Suborno Bari from Lynbrook is only 12 years old, but this month he is set to graduate Malverne High School. NewsdayTV’s Macy Egeland reports. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca; Photo credit: Rashidul Bari

This year’s Extraordinary Seniors are truly in a class of their own.

Chosen from dozens of Long Island students nominated by their schools, the 10 graduating high school seniors from Nassau and Suffolk counties stood out for their resilience, bravery and compassion. Many faced daunting obstacles, from leaving a war-torn home country to pursue their education, to turning their life around after the death of a loved one. Others found the courage to speak up for themselves and their communities.

And then, of course, there is Suborno Bari. When he was just a toddler, Suborno discovered a love of mathematical equations. Now 12, he is set to graduate from Malverne High School this month. He will attend New York University in the fall, with hopes to one day become a professor.

“Instead of taking the tiptoe path, I want to run as quickly as I can,” the preteen said.

Read on for more about this year’s Extraordinary Seniors.

— KIM PREDHAM, LI LIFE EDITOR

Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

BENEDETTO ZANGRI

Babylon Junior-Senior High School

Benedetto Zangri has a habit of beating the odds.

Born at 22 weeks and 1.4 pounds, the Babylon Junior-Senior High student had open-heart surgery at three weeks old; needed to take more than two dozen medications for years; breathed with the help of a tube in his trachea for eight years; underwent medical procedures that damaged his vocal cords; struggled with attention deficit disorder; and required an aide to attend grade school.

His classmates have pointed him out as the “micro preemie” or “miracle baby,” but Zangri said he refuses to let his past define him.

“I don’t want my life centered around a sob story,” said the Babylon Village senior, 17, who still has health issues like asthma. “I want my life to be about now.”

His “now” is creating music, throwing discus for the school track team and even — despite his paralyzed vocal cords — reading the updates over the school PA each morning.

He has also been studying, a lot.

After his mother talked to him about buckling down, Zangri said he rose from needing academic help to passing advanced courses. He’ll graduate with a Regents diploma and nine college credits.

“It’s pretty rare for a kid to come so far,” said his school counselor, Steve Vaccaro. “He’s a very smart, very motivated young man.”

Bored during the pandemic, Zangri said he created hundreds of tracks of experimental synth music in his bedroom, where he has a synthesizer, bass guitar and other musical equipment. Many of his pieces feature a dance beat overlaid by soft, rhythmic strumming and random-seeming notes or sounds manipulated on the synthesizer.

“It’s therapy,” said the teenager, who dreams of creating a new genre of music. “If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t know what to do.”

He said his eclectic taste in music has lately focused on the more experimental side of rock, such as “noise rock,” which has "tons of feedback and distortion.”

“There’s something about when you listen to music — it wholly encompasses every sense,” Zangri said. “I like music where I can bathe myself in it. Where I get a lot of my ideas from is I listen to music and I kind of sit there and have scenes play in my head.”

Since the easing of the pandemic restrictions, Zangri said he has been listening to bands at music venues, making contacts and hanging out with new friends who share his musical interests.

“It’s like, ‘Oh wow, there are other people who are into the same weird things that I am,’ ” Zangri said.

And with his tracks uploaded to Spotify and other music-streaming websites, an independent German label expressed interest in his work but Zangri said he told them no when they put conditions on his music. After so many years of major health issues, he said he’s had enough of being told what to do.

“You be you,” his mother, Karen Zangri, advised the son who wasn’t expected to survive — his twin, Joseph, died a few weeks after the two were born.

“Never did I think he would get into college,” she said. “He is a super human.”

WHAT'S NEXT? Long Island University, majoring in music production and marketing.

I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO: Forming a band and playing the bass guitar.

THE PAST FOUR YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME: “You’ve got to find your group of people.”

— Ellen Yan

Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

DEANDRE ROBERTS

Uniondale High School

When Deandre Roberts’ mother unexpectedly died in November 2022, he knew his life needed to change.

