While the Class of 2021 was forced to adapt to a once in a lifetime pandemic, the top two seniors at West Hempstead High School boast impressive achievements in and out the classroom in spite of the challenges they faced.
Throughout his time in West Hempstead, valedictorian Michael Sheehan carried a weighted GPA of 105.5, was named a National Commended Scholar by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, received a scholarship from the Long Island Mathematics Conference Board and took 10 AP classes.
In addition to his highly impressive academic achievements, Michael was also a member of the school’s Key Club for his entire high school career and is a co-president of the Mathletes. He also served as a mentor for the New York State Peer Mentorship program and was the president of the STEM club his junior year. Michael was also a member of the National Honor Society and the STEM, Spanish and Art National honor societies. Among all of his extracurriculars, Michael’s time in the chess club was his favorite.
“The memories I have of the chess club my junior year are without a doubt some of my favorite,” he said. “The time I spent with friends playing chess and its many variants proved to be some of my favorite high school moments.”
Outside of the school environment, Michael participated in educational activities on his own time during his high school years. In summer 2019, he was admitted into the Summer Academy for Math and Science held at Carnegie Mellon University. Here he learned about data architecture, web design and server integration. Additionally, in summer 2020, he attended an online summer program hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called MOSTEC. During this program, Michael studied machine learning using the coding language Python.
While Michael’s achievements speak for themselves, it goes unsaid that he faced a very challenging junior and senior year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. When asked how he worked through the difficulties of adapting to an entirely new educational environment, he articulated a sound reflection of what kept him motivated.
“While the pressures to excel, conform and comply have grown with time, I have discovered that the motivation to just be a well-rounded person is more than enough to subside any educational fears or difficulties,” he said. “I’ve also found that looking inward for what you truly want out of an education is an extremely helpful coping method, especially in my senior year when the uncertainties of college became most prevalent.”
Michael will be attending Columbia University in fall 2021 and intends to major in mechanical engineering.
Salutatorian Nicholas Solar also boasts a multitude of achievements in and out of the classroom. During his high school career, he was named an AP Scholar with Honor, recognized by the College Board National Hispanic Recognition Program and served on the National Honor Society, as well as STEM and Spanish honor societies. He also received underclassman awards in science, math, physics and English. Nicholas was able to not only succeed but thrive while adapting to a school year like no other and he reflected on how it affected him personally.
“It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Covid-19 has had on our high school careers. Whether it be academically or socially, our lives have changed dramatically since March 2020,” he said. “To overcome the difficulties, I focused on spending time with my family and putting time into hobbies that I hadn’t been able to explore before the pandemic, such as playing the guitar. I also adapted to the new online environment by pushing myself to continue putting full effort into my schoolwork.”
Academic achievements aside, Nicholas excelled in athletics as a dedicated soccer, volleyball and baseball player. He has played soccer for the West Hempstead Chiefs Soccer Club since the age of 4 and continued on to represent West Hempstead High School on the field. Nicholas has also been a dedicated member of Athletes Helping Athletes, a program which teaches sportsmanship and civility to fifth graders in the district. When asked what his favorite high school memory was, athletics was at the forefront.
“My most memorable moment in high school was when I went to the playoffs with my volleyball team,” Nicholas said. “I still remember the thrill of the first point and the energy from the fans. I am glad that I played volleyball and made so many memories with my teammates.”
Nicholas’ involvement in West Hempstead spans even further into the community. He was a volunteer trainer in the town’s TOPSoccer Program with the West Hempstead Chiefs, where he taught children with special needs how to play soccer. He was also a trainer for first through fifth graders in the Chiefs intramural program. He also assisted children with summer reading projects as a volunteer at the West Hempstead Public Library.
While his plans for the fall are still undecided, Nicholas plans to major in computer science or economics and is considering schools like Villanova University or Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.