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Long Island's 2005 valedictorians: 10 years later

Where are they now?

It's been 10 years since the Class of 2005 tossed its graduation caps and headed off to college.

No doubt, they set lofty goals for themselves back then and envisioned prosperous futures, just as today's high school seniors are doing as they prepare to graduate.

To find out if their lives and careers are going according to plan, Newsday reconnected with some of these 2005 valedictorians. A common thread that ran through their updates was that life involves change, and success comes in many different forms.

Read on to find out what she's up to these days along with other Long Island valedictorians who graduated a decade ago. Plus, see what advice they have for today's high school graduates.

Lauren Monaco

NAME: Lauren MonacoHIGH SCHOOL: Carle PlaceCOLLEGE: Marywood University,
Photo Credit: Fine Art Photography, right

NAME: Lauren Monaco
HIGH SCHOOL: Carle Place
COLLEGE: Marywood University, 2010, bachelor's degree in nutrition and dietetics; Stony Brook University, 2013, doctorate in physical therapy
JOB: Physical therapist
LIVES IN: Carle Place

Lauren Monaco found her career path after getting injured playing softball. She discovered that she wanted to be a physical therapist as she rehabbed her elbow one summer at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa.
"I enjoyed the positive and hopeful feel of physical therapy, and always knew that I wanted to help people, so it was the perfect fit," says Monaco, 28.
She transferred from Tufts University, where she'd expected to major in chemistry or math and become a teacher, but the school turned out not to be the right fit.
As she finished her degree at Marywood, she took courses she needed for her next step -- returning to Long Island for her doctorate in physical therapy at Stony Brook. She works at Gersh Academy in Huntington, a school for children on the autistic spectrum.
"I have learned that you don't always have to follow your plan and that it is important to always be evolving into a better version of yourself," says Monaco, who is getting married in November.
"Though I didn't graduate knowing what I wanted to do, each experience along the way has helped shape the person I have become, and provided me with a satisfying career that I love." -- EDWARD B. COLBY

Ian Peikon

NAME: Ian PeikonHIGH SCHOOL: BethpageCOLLEGE: Duke University, 2009,
Photo Credit: Constance Brukin, right

NAME: Ian Peikon
COLLEGE: Duke University, 2009, bachelor's idegree n biomedical engineering; doctorate from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in biological sciences
JOB: Hardware engineer, Google[x] Life Sciences
LIVES IN: San Francisco

Ian Peikon's search for a career in science and engineering led him to Google.
As an undergrad at Duke, he became interested in neuroprosthetics, researching how amputees and paralyzed patients could have more natural control of prosthetic limbs, he says.
Peikon followed his growing interest in how the brain computes to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where as a doctoral student he learned about molecular biology and high-throughput sequencing, sparking an interest in human genomics. That and a turn toward applied science and industry led to his role at Google[x] Life Sciences, where he is a hardware engineer, Peikon says.
Peikon, 27, says his teachers' enthusiasm at Bethpage High School was inspiring.
"They clearly were interested in what they were doing and that has motivated me to follow my own interests," Peikon says. -- EDWARD B. COLBY

Shira Mitchell

NAME: Shira MitchellHIGH SCHOOL: Ward MelvilleCOLLEGE: Harvard University,

NAME: Shira Mitchell
HIGH SCHOOL: Ward Melville
COLLEGE: Harvard University, 2009, bachelor's degree in mathematics; 2014, doctorate in biostatistics
JOB: Postdoctoral fellow, Columbia University
LIVES IN: Manhattan

Shira Mitchell recalls that when she graduated from Ward Melville High School, before she could figure out her place in the world, she knew she needed to learn a lot.

She has in the past decade picking up two math degrees from Harvard and consulting on public health in Malawi and Tanzania, as well as on human rights in Colombia.

Mitchell, 27, loved her teachers at Ward Melville, who she says "put the idea in my head that I was smart and had the capacity to do all sorts of things." They were kind and generous, she added, and "seemed to really appreciate my questions, which gave me the courage to ask a lot of questions at Harvard and now at Columbia."

Mitchell studied theoretical math and some computer science as an undergrad at Harvard, where a probability professor introduced her to statistics and opened up a whole new set of possibilities. Mitchell's doctoral work in applied statistics and international projects followed. Now, she's studying a rural development project that spans 10 sub-Saharan African countries.

Mitchell knows more learning awaits.

