Meet Baldwin High School’s top students


Baldwin High School seniors Dave Achonu and Brendan Kaminski were named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, for the Class of 2024, emerging as the top two students while navigating through the challenges of a global pandemic.

A student in Baldwin schools since kindergarten, Achonu’s routine throughout his academic journey was quite simple, he said.

“There’s nothing glamorous,” he said. “It’s just a lot of studying at home. My academic pursuits are never-ending, and I want to be a physician scientist and there is that never-ending pursuit of knowledge and education.

“My experience with education started here in Baldwin in kindergarten and will never end,” he added.

During his last four years at the high school, Achonu’s educational journey took a turn, transitioning from traditional in-person learning to remote education — a significant shift not only for him, but also for his classmates and students worldwide.

Recalling his freshman year, Achonu attributed much of his success to Baldwin’s educators, who adapted to the circumstances, ensuring a seamless start to high school for him and his peers.

“I think I would have missed out on a lot more if it weren’t for my incredible ninth-grade teachers,” he said. “They really made the adjustment from eighth grade with the shutdown in March for Covid and brought us back in — a really good beginning to my school journey.”

In the fall, Achonu will attend Princeton University in New Jersey, studying neuroscience with a minor in philosophy.

He credited the Baldwin School District’s science department for his interest in studying neuroscience in college, he said.

“I would definitely say it was cultivated by the science department at Baldwin,” he said. “I’ve always liked science. It always led to figuring out new things, and that (was) kind of propelled by so many teachers.”

While in high school, Achonu crossed paths with Science Olympiad coach Joseph Denninger, who wasn’t his teacher, but was more like an advisor when it came to the research projects that he conducted.

“I really credit a lot of my interest in neuroscience to him,” Achonu said of Denninger. 

A captain for the Science Olympiad and president of mathletes, Achonu co-founded and served as president for Colors for Coats, a club working to raise awareness about public health issues by using creative methods and giving students chances to work together and make projects that help the community directly.

“An important aspect of science and of health is the communication,” he said. “I think that’s really important.”

As for a career, Achonu said he’s focused on becoming a physician-scientist.

For Kaminski, his academic career began in West Hempstead, where he went to Catholic school before moving to Baldwin and attending Steele Elementary School in the second grade.

“Coming into Baldwin was a big shift because I was going from a private religious school to a public school — but ultimately grateful,” Kaminski said.

“I think it opened my eyes to a lot of very different perspectives. Baldwin is very diverse, ethnically, culturally, very diverse ideologically, and I don’t know if that was something I would have gotten.”

Throughout high school, Kaminski was vice president of Colors for Coats, a member of the chess club, a Science Olympiad participant, and co-president of the Key Club, a community service club.

While in high school, he founded Future Educations of America, a club promoting positivity in the teaching profession.

“During the pandemic, it was very difficult for a lot of our teachers, not even necessarily here but across the nation as a whole,” Kaminski said. “I wanted to make sure that the education profession’s future is dependent on students at this level who are motivated and want to pursue education.”

Kaminski will attend Yale University in Connecticut in the fall, diving into Russian, East European and Eurasian studies, where he will pursue a career as a history teacher, an interest that traces back to elementary school.

“I remember in fifth grade really becoming acquainted with a history textbook for the first time,” he said. “That year was the first year where I distinctively remember doing American history and that textbook was just so magical for me.”

When asked about his high school experience, Achonu recalled a memory from the pandemic when classes shifted online. He fondly recalled his Spanish class, conducted via Google Meet, where students logged in regularly. Achonu shared that during each class session, while the cameras were on, he would use various filters on his face, including one that transformed him into an alien.

He described this as a testament to finding something unique and enjoyable about attending school from home, despite the physical absence from the school building.

“Despite the disconnection between me and my peers that year, it still culminated in something really special,” he said. “I thought that was really cool.”

But as Achonu and Kaminski prepare their graduation speeches, they are more focused on the future.

“I want to encourage people to think in the future,” Kaminski said. “That’s my goal for the speech, future thinking, such as what our next steps after graduation are.”

“We mentioned Covid, and that’s obviously super important, but what we are focusing on is looking forward, looking towards the future,” Achonu said.

“We all experienced Covid — we learned from it and grew from it. I think our speeches are very future-oriented and about what our next chapters are.”