Interview with Briarcliff 2022 Valedictorian and Salutatorians

Neel Raut, Briarcliff High School’s 2022 Valedictorian, and the two Salutatorians – Erin Burns (left) and Marina Varriano

It is that time of year where we shine a light on the students who will represent the Class of 2022 as Valedictorian and Salutatorians. We caught up with Neel Raut, Briarcliff High School’s 2022 Valedictorian, as well as the two Salutatorians – Erin Burns and Marina Varriano – to find out how they manage to juggle academics and extracurricular activities, what advice they have for incoming freshmen and what they have learned during their time at Briarcliff High School.

Q: What college are you going to in the fall and what will be your major?

Neel Raut: I have not decided upon a college yet as I am waiting to hear back from some of them, but I plan to major in computer science

Erin Burns: I am attending Duke University in the fall, and I plan to major in neuroscience with a minor in computer science.

Marina Varriano: I am going to Duke University this fall and will pursue a double major in Piano Performance and Political Science.

Q: Do you know what career you plan to have and if so – what is it?

NR: As of now, I’m interested in becoming a software developer, but I would like to keep my options open for other possibilities as well.

EB: I want to pursue a career in science, possibly as a researcher or a career centered around computer science.

MV: I am not sure exactly what I want to do as a career yet, but I plan on exploring all my interests in college to see what’s right for me. Right now, I think I ultimately want to become a lawyer and advocate for positive social change, but I’d also love to spend some time traveling the world as a piano performer.

Q: Who is your role model and why?

Neel Raut

NR: My parents are my role models. They have taught me the value of working hard and thinking outside the box, which I continue to develop today. They inspire me to always try to learn more, and I am very grateful for their guidance.

EB: My role models are my two older sisters, Emma and Katy. They are both hard workers and encouraged me throughout high school to strive for the example they set.

MV: I look up to anyone who pursues their goals with confidence and tenacity. It’s inspiring to see people achieve success while simultaneously improving the world around them.

Q: How has BHS prepared you for college? What would you say is the most important thing you learned at BHS?

NR: BHS has prepared me with a solid base, academically and socially, that I know will be very influential in college and beyond. I’d say the most important thing I learned at BHS was the nuanced perspectives one could take to solve a problem. Whether it’s a calculus free-response question or the high school experience in general, there are multiple paths to navigating every situation.

EB: I believe that BHS has prepared me very well for college. The abundance of college level courses available is a great introduction to harder material. I think that the most valuable thing I learned is the importance of collaboration. In many of my classes, there was an atmosphere of helping each other academically, which is something that I hope to find in college.

MV: The challenging classes I have taken at BHS make me feel prepared for a college course load next year. The teachers always push us to do our best work and really care that we understand the topics. Also, the diverse electives I had the chance to take at BHS helped me to decide what I want to pursue in college. Throughout high school, I learned the value of collaborating with others; I always asked questions and worked together with friends, which I find helps everyone understand complicated topics.

Q: What are some of your hobbies and extra-curricular activities?

NR: My extracurricular involvements run the gamut, but mainly consist of a mix of youth leadership and volunteer activities combined with research and the occasional hackathon. I’m also involved in clubs like Coding Café, Mathletes, and Engineering Club. As for hobbies, I like to play most sports involving a racket, but I also like going on hikes or bicycle rides at various parks.

Erin Burns

EB: I love to read, watch movies, and spend time outside. I am also a member of the lacrosse team at BHS and Irish Dance competitively. Through school, I am involved in activities such as Book Club, Special Olympics, and NHS.

MV: Outside of school, I spend most of my time playing piano. I am very passionate about it, so I try to immerse myself in it in every possible way. I take weekly lessons, but I also love to perform, compete, join summer programs, and play for senior citizens. Piano has given me the chance to travel to and perform in incredible places, meet amazing people, and learn patience, collaboration, and focus. At BHS, I was on the Girls Varsity Soccer team. We did really well last season, going undefeated in the regular season and making it to the section final. The team was close, and our coaches motivated us, so we had a great time together. I am also the President of the Special Olympics Volunteer Club at BHS. Volunteering and fundraising to help people with intellectual disabilities play sports and compete is truly rewarding. And, of course, I always hang out with my friends on the weekends.

Q: Do you have any time-management tips for juggling school, extra-curricular activities, etc?

NR: My top piece of advice would be to focus on a few specific activities rather than many general activities, and moreover to have fun in those activities. A timesheet would be helpful to keep track of the weekly schedule.

EB: It is definitely difficult to juggle extra-curriculars and academics during high school. I think that prioritizing your time is important. Only focus on activities that you have a passion for outside of school and learn study skills that will maximize your time. One of the best skills I learned at BHS was where to focus my time according to academics.

Marina Varriano

MV: High school can get very busy, so I recommend prioritizing. Making a list of everything I need to do in a week helps me figure out how to balance it all. School doesn’t always have to be the first thing on your list; make time for the things you enjoy. Also, it’s important to not overload your schedule. It’s better to do a few things and do them well, than to do everything haphazardly and be stressed.

Q: What advice would you give to parents who want to help their teenagers succeed?

NR: Although there is not one single way to achieve success, however one may define it, I think a good way to move in the right direction is to encourage your kids to go out of their comfort zone and try new things (classes, clubs, sports, programs). Even if they might not like it at first, there is always something that can be taken away from a new experience.

EB: I would advise parents to understand and ask their teenagers what support system is best for them. Some teenagers may need more attention or encouragement to succeed, whereas others may feel pressured and overwhelmed by such attention.

MV: Throughout high school, my parents have given me the confidence to pursue anything I decide and never put pressure on me. While always staying involved and helping me navigate challenges, my parents ultimately gave me the space to help me realize I can achieve anything I aspire to. I think that type of support from parents is key for us to be confident and successful.

Q: Do you have any advice for current 8th graders who will be going to BHS in the fall on how to make the most of their high school years?

NR: High school is definitely a big change from middle school, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily worse. You should be prepared to work harder than in middle school, but also try to live in the moment. Join clubs and sports you are passionate about. You may not realize it now, but high school will be over before you know it, so enjoy it!

EB: Explore all the options BHS has to offer. In my junior year I took a computer science class and ended up pursuing the subject further and will continue to study it in college. High school is the perfect time to try out subjects or clubs and determine what works for you.

MV: High school really does go by quickly. It’s important to work hard in school, but never let it overwhelm you. You’ll enjoy high school most if you have something that you love to do outside of school, too. Playing sports, joining clubs, and spending time with friends are just as much a part of the high school experience as your classes.

Q: If you could meet a famous person – living or dead – who would it be and what would you want to talk with them about?

NR: I would like to meet Nikola Tesla. Although he is now widely known for his contributions to electricity, at the time, he was often ridiculed and overshadowed by Thomas Edison. Tesla’s legacy lives on today, powering many homes and modern appliances, and I would like to listen to his story and show him the success of his work.

EB: One famous person that I want to meet is the author, Kristin Hannah. Her books are some of my favorites, especially The Great Alone and The Nightingale. I would ask her how she is inspired to write her books and talk to her about her characters/storylines.

MV: I’d want to meet Taylor Swift because I love her music. I would ask to hear about her experience in the music industry at such a young age and the steps she took to become so successful.

Q:  What is your favorite quote?

NR: “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

EB: “Your current life is the result of your previous choices. If you want something different, begin to choose differently.” – Joe Tichio

MV: “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele

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