"As my favorite saying goes: 'Let's make better mistakes tomorrow.' In other words, I expect I'll need to learn as much from the next decade as the last." -- EDWARD B. COLBY

Christine Schwall

NAME: Christine SchwallHIGH SCHOOL: Wellington C. MephamCOLLEGE: Fordham
Photo Credit: Christine Schwall

NAME: Christine Schwall
HIGH SCHOOL: Wellington C. Mepham
COLLEGE: Fordham University, 2009, bachelor's degree in biology, with minors in chemistry and sociology; University of Connecticut, 2014, doctorate in biochemistry
JOB: Program coordinator, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Queens Hospital
LIVES IN: Astoria

As she headed to Fordham in the Bronx, Christine Schwall already knew she wanted to work in the science field. But that interest came into greater focus in 2007 during her sophomore year when her father, Alan Schwall, died from acute myelogenous leukemia at age 51.

"Since then, I have been active in the cancer fields and pursued a career more in line with the scientific aspects of health care and finding a cure for cancer, especially blood cancers," said Schwall, 27.

She has fundraised for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Light the Night event for six years, and is a member of the New York City chapter of the society's young professionals group, Society Ties.

"I love being able to make a difference in the lives of those suffering from cancer," Schwall said. "I never want another family to go through what my family has suffered and I never want another girl to plan her wedding without her father." Schwall is marrying her college sweetheart in November.

She credits her "amazing and lasting friendships" from her days at Mepham with playing a key role in shaping who she is today, as did her seasons on the winter and spring track teams, which Schwall said made her a better and stronger person.

"Just because in that moment you don't think you can do it or the situation looks bleak, push through and push yourself further and you will always surprise yourself," she said. -- EDWARD B. COLBY

Yousuf Qureshi

NAME: Yousuf QureshiHIGH SCHOOL: ManhassetCOLLEGE: Brown University, 2009,

NAME: Yousuf Qureshi
HIGH SCHOOL: Manhasset
COLLEGE: Brown University, 2009, bachelor's degree in human biology; Harvard Medical School, 2013, medical degree.
JOB: Dermatology resident at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
LIVES IN: Dallas

Yousuf Qureshi said he has always been drawn to the sciences. But he also knew he wanted to help others, so it's not surprising that he is a doctor. What's unexpected is his specialty -- skin diseases.

"I was fascinated by the complexity of cutaneous disorders and the psychological burden of the resulting disfigurement," said Qureshi, 28.

He thought he would be a cardiologist when he was pursuing his studies at Harvard Medical School. He is doing his residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and has worked as an emergency medical technician.

Qureshi's passion for medicine was solidified during his undergraduate years at Brown when he became intrigued by the human body and its complexities "that make each of us similar, but also unique," he said.

"I felt a connection to patients who needed comfort in the hands of a medical team, added Qureshi, who is getting married in September. He and his fiancee met at Harvard.

Though Qureshi is a decade removed from Manhasset High School, one of his most important experiences from that time -- maintaining his fitness -- is still with him.

Running on the cross-country and track teams, he says, "taught me endurance, balance and fortitude." -- EDWARD B. COLBY

Molly Murphy

NAME: Molly MurphyHIGH SCHOOL: Westhampton BeachCOLLEGE: Boston College,

NAME: Molly Murphy
HIGH SCHOOL: Westhampton Beach
COLLEGE: Boston College, 2009, bachelor's degree in history and philosophy; University of Southern California, 2015, master's degree in occupational therapy
JOB: Completing final clinical rotation as an occupational therapy student
LIVES IN: Corpus Christi, Texas

When she went to Boston College, Murphy said she told her parents that she would never take a math or science course again -- which was partly true.

"Little did I know I'd be going into a science-based field eight years later," said Murphy, 27, who ended up studying occupational therapy in graduate school in California and is completing her clinical rotation in the Acute Rehabilitation Department at Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi.

Murphy describes her professional path as "convoluted" -- with experiences that include a fellowship on Capitol Hill, serving as a team leader in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps in the north-central United States, waitressing and traveling.

She said she has learned to stop trying to base her life on someone else's road map, realizing that "we all carve our own paths, even if we're heading in the same direction."

Murphy credits her Westhampton Beach High School community with providing a lot of love and support since graduation. "Those connections have both grounded and supported me in my journey," she said.

Murphy has lived in 12 states in the past 10 years, including a recent move to Texas to live with her partner, Pat, a Marine pilot in flight school.

