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Extraordinary Senior: Aiden McCormack's 'compassion' builds school, connections in West Africa

Aiden McCormack of North Bellmore lead efforts to

Aiden McCormack of North Bellmore lead efforts to fundraise $58,000 for a local chapter of buildOn; then he and 16 fellow students trekked to Senegal to break ground for a school. Credit: Linda Rosier

This story is part of Newsday’s 2020 Extraordinary Seniors series showcasing 12 high school students from across Long Island with the vision and determination to transform their corners of the universe — and perhaps beyond. See more Extraordinary Seniors at newsday.com/extraordinaryseniors.

If you build it, they will learn.

Ask Aiden McCormack, an honors student who started a chapter of the educational nonprofit buildOn at Wellington C. Mepham High School in 2018 to spearhead construction of a school in West Africa.

Last July, after helping to lead efforts to fundraise $58,000, McCormack and 16 fellow students trekked with buildOn to Senegal.

“The goal is to break ground on the school. After that the community has means to finish it,” said McCormack. He added that buildOn “is the most profound experience I’ve had to date.”

Eric Gomez, Mepham principal, said, “To see a 17-year-old take the lead on a building school speaks volumes about his compassion.”

McCormack stumbled upon buildOn in October 2017. Windy weather forced his family to switch flights home from Chicago, where his father had just run the marathon. Dad got seated beside a buildOn board member. They talked. Volunteers were needed for an upcoming trek.

Five months later, McCormack, accompanied by his family, left North Bellmore for a buildOn trek in Nepal. In addition to raising a school, human connections were built over a week.

“I’m a musician,” McCormack said. “I brought my ukulele with me all the way to Nepal in a carry-on instead of extra clothes.” The decision paid off. “When we couldn’t use words to communicate with our host family and others,” he said, “I would play music. It’s a level of expression that’s universal.”

Aiden’s dad, John McCormack, 51, an attorney, is still impressed by the bonds his son formed with kids. “He became like a rock star,” he said.

That comparison would please Aiden McCormack, who believes creativity can be a superpower. “People say, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ I say, ‘Look again. You might find a way to make it better.’”

HIGHER ED: McCormack will attend Georgetown University, where he’ll major in computer science and minor in music.

FRESHMAN YEAR: “I can’t wait to be in an environment where it’s OK to experiment, where it’s OK to try and learn as much as possible. I can’t wait to find out a little bit about myself that I don’t know yet.”

DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED: “Two things: Absolutely nothing in this life is guaranteed, and what you do in your given situation is your most powerful tool. You always have control.”

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