, majoring in biochemistry

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I’m looking forward to meeting new friends and getting to know the environment of Philadelphia."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "The value of being around people, because I definitely took that for granted."

Greenport High School senior Kai Kaufman help write programming code...

Greenport High School senior Kai Kaufman help write programming code that led Southold Robotics Team Rice 870 to victory. Credit: Randee Daddona

Propelled by technical know-how

By Michael R. Ebert /

While most children love to play video games, Kai Kaufman always wanted to do more.

The Greenport High School senior said he began by creating "silly modifications" to the popular game Minecraft — like making his characters throw fireballs — and posting them online for others to play.

He also created websites for his Minecraft endeavors, using his computer to host a world that others could join and building a tight-knit group of gamers nationwide.

"I was 10 or 11, so figuring this out was a good learning opportunity," said Kaufman, 17, who has taught himself 11 programming languages.

From there, Kaufman's passion for coding led him to robotics. He became co-president and lead programmer for the Southold/Greenport Robotics Team, which during his tenure twice advanced to the world championships, in 2018 and 2019.

As a freshman, he spearheaded creating statistical analysis and data collection software to improve the team’s decision-making at competitions. "This gave me an opportunity to learn things like how to write code to actually control motors, make a robot drive around, make it spin a wheel or shoot a bow," he said of learning practical applications of programming.

Kaufman's was also one of about 200 individuals worldwide last year to complete a reverse-engineering challenge coordinated by the cybersecurity firm FireEye; he has also initiated an international online community centered around reviving a classic computer game.

Meanwhile, he has taken every Advanced Placement class at his school, becoming an AP Scholar with Distinction. He was also a technology writer for his school newspaper and an editor in the Broadcast TV Club.

Along the way, Kaufman has undergone four surgeries to correct spinal scoliosis and eye-muscle palsy — the most recent last summer.

"Kai understands life can be difficult, but he never gave up," said his guidance counselor, Brandi Hopkins.

HIGHER ED: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, majoring in computer science with a focus on cybersecurity

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I'm most looking forward to the ability to apply the skills I’ve learned and use them for more academic research."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED ... "Flexibility is essential to success."

Saba Mehrzad, a senior at Syosset High School, founded the Women...

Saba Mehrzad, a senior at Syosset High School, founded the Women in STEM club at her school. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Carving her own path in every way

By Joe Dziemianowicz / Special to Newsday

"Balancing assertiveness and kindness is key to being a leader," according to Saba Mehrzad, 17, a Syosset High School senior who has spearheaded various programs reflecting her diverse passions.

Mehrzad’s love of science — sparked by her mother’s work as a pediatric endocrinologist and an eye-opening computer coding camp experience — led her to start a high school club to inspire young women to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM). The group’s Zoom-driven middle-school mentorship component aims to generate such interest early on.

"My goal was to expose more girls at my school to different STEM fields and different things that they might be interested in but didn’t know about," said Mehrzad, who lives in Syosset. "I didn’t know that I liked computer science, but once I was exposed to the world of it, I realized I loved it."

During quarantine, Mehrzad started to promote women’s history after an internship at the New School in Manhattan. "I wanted to connect students who loved writing and researching to write articles about unknown and underrepresented women in history," she said, adding that the group has "over 200 members right now, including students from 23 countries and 22 states." To celebrate her culture, Mehrzad founded the Iranian American Youth Group.

Mehrzad’s motivation and magnetism are two remarkable assets. "Saba’s positivity and her enthusiasm for everything she does is infectious," said guidance counselor Lori Haubrich, 45.

Khosrow Mehrzad, 61, who works in finance, described his daughter Saba as a voracious reader. "That allows her to look at issues in a deeper, more intellectual manner. Saba is also very creative and has great initiative."

It runs in the family. Speaking for herself and her older sister, Mehrzad said, "We’re not dormant. Whenever we have an idea we go for it, and we try to create momentum. Whatever we do we do it 100%. Or 200%."

HIGHER ED: Harvard University, studying human developmental and regenerative biology and computer science

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I’m looking forward to meeting and being motivated by other students and to be able to get to know the faculty, and perhaps do some research."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "How to be a better leader and a better friend."

Longwood High School senior Rachel Hines has been a championship...

Longwood High School senior Rachel Hines has been a championship bowler and pursues photography as a hobby. Credit: Barry Sloan

Bowled over by zeal to support community

By Arlene Gross / Special to Newsday

Seventh grade was a pivotal year in Rachel Hines’ life.

That’s when the Longwood High School senior, now 18, started collecting arts-and-crafts care packages to distribute to hospitalized children. With donations from friends and the community, Rachel’s Caring for Kids has distributed about 200 packages.

