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Taking in a big speech, top students prep for their own

Emmanuel Kim, valedictorian of Ward Melville High School,

Emmanuel Kim, valedictorian of Ward Melville High School, receives a copy of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens," from keynote speaker Gary McGuey. (June 2, 2011) Credit: Erin Geismar

Hundreds watched intently as the keynote speaker spoke effortlessly but enthusiastically about leadership and effecting change.

For a third of the people that filled the grand ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge, it was a precursor to their own speeches that they’d soon have to make as the valedictorians of their high school classes.

“I’ve written one paragraph,” said Westhampton Beach High School valedictorian Matthew Floyd. “Two of my friends said, ‘It needs work.’ ”

The valedictorians, from every high school in Suffolk County, were honored at the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association’s 17th Annual Valedictorians Luncheon. The students were joined by their parents and school superintendents. A total of 56 students attended, including 10 scholarship recipients. They represent the “best Suffolk County has to offer,” said Anthony Annunziato, superintendent of the Bayport-Blue Point School District and president of the SCSSA.

“This is our way of honoring the students who have worked very hard, persevered and were at the top of their class,” he said.

Joanna Regan, a senior at Centereach High School, was presented with a $500 scholarship intended for students pursuing a career in education or social services from ECG Engineering.

Regan will attend Bard College next year for engineering and physics and eventually would like to be a teacher.

“I was really excited,” she said. “I can’t wait to put this money to good use.”

Each of the students, who in the fall will attend some of the country’s top schools such as Princeton, Harvard, Cornell and Pennsylvania State universities, were presented with certificates of accomplishment and the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” by Sean Covey, an executive at FranklinCovey, a leadership training and management firm.

Gary McGuey, lead education senior consultant for FranklinCovey, gave the keynote address at the luncheon. He spoke to students about the qualities it takes to be a leader, like becoming a better listener and realizing that the only person anyone can change is himself.

“If I lead by example,” he said, “maybe I can change my family, then the country, and then the world.”

Floyd, who will attend Princeton University, said he’s letting his graduation speech sit for a while as he finishes up final projects and other loose ends before graduating.

One thing he doesn’t have to worry about is his grade point average. It was 97.6 at the start of the school year.

“I believe it probably went up to a .7,” he said. “But I can’t be sure.” 

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