The Uniondale High School student, then a junior, was failing academically and in danger of being left back. On the days he did attend class, he would show up late. “If I did come to school, I’m walking the hallways with my friends, skipping [class],” Roberts, now 17, said. “It was like a habit.”

But after his mother died from a heart attack at the age of 48, the teen was bereft. “It just made things worse for me,” he recalled.

Rather than continue his downward slide, he reached out to school officials for help. “He used the support system,” said social worker Amanda Prescia. “There’s a lot of staff members he felt comfortable talking to.”

Roberts said his school helpers included Prescia; another social worker, Brittany Baez; and Assistant Principal Rochelle Brown.

“And then slowly he started to realize he wanted to start [improving] for his mom,” Prescia said. “And that was his drive . . . to get to where he is now.”

Going to summer school helped him improve his grades enough to start his senior year with his peers. Once over that hurdle, Roberts said, “I told myself, ‘OK, things gotta change.’ ”

One motivator was that his mother had always told him she wanted him to graduate high school. “That’s the one thing she wanted. So that’s my No. 1 thing I think about when I wake up in the morning. . . . I got to do it for her.”

Another motivating factor was taking care of his younger brother, Justin, 15. Until recently, they lived together with extended family, including a grandmother and aunt. (Justin now lives with their father in South Carolina.)

“My mother’s not here, I got to take care of him,” Roberts said.

The school officials who have watched his progress said they are thrilled.

Prescia noted how hard administrators worked with Roberts on improving his attendance. And now, she said, he counsels his friends not to cut class. “He’s just very motivating to his friends. To see that transformation is really nice.”

Said Brown, “Deandre has always been very respectful, very kind. Obviously, his mom passing was a hit. But I’m so proud of where he’s come. . . . I’m just very excited for his journey and what I believe he can do in the future.”

WHAT’S NEXT? Nassau BOCES’ Adult Career and Technical Education’s Trade Electric Program, where Roberts said he plans to train to be a licensed electrician.

I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO: “Living my life . . . I want to work . . . to take care of my family.”

THE PAST FOUR YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME: “That even though you could be doing your worst...the slightest moment in your life can teach you it’s not too late to change your character and change who you are as a person.”

— Olivia Winslow

Credit: Linda Rosier

RYLEIGH O'DONNELL

East Hampton High School

When Ryleigh O’Donnell started recognizing her classmates in her therapist’s office, she knew she had to do something.

It was 2021 — a time when, despite the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, people were still struggling to feel comfortable in public spaces.

The East Hampton High School senior said she discussed the issue with track teammate Dylan Cashin while playing frisbee golf in gym class. While the two were both in therapy and open about it, they noticed that for many of their classmates, talking about mental health was still seen as taboo.

“We wanted to put an end to the stigma that was surrounding mental health because we just felt that it wasn’t really talked about enough,” said O’Donnell, 18. “You shouldn’t be afraid to talk about what you’re going through or open up about it, because everyone goes through something.”

The runners decided that creating a 5k race to spread mental health awareness would be the best way they could make a change.

Since then, the East Hampton May Day 5k race has taken place annually on the first Saturday of May, with more than 1,000 runners participating this year, O’Donnell said. It has raised more than $60,000 for local organizations like the Family Service League and the Tyler Project, which provides counseling, educational services and programs for youth mental health.

O’Donnell said she has relied on her active lifestyle to help her mental health, especially with a challenging course load.

She said she ran her first 5k race at age 6 and has competed in cross country since seventh grade. She has also run with her high school’s winter and spring track teams since ninth grade.

And when track practice ends around 5 p.m., O’Donnell said, she attends dance classes about three times a week.

“After a long school day, going to practice, being with friends, going for a run — that is always the highlight of my day and I’d go home in a much better mood,” said O’Donnell.

The May Day race is just “typical Ryleigh,” said guidance counselor Samone Ritz, noting O’Donnell is constantly challenging herself.