"I never anticipated life as a military spouse, but in remembering the importance of the company you keep, the decision to move became easy," she said. -- EDWARD B. COLBY

Pearl Tam

NAME: Pearl TamHIGH SCHOOL: West HempsteadCOLLEGE: New York

NAME: Pearl Tam
HIGH SCHOOL: West Hempstead
COLLEGE: New York University, Stern School of Business, 2009
JOB: Associate at Eastwick, a tech communications agency
LIVES IN: Brooklyn

Pearl Tam thought she knew what she wanted to do with her life when she graduated high school. She'd always been good at math, she said, "shamelessly" admitting that she was captain of her school's mathletes team, so she thought majoring in actuarial science would be a natural fit.

But after freshman year, she said she realized she was more interested in advertising and psychology than numbers. She changed her major and took an internship with an ad tech startup that she says is now valued at $525 million. (Unfortunately, she missed out on her opportunity to opt into shares with the company, she said.)

Still, "I have no regrets," she added. "I had the chance to see the evolution of a tech startup and work side-by-side with some of the most brilliant minds."

After a short stint there, Tam said she moved back to Long Island and found the "pickings were slim in the job market," so she took a job at Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, where she had worked for five summers.

"I would have never imagined working at Roosevelt Field mall after college," she said, but Hugo Boss was launching its first Long Island store and offered her a managerial position she couldn't turn down.

Eventually, she moved back to the city to work for a media intelligence company, and four years later, landed her current job, which she says allows her to merge her affinity toward revolutionary tech companies with her media relations expertise.

During a recent solo trip to Costa Rica, where she started at a surf hostel and ended at a yoga retreat inside a rain forest, Tam said she learned the importance of "pura vida," living a pure life. And her advice for today's graduates is to seek out positive experiences and people.

"Find the people who are going to inspire and encourage you to reach your goals, while also challenging you to surpass them," she said.

And when you do encounter someone negative, she says, "Kill them with kindness." -- TARA CONRY

Jill Feffer

NAME: Jill FefferHIGH SCHOOL: LynbrookCOLLEGE: Princeton University, molecular

NAME: Jill Feffer
COLLEGE: Princeton University, molecular biology, pre-med, 2009; New York University School of Medicine, 2013
JOB: Internal medicine resident physician at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine
LIVES IN: Manhasset

Jill Feffer knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine when she was still in high school -- falling in love with science inside and outside of the classroom.

"My high school experiences laid the foundation for my work ethic, academic ambition and personal resilience," Feffer said. Advanced Placement classes and extracurricular olympiad competitions also cemented her interest in biology and medicine, she added.

Feffer's resilience is what prompted her to fulfill her high school dream, she said. While a student at Princeton, she studied molecular biology while she prepared for medical school. She continued her academic career at the New York University School of Medicine in 2009, and was ready for her first residency upon graduation in 2013.

Now, Feffer is back on Long Island, finishing the second year of her residency at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine in Hempstead.

Feffer said she has found a new type of self-confidence through realizing her goals, and does not plan to give up any time soon.

"Honestly, my determined ambition is still present and my career goals have not changed much," Feffer said. "I feel it is an asset that I know myself well enough to have stayed the course."

Still, Feffer does embrace the importance and necessity of change in order to grow.

"Change is exhilarating and daunting, but you must embrace opportunities for personal and professional growth," she said. "Challenge yourselves as much as you can, then come home when you need to regroup and reassess the impact." -- AMY ONORATO

Alex Miciotta

NAME: Alex MiciottaHIGH SCHOOL: Long Island Lutheran COLLEGE:

NAME: Alex Miciotta
HIGH SCHOOL: Long Island Lutheran
COLLEGE: Hofstra University, 2009
JOB: Shipping and logistics manager, Paddle8
LIVES IN: Astoria

While Alex Miciotta wanted to be an actor when she graduated high school, her path changed when she took an art history class freshman year of college.

Alex eventually dropped acting and followed art history to get her master's degree, and ended up working for an auction house. After being initially disappointed at being shifted to a new responsibility at work, Alex says it worked out to be the best thing that ever happened to her. Now, at 27, she is shipping and logistics manager of Paddle8 in Manhattan.

Alex's immediate advice to the Class of 2015 is to try to have fun at graduation, and let your parents take pictures of you on your big day. As for long-term success tips, she says it's important to listen to others, take their advice, be able to laugh at yourself.

