By Paula Katinas
Bay Ridge — Inna Lapidus is heading from Brooklyn to the Ivy League. As the valedictori an of the Class of 2012 at Fort Hamilton High School, she had her pick from among several elite universities. She chose Brown University.
“I chose it because it has a special feel to it. I feel like it doesn’t get the attention or the publicity other schools get, like Harvard or Yale,” she said.
At Fort Hamilton, Lapidus excelled in all of her subjects, but took a particular liking to math and is considering majoring in math when she gets to Brown. Math can lead to many different types of careers, she said.
“My math teacher at Fort Hamilton told me about the possibility of being an actuary. I had never heard of an actuary before. But when my teacher told me about, I thought it sounded interesting,” she said.
Lapidus is leaving her career options open.
“I’m also thinking that working in finance would be interesting,” she said.
Lapidus, who graduated from Dyker Heights Intermediate School before entering Fort Hamilton High School four years ago, said she is grateful for the help and inspiration Principal Jo Ann Chester and her teachers have given her.
“Fort Hamilton was the only high school I applied to and it has exceeded my expectations. I was scared after Dyker because that was such a nurturing environment. And here I was, going from there to a big high school. I didn’t know what to expect,” she said.
But her first impressions were good, she recalled.
“I remember that when I attended freshman orientation, Mrs. Chester described Fort Hamilton as a public school in a private school setting. It’s a big school, but it feels like a small one. It feels very much like a family,” Lapidus said.
She enjoyed taking honors physics and she loved history.
“I enjoyed the material so much. I think the teachers are the secret to my success at Fort Hamilton,” she said.
Lapidus served as president of Fort Hamilton’s chapter of the National Honor Society.
She immersed herself in her classroom work, but also found time to enjoy extracurricular activities.
“In sophomore year, I did moot court. I really enjoyed it,” she said.
Fort Hamilton has a law studies program that gives students the chance to argue mock cases in a courtroom setting.
She was also a member of the Medical Science Club, which she found fun because “we did experiments.”
As valedictorian of her class, Lapidus will have the honor of delivering an address at the graduation.
“I want to give a positive message to my fellow graduates. I want to tell them that you can never hold back. You have to work hard and go after your dreams. I also want to thank Fort Hamilton for giving us such a good stepping stone. I will always be grateful for the time I spent there,” she said.
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Bensonhurst — Rebecca Tom, valedictorian of the Class of 2012 at Bishop Kearney High School, had an untraditional message for her fellow students at their graduation ceremony. While most valedictory addresses at graduations offer pearls of wisdom about how to successfully navigate a grown-up world, Tom urged her fellow grads to pay attention to the child within them.
“We’re all growing up so fast now. In my speech, I talked about the importance of remaining childlike in our outlook. Children have an amazing sense of hope and faith. And they are honest. We can learn a lot from children,” Tom said.
Tom ended her graduation speech by quoting Dr. Seuss.
Tom’s career will involve children.
“I want to be a pediatrician,” said the valedictorian, who will be attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut in the fall. She plans to “follow a pre-med track” at the university, but is undecided on her major.
“I’m thinking of majoring in either psychology or biology,” she said.
Tom was inspired by her pediatrician, Dr. David Fernandez, when she was making a career choice.
“He has such a good working relationship with his patients. He is always willing to answer questions and he knows how to put people at ease,” she said.
When Tom told the doctor he had inspired her career choice, he told her he was honored.
Tom isn’t waiting until she gets out of medical school to work with kids.
“Last summer, I volunteered at the Maimonides Medical Center’s Pediatric Cancer Center. All of the kids were great. I was amazed at their courage and their sense of hope. They were suffering, but they were still hopeful about the future,” Tom said.
Tom was inducted into the National Honor Society during her senior year at Bishop Kearney High School. She was also a member of the team that represented the school on “The Challenge,” a quiz show for teenagers on the MSG Varsity Network.
Tom said that when she looks back on her years at Bishop Kearney High School, she will remember her teachers with a great deal of fondness.
“I think that what stands out for me the most are my teachers. They were very helpful and encouraging to me,” she said.
She is also grateful to the teachers she had at her elementary school, Leif Ericson Day School in Bay Ridge. “At Leif Ericson, it felt very much like a family,” she said, adding that the school “inspired my love of music, art, and science.”
In her spare time, Tom plays the piano.
