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LI salutatorian an 'inspiration' to peers

"Never give up no matter what," Praise Akintola, the Wyandanch High School salutatorian said. "You can do anything you put your mind to."

From left, Jackson Bonilla, Praise Akintola and Vanessa

From left, Jackson Bonilla, Praise Akintola and Vanessa Bonilla on the Hornblower Hybrid for the Wyandanch High School Senior Prom on May 17. Credit: Rebecca Anderson

Praise Akintola celebrated along with his Wyandanch Memorial High School classmates during their senior prom on May 17. The student body took photos at Wyandanch Plaza before boarding the Hornblower Hybrid, which set sail from Pier 40 at Hudson River Park in Manhattan.

Students and faculty danced the night away, named its prom king and queen and first-ever prince and princess, and stared at sites like the Statue of Liberty and the Freedom Tower.

But for Akintola, Wyandanch’s senior class salutatorian, it was an especially satisfying moment.

Akintola has Duchenne muscular dystrophy — a genetic disorder that causes progressive muscle degeneration — and has been using a wheelchair since the age of 10. In a class of nearly 200 students, Akintola earned a 3.9 grade point average and credits the motivation his peers and family offered in helping him get through the coursework.

“Being named salutatorian was a huge accomplishment for me and encourages me to want to accomplish even more,” Akintola said.

Bruce Penn, Wyandanch High’s senior class adviser and a technology teacher at the school, said Akintola is a very outgoing student and sets a good example for other students.

“He is an inspiration to his peers and to the community at large and we never look at him as being disabled,” he said. "He is someone that is always positive, and you can’t help but overlook the fact that he’s wheelchair bound.”

Penn added that the prom planners made sure Akintola’s experience was just as special as that of his classmates despite the unique prom setting.

“We really had to make sure that he could attend and figure out logistics to make sure he could be there and be happy for the evening,” Penn said. “He was patient with us through the process and he really enjoyed himself.”

After graduation, Akintola plans on attending SUNY Farmingdale State in the fall and majoring in computer science.

“Even though you pass through physical challenges, that doesn't mean you can't live life to the fullest,” Akintola said. “Never give up no matter what. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

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