As an incoming freshman, Ritz said, O’Donnell told her she wanted to take two math classes simultaneously. Ritz was hesitant but allowed it, seeing that O’Donnell had already completed three high school-level classes in middle school.

By the end of the school year, O’Donnell had scored 100 in both Geometry and Algebra 2.

She would go on to take two math classes each year of her high school career, completing every math class the school offers. This year, she took on six college-level courses through SUNY Old Westbury and Syracuse University.

“She had a path for herself,” said Ritz. “She’s very much insightful, not only academic. She’s a born leader.”

O’Donnell said there have been times when she wanted to step back and take a break. But, she said, “I remember this is one lifetime. I want to make the most out of it that I can.”

WHAT’S NEXT? Emory University in Georgia, majoring in biology.

I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO: “The new opportunities the future holds for me . . . and the new friendships that are going to be created.”

THE PAST FOUR YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME: "That it is very important to have goals and aspirations. However, don’t expect those ambitions to come right away, as it takes hard work and patience for those dreams to become reality.”

— Maureen Mullarkey

Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

SUBORNO BARI

Malverne High School

Suborno Bari can’t see a PG-13 movie by himself, but he has given physics lectures at universities across world, been recognized by former President Barack Obama and has written two books.

And this month the 12-year-old will add another accolade to the list when he graduates from Malverne High School, having completed his required coursework in just two years.

“I don’t know how he does it,” said his guidance counselor, Nicole Beauford.

Suborno said he discovered a passion for math at the age of 2, when he became enamored with the “magic symbols” in his father’s textbooks.

Rashidul Bari, a physics teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School, was studying at New York University for his master’s degree in physics at the time. When he noticed his son was attempting to figure out the equations on the pages, Suborno said his dad began teaching him math.

Suborno was a quick study, soon able to complete eighth grade-level math problems. Eventually, he said his father created a YouTube channel to showcase his abilities to the world.

“He decided that this kind of talent can’t just go unnoticed, so he put me on the big screen,” said Suborno.

The channel, known as Bari Science Lab, now has more than 1 million subscribers.

In 2016, Obama sent Suborno, then age 4, a letter of recognition. He was also featured on the NBC show “Little Big Shots.”

In 2021, when Suborno was in fourth grade, he and his family moved from the Bronx to Lynbrook so he could attend classes in the Malverne school district, with the goal of graduating high school within two years.

That year, Suborno took gym and art with his fourth-grade class to support his social and emotional needs, while taking high school-level classes with eighth graders, Beauford said.

He then skipped grades 5 through 8 and became a full-time high school student for the 2022–23 school year. At the age of 9 he took AP Calculus BC and AP Physics alongside teens many years older.

Despite the age difference, Suborno said his classmates have been welcoming. His calculus class even threw him a birthday party.

“I can’t be more grateful to my peers,” Suborno said. “They’ve been really supportive and accepting and they treat me just like any other student. And that’s what I desired.”

To meet graduation requirements, Suborno said he took summer classes at The Windsor School in Queens. He also passed the Geometry and Algebra 2 Regents without taking classes, along with the English Language Arts Regents.

This past fall, Suborno also began attending classes after school at Brooklyn College and Stony Brook University.

“I’m always asking him, ‘How are you juggling all of this?’ ” Beauford said. “He just kind of shrugs his shoulders, has a smile and says this is normal for him.”

Suborno’s intensive studies have come with a price. In two years, he’s never had the time to attend a football game. But he’s looking forward to taking the summer off — and he might even attend the senior prom.

He said he has no regrets about his accelerated academic experience, which has allowed him to build the foundation he needs to pursue advanced mathematical study.

“I just want to know where all these stepping stones are leading, and instead of taking the tiptoe path, I want to run as quickly as I can,” he said.

WHAT’S NEXT? New York University, majoring in math and physics. He hopes to be a professor.

I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO: Understanding mathematics on a deeper level and finding out “what’s behind everything.”

THE PAST FOUR YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME: "Everything is possible, no matter what age you are. Whether you’re very young or very old, it doesn’t matter."

