Live. Laugh. Give. Repeat.
That seems to be the life course of Extraordinary Seniors in the Class of 2016.
Each year, Newsday receives nominations from principals, teachers and guidance counselors in Nassau and Suffolk counties about students who exemplify the best of qualities: Kindness, perseverance, humility, thoughtfulness, determination, altruism. Those traits and more shine among the 16 seniors selected this year.
Quentin Thomson: A super-powered love for his community
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Community service is one of Quentin Akwasi Owusu-Adjei Thomson’s secret superpowers.
The graduating senior is involved with volunteer groups in and out of his busy school career. He credits the Leaders Club at his local YMCA for kicking off his passion for community work.
“That club really transformed me and developed my character by helping me in different endeavors and helping me to see my potential, and see where I would like to go with my future,” Thomson said.
He also said the National Honor Society “helped a lot in terms of developing me academically where I would like to focus.”
(Reporter: Sophia Chang / Videographer: John Paraskevas)
Morgan Zuch: A cancer survivor’s path is forever changed
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At 2 years old, while other children were playing outside and starting to explore the world, Morgan Zuch was isolated in a hospital room. It was 2000, and with a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, her life was lived inside.
Her next three years were a blur of chemotherapy, medication, injections and surgeries. Zuch was considered a “standard risk” patient, and the cure rate for her leukemia was about 80 to 85 percent. But she wasn’t allowed to play with other children or attend preschool, for fear that her suppressed immune system could turn a simple cold into a deadly infection.
Zuch’s mother, Nancy, said her daughter at times suffered the most from the side effects of the chemotherapy, which she said included severe leg pain, constant nausea, spinal headaches and night terrors. At one point Zuch stopped walking, talking and eating for two weeks.
(Reporter: Christine Chung / Videographer: John Paraskevas)
Triplets Carmine, Francesco and Marconi D’Auria-Gupta: Triplets who sing in harmony
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The D’Auria-Gupta brothers have been in harmony for as long as they can remember but the 18-year-old fraternal triplets have already amassed a string of successes as a family singing act.
Carmine, Francesco and Marconi started practicing tunes as children about a decade ago, but grew into serious singers with performances at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and at the 2008 U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens.
Over the past few years, they’ve performed classical pieces with the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York and as a barbershop group with brothers Gaetano, 20, and Leonardo, 15.
“Since we’re all related, the way our voices blend and work together just gives it a different sound than when it’s just four unrelated people,” said Marconi, a tenor.
(Reporter: Will James / Videographer: Chuck Fadely)
Marie Albanese: A high-octane passion for volunteering
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Marie Albanese has spent her high school career relentlessly giving back to make someone else’s life better.
She volunteers to bake and cook at the Ronald McDonald House, various senior centers and a local soup kitchen. She participates in clothing and shoe drives. During her free time during the school day she helps the speech pathologist by sitting in on sessions and assisting with the lesson. After school Albanese, who is 18 and lives in Franklin Square, volunteers to help autistic students, and when she’s not doing that she heads to a local elementary school to help kindergarten students with their homework.
Oh, and last year she led the effort to create a club called Saving Our Society, which participates in various community service projects, such as Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which raises money to fight childhood cancer. All this she does while maintaining strong grades and being a member of the cheerleading team.
(Reporter: Deborah S. Morris / Videographer: Raychel Brightman)
Tyler Bloch: Tourette syndrome doesn’t get in his way
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Tyler Bloch is not only a top student and tennis master but is also a teenage foodie with thousands of fans.
Bloch, 17, cooks healthy dinners for his family each night, has an Instagram food blog with more than 3,600 followers and appeared on the Food Network show “Chopped” when he was only in ninth grade.
From curried lentil stew to charred scallion bruschetta to banana-oat pancakes — he’s driven by a greater purpose.
(Reporter: Candice Ferrette / Videographer: Barry Sloan)
Ross DiBetta: Helping others, at home and abroad
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In the winter, when lacrosse captain Ross DiBetta hangs up his gear, he’s leading the cheering section for the basketball team, riding a hobbyhorse mustang — the school’s mascot — its pole a lacrosse stick he made in woodshop.
What started as a group of a dozen of his friends who wanted to rev up the crowds at the junior-varsity games has grown into a boisterous group of more than 60 strong at all school sporting events. Dressed in white, sometimes black, or red, white and blue, they make up “the stable.”
“We take it pretty seriously,” said DiBetta, 18, of Mount Sinai.
That’s not a surprise to his school’s principal.
(Reporter: Scott Eidler / Videographer: Raychel Brightman)
Danielle Fauteux: ‘Ready for anything’ as an EMT
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Danielle Fauteux never knows when the call will come that sends her racing out the door and off to an emergency in her neighborhood. It could be in the middle of dinner or while she is doing homework; one call came right before a school pep rally.
But as a certified Emergency Medical Technician and a volunteer with the East Marion Fire Department, Fauteux, 18, knows that when the call comes she has to go.
“I am ready for anything,” said the East Marion resident. “You can never gauge when it will be. It will be a school night and I would get a call at 3 a.m. and I would go to school; that’s happened multiple times . . . I had a call where I was out til 5 a.m.”
