Meet the Class of 2021 Valedictorian and Salutatorian!

Written by on June 10, 2021

Congratulations to Salvatore Brancato II on being named this year’s class Valedictorian and Yicheng Huang on his achievement as Salutatorian. We sat down for a quick Q&A about their career  at Shenendehowa and what’s next.

Q: What does being named Valedictorian and Salutatorian mean to you?

Salvatore: Although being the Valedictorian was never my intended goal when entering high school, it is very reassuring to be recognized for my hard work over the past four years. When my sisters and I arrived at Shen in second grade, we were very behind academically.  Throughout elementary school and the beginning of middle school, I actually struggled in school; I was in AIS classes, and I constantly needed extra help. But I eventually found my way in. I started to work much harder in school, not for the sake of a grade but for the sake of simply learning. I actually found my degree of learning diminished when I was focused on a grade instead of simply trying to understand and grasp concepts. So back to the question of what being Valedictorian means to me, it means that hard work and perseverance eventually do pay off. 

Yicheng: It certainly means a lot to receive this honor. It is a nice testament to all the hardwork and effort I have invested these past few years.

2. Who/what motivates you?

Salvatore: My college essay actually revolved around this question. And there are two people that motivate me: my mother and my grandfather. When I was only eight years old, my father became the archetype of an addict. While most people recollect their childhood as trips to Disneyland or birthday parties, my memories are not as privileged. My mother tried to get him help, but addiction had consumed him. One day, while my sisters and I were at school, my mom, without my father’s knowledge, packed our bags, drove to a courthouse, signed a restraining order, and drove to pick us up from school. We were leaving our school, our town, and my abusive father. Ultimately, my father lost his battle with addiction. My mother became a single mom of triplets with no job and no money. She sacrificed everything to build a better life for her children. My mother brought us to our grandparents’ house where they took us in without question. Living at my grandparents’ house, my grandfather (or my Poppy) told me about his journey as a young Italian immigrant to the United States. When he arrived, he did not speak English. The language barrier caused him to actually fail kindergarten, but he eventually learned the language. While school wasn’t my grandfather’s focus, he balanced a rigorous work schedule with school. Instead of attending college, he worked hard and ended up starting a very successful business. His sacrifice and hard work paved the way for our family, so we can take advantage of any opportunity that comes our way. My grandfather and mother’s stories and lessons instilled the value of hard work in me and continue to motivate me every day to be the best version of myself. 

Yicheng: My dad is a massive inspiration to me. Like many immigrant parents, he came from very humble beginnings. It was through his perseverance and determination that he was able to not only be the first person to go to college in his village but also the first to leave the country and immigrate to America. I greatly value my education because I am aware of the hurdles my dad had to overcome so I could learn in this land of opportunity. Moreover, my personal motivation has always been fueled by an innate desire to surpass my own limits rather than external rewards. It’s easy to lose motivation after reaching a specific threshold or receiving some award, whereas the pursuit of self-improvement is a continuous process so motivation never ceases.

3. What words of advice can you give to your fellow 2021 classmates?

Salvatore: TIME MANAGEMENT AND GOAL SETTING! This might sound like health class, but it works I promise. Despite my academically rigorous schedule, I never once stayed up past midnight to complete an assignment. I manage my time in a way so that I don’t have to cram for tests or pull all-nighters to get assignments done. And you learn better if you space out your studying and assignments throughout a couple of days. Also, always make sure to budget for fun. Having an active social life is a great way to take a break from the stress of school. Additionally, I have a vision board and a list of my specific goals. Every time I look at my list, I am motivated, and I stop procrastinating. There are copious studies that show how writing down one’s goals makes someone more likely to achieve their goals. 

Yicheng: Treasure the moments. Graduation is bittersweet in that we are starting an exciting new chapter of our lives, but we are also going to seldom, and perhaps never again, see many of the friends who have been integral parts of our lives up until this point. The future will come soon enough so enjoy the present while you still can.

4. What was your favorite thing about Shenendehowa? 

Salvatore: My favorite class would have to be Spanish with señora Clarkin. I have applied my Spanish knowledge outside of class way more than in any other class. During my trips to Spain, Ecuador, and Mexico, I was able to communicate and hold conversations with native Spanish speakers. And even more importantly, I was able to understand their unique cultures. The fact that Shen and many years of Spanish classes have taught me to speak and comprehend another language is truly a gift that I will continue to utilize even in college where I plan on minoring in Spanish. 

Yicheng: The people I’ve met and the friends that I made along the way are what made my Shen experience. Whether it be near decade long friends going all the way back to the third grade (you know who you are) or friends just recently made, it was ultimately the people that illuminated my school days. Outside of the students, the teachers and faculty have also been excellent. Some that immediately come to mind are my counselor Ms. Lynch, my physics teacher Mr. Tymeson, my chemistry teacher Mrs. Masten, my computer science teacher Mr. Hanley, and my 8th grade english teacher Mrs. Horton. Of course, there are many more teachers I’ve had who are outstanding but were not specifically mentioned due to limited space. Regardless, to all my friends, teachers, and everybody else who were part of my life this past decade, I would like to thank you all for making my Shenendehowa experience one to remember.

5. What’s next?

Salvatore: I am attending Cornell University in the fall where I plan to major in Biology and Society (although I may switch it to Biological Engineering). I will also minor in Spanish. I will be on a pre-med track. My ultimate goal is to become a plastic surgeon!

Yicheng: In all honesty, I have no idea. I plan on majoring in computer science and minoring in math at MIT. However, I am still just scratching the surface of knowledge so I definitely want to remain flexible and keep an open mind to all the different possibilities. Regardless, I am not one to worry too much about the future so I guess I will just enjoy the present in the meantime.

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