— Maureen Mullarkey

Credit: Elizabeth Sagarin

HELEN AYALA CASTRO

Huntington High School

In her 19 years, Helen Ayala Castro has experienced upheaval, loss and hardship.

Growing up in Honduras, the Huntington High student said she helped care for her sick grandmother. After her grandmother died of cancer when she was 13, Ayala Castro’s mother decided to move the family to the United States. But, she said, they were robbed on their way north and stranded in Mexico.

Ayala Castro and her younger siblings couldn’t go to school because they didn’t have identification or the necessary documents, she said. During that time, she helped care for an elderly woman.

It was those experiences, Ayala Castro said, that inspired her to pursue a career in medicine.

“I find this work rewarding because the feeling of seeing people’s family members happy from seeing them recover and be well taken care of is important to me,” she said through an interpreter. “It’s what I wanted my grandmother to feel — to be comfortable, in spite of her illness. I also learned to be strong from her, from seeing her whole process — surgeries, treatments due to her cancer. All of that forced me to be strong and to want to learn and help more.”

Since arriving in the United States in 2021, Ayala Castro has had to learn English and catch up on her studies. She also enrolled in a two-year medical lab assistant program at Wilson Tech in Dix Hills.

But as she settled into her new country, Ayala Castro faced a new obstacle: A cooking accident in 2023 left her with severe burns on her face and hands, requiring her to undergo surgery and physical therapy. Despite this, she has kept up her grades, said her school counselor, Evelyn Hernandez.

“Helen is a wonderful person and a true example of what it means to be resilient,” said Huntington High School Principal Brenden Cusack. “Despite the challenges she has faced, Helen has never lost sight of her aspirations, and she has continued to put one foot in front of the other, always with a smile on her face.”

Ayala Castro said she has relied on her family and her faith to keep her going.

“The love I have for my family is what has given me strength,” she said. “From deep in my heart I gather all my strength, and from God as well.”

She hopes to one day become a doctor and buy a house for her mother, she said.

“That’s what inspires me to continue to adapt and not give up,” she said.

WHAT’S NEXT? Suffolk County Community College, to study liberal arts and sciences.

I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO: “Buying a car, getting a better job. . . . I would also love to travel

THE PAST FOUR YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME: "To be strong, be grateful, be kind and to apply myself and work hard to achieve my goals."

— Arlene Gross

Credit: Bruce Jeffrey

YAN STARODUBETS

The Stony Brook School

Yan Starodubets made friends and turned heads at The Stony Brook School by going head over heels — literally — for his classmates.

“I became famous for doing my backflips,” said Starodubets, 18, a self-taught gymnast in his native Ukraine. He regularly performed the move — on request — on the school lawn and at special events. He became so renowned for his signature somersault that, he said, “The flag football team asked me to do a backflip every time they made a touchdown.” He also leaped into action at the senior prom and at commencement exercises — in his graduation gown.

“Yan Starodubets might initially appear to be a typical teenager,” said Stacey Lingle, assistant director of college counseling at The Stony Brook School, a private, Christian college preparatory boarding and day school for grades 7 to 12. “But when you learn about where he’s been and where he’s going, you realize how extraordinary he really is.”

Two years ago, Starodubets was living in a war zone, at home in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. He said he was preparing for the finals of the All-Ukrainian Chemistry Olympiad when Russian bombs started dropping day and night, killing many Ukrainians. It was “hell on earth,” Starodubets recalled.

The chemistry and mathematics whiz, who’d won top academic prizes and tutored grade school kids in STEM topics (science, technology, engineering and math), suddenly found himself facing an uncertain future.

“A lot of good teachers and my classmates went abroad, and I did not know what to do, because I needed education, I needed to get a diploma,” he said. Too young to serve in the army (Ukraine’s draft-eligible age for men is currently 25), Starodubets said he decided that “education is what I can personally do now as a teenager” to serve his country.

