Saluting the 2021 Vals & Sals

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


Aman Choudhri – Valedictorian

EXTRACURRICULARPlayed piano for 11 years and violin for 6 years. Tutored Briarcliff students in math and coached students at Yonkers Partners in Education for the SAT. Currently conducting research at IBM using a statistical technique called causal inference to determine better mechanical ventilation treatment strategies for patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome. Spending this summer working as a software development intern with Columbia University Information Technology. 

EXCEPTIONAL TEACHERS: In my experience, exceptional teachers have high expectations but believe firmly that each student can meet them. They’re demanding yet supportive, and they care deeply about their students. I’ve had the pleasure of being taught by many such teachers, but among the best are Dr. Robert Saar and Ms. Jamie Mandel. 

PLANS: Columbia University to study Computer Science and Math. More broadly, I hope to focus my career on the use of data science in service of humanity. 

WORDS OF WISDOMFocus on balance. Make sure to work hard and take advantage of opportunities that come your way, but don’t forget to relax! 

Marlena Kuhn – Salutatorian

EXTRACURRICULAR: Member of the Academic Challenge trivia club, the New York State Math Honor Society, Rho Kappa National Social Studies Honor Society, and the National Honor Society. Founder of the Inter-Generational Alliance, a volunteering club dedicated to strengthening our community by connecting high school students to residents of the local nursing home. Third-degree black belt in traditional Shotokan karate.  

EXCEPTIONAL TEACHERS: An exceptional teacher is someone who prioritizes the students’ understanding. Ms. Lee was an exceptional AP Biology teacher. She made sure that I was comfortable taking the class as a sophomore (Marlena is graduating after her junior year), and she always was very approachable. 

PLANS: NYU to major in biology, and I plan to become a doctor. 

WORDS OF WISDOM: I do not feel qualified to give advice to my peers, but I hope that they take the mistakes they made in high school as lessons for the future. To underclassmen, remember that life continues after high school. Working hard now can set you up to have more fun in the future.  

Nancy Li – Salutatorian

EXTRACURRICULAR: Varsity Girls Tennis Varsity Girls Squash. Treasurer of school’s Asian Club, secretary of Chemistry Club, and managing editor of Briars and Ivy, the school’s literary magazine. I play the piano and am involved in planning events for the local library.  

EXCEPTIONAL TEACHERS: An exceptional teacher is one who truly understands his or her students and is willing to be flexible with his or her lessons. He or she listens to feedback well and varies class activities to keep students intrigued. Special shoutout to Dr. Saar, Ms. Dyer, Mrs. O’Brien, and Ms. Fishman who always taught material in interesting ways and supported me through my academic journey.  

PLANS: UCLA as a neuroscience major. Plans to go to graduate school and pursue a PhD.  

WORDS OF WISDOM: I think the most important takeaway I have learned from high school is to not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Reach out to that new person, join that club you were thinking about, use the short time we have to grow independently.  

Jolie Wasserman – Salutatorian

EXTRACURRICULAR: Staff writer of our school’s newspaper, the Briarcliff Bulletin, for all four years of high school. Editor-and-chief as a senior. Varsity tennis and track and field, co-creator of a volunteer tutoring service for students in our school district. 

EXCEPTIONAL TEACHERS: There are many teachers who qualify for that “exceptional” standing, but I’d like to recognize Samantha Fishman who was my ninth-grade English teacher. To this day, we are still quite close, and she is always there to listen to and talk about anything, from the trivial to deep conversations. 

PLANS: Carnegie Mellon University to study either electrical and computer engineering or mechanical engineering. 

WORDS OF WISDOM: Continue to keep an open mind in high school. High school presents more academic, artistic, athletic, and social freedom, so I would suggest exploring each in a responsible manner.


Maya Gardos – Valedictorian 

Creator of Puck’s Players, a program that engages middle schoolers with Shakespeare; Student Faculty Congress President; Political internships with office of Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and David Buchwald for Congress campaign; Book Club President; Croton Academic Challenge Team Captain.  

Exceptional Educators
An exceptional educator is passionate about what they teach and works to help students understand the importance and meaning behind their subject. John Bohuniek, U.S. History teacher, for always working to make history relevant; Donna Light-Donovan, Science Research and Biology teacher, for guiding me through my research project on the impacts of partisan media and showing me the possibilities of science; Joseph Merriam, for helping me to grow my love of Shakespeare and literature.  

Yale University. Undecided about career path.  

Words of Wisdom 
To underclassmen > Pursue what you are passionate about, not what you think looks good on a resume. To fellow graduates > Our learning journey has just begun!  

Camilla Giorcelli – Salutatorian 


Treasurer and Representative for Croton Harmon High School’s Student Faculty Congress; 

Varsity Volleyball Captain; Intern for Village of Croton’s Sustainability Committee; 

Croton Academic Challenge Team; Varsity Ski Team. 

Exceptional Educators
Someone who goes above and beyond to make a connection with their students. AP Spanish teacher Señora Ballina enhanced my Spanish learning experience and supported me beyond academics. Ms. Cardellichio, AP Environmental Science teacher, taught me how important it is to care for the environment and made her class especially engaging. She inspired me to pursue Environmental Studies. 

