At the Head of Their Class: Saluting Our Vals & Sals

[Ed. Note: We invited Valedictorians and Salutatorians at the four public high schools in the communities we cover to tell us a little about themselves on a questionnaire we provided. Due to space limitations, these are edited excerpts from the information provided by each student.]   


Neel Raut

Neel Raut: Valedictorian

Extracurricular activities: National Math Honor Society, Coding Café, Robotics Club, Mathletes and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) 

Post-graduation plans: I intend to pursue higher education and may continue after my undergraduate experience to post-grad studies. As for my career, I plan to become a software engineer. 

Define an exceptional educator: I’d say an exceptional educator is truly passionate about what they are teaching and tries to help students understand difficult concepts. I would like to recognize Dr. Shen for her dedication to teaching AP physics (one of my most difficult subjects), Mr. Lo for inspiring me in my pursuit of a computing career, and Mrs. Boyer for her extensive expertise in the French language. I’d also like to call out my guidance counselor Mrs. Safer for her invaluable guidance throughout high school. 

Words of wisdom: To both fellow graduates and underclassmen, I’d like to stress the importance of time management and perseverance to achieve one’s goals. 

Erin Burns

Erin Burns: Salutatorian

Extracurricular activities: I am active member in the Special Olympics Club, Book Club, and National Honor Society. I am on the varsity girls lacrosse team. and I do competitive Irish dance outside of school.  

Post-graduation plans: I am attending Duke University next year, and I want to major in neuroscience or computer science. I plan to enter some field of science after higher education. 

Define an exceptional educator: One of my exceptional educators was Dr. Robert Saar. He taught me chemistry for two years, but I learned much more than chemistry in his class. He always shared a fact of the day and other niche information in various fields, which made my passion for learning grow. 

Words of wisdom: I would advise underclassmen to focus their time on activities and subjects they are passionate about because it makes learning much easier. 

Marina Varriano

Marina Varriano: Salutatorian

Extracurricular activities: Piano – lessons, performances, competitions, Varsity Soccer, Special Olympics Volunteer Club, President 

Post-graduation plans: I’ll be attending Duke University and double majoring in political science and piano performance. I ultimately want to become a lawyer, but I’d also love to spend time as a piano performer.  

Define an exceptional educator: I believe the best teachers use their passion for the subject to inspire and instill confidence in their students. Particularly, my AP Music Theory teacher, Dr. Banks, acted as a mentor for me both academically and musically. My AP chemistry teacher, Dr. Saar, guided the class to think in creative ways to find solutions to seemingly impossible questions.  

Words of wisdom: I believe that, in order to make a difference, it’s important to find something you’re passionate about. You can then turn this into something that will have a positive impact on others.  


Alexander Lee

Alexander Lee: Valedictorian 

Extracurricular activities: I’ve been a member of Irvington’s mock trial team since freshman year. I am an editor of an international literary magazine. I’ve taught Latin and psychology remotely to students around the world at a nonprofit organization during the pandemic   

Post-graduation plans: I will be attending Brown University, where I hope to both continue studying languages and also use the time to explore. Currently, I am interested in a career as a lawyer or professor. 

Define an exceptional educator: I consider an exceptional educator to be someone who shows dedication to their field of expertise, passion, and personability. 

Words of wisdom: I would encourage both fellow graduates and underclassmen to always find creative ways to learn more; don’t let anything hinder your ability to attain knowledge in something that you love. 

Joshua Chang

Joshua Chang: Valedictorian

Extracurricular activities: I am the managing editor of the online edition of the Paw Print. I provide forecasts to the community for snow days. I have been coding since I was a young kid.Yearbook. Food insecurity volunteering – i.e., Midnight Run. 

Post-graduation Plans: I will be attending Yale University and I probably want to do computer science. 

Define an exceptional educator: My idea of an excellent educator is someone who inspires students to want to learn and grow. A good teacher gives kids the freedom to explore and expand their passions. A great example of this is my newspaper teacher, Mr. Williams, who helped me enjoy writing for the first time. 

Words of wisdom: High school is a blast. Don’t forget to look around and appreciate this place and these people. 


Juan Carlos Desmaras

Juan Carlos Desmaras: Valedictorian 

Extracurricular activities: A few extracurricular activities include: 

  • Ossining Science Research  
  • Class of 2022 representative  
  • Ossining varsity swimming (winter season)  
  • Ossining varsity tennis (spring season) 
  • Marlins BGNW Swim Club (up until last year)  

Post-graduation plans: I plan on going to either Northwestern or Cornell university where I will be pursuing a pre-med track with aspirations to become a doctor. I also plan on majoring in either biology or chemistry.  

Define an exceptional educator: An exceptional educator is someone who inspires me to take risks and use the fullness of my gifts, but also supports me along the way. In my opinion, an exceptional educator is a teacher who doesn’t just teach a curriculum but is genuinely interested and passionate about what they’re teaching, as well as very supportive and  understanding of students. Mr. Piccirillo and Mrs. Holmes are my two science research teachers. They deeply care about my own work and are always supportive in the process.  

Words of wisdom: It’s important to always stay honest with yourself, even if it means doing something the hard way.  

Mary Ford

Mary Ford: Salutatorian

Extracurricular activities: Research at Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research on improving biodosimetry efforts in the wake of a mass casualty nuclear event; editor-in-chief of school newspaper, The Current; captain on varsity cross country; varsity track and field;  National Honor Society.  

Post-graduation plans: Dartmouth College where I plan to major in government.  

Define an exceptional educator: An exceptional educator is someone who inspires me to take risks and use the fullness of my gifts, but also supports me along the way.  

Words of wisdom: Turn the lens of classroom discussion inward as much as outward. Push yourself and those around you to tether ideas to facts.  


Ryan Lyppens

Ryan Lyppens: Valedictorian  

Extracurricular activities: Led an international research team of high school students for the New York Academy of Science’s Combating COVID-19 Challenge; among the first Sleepy Hollow students to qualify for the New York State Math Meet; National Merit Scholarship winner; varsity track runner – ranked 30th in the country, 17th in the state, and third in Westchester County for 600m event. Broke the 38-year-old school record; FC Westchester MLS Next Academy soccer player; active member of Irvington Presbyterian Church, frequent piano and trumpet performer at services.  

Post-graduation plans: Will attend Cornell University majoring in biomedical engineering.  

Define an exceptional educator: Two exceptional educators who are intelligent, kind, and earnest. Mrs. Maureen Hickey (calculus teacher) – Instilled good study habits and made complex concepts easy to understand. Mrs. Sandra Renner (French teacher) – Emphasized the connection between language and real-world issues.  

Words of wisdom: Work hard, follow your passions, and never lose your sense of humor. Everyone should use their special talents to make the world a better place.  

Charis Polycarpou (Photo courtesy of Kent Miller Studios)

Charis Polycarpou: Salutatorian   

Extracurricular activities: I am a writer, dancer, and activist. I am co-editor of my school’s newspaper, Hoofprints, president of the Student Advocates for Gender Equality Club and a student mentor at Rivertown Dance Academy.   

Post-graduation plans: Next year, I will continue my education at Stony Brook University in the creative writing program.  

Giving thanks: I am so grateful to my Rivertown Dance Academy family who have always supported and encouraged me. I am excited to continue being creative whether that be dancing, writing or something else in college.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recommended For You

About the Author: River Journal