The teen said he found that educational opportunity with Gravitas, an online extension program of The Stony Brook School, to which he received a full scholarship in 2022. By day, he studied and worked as a STEM teacher for younger students at a school in Ukraine. At night, he said he attended Gravitas classes and clubs.

Studies were often interrupted by air raid sirens and a retreat to underground shelters, he said. At times his building lost electricity, and he couldn’t read or connect to his online classmates, he recalled.

A chance for respite came last summer after Starodubets was named one of 50 finalists for a global student prize. The Stony Brook School invited him to finish his high school career that fall in person on its Long Island campus.

During his time studying online, Starodubets said he developed a lightbulb that can operate without an electricity source and was on a student team that worked with NASA to send experiments to the International Space Station.

After completing college in the United States, Starodubets said he looks forward to peacetime reunions in Ukraine.

“When the war started, it was the last time I saw all my friends”, he said.

WHAT’S NEXT? University of Richmond in Virginia, majoring in chemistry on a four-year scholarship.

I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO: “Going to college football games and cheering for our school’s team.”

THE PAST FOUR YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME: “How limited our ability is to predict what is going to happen.”

— Jim Merritt

Credit: Linda Rosier

ALEXANDRA RADINSKY

Sanford H. Calhoun High School

Debilitating anxiety and shyness often left Alexandra Radinsky feeling overwhelmed and isolated in social situations — until she found the “Demon Slayer.”

“There’d be things I’d want to say to people, like ‘I like your shirt,’ ” recalled Radinsky, 18, who attends Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Merrick. “I would be so scared to and by the time I’d be like, ‘I’m just going to go and tell her I like her shirt,’ the person would be gone.”

But three years ago, Radinksy, who is autistic, started to explore cosplay. The anime devotee would attend conventions dressed as characters she identified with, who were shy and self-doubting but with a strong inner core. Her favorite character is Mitsuri Kanroji from the Japanese manga series “Demon Slayer,” who has green stockings, black-and-white garb and pink hair that fades into lime green braids.

At the conventions, Radinsky said fans admire her home-sewn costumes. Youngsters run up to “Mitsuri” to have their photos taken with her.

“It’s just really cool to be the person who makes a difference and other people want to talk to,” said the Bellmore teen. “It’s happened at school. Two girls came up to me in the hallway and they were like, ‘We love your work.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know who you are, but thanks.’ ”

In 2022, Radinsky said she posted tips to her Instagram for conventiongoers who are autistic or have social anxieties, and her account “blew up.” At the request of one convention organizer, she said she hosted panels on the topic, offering advice including using special earplugs that reduce background noise and inquiring about accessibility accommodations, such as those that allow people to avoid hourslong lines.

Radinsky said finding her communities — anime fans and neurodivergent people — has helped her cope with memories of past bullying and the exhaustion of “masking” habits that she felt made her stand out. For example, she recalled feeling forced to disguise her constant fidgeting in socially acceptable ways, such as playing with her necklace.

“In a lot of the issues that come from being disabled, especially with autism and neurodivergence, we’re constantly conditioned to think that ‘something’s wrong with me and I need to fix it,’ ” Radinsky said, “when in reality, society needs to be fixed to be more accessible and to just allow people to live.”

The teen said her anxiety around strangers has also lessened thanks to her work as a page at the Bellmore library and her participation in a social skills group that a school social worker and counselor created with Radinsky in mind.

At school, Radinsky has presented a neurodivergence seminar to the district superintendent and teachers. She’s also walked in a fundraising fashion show, a far cry from the freshman who had to be shown all her classrooms in advance.

“Alex has taught me more than she will ever know,” social worker Kiera Heller said. “She’s a little pioneer for her community.”

WHAT’S NEXT? Adelphi University, majoring in art history, then graduate studies in library science.

I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO: Sharing cosplay and accessibility advice with more people.

THE PAST FOUR YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME: “If you want something done, you have to go out and do it yourself.”

— Ellen Yan

Credit: Linda Rosier

BRYAN ALFARO-ULLOA

Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf

Moving to a country where you don’t speak the language can be daunting.

