Wantagh High School valedictorian and salutatorian discuss their academic achievements


When you’re in good company, anything is possible. Just ask Maylani Lee and Catherine Ibrahim.

Ever since they met in sixth-grade French class, Wantagh High School seniors Lee and Ibrahim have been friends. Over the years they have shared a number of classes, and both said that their friendship developed naturally because of how often they saw each other. They regularly discussed their homework, joined the same clubs and developed a strong bond.

“We lean on each other,” Ibrahim said of their friendship.

According to Lee, she and Ibrahim helped push each other in classes, and created something of an academic support partnership.

“I know if I was ever lost, then Catherine was probably in the same boat or knows what’s going on,” Lee said of their classes.

Their friendship brought them academic success: Lee and Ibrahim are Wantagh’s Class of 2024 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Both said they were excited to receive the news in the fall. Lee said she had a feeling she would be valedictorian, but Ibrahim said the announcement took her by surprise.

“For me, I knew I was towards the top, but I didn’t know if I was second, third or fourth,” Ibrahim said. “I didn’t know exactly, so it was pretty exciting.”

Lee began her senior year with a grade point average of 107.838, and Ibrahim’s was 106.08.

Throughout junior high and high school, both challenged themselves with some of the toughest classes. Lee said that Advanced Placement art and biology were two of her favorites, and Ibrahim said she enjoyed AP physics thanks to a supportive group of friends in the class.

“It’s about the environment of each class,” Ibrahim said. “We all help each other in the class.”

Lee said that teachers and fellow students in her classes made high school a memorable experience, and helped her excel. “Over the course of high school, I’ve definitely become more social,” she said, “and it definitely made high school a lot more enjoyable.”

She said she got involved in extracurricular activities for the experience and the interaction with people she liked. Lee is vice president of the senior class, and one of two student representatives at Board of Education meetings. In addition, she is the general chair of Model Congress, and plays varsity tennis.

For her, the extra activities never felt like work. “I think school is a lot more fun if you get involved in the community,” she said. “That was really why I involved myself in a lot of things.”

Ibrahim plays violin in the high school orchestra, and is vice president of the orchestra board. In addition, she and Lee are co-presidents of Science Olympiad, and are both AP Scholars with Distinction.

“It’s fun,” Ibrahim said of school clubs, “because you’re with people who are interested in the same stuff.”

Both girls said they motivate each other, but are never competitive. They each want to see the other do the best she can.

Last year, as a junior, Lee won the Harvard Book Award, which is given to students based on their academic excellence in high school. Ibrahim was the recipient of the Rensselaer Medal, a merit scholarship for outstanding math and science students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate Troy.

After high school, Lee said, she hopes to pursue environmental studies, with the goal of becoming an environmental lawyer. She enjoys the sciences, but in Model Congress, she added, she discovered that discussing a topic she is passionate about is more appealing than doing scientific research.

“I knew that I always wanted to do something with the environment,” Lee said, “but as time went on, I realized I kind of didn’t want to be doing research all my life.”

Ibrahim said she wants to have a career in architecture and civil engineering. She enjoys math, art and science, and wants to pursue an architecture program that involves civil engineering as well, so she can combine all those interests.

Both students said that Wantagh High helped set them up for their post-graduation journey. They both encourage students to get involved with the community through clubs and after-school programs.

“Just get involved,” Lee said. “If you want to join a club, then join a club. It’ll really make your experience so much better.”

Lee and Ibrahim said that teachers in the district have been supportive, and made subjects easy to understand.

“A lot of the teachers here just really want to help you and see you succeed,” Lee said.

And Ibrahim has simple advice for students who want to excel in classes and try out clubs. “Just do it,” she said. “Try to do your best, and you’ll be successful.”