"At least bringing a smile to their face will brighten my day a little more because I know that they’re happy — and they’re not sad and lonely sitting in a room by themselves," said Hines, who lives in Yaphank.

Penny Hines said she admires her daughter’s dedication. "She’s worked very hard to build her reach and continues to come up with new and exciting ways to help others," she said.

The same year, Rachel started bowling for her high school team. Two years later, she hired Joey Novara, a Sachem North champion bowler in the late 2000s, to improve her game. Hines, who loves math and English and plays varsity softball, credits Novara for her excellence and 221 average game score — and her integral role in Suffolk’s All-Star team capturing the 2018 state championship.

What makes Hines great is her willingness to adapt to various techniques, Novara said. "Her versatility is one of the best."

"She's involved in so many things and whatever she's involved in, she gives 110%, whether it be bowling, her academics, honor society, the fire department, Rachel's Caring For Kids," said David Huey, Longwood girls' bowling team coach.

Hines puts so many hours into the team that, "the fact that she still has time for part-time job and school, is mind blowing," said Doug Dwyer, who coached Hines' older brother on Longwood's boys bowling team and knows the family well.

Since COVID-19, Hines has run sock drives for the homeless and collected laptops for students who can’t afford them. She works as a photographer, memorializing weddings and Sweet 16 parties; she also pursues photography as a hobby, snapping cars, trucks and people.

She appreciates being able to focus on things she finds beautiful, adding, "I’m more of a truck girl myself."

HIGHER ED: Mount St. Mary’s University, majoring in physical education and Army ROTC

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I’m looking forward to meeting new people and bonding with my new bowling team."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "more about myself … what my main interests were."

Justine Moturi, a senior at The Stony Brook School, had...

Justine Moturi, a senior at The Stony Brook School, had to finish his junior year in quarantine in Kenya but was able to return to finish his senior year. Credit: Raychel Brightman

A resilience that knows no borders

By Michael R. Ebert /

Justine Moturi looks back in amazement at far he’s come — both academically and geographically.

The Stony Brook School senior grew up in poverty in Kenya with a deaf father and a mother who sold shoes on the side of a highway. As a child, he was a Boy Scout who often played with a soccer ball made of rags and ropes and attended an overcrowded school where children sometimes passed out from hunger during lessons.

The motivated Moturi then excelled on a national exam and successfully applied to a full-scholarship boarding school, M-PESA Foundation Academy, which he called a personal "turning point." There, he experienced such firsts as using a computer and playing a main role in the school's first theater production.

He was also elected school president, worked on a bionic arm prototype and developed an app to help identify blood donors in Kenya.

"It gave me the instruments to bring my imagination into a reality world," Moturi, 17, said of attending M-PESA.

During his junior year, Moturi was awarded a scholarship to attend The Stony Brook School, where he got a near 3.9 grade-point average and played on the varsity soccer team, which won two consecutive league titles.

Getting to Stony Brook brought other firsts: a plane ride and eating American food. "My parents were scared; it took them a lot of time to process it," Moturi said of the move. "I told them it was what I wanted and what I had dreamed of."

Unfortunately, COVID-19 cut short Moturi's school year. He returned to Kenya in March 2020, finishing his junior year via Zoom in quarantine at the M-PESA academy. In August, he came back to Long Island.

"Justine's life could be the storyline from a movie," said Christine Loo, co-director of college counseling at The Stony Brook School. "It is the story of how much resilience a human being can possess."

HIGHER ED: Dartmouth College, majoring in neurobiology and minoring in theater and film

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I want to explore the world and explore my interests more."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "It put all of us in the same equal box, forcing us to take collective action against a common enemy … showing us just how alike we are despite our nationalities and superficial differences."

Oceanside High School's Jeremy Feder, seen here with a retired...

Oceanside High School's Jeremy Feder, seen here with a retired service animal, has dedicated the past several years of his life to fundraising for America's VetDogs. Credit: Linda Rosier

Loyal to making a difference for veterans

By Kevin J. Redding / Special to Newsday

An honor student, athlete, a mentor and president of the Patriots’ Club at Oceanside High School, Jeremy Feder always swings for the fences.

For nearly six years, he’s run the Jeremy Feder All-Star Charity Baseball Tournament, the proceeds from which benefit America’s VetDogs — a nonprofit that provides disabled veterans and first responders with free, fully-trained golden and Labrador retrievers, and poodles. What began as a bar mitzvah project when he was 12 has become an annual community event in September through which he’s raised $35,000.