For Bryan Alfaro-Ulloa, who immigrated to the United States when he was 9, that challenge was compounded by a hearing impairment that he had not received services for in his native Honduras. He didn’t know sign language, and while he learned to copy words, he did not understand what he was writing.

“Technically, I learned three languages” in the United States, Alfaro-Ulloa, 20, said through an interpreter. “I learned a little bit of Spanish, English and American Sign Language, which is my primary language.”

After his arrival, Alfaro-Ulloa briefly went to a mainstream school near his home in South Huntington, but found Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf a better fit.

At the private school, he was placed in third grade. And, like all students there, he repeated ninth grade — a measure taken to give students a better chance to succeed at the Regents exams.

As a freshman, Alfaro-Ulloa considered taking a mainstream algebra class in his home district, but hesitated.

“It was very overwhelming for him as he was used to smaller class sizes and teachers who were fluent in sign language,” school counselor Trish Maurelli said. “He had never experienced working with an interpreter, and he recalled his experiences in Honduras in a hearing classroom.”

By the time he agreed to try it, the class was full.

But since then, Maurelli said Alfaro-Ulloa’s confidence has increased.

After-school activities have been a prominent part of his time at Mill Neck Manor: Alfaro-Ulloa participated in archery, badminton, disc golf, basketball, chess and fencing. In 10th grade, he was student body government president.

“Bryan was very introverted, and as time went on and his sign language began to develop, he started to branch out into new things,” said Principal Michelle O’Brien, adding that he was a member of the school’s Academic Bowl team. “He started very quiet four years ago, but has become an integral part of the team, and I know he’s going to be missed next year.”

At the start of 11th grade, Alfaro-Ulloa decided he was ready to try a mainstream class again, Maurelli said. In addition to his studies at Mill Neck Manor, Alfaro-Ulloa took courses at Wilson Tech in Dix Hills and recently passed his certification exam in HVAC/plumbing.

Alfaro-Ulloa has had a similar trajectory as his older brother, Edwin, who is also deaf, O’Brien said.

And just like his sibling, he will be his school’s valedictorian.

“I’m proud of my brother and me being together like that,” Alfaro-Ulloa said.

WHAT’S NEXT? Working with his father, who owns a construction company, and his brother, an independent contractor.

I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO: “The next chapter in my life. I’m really excited to get started with the rest of my journey with myself.”

THE PAST FOUR YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME: “To realize that even as a deaf person, I can do anything that I want to do. As long as I put forth motivation and determination, I can succeed.”

— Arlene Gross

Rochelle Elliott, a senior at Central Islip High School, helps teach coding to her fellow students. Elliott is headed to Farmingdale State College in the fall where she plans to study computer programing and information systems.  Credit: Linda Rosier

ROCHELLE ELLIOTT

Central Islip High School

After an unsettled childhood moving from home to home, Rochelle Elliott has found stability in her love of coding and a permanent living situation with her grandparents.

Now, she wants to help kids in similar situations keep up with their studies, even when they switch schools.

“I understand how difficult it is trying to focus academically when you’re moving from one home to another and constantly having to adapt to different environments,” said Elliott, a senior at Central Islip High School.

Elliott, 18, plans to study computer programming in college. She said she hopes to work with childhood development specialists and teachers to create an application that will help students stay on track with their lessons as they change school districts.

“I definitely want to help kids, that’s my ultimate goal, especially in the way I’ve been helped myself,” Elliott said. “I figured this would be a great idea to help them find a sense of stability like I did.”

The teen said she learned to code during a school library program in elementary school.

“You always reach a conclusion when coding,” she said. “And even if it’s not the expected one, then you can always work toward that.”

She has shared her love of coding with her younger sisters, one a junior at Central Islip High and another in the middle school.

Elliott is president of her school’s Science and Technology Entry Program club, which is sponsored by the New York Institute of Technology. She is also an ambassador for code.org, a national nonprofit whose mission is to expand access to computer science classes. Through the group, Elliott said she encourages other young women to explore careers in the field.

