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.
Last October, Jordan Fuentes noticed how dirty his favorite park had become. But he didn't wait for someone else to do something about it.
Fuentes, 17, a student at North Babylon High School, was at Belmont Lake State Park for a run with his cross-country track teammates when he was saddened to see garbage strewed about the running trails where they regularly train.
So he gathered up friends and other groups from across the Island, including members of the Babylon Rotary Club, to clean up up the West Babylon park.
“We picked up a lot of garbage,” he said.
For Fuentes, park cleanups are emblematic of his passion to educate and spur action to protect the environment.
The Babylon teen’s love for the outdoors prompted his interest in environmental activism in ninth grade, and he has continued working to protect and improve his community. He hopes to be an inspirational figure for his generation, he said, as he pushes to address climate change.
"I’m trying to get out there and get people willing to see the problems and take action on them,” Fuentes said. “I try to lead with my actions. I try to carry myself in a way that is exemplary of what it takes to be a decent person.”
In July, he represented his high school as a National Ambassador for the Washington Youth Summit for the Environment, spending nine days discussing environmental issues with students from across the country. He previously completed the STEP/Brookhaven National Laboratory Summer of Science residential program at Stony Brook University, where he worked with other students interested in pursuing science. To burnish his leadership skills, Fuentes has been a member of the Rotary Youth Leadership Association for the past three years.
In recognition of his environmental work, Fuentes was one of 300 students nationwide this year to receive the Bill Gates Scholarship.
Leah Lugoviña, director of guidance at North Babylon, said Fuentes is one of the humblest and civic-minded students she has worked with. Her introduction to Fuentes came during his junior year, when he and his mother sought help with college applications.
“He’s always thinking about his service to other people,” she said.
Fuentes, who lives with his mother and two younger brothers, also strives to set an example for his siblings, Lugoviña said.
“He’s very conscious of being a role model for his two younger brothers,” she said. “It’s not just about him. It’s always about his family and the community.”
In the fall, Fuentes will attend Cornell University to study Biology and Society, a major combining social science and the humanities with traditional biology.
He said he hopes the discipline will allow him to achieve something extraordinary as a member of the scientific community.
“I want to be that person to help and be able to say that I tried to make a difference instead of just watching it happen and do nothing about it,” he said.
HIGHER ED: Fuentes will attend Cornell University in the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars program, majoring in Biology and Society.
FRESHMAN YEAR: “I’m going to be working with some of the most qualified, intelligent people.”
IF I RULED THE WORLD “I don’t want money to be the reason innovative, inspirational, ambitious people fail to truly attack their passions."