What does it take to be at the top of one’s graduating class? Some of the brightest high school students of Long Island’s graduating class of 2018 visited Newsday on May 22, and shared the advice that helped them succeed and what wisdom they would pass on to other students.
Alexandrea Harriott, Central Islip High School
Family and classmates were always around to keep Alexandrea Harriott in check when she felt overwhelmed. Harriott said that even though teens sometimes "think we know everything," her parents taught her when to push herself and when to relax.
"Listening to them when they said I need to try here, take a rest here; I feel like that helped me balance my school work and the rest of my life," Central Islip High School's valedictorian said.
Harriott said she was also motivated by her friends, many of whom took several of the same classes together.
"We picked each other up when we were in such horrible pieces," she said. "It's a lot of stress when you're trying to be well-rounded and also have such a strong education."
In the fall, Harriott will attend Harvard University, where she will major in applied math. Her message to future students is to avoid trying to be a perfectionist.
"Just focus on what you love," she said. "Don't spread yourself too thin, as long as you're doing the best you can."
Arshia Iqbal, Valley Stream North High School
Arshia Iqbal may be a valedictorian, but grades aren't everything to her, she said. Health comes first.
"Your health comes before your grades," the Valley Stream North High School senior said. "You can't be top of the class if you aren't healthy."
Iqbal said her father taught her to not stress out about her grades, which helped her prepare for AP exams and finals.
"You're always looking to study," she said, "but you have to remember that you have to take care of yourself first."
Iqbal, has enrolled in the Sophie Davis Biomedical Education Program, part of City University of New York's School of Medicine. Her advice to future students is to be self-assured and to surround oneself with people who will provide support.
"Be confident with yourself, and make sure you have people that you can trust," Iqbal said. "The people that mean the most ... will help you get through high school."
Dillon Razler, Long Beach High School
Dillon Razler learned to never give up from his mother.
"Just keep trying," he said she would tell him. "Whatever you do, just be determined."
The Long Beach High School valedictorian said he developed a competitive spirit, particularly on the field, when playing baseball or soccer.
Razler, who will attend Cornell University and study medical engineering, said students should find what they love and make an effort to focus on it.
"Whatever you want to do in life, just try your best and enjoy what you do," he said.
Deborah Lobaccaro, Massapequa High School
Hard work will eventually get you where you need to be. That's the message Deborah Lobaccaro's parents instilled in her.
"Put in the work and you'll get out of it what you want," she said. That mindset helped her become valedictorian of Massapequa High School, and continues to help even as motivation can wane at the end of senior year, she said.
"I still work hard, I've gotten the results I want," said Lobaccaro, who will study biomedical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the fall. "I feel like I've learned so much because I worked so hard."
However, it's important to juggle school work with other interests, she said.
"Make sure you have time for your friends, your family, outside activities that make you happy," Lobaccaro said. "What makes you successful is being able to find that balance."
Britney Pham, Farmingdale High School
Science is Britney Pham's passion; after graduation, she plans to study chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. English, on the other hand, has never been a favorite subject of hers.
"I never really had a relationship with my English teachers because I hated it," Pham said.
However, the Farmingdale High School valedictorian found herself working with her English teachers more throughout the college application process as she worked on her personal essay. She said her English teacher during her junior year, Diana Rossi, saw how much anxiety she had, and taught her to calm down.
"I think a lot of valedictorians can vouch we always work very hard throughout high school, but we forget to take our time and enjoy everything," Pham said.
She said she made an effort to spend more time with friends and got involved in nonacademic activities, such as homecoming. Education can be measured by more than a report card, Pham said.
"You're more than your grades," she said. "Schools care much more about everything else than just a number on a paper."
Patrick Cruz, East Meadow High School
There's a quote that has always stuck in Patrick Cruz's head, one he heard from East Meadow High School teacher Leonard Poppi: "Apathy is my enemy."
Cruz said he would often think back to that quote when studying for tests. Without an enthusiasm for learning, "you're just going to mess yourself up, even if you know the info," he said.
Cruz will major in animal science at Cornell University. His advice is to not procrastinate, approaching work with the mindset of, "If I'm not going to solve it now, I'm never going to solve it," he said.
Johnathan Yu, Mount Sinai High School
Johnathan Yu's track coach at Mount Sinai High School Lee Markowitz taught Yu that if he truly committed himself, he may find that he could achieve more than he thought possible. For Yu, a sprinter, that meant pushing himself to go farther in every race.
"You can always do a little more than you think you can," Yu said.
In college, Yu will major in physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His advice to other students is to help others.
"That's the best way to grow," he said.
Josh Joseph, Walt Whitman High School
During his freshman year, Josh Joseph's guidance counselor, Patricia Urgiles, suggested he branch out by joining some school clubs. The Walt Whitman High School valedictorian said that doing so helped him get out of his comfort zone.
"Now, my clubs take up just as much time as my academics" Joseph said. "It's not technically required, but it makes school much, much better."
His activities include writing for the school newspaper and being a member of the art honor society. After high school, he will study journalism at Stony Brook University.
Joseph's advice to others is to be willing to strive for more than the bare minimum.
"Explore beyond what is required of you," he said. There's no harm in trying."
Saraf Faruk, Deer Park High School
Various teachers throughout high school taught Saraf Faruk the importance of having her priorities in order. She always made an effort to complete her assignments in a timely manner because it gave her peace of mind.
"I felt free to do other things I needed to do, as long as I had all my work done," the Deer Park High School valedictorian said.
After graduation, Faruk will attend Stony Brook University, majoring in biology. While she maintains that school work is a top priority, it's not the only one, she said.
"Try your best to find a good balance between school work and your social life," she said.
Dean Macchia, H. Frank Carey High School
Creating a schedule and sticking to it has helped Dean Macchia combat feeling overwhelmed. He said his middle school math teacher, Lysandra Bisal, instilled this idea in him.
"It's always been very personal for me," the Carey High School valedictorian said. "I'm a very organized person."
Macchia, who is going to study economics at Cornell University, said Bisal also emphasized making a good first impression. To that end, Macchia said it's important to always be yourself, whether it's forming relationships with others or pursuing a career.
"If you're not doing things the way you want to ... you're not going to be happy," he said.