On a club field trip, Elliott said she taught basic coding to elementary students. “It was very simple,” she recalled. “We made robots on the screen dance, but they were super excited to learn about it.

“Basically, I was experiencing what brought me to coding, but from the other side,” she said. “I enjoyed it so much.”

Central Islip High science teacher Claris Villatoro, who advises the Science and Technology Entry Program club, said Elliott has drive and passion.

“She’s very organized, always prepared and a great communicator — and understanding,” Villatoro said. “I love the fact that when she sees somebody having a difficult time with coding, she goes to them and says, ‘OK, let me show you step by step what to do.’ I think she’s going to be very successful in whatever she does.”

WHAT’S NEXT? Farmingdale State College, majoring in computer programming and information systems.

I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO: “Being part of a broader representation of women in computer science and STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] majors. It’s still a male-dominated field, and it’s very important to me that it has more representation from females, and all different races included as well.”

THE PAST FOUR YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME: "To be more optimistic... I didn’t see my future self being in college, but when I came to (Central Islip) it showed me to be more responsible, more optimistic and organized.”

— Kay Blough

Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

AUGUST MICHAELS HRYSANTHOPOULOS

Bellport High School

Four years ago, August Michaels Hrysanthopoulos sent an email that would change how LGBTQ+ students are viewed at Bellport High.

“I wanted a brand-new start,” Hrysanthopoulos, now 17, said of the email sent to all of his teachers in freshman year. The email expressed feelings he’d had since middle school, when he began attending Youth Friday Night OUT gatherings at the LGBT Network in Hauppauge.

The email didn’t state upfront Hrysanthopoulos' gender identity, which he recently described as “a transgendered male with some room for experimentation.” Instead it took a more nuanced approach, sharing, Hrysanthopoulos said, “what name I preferred to be called and the pronouns [he, him] that I preferred.” Nevertheless, he said it created hallway buzz that opened the door with classmates for conversations about trans issues.

Hrysanthopoulos was already a member of the high school’s Gay Straight Alliance, a student-run organization that unites LGBTQ+ youth and their allies. As the club’s president for the past three years, he, along with fellow students, successfully advocated for an update of the school code to better reflect the needs of LGBTQ+ teens.

“The GSA was directly involved in updating our school code’s definitions for terms such as transgender, queer and gender dysphoria, so that they [school officials] can more accurately adjust school policy surrounding bathroom uses, locker room policy and discrimination against queer students,” Hrysanthopoulos said.

He and other students have also organized days of silence to raise awareness of bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ students, and have represented the school district in Long Island Pride events, he said.

“August is a phenomenal person,” said Patricia McCallum, his school counselor. In addition to being “an advocate for other students,” McCallum said Hrysanthopoulos is “a very strong student, highly focused and motivated.”

McCallum said he ranks in the top 10% of his class.

Last summer, Hrysanthopoulos was one of 75 students from the tristate area who participated in a six-week research project under the guidance of scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

“It was so amazing,” he said of the program, which included tours of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), in which scientists seek to create conditions that they believe occurred a microsecond after the birth of the universe.

“When I discovered there was a RHIC about 20 minutes away from my house I was absolutely enthralled,” Hrysanthopoulos said. He said his mentor invited him back to Brookhaven this summer to continue participating in ongoing research in quantum information technology, which involves understanding how information is processed.

Hrysanthopoulos said he’s encouraged at how welcoming the scientific community has been to him as a trans person.

“You think that you are going to have all these obstacles in the way, especially if you are part of a minority group,” he said. “But there are way more people that want to be able to support science than you might think there are.”

WHAT’S NEXT? Rochester Institute of Technology, majoring in physics

I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO: Attending the LGBT Network’s annual youth prom this summer.

THE PAST FOUR YEARS HAVE TAUGHT ME: “Dedicate yourself to the work you want to do, otherwise you will lose track of your goal.”

— Jim Merritt

Latest Videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME