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Unpretentious Jennifer McDermott does it all

Jennifer McDermott, 18, of Shirley, is the valedictorian

Jennifer McDermott, 18, of Shirley, is the valedictorian of her 2015 William Floyd High School graduating class. Not only is McDermott, shown on June 1, 2015, a gifted student, but she is also the captain of the women's varsity basketball and soccer teams. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Jennifer McDermott has the skepticism of a scientist, so when she learned she was accepted to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, naturally she spent an entire day thinking it was a mistake.

On March 14, the unofficial holiday celebrating the mathematical constant Pi, the university released its admission decisions on a special website. When McDermott logged on and saw she had made the cut, the computer crashed and she was unable to go back to confirm her acceptance.

"I didn't believe it at all," she recalled. "My mom started crying. Everyone was celebrating, but I really didn't believe it. I didn't tell anyone. I didn't post anything on Twitter or anything. I was just so nervous," said McDermott, 18, of Shirley.

McDermott -- who is valedictorian of her class and has conducted physics research at Brookhaven National Laboratory -- was just being the unpretentious young woman her teachers and peers have grown to admire. She received a personal acceptance letter from MIT a day later.

McDermott traces her interest in science back to her parents -- both are in the engineering and technical fields -- and her maternal grandparents, who emigrated from Calabria, Italy, in 1960. Her grandfather had a telescope, which was her first introduction to science.

"There was a language barrier, so we had to bond in other ways," she said.

McDermott is captain of the varsity soccer and basketball teams. She plays the violin and is the president of the school's symphonic orchestra.

As president of her high school's student government, she helped bring back an event called Battle of the Classes, a competitive field day for seniors and juniors. McDermott said it's the project she's most proud of because it united students and revived school spirit.

"Everyone being so excited about something was the most satisfying feeling ever," she said.


McDermott will attend MIT and hopes to major in mathematics.


She is looking forward to "being around some incredible people and learning from everyone."


"I'm passionate about everything I do and I truly care about everything I do. I wouldn't do all of it otherwise."

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