Interview with Briarcliff 2024 Valedictorian and Salutatorians

It is that time of year where we shine a light on the students who will represent the Class of 2024 as Valedictorian and Salutatorians. We caught up with Gautam Gupta, Briarcliff High School’s 2024 Valedictorian, as well as the two Salutatorians – Joseph Berger and Mirabel Solomon – to find out how their year has been, what advice they have for incoming freshmen and what they have learned during their time at Briarcliff High School.

Valedictorian Gautam Gupta

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

Gautam Gupta: I will be going to the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, but I am still undecided about my major.

Joseph Berger: I am undecided and still waiting to hear from more colleges. As of now, I am planning to double major in English and Environmental Science/Studies.

Mirabel Solomon: I will probably be attending Princeton in the fall, but I am still waiting on a few other schools to make a final decision. My intended major is molecular biology.

Do you know what career you plan to enter? If so – what is it? 

Salutatorian Mirabel Solomon

GG: I have yet to decide on a career, but I would like to pursue something that allows me to work creatively and explore my diverse set of interests.

JB: I am still unsure about my future career, but I have toyed around with idea of being an environmental journalist, which would allow me to pursue both my passions for writing and protecting the environment.

Salutatorian Joseph Berger

MS: Nope – not even in the slightest. I am interested in things ranging from biology to economics (which I did not realize until I took macroeconomics this year). However, I am also excited to explore new classes in college and see where they take me.

Q: Who is your role model and why? 

GG: My biggest role models are my parents. I hope to someday be as compassionate and caring as my mom is every single day. Additionally, I always strive to have my dad’s upbeat carefree attitude. Both of my parents instilled in me a sense of curiosity about the world and have driven me to pursue my passions. For that, I am forever grateful.

JB: I admire many people who are in my life: my mom, for her ceaseless devotion to my success and happiness, my dad, for always reminding me that working hard will never fail me, and my sister, for her incredible ability to make me realize that my problems are not as serious as I may think. My family is incredibly supportive of me and I would not be where I am without them.

MS: My parents are my role models. Through their own experiences, they have taught me the value of hard work in achieving success. They inspire me every day to learn more and discover my true passions, and they have always been so supportive of me.

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

GG: BHS offers a plethora of rigorous classes that can prepare you for college. However, more importantly, BHS allowed me to learn how to take advantage of opportunities inside and outside of the classroom. It also taught me essential soft skills like building meaningful relationships and being able to work collaboratively with others.

JB: As a student who joined BHS in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, my student experience has certainly been a difficult, yet worthwhile path, that I have navigated. The extremely dedicated and passionate teachers have contributed to an enriching and receptive learning environment that has taught me how to manage a difficult workload and interact effectively in a collaborative setting. Most importantly, I have learned more about myself and how I am able to manage stress and adversity.

MS: BHS challenged me academically and I learned crucial time-management skills, but most importantly, I built strong relationships with teachers who are now my mentors.

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

GG: I have spent a lot of my time both inside and outside of school working on my climate migration research with my mentor at Princeton University. Within the school, I am co-president of Mathletes, Mock Trial, and Debate clubs, and also participate in the Jazz Band. I also love to make new recipes and travel to new places across the globe trying new cuisines and experiencing natural wonders.

JB: The most impactful extra-curricular activity I have been a part of is Tutor Partnerships, an official 501c3 non-profit organization that I co-founded. This organization has helped students in three continents start their own local tutoring programs. In addition, I am a clarinetist in organizations like Westchester Youth Symphony and NYSSMA All-State; a volunteer researcher for a Peruvian-based non-profit focused on preserving the Amazon Rainforest; an active advocate for the Student Journalist Free Speech Act, and co-president of Chemistry Club. Locally, I work at Scattered Books and intern at the Pleasantville Farmer’s Market. In terms of hobbies, I am a passionate writer and reader and enjoy playing tennis, hiking and traveling.

MS: I spend many hours per week in the pool. I have been a member of the BGNW Marlins swim team for seven years and I have also been on the BHS Varsity Swim team since eighth grade. Outside of the pool, I enjoy playing and listening to music. I am in a percussion ensemble group outside of school, where I specialize in playing the marimba. I have also been playing piano for 12 years. Some of my hobbies include playing with my dogs, listening to Taylor Swift and spending way too much time on Tiktok.

