Maggie Li and Andrew Cheng are East Meadow's valedictorian, salutatorian


The top two students in East Meadow High School’s Class of 2024 have succeeded in much more than academics. Valedictorian Maggie Li and Salutatorian Andrew Cheng have gone above and beyond classroom work, getting involved in a slew of extracurricular and athletic pursuits while collecting academic awards.

The pair never set out to become the top achievers, but thanks to a love of learning and a little competition, they now find themselves at the head of the senior class.

Li was named a National Merit Semifinalist, and earned an AP Capstone diploma. She is also the class vice president, editor in chief of both the Jet Gazette and Perspective Literary Magazine, president of the English Honor Society and treasurer of the Math Honor Society. As well, she is a sprint captain of the girls’ track and field team, and was chosen to be a part of East Meadow’s Peer Leader program as she looks forward to majoring in computer science in college.

“I’m really interested in coding a lot — that’s another hobby of mine,” Li told the Herald. “When I found out that I could do it in school, I was like, yeah, that’s what I want to major in. What I like about computer science as a field is that it’s so broad, I can find my specialization.”

What’s most valuable to Li, she said, is the community of support she has found in East Meadow. Not long after the coronavirus pandemic began, she decided to join the track team to make friends.

“After the pandemic I was like, OK, I need to start talking to more people,” Li said. “I joined a lot of clubs, saw what stuck and what didn’t. And track was a big thing. Over the years I worked hard, I put in the effort, and I saw the rewards of my effort.”

Cheng, the second-ranking senior, is committed to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, classes. He earned an AP Scholar with Distinction Award, is a National Merit Semifinalist, and was captain of the Math Team and president of the Math Honor Society. He runs for the boys’ track and field team, works at Mathnasium, a tutoring business, and directed East Meadow’s Multicultural Show, an annual event that showcases different cultures. Students can wear traditional clothing, or share a performance.

“That really opened up to me the whole community in East Meadow,” Cheng said. “Especially now, with a lot of new students coming in from in the city, Queens, and (other) countries.”

Cheng also wants to study computer science in college, and said he has always been drawn to the problem-solving aspect of the field, and finding ways to translate his love of math into real-world applications.

“I like looking at the intersection between computer science technology and its integration into education,” Cheng said, “(and) looking at ways we can ethically use artificial intelligence, or just other programs or works of engineering that can monitor students and give more feedback to teachers.”

Li and Cheng are friends, and relied on each other, as well as their community of friends, for motivation throughout the years.

“If I hadn’t met our group of friends — if I hadn’t met (Cheng) in AP chemistry in 10th grade,” Li said, “I don’t think I would have been as motivated as I am now to work together with them and create new things, and work hard and see myself to the end of that path.”

There is no shortage of friendly competition between the two, but their support system is what was most valuable to their high school experience.

“Especially at East Meadow, it’s really about the connection and collaboration with others when building something greater,” Cheng said. “Something that I’ve noticed with our year is that even though we’re competitive with each other, we try to do better than each other, we really work together to do better.”

Li added, “If there wasn’t that competition, it wouldn’t be as fun.”

Cheng said that devoting your efforts to finding your passion is, at the end of the day, what really matters. “Just try everything and see what sticks,” he said. “That’s the real essence of what happens in high school, to build connections and find your passion.”

Li found herself doing just that by taking part in a variety of clubs at the high school in the hope of finding what her true interests.

“I will say there were a lot of clubs I found were not for me,” she said. “I realized I could drop them and focus on the things I was passionate about, and I think that was really valuable.”