Three bright Bellport women at the top of their class
Valedictorian: Maria Aruanna
College: St. Joseph’s College
Maria Aruanna has always been curious about numbers, and her affinity for math reflects that. “You’re either wrong or right. There’s no second-guessing.” She plans to translate her passion for numbers to the five-year master’s program at St. Joseph’s College, but has her sights set on completing it in four.
Her practical choice to live at home and commute stems from her all-or-nothing work ethic. “I won’t have to worry about living on my own. I can just focus on school,” she said. That work ethic is something Aruanna humbly credits on genetics. Growing up, she saw both of her parents earn degrees in their field. “Seeing [my parents] succeed with full-time jobs and four kids really inspired me,” she said. “I never really needed ‘the push.’ I would see them doing homework and sit down at the dinner table and just do it with them,” Aruanna explained.
Being named valedictorian is a goal she’s had since she was a third-grader at Verne W. Critz Elementary School. “I think that’s why I wasn’t allowed to get senioritis. If I did, everything I was working towards would have been lost, and that wasn’t worth it.”
Aside from a packed academic schedule, Aruanna also plays soccer, has run track, played violin for most of high school and is a member of the math team, and National, math and science honor societies.
In her speech on graduation day, she wants her peers to know that the future — and life — is what you make of it, what you’re willing to put into it. “It’s undefined,” she said.
She won’t be going too far from BHS, but said she will miss her friends and teachers she’s met along the way. “Ironically, my favorite teachers weren’t always math teachers,” she explained, pointing out Mr. Bux, who oversaw one of her study halls. “I learned a lot from him. Things you won’t find in a textbook, like making mistakes. Just life lessons,” she said. Being a Bellport High student in general makes her proud. “Bellport and this community is a snapshot of real life. You see everything in this school, every personality, every race. And now we’re all going our own way. It doesn’t get any more real than that.”
Salutatorian: Eva Stanganelli
College: Stony Brook University
Major: Political science
Stony Brook University is a campus where Eva Stanganelli already feels comfortable. “I’ve been there many times, and they have a great research program. To be in an environment where stuff is getting done is a great opportunity.”
She’ll be dorming there to get the full college experience and looks forward to delving into the political world. When Stanganelli joined the Model UN Club as a high school freshman, she got interested in international relations and intercultural issues. “So many people were opening themselves up to debate and discussion, and you got to see how we all have our own interests at stake, but overall it’s about furthering the welfare of human beings,” she said. With her degree, she hopes to work with a non-governmental organization.
Her intended major is also in part due to her love of history. “Ever since I was little, stories have been a huge part of my life,” she said, explaining that she sees history as experiencing events and cultures through stories. Stanganelli also credits her AP World History teacher, Ms. Palladino. “She endowed me with a love for history that I treasure, but she’s also an incredibly strong lady,” she said. “She’s always looking for the good in people — even the kids that nobody sees potential in. I want to be someone like that.”
Outside of the classroom, Stanganelli is a familiar face on-stage in drama club productions, and has participated in the National Shakespeare Competition all four years of high school, making it to the semifinals thrice. She’s also the editor/president of Fathom, the school’s literary magazine, and a member of the National, math, science and Italian honor societies.
Stanganelli says she never thought too in-depth about class ranking, but finding out she was ranked second was a pleasant surprise. “I knew that I put in the work, so wherever I landed, it’d be something I could be proud of.”
In keeping with Bellport tradition, she will focus on the present in her speech. “This year, I’ve come to realize that living in the present is valuable. Ten years from now, we won’t remember sitting at graduation, but right now it’s important.”
She thanked her parents for instilling good habits in her at a young age, and hopes younger students will embrace this advice: “Learning is not just to get a score, but to make you a better person.” She also ironically recalled something her dad told her. “He said that people often underestimate girls, and that you have to work hard to prove those people wrong,” Stanganelli said. That’s why she’s thrilled to see two other young women join her in the top three. “It’s really cool to see these people you grew up with going on to bigger and better things,” she said.
College: SUNY Buffalo
Raise your hand if you’ve ever binge-watched “Fixer Upper” on HGTV. Denice Guillermo has, and cites the popular show as inspiration behind her college dream. “I’ve always had a need to create, and I love that aspect as well as interior design,” she said.
She was drawn to the big campus feel of SUNY Buffalo and is looking forward to being more independent. “When I visited campus, it was a lot of fun and everyone really made me feel like I belonged,” she said. “And their programs are top of the line, especially for architecture.”
Guillermo, who was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States with her parents at age 6, believes her drive to succeed is embedded in her DNA. “My parents grew up that way, so I’ve always just tried to do my best,” she said. Guillermo is also carrying on a family tradition of sorts. “My dad actually also came in third in his high school class.”
As high school ends, Guillermo feels a mix of emotions. “I’m relieved, since it’s almost over,” she said. “Though that also comes with sadness and a fear of growing apart from friends.”
After the festivities of prom and graduation, Guillermo is looking forward to working and relaxing over the summer.
Guillermo says she has always done well at creative ventures, and her favorite classes were always English, art and history. This year, her AP Art concentration focused on bringing awareness to social and environmental issues, such as ignorance, materialism and plastic obsession. Guillermo also sang in the chamber choir and chorus, was the president of French Club and member of the national, math and science honor societies. She was also recently inducted into the French honor society.
She knew she wanted to give a speech at graduation. “I like writing and English and I want to write something to inspire others, especially on graduation day.” She shared this excerpt with us: “Always remember that, like a kite, it is best to trust in those that lift you up. Stay tethered to your home, for it stands as a guide that reminds you of your passions, dreams and true self. Although unruly winds may cause chaos, just know that their purpose is to showcase your strength and resilience, which will no doubt be proven as you soar towards greatness.”
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