It’s not easy being a student in Great Neck. Kids huddle together at their lockers, stressing over their grades. Ever since the first day of middle school, everyone seems tense. So much focus is placed on grades, how colleges determine which students to accept and, ultimately, the student’s future success.
The Many Formulas for Success, High School, College and Beyond, sponsored by the United Parent-Teacher Council (UPTC) and the Great Neck Chinese Association (GNCA), recently addressed these concerns.
Held at the Great Neck Library, the event was well attended. Dr. Teresa Prendergast, superintendent of Great Neck Public Schools, and all five Board of Education trustees sat in the front row, along with earnest parents and rigid teens.
Guidance Chairpersons Jo-Ann Eyre M. Cruz from Great Neck South High and Michael Neary from Great Neck North High, together with four graduates of Great Neck high schools, were the panelists.
Dr. Stephen Lando, assistant superintendent of Secondary Education, Lori Beth Schwartz from UTPC and Haimei Duan from GNCA started the program with a brief introduction.
The four graduates shared their compelling stories.
Ramya Kumar loved art as a child, but her parents urged her to choose a more practical profession. After taking the research program in high school, she fell in love with research which she said “is a perfect way to combine science with creativity.” Although she was rejected by her dream school, Washington University in St. Louis, she found a perfect fit at Stony Brook University after carefully browsing through what the university offers. Now, she is a happy junior studying psychology and biology, using her creativity to make new discoveries.
Nicole Hicks has always enjoyed working with others. She felt lost during her senior year, not knowing what she wanted to be. She listened to her heart and sticked to helping others. Working at the local sports club Equinox in her spare time, she excelled with a great GPA in a two-year program at Nassau Community College. From there, she went on to study Sports Management at Adelphi University. After graduation, she landed a great full-time job at ADP. Now, she is doing what she likes the most, helping transform the way people do business through HR solutions.
Willis Lin was undecided between becoming a doctor and an entrepreneur in high school. All he knew was that he didn’t want to put a financial burden on his parents for his tuition. At North High, he formed a trusting relationship with Neary, whose guidance led him to accept a full academic scholarship to St. John’s University. He admitted that in his first year he contemplated transferring to a big-name school. He later realized that at St. John’s he was not only able to further his study eventually in medical school, but also set up his own business, fulfilling both dreams.
Lieutenant Paul Lee, who joined the conversation via FaceTime, followed a similar path. He studied Biology at SUNY and interned at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Army. Now, he is studying at the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, living his dream of becoming a doctor as a Health Professions Scholarship Recipient from the U.S. Army.
None of these students studied at big-name colleges, and some admitted that they didn’t have perfect standardized test results. What they all had in common was that they worked hard toward achieving their goals. Now, all of them are happy, confident and successful.
The panelists urged the students in the audience to make every minute of school count, daring to take risks, being persistent and maintaining a good work-life balance.
Both guidance chairs advised parents not to just focus on the top 15 to 20 schools at a time when college admissions are very competitive.
“What is the relevance between a school’s reputation and a child’s success?,” Lando asked. “It’s not where you go that matters, it’s how hard you work.”
Neary explained the college counseling approach at Great Neck high schools.
“We take a holistic approach,” said Neary. “We don’t just look at standardized tests and GPAs. Your passion, interests and parental inputs are all important. We make sure that students come to a list that is not just academically appropriate, but also socially and emotionally appropriate.”
Cruz stressed the importance of having each child figure out his or her own path to success.
“Education is to help students to find their true passion and that passion will translate into success,” she said. “College isn’t the end goal, it’s just one piece. It doesn’t define you.”
Lando encouraged students to be open-minded and pointed out that there are many paths to success, and sometimes it means getting on an untraveled path. He ended the night with a quote from Dead Poets Society.
“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life,” he said. “But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
Many terrified students walked out of the library with a bounce in their step and a positive mindset. The sounds of lamentation and worry over grades will no longer bother them as much. They learned the many formulas for success, the importance of living life to the fullest every day and that they should be prepared for whatever twists, turns and surprises the future has to offer.