Kenneth Wei’s core values are rooted in his family history — if you want something, lay out a plan and work for it. Wei’s father, Jon, immigrated to the United States from China 30 years ago and his mother, Lisi, followed him nine years later— two middle school sweethearts destined to start a family in America.
“I think it’s very inspirational,” Kenneth said. “I hear about this from my parents and grandparents. I’m very close to my grandparents. They were both tailors. Growing up working class and trying to work your way up to be successful is something that I drive towards.”
“We came to America because we wanted to be successful,” Jon said. “I always told him where we came from, what our family was, and how our life was. My wife does the same thing . . . (We talk about) how hard and how privileged it was for us to arrive in America and for him to be born in America. He wanted to try harder than us.”
By any definition, Wei has been a blistering success throughout his four years at Mount Sinai High School. On top of being the best track and field athlete in the state and Newsday’s Long Island track and field Athlete of the Year— just check out his six state championships and three All-American medals from his senior year, encompassing the indoor and outdoor season — Wei is a force of progress in both his school and community.
Wei, whose list of accomplishments and accolades could fill a long jump runway, is the winner of the 2019 Newsday Marcus A. Henry Award. He is the sixth recipient of the award, presented annually in memory of the former Newsday sports reporter. The award recognizes a Long Island high school student who excels in the classroom and in athletics, and also displays great leadership.
Other finalists for the award were Sewanhaka’s Carly Bolivar, Copiague’s Jackson Bright, Eastport-South Manor’s Kasey Choma, Baldwin’s Kaia Harrison and Valley Stream South’s Chibugo Obichere.
“I don’t know if you can get anyone better,” said Mount Sinai athletic director Scott Reh. “He epitomizes what a student-athlete is all about and that just adds gravy on top of everything that he’s gotten.”
At Mount Sinai Wei took 11 advanced placement courses in subjects ranging from Chinese and Culture, to Biology, to United States Government and Politics, to Calculus BC. He had a 104.1 grade point average, scored 1550 on his SATs and was named class salutatorian. He has been accepted to MIT, where he’ll study bioengineering.
“Traditionally, in the family, we focus on math and science,” Jon said. “When he was young, we exposed him to the library and to the encyclopedia of science and things like that. He read a lot of books. He gained a foundation of knowledge. Then, once he got to Mount Sinai School, we had a lot of great teachers, principal, and administration here. This is a small school district, but it’s also very academically challenging.”
Wei has already had experience on the other side of academics — both in practice and example. For three years, Wei served as a teaching assistant for an AP Chinese and Culture course run at Stony Brook University through the independent Center for Chinese Learning.
“Just teaching what I personally know to other people and helping them out is very satisfying,” Wei said.
Born in Coram, Wei moved with his family to Beijing near the end of his elementary school years. He spent three years in China before moving to Long Island and the Mount Sinai community in the eighth grade.
Wei was attracted to MIT for its sterling academic reputation, but he said, “They use technology to try and make the world a better place. That’s a very noble goal and I’d very much like to contribute to that.”
He’s already begun achieving it. For the last two summers, Wei has interned in the biology department at Brookhaven National Laboratories in Upton and this summer will finish his work on genetic modification in plants and how it relates to oil production.
“It normally doesn’t produce this special type of oil, but we can genetically modify it to produce oil and we can use it in bio fuels, industrial purposes, paints, lubricants, etcetera,” Wei said. “It’s very interesting.”
As senior class president, Wei spearheaded fundraising for charitable causes that ranged from helping needy families around the holidays to working with the Asiyah Women’s Center, an emergency shelter for Muslim women in Manhattan. He is also an accomplished musician — an All-County flautist in the school band and a pianist who has performed at Carnegie Hall.
While Wei’s daily schedule was, at times, head-spinningly busy, he balanced it with relative ease. Like anything, communication is key, Wei said.
“Just communicate with your coaches and your family. There are people willing to help you out there and you shouldn’t be messing yourself up by closing yourself off to people,” Wei said.
And those people sure are impressed.
“I couldn’t have done it myself,” Jon said of his son’s accomplishments. “He’s outperformed everything that we expected.”
“Mount Sinai got three A’s [this year]. A’s in academics, A’s in athletics, and A’s in the arts,” said superintendent Gordon Brosdal. “Ken happens to epitomize the A’s in all three categories. He’s got it all. I’ve never seen a student that has all of those talents in one package.”
This award, in memory of former Newsday sports reporter Marcus A. Henry, is presented annually to a Long Island high school student who excels in the classroom and in athletics and also displays great leadership.
Year Winner, school
2014 Joe Percival, St. Anthony's
2015 Thomas Cutinella, Shoreham-Wading River
2016 Livingstone Harriott Jr., Central Islip
2017 Kelsi King, Baldwin
2018 Alexandrea Harriott, Central Islip
Kenneth Wei set out to just 'enjoy' high school. He ended up a salutatorian, national long jump record holder and more.Meet the finalists for the Marcus A. Henry AwardThis award, in memory of former Newsday sports reporter Marcus Henry, is presented annually to a Long Island high school student who excels in the classroom and in athletics, and also displays great leadership.