As 17-year-old Sonali Persaud and 18-year-old Mahalia Mathelier walked toward an East Meadow High School conference room to chat with the Herald, they greeted each other with a hug and an update on their final days of school.
“How do you think you did on that exam?” Persaud asked Mathelier.
“It wasn’t that hard,” Mathelier answered. “I think I did pretty well.”
The pair have been friends for most of their school years, and have kept in touch through their busiest times. “I can honestly say that I am so happy that Mahalia was named the valedictorian,” Persaud said. “If there is anyone that deserves that top spot, it’s her.”
Mathelier blushed. She thanked Persaud, and said that her salutatorian status was well deserved.
Mathelier, who compiled a GPA of 107.856, was active in the French Club, Model Congress and the social studies and business honor societies, and was treasurer of the English Honor Society. She was secretary of the Key Club, and also served on the National Honor Society executive board.
“I always wanted to be a part of an athletic team too,” she said. So, during her senior year, she tried out for the varsity kickline team, the Rockettes, and made it. “I was so happy!” she said, “That was one of my biggest accomplishments in school. It got really tough at times to balance it all, but in the end, it’s definitely worth it.”
Mathelier developed a passion for law, beginning with an intro to law class as a freshman. In her spare time, she read about local and national laws, and became fascinated with the state court system. She found an opportunity to experience the system firsthand when she volunteered at the Nassau County Youth Court in Hempstead. There, she said, she spoke with children who had committed low-level offenses about their backgrounds, their interests and their aspirations.
“I feel so privileged to live the life I live now,” Mathelier said. “That program really gave me an insight to how others live. The true meaning of it was to show these kids that they can be rehabilitated, and to show them that there’s so much more to life. I want to help them see that, and I want to defend them.”
With the dream of becoming a lawyer, Mathelier will attend Harvard University this fall, and major in economics with a political science minor. She said that her family and her two older brothers nurtured her love for the law through their support.
Mathelier occasionally thanking Persaud for her friendship and support, and Persaud nodded in agreement when Mathelier said she sacrificed sleep to achieve her grades.
“I definitely will be catching up on sleep this summer,” said Persaud, who had a GPA of 107.4. She was a member of the history, science and social studies honor societies, and served alongside her friend on the National Honor Society executive board. She was a member of Model Congress, Peer Leaders and Mathletes, and chaired the Key Club.
She has played the viola since elementary school, and has participated in the New York State School Music Association conference. She was a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society, and said she would continue to play the viola in the future.
“One of the lessons that I’ve learned throughout high school is that just because my friends aren’t doing something, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do it too,” Persaud said. “At first I didn’t want to take a research class, because none of my friends were taking the class. But it turned out to be one of the best things I did in high school.”
That class helped her discover a passion for research. Through Hofstra University’s science program, she conducted a neuroscience research project. She did genetics research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. At North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, she shadowed doctors and nurses and volunteered in the maternity ward. These experiences, Persaud said, have shaped her interest in medicine and research.
She will head to Georgetown University this fall to study health policy in the medical program. “I really want to become a cardiologist or a pediatric oncologist,” she said. “I also want to continue to do medical research as well. I’m not sure where the future will take me, but I do know that it’s important to not miss any shots or opportunities in life. And that’s something that I’d like my graduating class to walk away with.”