Studying environmental studies and computer science at Washington University in St. Louis.    

Words of Wisdom
To underclassmen > Don’t be afraid to ask for help and use the resources you are offered for support, academically or with mental health.  


Madison Kivel  – Valedictorian

Guiding Eyes for the Blind; Recycled Paws; Varsity Ski TeamHOSA (Health Occupation Students of America – Future Health Professionals); Hispanic, Math, and National Honor Society. 

Exceptional Educators 

They are willing to give extensions, extra help, and guidance on an assignment or activity. Mr. Witkowich (AP U.S. History) and Dr. Hall (Biomed) as exceptional educators, dedicating their time and energy to the success of their students. 


Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, majoring in animal science on a pre-veterinary track, and hope to attend Cornell University’s veterinary school. 

Words of Wisdom 

To my fellow graduates and to underclassmen > Hard work and dedication throughout not only high school but for the rest of your life will pay off. You can accomplish anything that you set your mind to.

Indrani Malhotra – Salutatorian


Co-Editor-in-Chief of school newspaper The Anchor; helped create school’s new website; theater program; Hen Hud Leos, SEED club; other community service organizations. 

Exceptional Educators
They capture the excitement of learning, making it dynamic and interesting. Inspire a love for the subject in their students and foster a sense of community in their classroom. I have had amazing teachers like this every year.  


Boston University to double major in International Relations and Environmental Analysis and Policy, in Kilachand Honors College. Interested in environmental advocacy or a diplomacy-related field. 

Words of Wisdom
To my fellow graduates and underclassmen > Make the best of every moment, take advantage of every opportunity, and do the things that make you happy, in high school, college and beyond, because you never know what life might throw at you next.  


Henry Demarest – Valedictorian

EXTRACURRICULAR: Founding member, head programmer and team captain, Irvington Robotics Team, called the “Bulldog Bytes,”; Volunteer Fuller Center for Housing; President of IHS’s chapter of National Honor Society, consul of the Latin Club, member of Science Olympiad and Academic Challenge teams. 

EXCEPTIONAL TEACHERS: They know their subjects well, they create fun lesson plans, and they provide help outside the classroom. Most importantly, exceptional teachers truly care about their students. They are not afraid to put in extra time and effort to ensure that their students have the opportunity to succeed. I would like to note Mr. Barry, my AP US History teacher. I absolutely loved Mr. Barry’s class – he was extremely engaging and I knew that he cared about all of us every step of the way. 

PLANS: Yale University to study mechanical engineering. I plan to either go to graduate school for engineering or go into industry, possibly in the aerospace field. 

WORDS OF WISDOM: Find what you enjoy. Whether on my robotics team or in my volunteer work, I have always found myself to be most successful when I’m really enjoying what I am doing. I would encourage younger high schoolers to explore different subjects, fields, and activities and figure out what you truly enjoy. It is in these areas that you will feel motivated to do your best work, and it is also these areas where you will have the most fun.  

Esha Shenoy – Valedictorian

EXTRACURRICULAR: Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Mentorship finalist & science research member; President & captain of the Academic Challenge team; President of the Science Olympiad Team; IEF Innovation Fund Grant Winner; Digital animator; Teaching assistant in biology, chemistry, and history. 

EXCEPTIONAL TEACHERS: Someone who feels incredibly passionate about the subject that they teach and is able to impart that love of learning onto their students. Mr. Markic and Ms. Parikka were my chemistry and biology/science research teachers respectively, and are probably the reason I chose to pursue a science major. Not only did they go above and beyond when teaching difficult subject matter, but they are also some of the kindest people I have ever known. Mr. Fata was my history teacher for the past three years. His humor and thoroughly researched lesson plans made his classes such a joy to attend. Finally, Ms. Yee and Ms. Steuer are my Academic Challenge club advisors and have helped the team immensely over the years. 

PLANS: Rice University to study Health Sciences. 

WORDS OF WISDOMFind your niche and have the courage to pursue it! 


Xiaxia Saavedra – Valedictorian

EXTRACURRICULAR: Ossining Science research program studying Diabetes at Weill Cornell Medical College, President of Ossining Engineering Team, Ossining softball and soccer teams, National Honor Society, STEP Tutor  

EXCEPTIONAL TEACHERS: Exceptional teachers take the time to push their students to succeed and help them find their passions. My science teachers Mr. Piccirillo and Ms. Holmes provided me with constant encouragement throughout my high school career. Mr. Albrecht, Engineering teacher and team mentor, helped me grow as a leader and develop my love for engineering.  

PLANS: The University of Chicago, to major in Biochemistry; on pre-med track, hope to study cardiology.  

WORDS OF WISDOMMake sure to have fun while taking advantage of every opportunity available to you and working hard for your future.   

