Charles Berlin's teachers use one word to describe him: survivor. In middle school he was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone cancer that typically affects children, and endured surgery to remove the fibula in his right leg, followed by chemotherapy treatments for nearly two years.
Doctors told him that he wouldn't be able to use his right leg again, but Berlin regained use of the limb through rehabilitation - allowing him to return to his favorite hobby, skiing, and to join the high school's varsity swim team.
The hardships didn't end there: In 2006, his father, a single parent, was diagnosed with brain cancer, and Berlin left school to care for him. His father's death in 2008 left Berlin, his twin brother and older sister with no parents.
After spending last year in an out-of-state boarding school, Berlin returned to Jericho in the fall for his senior year.
His plans: Attending George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
In his words: "My father always wanted me to enjoy life and never let things get me down," said Berlin, 19. "It's been hard for me at times, but my eyes are very open."
The view from the guidance office: "With minimal guidance, he has learned how to manage a home, be independent and take care of responsibilities that teenagers shouldn't have to worry about," said guidance counselor Candy Barko.
- MICHAEL R. EBERT
Greg Ellner, 18, knows about overcoming obstacles.
At birth, he suffered a brain injury due to a trauma during delivery that led to multiple surgeries and installation of a shunt to reduce excess pressure on his brain.
But he never used the setback as an excuse - and this year attained positions of co-president of the Latin Honor Society and treasurer of Blue Key Club, a community service group.
On the science front, he spent six weeks last summer at Boston University studying the memory and hippocampus of rat brains in a cognitive neurobiology lab. He won an honorable mention in the 2010 Toshiba ExploraVision contest for research on retroviruses.
In 2008 he visited Costa Rica as part of a student group helping to build a community center. And he serves as a volunteer with developmentally disabled children in a Power Pals program at Island Fitness in Glen Cove.
His plans: Attending Brown University
In his words: "I don't think of myself as an inspirational person or different. I work as hard as I can. That's it."
The view from the guidance office: "More than any other student I've known, Greg has overcome any and all obstacles that he has had to endure. He feels fortunate to have come so far and continues to help those in need," said guidance counselor Mary Jo Moriarty.
Racquel Popovic, 17, has devoted countless hours to helping and caring for others.
When she was 8, her father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and hospitalized in Baltimore, where she and her mother visited him every weekend.
In 2006, when his only chance of survival became a bone-marrow transplant, he went to the Fred Hutchinson Research Center in Seattle. Popovic took classes there in a hospital-run school program until her father died in 2007.
Upon returning to Jericho, she organized a "Hutch Bowl" fundraiser at the high school to give back to the center. The tournament, which raised more than $15,000, consisted of about 30 two-person teams playing EA Sport's "Madden NFL" video game at the Jericho Fire Department. And in December, in honor of her charitable efforts, she was invited to be a guest speaker at the center's fundraising gala.
Her plans: To study psychology at the University of Rhode Island.
In her words: "If you are unfortunate enough to know what it is like growing up with a cancer patient, you know you'd do anything to take their pain away."
The view from the faculty: "She's a quiet leader. She's out there doing amazing things, but she doesn't force anything on other people. She's so compassionate, and her humility is astounding," said English teacher Ken Darr.
Carling Sugarman's humanitarian efforts all began with "Three Cups of Tea."
After reading the book - about an American's efforts to build schools in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan - Sugarman, then a junior, was inspired to explore how she could help educate children and, in turn, promote peace in war-torn regions.
Her brainstorming resulted in the Peace, Love & Understanding Project, which raises funds for the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, a music school in Kabul. The project has funded six-month scholarships for 20 kids.
At Jericho, she has become one of the "best math students in the high school's history," according to teachers. She is a member of the school's Mathletes team, scored a perfect 800 twice in the math section of the SAT, and was a gold medal winner in last year's Long Island Math Fair.
Sugarman, 18, is treasurer of the school's Tri-M Music Honor Society and Environmental Club and a member of the National and Spanish honor societies. She also plays varsity tennis and lacrosse.
Her plans: Attending Harvey Mudd College in California, where she plans to study math or engineering.
In her words: "I value humanitarian efforts. I can create things to better our world and the lives of those in underprivileged countries."
The view from the faculty: "What sets her apart is that she is naturally intuitive and analytical, while also being witty and humorous," said math teacher Matt DeMarinis.
Sydney Werber, 17, not only participates, she initiates.
As a sophomore, she petitioned to add Mandarin language classes to the curriculum, and now more than 50 students study the language.
She is also founder and president of the school's Chinese Honor Society, which holds bake and bracelet sales to fund the adoption of a disabled orphan in China through the Philip Hayden Foundation.
Last year, she was one of 43 teens nationwide to win a National Security Language for Youth scholarship from the U.S. Department of State. The program allowed her to spend six weeks living with a family in Shanghai, studying Mandarin, and teaching English to sick children.
At Jericho, she is also president of the school's Amnesty International chapter, which raised $4,000 to build a water well in Africa, and is vice president of the Model Congress and the French Honor Society.
Her plans: Attending the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
In her words: "I like to learn about different cultures and put myself in experiences out of my comfort zone."
The view from the faculty: "You don't have this kind of student every year. Once she has an idea, she makes it happen," said Chinese language teacher April Song.
Graduation season has arrived - and with it, Newsday's annual recognition of a collection of seniors who have made a mark during their high school years.
In the spring Newsday asked Long Island's high schools to nominate extraordinary members of the graduating class. The students featured today were chosen from nominations submitted by school principals and guidance counselors from the Nassau-Queens border to the East End.
The students are known for a range of remarkable achievements: books and plays they have written, music they have composed and performed . . . persistence in the face of adversity and tragedy . . . volunteer efforts that benefit the needy locally and around the world . . . ingenuity and resourcefulness . . . scholastic achievement and awards . . . and more.