"It makes me feel good to see other people feel good," said Feder, 17, who plans to continue the event during college and beyond through a partnership with East Coast Tournaments. Since it began, he’s put in hundreds of hours of work: collecting raffle donations from businesses, selling shirts and arranging for student volunteers, who receive community service credits.

In the Patriots’ Club since middle school, he’s been involved in clothing drives, letter-writing campaigns, and such events as Trees for Troops. If he notices an underclassman struggling, he swoops in and cheers them up. "He’s so committed to people and the school in a way I haven’t seen," said club adviser, Julia Nappi. "If he says he’s going to do something, he does it … but so humbly. He’s wholesome and special."

While juggling the charity and his academic roles hasn’t been easy this past year, the pandemic has made him more focused. "He’s incredibly levelheaded, keeps his eye on the end result," Laura Koss-Feder said of her son. "And I’m amazed by his determination and energy."

HIGHER ED: Binghamton University’s School of Management, majoring in financing

FRESHMAN YEAR: He is looking forward to "having a whole new experience of independence and meeting new people on campus and trying new things."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "You need to be thankful for everything that you have and … because at any time or at any point, like the pandemic, things can change."

Natalie Bran, a senior at Lawrence High School, decided to...

Natalie Bran, a senior at Lawrence High School, decided to give back to the community center in her neighborhood, volunteering at Gammy's Pantry. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Lawrence senior met altruism in-kind

By Arlene Gross / Special to Newsday

Observing the crucial roles played by first-responders and doctors during the pandemic motivated Natalie Bran to pitch in at Gammy's Pantry, the local community center’s food pantry, where since last May she has volunteered 2,000 hours.

"I felt so helpless," said Bran, 18, a Lawrence High School senior who lives in Inwood.

Having also personally benefited from Five Towns Community Center — she attended its Head Start preschool program — Bran said, "I felt like that was a way to give back to the community that has done so much for me."

Bran also volunteers at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, fundraising and staffing an information table on "Kids Day" at MetLife Stadium.

In school, Bran excels at science, math and computer science, and enjoys choir and dance.

As the assistant facilitator of her school’s Girls Who Code club, Bran loved the limitless possibilities of computer science. Combining her altruism and coding, she also dreams of creating an app that would help people access food pantries, mental health professionals and other vital services.

"Many times people don’t know where to get these services," she said. "I feel like an app or something like that would make it that much easier."

Bran is the person students seek for advice about the computer science program, noted Rebecca Isseroff, a science teacher who runs the coding club. "Natalie’s enthusiasm, coupled with her intelligence, inspires others to follow in her path; and her desire to help others, both in school as well as in her community, is exemplary," she said.

Blanca Bran exudes pride in her daughter, the first member of the family to attend college. "I wake up sometimes at 2 in the morning and she’s still studying because she has a test," Blanca said. "She’s very, very dedicated."

HIGHER ED: Columbia University, majoring in computer science

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I’m really looking forward to meeting new people, getting a more vigorous education and using the resources to the best of my ability."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED ... "To appreciate what I have and to give back to my community."

Sam Kanterman, a senior at Syosset High School, found his place...

Sam Kanterman, a senior at Syosset High School, found his place during the pandemic was helping to sustain school spirit through his musical leadership. Credit: Linda Rosier

Putting smiles on the faces of his classmates

By Kevin J. Redding / Special to Newsday

Beyond AP courses and tutoring others in math and science, Sam Kanterman devoted his hybrid senior year to keeping the spotlight on the arts at Syosset High School.

As president of the all-male a cappella group, Choral Pride, Kanterman, 18, guided his peers in a virtual performance of "Jingle Bells" and, as co-music manager of Chamber Singers, organized and hosted a socially distant recital that was livestreamed for the community in lieu of normal holiday concerts. On Valentine’s Day, he maintained a fundraising tradition in which choral students presented classmates with singing telegrams, this year with videos and virtual messages sent around the school.

"Sam brings the smiles, the laughs, the spirit and the joy to every event," his guidance counselor, Beth Waschitz said. "In a year like this, where so many people are so over it and disillusioned, he just lifts you up. His classmates are lucky they have him walking beside them."

Kanterman also created end-of- year slideshows for the school and played the role of Zeke in a livestreamed production of "High School Musical," tapping into his love for baking: As an eighth-grader, Kanterman appeared on Food Network’s "Chopped Junior." Before the pandemic, he taught a cooking program for children at his synagogue.

"He has always been able to lighten up a room, engage people, and be everybody’s cheerleader," Elyssa Kanterman said of her son. "I call him ‘The Mayor’ because he has so many friend groups and really wants to put a smile on everybody’s face."

Although he admits to being more of a math and science kid, Kanterman said, "I feel like the arts program is where my home is within the building."

HIGHER ED: Washington University in St. Louis, majoring in neuroscience

FRESHMAN YEAR: He is looking forward to "being exposed to a more diverse group of people … and all the research opportunities I’m going to have — plus the a cappella program."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "The impact that kindness can have on people, their days, their lives and the world as a whole."

East Hampton High School's Mary McCann blended her artistic talents...

East Hampton High School's Mary McCann blended her artistic talents with social entrepreneurship. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Pursuing goals that are grounded in empathy

By Arlene Gross / Special to Newsday

Combining an abiding love for art, scholarship and humanity, Mary McCann started Family Dinner, to create and sell tie-dyed T-shirts and sweatshirts to benefit National Bail Out, which works to end pretrial detention.

"I had been doing a lot of reading on mass incarceration and systemic racism for school-related research, and I saw just how pervasive these issues are in American society," said McCann, 17, a senior at East Hampton High School. "I had always been interested in social entrepreneurship, so I saw an opportunity to use my concern to generate something positive."

As the 2020 election unfolded, McCann, who lives in East Hampton, added beaded bracelets with the word "vote" to promote civic engagement. "I wanted to use my platform to encourage those around me to participate," she said.

And though she didn’t expect to raise substantial figures — she netted more than $500 — McCann said if she was able to bail out just one person, she’d be satisfied with her efforts.

"Mary is a creative person who thinks deeply about people and situations," said her mom, Kyle. "She tries to understand what matters to each person."

McCann, who is in the top 10% of her class, strives to integrate art into her school and community. As treasurer of her school’s National Art Honor Society, she led such creative endeavors as the annual March Madness mural contest; she’s also been a camp art counselor and plans to give art lessons this summer.

Guidance counselor Samone Ritz said McCann, "truly is an amazing young lady with so much to offer. It is hard to pinpoint just one thing about Mary, because she truly is just that extraordinary."

HIGHER ED: Cornell University, majoring in Applied Economics and Management with a concentration in Social Entrepreneurship

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I’m excited to learn from and form connections with new people" to eventually start a social enterprise on a larger scale.

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "If you have an idea, go for it: No time is better than the present."

Peter Thais, a senior at St. Dominic High School, has become...

Peter Thais, a senior at St. Dominic High School, has become an advocate for climate justice that incorporates indigenous voices. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Glen Cove senior takes global approach to success

Joe Dziemianowicz / Special to Newsday

Every day is Earth Day for St. Dominic High School senior Peter Thais, and it ought to be for "every inhabitant of the planet," he said.

A Native American who grew up on the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation in upstate New York, Thais, who lives in Glen Cove, has risen to the rigors of an exacting STEM Scholars Program, shone bright on the soccer, swimming and lacrosse teams, and logged hundreds of hours of community service. Win-win-win.

"The key to success is to be a well-rounded individual," he said. He speaks from authority.

At 17, Thais has already emerged as a vibrant voice and advocate for the environment as well as the indigenous community. Thais has spoken out about these topics close to his heart as a keynote speaker and panelist at tribal summits and the United Nations.

"With the current state of the climate crisis," he said, "I believe that ecological knowledge within indigenous traditions can be adapted to help fight climate change."

Thais sees the big picture. His success is his community’s success. "Peter has a strong understanding of his place in the world, where he fits in, and what he feels strongly about," said school counselor Krystal Townend. "He has a sense of maturity that stands out among his peers."

His mom, Joyce Cook, 50, who teaches English-as-a-second-language at Locust Valley Middle School, takes pride in his grit and determination. "He’s faced his own challenges and difficulties, and drew strength from our culture and practices," she said, adding that swimming with Long Island Aquatic Club since fourth grade "has given him discipline."

Thais’ roots inform him in subtle and obvious ways — from his college pursuits to the long braid he proudly has trailing down his back.

"Other students tend not to understand my cultural background," he said. "But I strongly believe my presence at St. Dominic High School can help break stereotypes."

HIGHER ED: Cornell University, studying biological engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

FRESHMAN YEAR: "I’m looking forward to being in a new environment with like-minded individuals who are advancing their education in the best way possible."

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED … "It is really important to manage your time and organize your schedule."

Meet Newsday's 2021 Extraordinary Seniors. We asked them to give advice to next year's seniors. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara, Raychel Brightman, Alejandra Villa Loarca; Barry Sloan, Linda Rosier, Randee Daddona, Gordon Grant/Thomas A. Ferrara, Raychel Brightman, Alejandra Villa Loarca; Barry Sloan, Linda Rosier, Randee Daddona, Gordon Grant

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