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Bay Ridge — Nicholas Walsh could be the first major success story to come out of Xaverian High School’s new internship program. Walsh, the valedictorian of the Class of 2012, worked one afternoon a week in a veterinarian’s office as part of the internship program and realized that he had found his career.
Walsh will be attending Cornell University, where he plans to major in animal science.
“I’ve always loved animals. I’ve had dogs all my life. But I’ve never given much thought to becoming a veterinarian. I was looking at the medical field, but not specifically at veterinary medicine. When I worked at the vet’s office as an intern, it opened my eyes to that possibility,” Walsh said. “The whole atmosphere was very positive. Patients would come in with their pets and would be very nervous. The doctors would be very caring and calm them down.”
It was fun, too, he said. He marveled at the variety of animals that were brought into the vet’s office. In addition to dogs and cats, the vets took care of guinea pigs, snakes, birds and tortoises.
This was the first year Xaverian High School required students in the honors program, like Walsh, to take part in internships.
Walsh said he plans to continue his work in the vet’s office during the summer. It’s going to be a busy July and August for him. He also plans to work for his father’s construction company. During a phone interview with the Bay Ridge Eagle, he explained that he was calling from the grounds of Poly Prep Country Day School, where his dad’s company was working on a construction project.
It was a busy four years at Xaverian for Walsh. Besides his full load of courses, he served as president of the student body, played the bagpipes in the school’s Fife and Drum Corps, and was a member of the Irish Culture Club.
He also did volunteer work in the Ryken Education Center, a program housed at Xaverian for physically and developmentally disabled youngsters. The center hosts dances several times a year and invites members of the Guild for Exceptional Children, who are developmentally disabled, to come and dance. Walsh attended the dances and said he had a great time.
Walsh also lived abroad for two weeks under a foreign exchange program between Xaverian and a high school in Belgium.
“In September, my family and I hosted a Belgian girl. And in February, I stayed in Belgium for a couple of weeks. It was my first time staying with a family. It was such a different experience. You get to explore a whole new culture,” he said.
As valedictorian, Walsh had the honor of delivering a speech at Xaverian’s graduation ceremony on June 2 at Walt Whitman Auditorium at Brooklyn College.
“In my speech, I talked about how Xaverian helped us build character, how it fostered our imaginations, how it built up our confidence, how it helped us in so many ways,” he said.
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Bay Ridge — Diana Russo said she enjoyed composing the speech she had to deliver as the valedictorian at Fontbonne Hall Academy’s recent graduation ceremony. Composing isn’t new to her. As a songwriter, she has composed more than 25 songs.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was 13 years old,” said Russo, who plays the guitar and sings her own tunes.
“I edited my speech several times, but I think the end result was good. I think I got my point across,” Russo said. “I talked about women empowerment. I wanted to point out that women have accomplished so much in the past, but that there is still so much we will accomplish. And it’s up to us to achieve our goals.”
Russo, who graduated from Visitation Academy prior to entering Fontbonne four years ago, said she was thrilled to share the stage at Fontbonne’s graduation with Arlene Figaro, the principal of Visitation. Figaro was the guest speaker at the Fontbonne ceremony.
“We compared notes and talked about how our speeches had very similar themes,” Russo said.
Russo was also excited by the reaction her speech received.
“A few of the girls came up to me and told me how much they liked it,” she said.
The graduation ceremony “went by so fast!” Russo said. Her years at Fontbonne went by quickly, too, she said.
Russo, who was inducted into the National Honor Society during her time at Fontbonne, will attend Bard College in upstate New York. She plans to major in music. Her musical influences include Ani DiFranco and The Beatles.
When she writes a song, “sometimes it comes fast and I can write the entire song in a short amount of time,” she said.
Other times, it takes longer.
“I’ll work on a song for a while and then put it away. I’ll pick it up again a few months later and finish it,” she said.
Always, the lyrics come first. The melody comes later, she said.
Russo was a contestant in the “Teen Idol” talent competition sponsored by the Bay Ridge Community Council last year.
While she enjoys being onstage, Russo said she also loves working behind the scenes. She is an assistant director of the Visitation Academy Cabaret Troupe, a performance group founded during her years at that school.
“I was an original member of the troupe. As the assistant director, I help the kids with their acting and singing skills. I really enjoy doing it,” she said. “I’m fortunate because I can work onstage or backstage.”
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Look for more scholar profiles in next week’s edition of the Bay Ridge Eagle!