Tara Faraone, 18, of Franklin Square, has been bridging the gap between her graduation with Carey High School's class of 2017 and her freshman year at the State University of New York at Cortland. She will have a little extra financial help, thanks to two scholarships she was recently awarded.
Faraone said she looked several colleges before making a choice, because she wanted to find a campus and surrounding community that were welcoming.
"It's a very comfortable environment," she said of SUNY Cortland. "I'd say there are thousands of students. So far I've met a lot of friendly and really cool people here. It's easy to meet people. There's also a lot of opportunity for me, going here."
While she hasn't selected a major yet, Faraone said she wants to focus on the life sciences. "I'm interested in neuropsychology and biopsychology," she said. "I would love to do some writing, too."
When she was younger, Faraone said, she was quiet and shy, because she was dealing with scoliosis and wearing a back brace. "I'd kept it a secret for as long as I could," she recalled. "Once I began telling my friends, though, I was pleasantly surprised, as they didn't think it was a big deal."
In eighth grade, Faraone discovered stage crew. "I became very active in it," she said. "I stayed with it all throughout high school. It was an encouraging environment. I enjoyed building sets the most."
Despite her back ailment, which she still deals with, she also served as class treasurer, and played in the Carey marching band. She was the literary editor of the school magazine, Mosaic, and as a senior she was editor in chief of the yearbook. "It was a lot of work," she said, "but I had a lot of fun."
During her junior and senior years, Faraone experienced anxiety and depression, and struggled with them at first. "Those years in school are the toughest, as so much is expected of you, and the classes themselves are more difficult," she said. "It's so easy to let it overwhelm you."
She said, however, that she had a great deal of support, and learned to deal with the mental demons. "I sought out the support of my loved ones, and my school guidance counselor," she said. "I learned coping exercises like breathing techniques. Unfortunately, there's a stigma attached to mental illnesses, but it's important to get help."
She also volunteered at Camp Anchor, a summer program for children with autism. There she decided to apply for two scholarships, the first worth $1,000, and the second, worth $20,000, offered by the Westbury-based Nassau Educators Federal Credit Union, or NEFCU.
"When I first heard about the scholarships, I thought, 'I should do this,'" she said. "To apply, I had to write two essays. The first one was about how credit unions are different from banks. For the second scholarship contest, I had to write about how core values are gained through volunteer work, and how I keep my values with me and what to do with them in college."
Faraone was awarded both of the scholarships because of the variety of her extracurricular activities and her 100.24 overall grade point average, explained Valerie Garguilo, NEFCU's vice president of marketing and community relations.
"For almost a decade, we've been helping some of the brightest and most inspiring Long Island students along in their academic journey," Garguilo said. "Our Making a Difference scholarship program is aptly named, because so many of these young men and women are destined to change lives, effect change and truly make a difference in the world. We're proud of them, and proud that we can be part of this process."
After Faraone won the first scholarship contest, she drew upon her Camp Anchor work to write the second one. "I liked volunteering because it was great to be able to help create a safe environment for the campers," she said. "I have two cousins with autism. The camp is great to those with special needs, as ... they're made to feel comfortable."
Now Faraone looks to her future at college. "Get out of your comfort zone, and take a challenging class or two," she advised those still in high school. "I took Advanced Placement calculus and chemistry. The teachers were very supportive, and though I struggled at first, I ended up doing even better than I thought I would, and made my teachers proud."
She also advises future college students to stay healthy. "Talk to your friends," she said. "They're always there for you to talk to when you're going through things. Take care of yourself. Grades are important, but focus on yourself first. If you don't have your health, you have nothing."