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

GG: As someone who has always had difficulty doing the same thing for long periods of time, I find it helpful to vary what you are working on. Whether it be switching to a different subject, or doing something not related to school, changing what you are doing can make your workload much more manageable. Also, it is essential to recognize and be willing to admit when you have taken on more than you can handle. You cannot do everything all the time.

JB: Although I feel that my time-management skills have greatly improved throughout high school, I have learned that there is no straightforward formula for managing your time successfully. I would encourage students to be open to adapting, because problems are always going to exist, so it is how you deal with them that matters. Also, I have personally found that I can be more productive in places other than my room, whether it be a café, the library or outside. It can be tough not to burn out quickly but try to relax when you can – taking breaks is not only important, but necessary.

MS: I am somebody who loves making lists, which has helped me significantly with time-management. I make lists of everything I need to accomplish each night, whether that be academic or non-academic, and I schedule times that I am going to work on each task. I find it so satisfying to cross something off the list when it is completed, which helps give me motivation in times of stress. However, time management looks different for every student, so it is important to find something that works for you.

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

GG: Parents who want their teenagers to succeed should let their kids be kids; let them explore their passions. You can encourage them to try new things but do not force them into doing things that they don’t want to do. Teenagers need to be given the space and freedom to become their own person.

JB: I would advise them not to put too much pressure on their children or on themselves. The pressure that teenagers can have to get good grades, participate in extracurricular activities, and all of the other things that a teenager must deal with can definitely degrade the high school experience. I would encourage parents to be supportive of their children in all their endeavors and prioritize their happiness and well-being over their grades.

MS: I think parents need to teach kids to have a strong work ethic, but the teaching should start way before the teenage years. Even though schoolwork in the early years is not particularly time consuming, my parents made sure I was working hard in other pursuits, whether it be practicing piano or never leaving early from a swim practice.

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

GG: My advice to current eighth graders would be to try new things. High school is a chance to expand your horizons and find new interests. Sign up for new clubs, a new sport, or even the musical. Whatever calls your name. At the same time, don’t place too many expectations on yourself. Don’t think that you need to have your whole life planned out. I am still unsure of what I want to do. Just explore your opportunities and have fun.

JB: To describe high school in three words: challenging, tiring, but rewarding. Truthfully, there have been times when I doubted myself and my abilities or found it difficult to prioritize myself. However, having supportive teachers, friends, and family as well as inherent human curiosity and drive has continued to keep me motivated. While academics and college may seem important, they do not define you. If or when you find yourself anxious about a physics test or a college essay, remind yourself that this angst is not a sign of weakness or failure, but rather a sign that you care – and when you care, you are proving to yourself that you can and will get through it.

MS: Don’t blow off your schoolwork in ninth and tenth grade, thinking it doesn’t matter. It matters. Do a sport. Try and have a close relationship with at least one or two teachers. Have a pursuit outside of school that you love for days when BHS gets to be too much. Get the tacos and the chocolate chip cookies in the cafeteria.

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? 

GG: I might be biased, as I just watched a YouTube video on him, but I would be incredibly interested to meet Shuji Nakamura, the inventor of the blue LED. By defying conventional knowledge and designing his own production methods, Nakamura demonstrated his creativity and determination, and he created something that powers our screens to this day. I would love to talk to him about how he was able to withstand the ridicule of others and develop his ingenuity.

JB: If I could meet a famous person living or dead, I would meet Princess Diana and talk to her about her commitment to service in spite of the adversity she faced at home as a member of the British Royal Family. I remember seeing a video of her running across a field for a fundraiser at her son’s school, and I was struck by her tenacity and ability to always stay true to herself – qualities I greatly admire.

MS: I would meet Taylor Swift because I am obsessed with her music. I wouldn’t want to know anything specific, but just have a fun evening hanging out with her and her friends, having dinner in her apartment, dancing to music and meeting her cats. And I would also ask her what brand/color lipstick she wears.

Q: What is your favorite quote? 

GG: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” ― Albert Einstein

JB: “Go out and do something. It isn’t your room that’s a prison, it’s yourself.” – Sylvia Plath

MS: “Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along.” – Stephen Colbert

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