"Don't focus on just the endgame; enjoy the process in getting there," she said. "That ultimately helped me remove a rather large chip I had on my shoulder; I felt I had to prove I knew everything and was totally together and focused." -- TED STARKEY

Shara Yurkiewicz

NAME: Shara YurkiewiczHIGH SCHOOL: LawrenceCOLLEGE: Yale University, 2009,
Photo Credit: Handout

NAME: Shara Yurkiewicz
COLLEGE: Yale University, 2009, Bachelor's of science degree in biology; Harvard Medical School, 2014
JOB: Resident physician at Overlook Medical Center
LIVES IN: South Orange, N.J.

From an early age, Shara Yurkiewicz says she's been fascinated with the human body, and always wanted to be a doctor.

"The idea of using science to help people so directly was appealing to me," she said.

She pursued that dream at Yale, studying science and biology, and then went on to graduate from Harvard Medical. Now, a decade later she says she's finally reached the point where she can be someone's doctor, with supervision, of course.

"So far, no regrets," she said of following her intended plan. "The goal hasn't changed, but I've gained an appreciation for how long the road is to getting there." Yurkiewicz said the amount of knowledge, experience, and hard work required to reach this point in her career has been "humbling."

"I know that I'm just at the beginning of my career as a practicing physician, and I'm simultaneously terrified and excited by the privilege and responsibility," she added.

Although she's following the path she predicted for the most part, even Yurkiewicz said she's taken advantage of unexpected opportunities along the way including interning at Discover Magazine during college and working as a science/health reporter at the Los Angeles Times after graduating from Yale.

"Some of the best, most enriching experiences I've had I could have never have predicted I would," she said.

Her advice for today's graduates: "It's great to plan your future, but it's important to realize that opportunities can present themselves at any time, and you can take them at any time, too." -- TARA CONRY

Daniel Okobi

NAME: Daniel OkobiHIGH SCHOOL: FreeportCOLLEGE: Harvard University, 2009JOB:
Photo Credit: Handout

NAME: Daniel Okobi
COLLEGE: Harvard University, 2009
JOB: Graduate student at New York University MD/PhD program
LIVES IN: Manhattan

Doctor or scientist?

That was the question Daniel Okobi says he was asking himself after taking a neuroscience class during his senior of high school. He said he was interested in learning more about that subject, but wasn't sure which of these two potential careers he should pursue.

But during college, Okobi said he discovered medical programs that afforded students the ability to do doctoral research, allowing him to continue to follow his interest in neuroscience.

"I like the variety and creativity of research, and am likely to continue along that career path," he said, hasn't ruled out doing something "more syncretic and less academically narrow in the distant future."

Okobi recently concluded his doctoral work, but still has two more years of medical school left followed by a medical residency and plenty more research.

"My professional path is nowhere near complete," he added.

Okobi partly credits his success thus far to the educational and cultural opportunities that Freeport offered him including the dedicated faculty who helped him set up various independent studies.

Hearkening back to the speech he delivered at his graduation 10 years ago, when he quoted professional wrestler Kurt Angle, Okobi says the Class of 2015 should live by Angle's credo of "Intensity, Integrity, and Intelligence."

"Use your intelligence and do not shortchange your integrity such that you can be passionate about doing your life's calling," he said. "[And] if your heart is not in it and you can afford to do so, do something else." -- TARA CONRY

Marcy Borten

NAME: Marcy BortenHIGH SCHOOL: John F. Kennedy High
Photo Credit: Handout

NAME: Marcy Borten
HIGH SCHOOL: John F. Kennedy High School
COLLEGE: Brandeis University, 2009, bachelor's degree in psychology; Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business, MBA, 2013
JOB: Senior account manager, Standard & Poor's Capital IQ
LIVES IN: Manhattan.

When Marcy Borten graduated high school in 2005, the one thing she and her classmates couldn't predict was what the economy would look like four years later when they would be finishing college.

"In 2009, the job market for new graduates was brutal," she said.

At the time, Borten had recently attained her bachelor's degree in psychology. She did find work in the field, but soon realized she missed the quantitative work she had excelled at in high school.

That revelation led her back to school, to Baruch College, where she received her master's of business administration degree in finance and marketing. But her psychology degree hasn't gone to waste, she said.

"Whether working at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, my former role, or my current job at Standard & Poor's, the really crucial thing is managing and building strong relationships," she said.

And it's the people, she says, that make her job interesting.

"My clients and co-workers are highly driven and continually challenge me," she said.

Borten advises today's graduates to "keep challenging yourself, move outside your comfort zone and surround yourself with people you respect and can learn from." -- TARA CONRY


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