Linlee Mangialardi – Salutatorian

EXTRACURRICULAR: Ossining’s Science Research program studying metabolism in yeast; Captain on the cross country and track team; Head attorney on the mock trial team; student-life editor of the school newspaper; peer tutor; Co-President of the National Honor Society; member of the Rho Kappa National Social Studies Honor Society; Senator Carlucci’s Student Advisory Committee 

EXCEPTIONAL TEACHERS: Supports your passions and wants you to be successful inside and outside the classroom; Science Research teachers Mr. Piccirillo and Ms. Holmes for their persistent guidance throughout my research, Ms. Mannarino and Ms. Olin for their encouragement. 

PLANS: Georgetown University in Washington D.C., to major in biology and pursue a career in scientific research. 

WORDS OF WISDOMAlways work hard and take advantage of the opportunities that are present – it will always pay off eventually. 


Luisa Urgiles – Valedictorian

Latino Culture Club; Girls Who Code Club; National Spanish Society; National Science Society; National Math Society; Computer Science Society. 

Exceptional Educators 

They make learning relevant to real-world activities. Thanks to Ms. Daniels, Ms. Pichardo, Ms. Santos, Ms. Veloz, Mr. Newby, Ms. McCarthy. They built nice relationships with their students, supporting them to succeed and aim for a great future.  


I hope to attend Binghamton University to study computer science with a focus on cybersecurity, computer engineering or start pre-medical studies.  

Words of Wisdom
To my fellow students > Be who you are, don’t think too much about what others might say or judge because those people will be everywhere, no matter what you do. Find friends who are truthful to you, because those are the people with which you will be making memories and great friendships. 

Jilda Pauta – Salutatorian 

Vice President of Science Honor Society; Secretary of Social Studies Honor Society; Treasurer of Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica; Math Honor Society; National Honor Society; English Honor Society; Concert BandMercy College STEP Program; Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Teachers; Teacher’s Assistant and Translator in CCD at Church of Assumption  

Exceptional Educators
One who is patient, passionate, inspiring for students. AP Spanish Language and Culture teacher Mrs. Daysi Suero is very effective. Public Policy in Modern America teacher Mrs. Stephanie Ramirez keeps the class engaged. Entrepreneurship teacher Ms. Molly McCarthy pushes students to reach their full potential and taught me how to manage a full-time buisness.   

Marist College in Poughkeepsie, to major in Criminal Justice and minor in Psychology.  

Words of Wisdom
Put in the time and effort to achieve your goals, and maintain a healthy balance between academics and social life.  


Maya Weitzen  – Valedictorian

Vice President of the Student Government Executive Board and President of the National Honor Society, VAASA, and the Hollow Heritage Club. I play the violin in orchestra and chamber orchestra and am the captain of the girls’ varsity soccer team. Complete research in the field of lung cancer immunotherapeutics at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and have been recognized on the national and international levels.

Exceptional Educators
Exceptional teachers are ones who teach you to love broader applications of subjects rather than just the words on a textbook page. The teachers at Sleepy Hollow have inspired me to appreciate intersection points between disciplines and seek a holistic education. This is something truly remarkable and I am extremely grateful for their mentorship.

I will be attending Yale University in the Fall on a Pre-Med track to pursue a career as a physician.

Words of Wisdom
Don’t be afraid to embrace change and messiness. The best moments of our lives stem from spontaneity and, instead of being caught up in past plans, thrive in the present moments. Life is unpredictable – that’s what makes it so exciting.

Zachary Rudder – Salutatorian 

Played 3 varsity sports—football, basketball, and lacrosse; did peer tutoring in Chemistry and Algebra. Team captain for Relay for Life.
Exceptional Educators
Someone that loves the topic they teach and cares about their students actually absorbing and understanding the material and how to apply it. All of my teachers were great but specifically my science and math teachers because they helped shape my interests

I’m going to the University of Pennsylvania to study mechanical engineering. I would like to work for an aerospace company in the future.

Words of Wisdom
Make sure you have fun and make time for things that aren’t school work.


Vaishali Miriyagalla – Valedictorian


Girls Varsity Soccer; Jazz Band; Club Fit Swim Team; Neighbor’s Link volunteer; Yorktown Rehabilitation & Nursing Center volunteer.  

Exceptional Educators
Someone invested in our well-being and allowing students to achieve their potential. I have had many amazing teachers at Lincoln Titus Elementary School, Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School, and Walter Panas High School who have impacted us in more ways than they realize.  

Bowdoin College to study mathematics and physics, pursuing a liberal arts education, towards a career in Engineering. 

Words of Wisdom
As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Get involved, experience things for yourself, and never stop learning.  

Emily Attinger – Salutatorian

Theater company; science research at New York Botanical Garden; Girl Scouts; Venture Scouts; piano.  

Exceptional Educators
They are supportive and make learning fun and engaging, like my AP U.S. history teacher Dr. Sandground. She was a tremendous help during my college application process and I always looked forward to her classes.  

Royal Holloway, University of London, to double major in Criminology and Psychology. I hope to earn a doctorate and help the criminal justice system as a forensic psychologist.  

Words of Wisdom
It’s important to find a balance between schoolwork and personal time. Our brains need a breather sometimes and having a hobby or extracurricular can help you relax, recharge, and come back ready to work. 


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