(Reporter: Joie Tyrrell / Videographer: Chris Ware)
Krish Kamdar: An immigrant himself, he helps others adjust
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Krish Kamdar knows how tough it can be for an immigrant to adapt to life in the United States: He was one himself.
He arrived from India in 2004 at the start of first grade, and struggled to understand English and make friends.
He has turned it around and now uses the experience to help others in the same predicament. Kamdar, 17, became a volunteer at a center in New Hyde Park that helps elderly Indian immigrants adjust to life in the United States. Kamdar helps them obtain Social Security cards and fill out immigration papers. He also tutors Indian children who are very much in the same situation he once found himself in.
(Reporter: Bart Jones / Videographer: John Paraskevas)
Erin Goldrick: Medical condition inspires an interest in nursing
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She has a metal plate, a metal bolt and metal rods in her head, and the back of her neck “looks like a racetrack or a candy cane” because of cuts made for the insertion of shunts.
But for Erin Goldrick, school has always been the most important thing to focus on.
“My parents — they’ve helped me out a lot,” said Goldrick, 18, of Hampton Bays. “They told me ‘education first.’ My dad said, ‘There’s only a little amount of time [to spend in school] to set up the rest of your life.’ ”
(Reporter: Lisa Irizarry / Videographer: Randee Daddona)
Frances Gould: A zeal for social justice that started at home
Frances Gould has never been known to take anything lightly, whether it is her passion for the environment or a college-level course at New York University.
At the end of her freshman year, she conceptualized a paper recycling program for her high school and spent the following years putting it into place. She developed a proposal, contacted the local sanitation department and asked the school’s endowment fund to pay for recycling bins. Now, the program is in full swing, with paper picked up and recycled on a regular basis.
“This year it is becoming fruitful and we are seeing amazing results,” she said.
(Reporter: Joie Tyrrell / Videographer: Chris Ware)
Kyle Kratzke: Turning a brain tumor into fodder for comedy
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If a brain tumor has a bright side, it seems Kyle Kratzke found it.
“He always looked at it as ‘Lucky me, look at what happened to me and how I’m so lucky to get the chance to do all these things and make my life better,’ ” said his mother, Lisa Kratzke.
Kratzke was diagnosed when he was 5 and has undergone eight surgeries. His tumor causes cognitive disabilities, including a slower processing of information and reduced memory. But he has used his tumor as fodder for jokes in the more than 20 stand-up comedy acts he has performed at clubs throughout New York City and Long Island over the past three years, some at fundraisers for nonprofits, others for pay.
“The brain tumor is why I got started in comedy,” Kratzke, 18, said.
(Reporter: David Olson / Videographer: Raychel Brightman)
Alexander Perlak: A life-changing trip inspires a desire to help others
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Alexander Perlak likes to say he is motivated by a “service heart.”
He works tirelessly to give back to his community, and thanks to his leadership, more families in the school district had a little more for the holiday season.
As co-president of the school’s Key Club and student council, Perlak, 17, is instrumental in coordinating events that bring together students, parents and faculty to raise money for needy families. Through a Family Feud game show-style event to raffles to organizing the school’s food pantry, Perlak started many initiatives in the district that will continue after he graduates.
“It was really nice to see that my hard work starts a tradition,” said Perlak, of West Hempstead. “I think you always have to give back to your community and your school. They’ve done so much for you and you have to return the favor.”
(Reporter: Candice Ferrette / Videographer: Alejandra Villa)
Liane Russell: Turning her differences into strengths
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If you ask Liane Russell what has most defined her as a teenager, the last answers you’ll hear are her vision impairment, cerebral palsy or leg braces that run from her shoes to her knees.
Rather, you’ll hear about a place where she’s as visible and vulnerable as a teen can be the
“I figure it’s a part of me, so why dwell on it?” Russell, 18, said of her disabilities. “I love chorus and Drama Club. With singing, it isn’t a physical activity and I can sing as loud as I want . . . With acting, I can be someone else and still be myself at the same time.”
Russell’s journey began when she was born nine weeks early and was subsequently diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Her right foot is turned inward and a vision impairment causes eye fatigue if she stares too long. Today, she wears ankle-foot orthosis braces and leaves classes five minutes early to navigate her school’s hallways and stairs, the latter of which she calls “a bit of a monster.”
(Reporter: Michael R. Ebert / Videographer: Raychel Brightman)
Dante Vigliotti: A love of animals, a knack for business
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Animals hold a special place in the heart of Dante Vigliotti.
“Animals don’t have a voice,” he said. “When they need help, people aren’t always there.”
That doesn’t apply to Vigliotti, 18, who spent most of his middle and high school years volunteering and caring for pets at the animal shelter in Glen Cove at least once a week. He said the shelter doesn’t enjoy the same resources as others on Long Island, so he decided to do his part by undertaking multiple initiatives to raise money for the facility.
His efforts started in his parents’ basement several years ago after he bought goods from a local pet shop to start his own dog and cat supply store.
“I went door to door putting fliers in my neighbors’ mailboxes,” to draw attention to his business, Vigliotti said.
(Reporter: Deon J. Hampton / Videographer: Barry Sloan)