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Baldwin’s top students share their memories

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As Baldwin’s top students, Nijha Young and Brittany Monroy, prepared for the next phase of their lives, they reflected on their academic careers in the Baldwin School District.

Young, who was named valedictorian with a 117.71 weighted grade point average, said that some of her best memories came from her Italian class.

“It was a really open environment that was also really productive and beneficial,” Young said. “We focused not just on language, but cultural comparisons, discussing things happening in Italy today that relate to America and other countries, and using skills like presenting, speaking, recording ourselves — that helps for the future in any language, really.”

Monroy, the salutatorian, who earned a 116.17 weighted average, credited the music program and faculty members for many of her positive memories. “Definitely, overall, these memories wouldn’t have been made possible without the faculty in our school — all of the teachers, and definitely Mr. Nolan, for making our senior year amazing,” Monroy said, referring to Baldwin High School Principal Jim Nolan.

“Thank you,” Nolan chimed in. “No one’s more blessed than me for working with young people like you, and that’s the truth.”

Monroy and Young also thanked their guidance counselors and teachers for keeping their doors open, and Monroy said she would miss her mentor, Anita Zucker, who teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics. “It’s a whirlwind of emotions just talking about it,” she said, adding that she felt weird referring to her experiences in the past tense.

Both Young and Monroy are musicians who have performed regularly at the New York State School Music Association conference in the spring. Monroy played violin in the school’s chamber orchestra, as well as with a string quartet with three classmates, and was a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society. Young played the clarinet in the high school wind symphony, participated in Tri-M and received the National Arion Music Award.

“One thing that sticks out to me a lot this year is we got to work with a composer, Omar Thomas,” Young said. “We performed his piece . . . We got to meet him and talk about his composition process and the story behind the piece, which is the church shooting in Charleston — remembering the Charleston nine and honoring the families and the members of the church. It was really awesome.”

“I feel like we had a lot of our experiences through music,” Monroy said. “The music program in this high school is incredible. I feel like we lived in the music hallway.”

Young agreed. “So much of high school has been music — performing, practicing and meeting people.”

“It was a good year for orchestra, as well, because we fundraised in order to do Electrify Your Strings,” Monroy said, remembering how she had the opportunity to play rock songs on an electric instrument.

The pair also recalled when BHS hosted the annual NYSSMA conference two years ago. “That was so much fun,” Monroy said. “We helped for all three days. We were setting up and running around, helping people. It was an amazing experience being able to actually host NYSSMA.”

“It was frantic energy, but it was still energy,” Young said. “It was so cool to work it from the inside instead of just being a performer and being nervous with the judges. Instead, you see them walking in and setting up.”

Monroy was also a member of the Mathletes Club and a competitive trivia club, while Young was an AIDS peer educator who worked to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS. Both were members of the National Honor Society as well as their respective language honor societies — Young studied Italian while Monroy studied French. Young also wrote for the Golden Wave, the school newspaper, and took part in the Writer’s Club, presenting her creative pieces at coffeehouses.  

The students reflected on the Advanced Placement courses that they took, which they said shed light on subjects that they otherwise might not have known about.

“It’s been really eye-opening to see what subjects I took to more,” Young said. “Taking A.P. classes and then seeing, well, this is a difficult course and it looks good, but do I actually like this subject? My favorite courses now have ended up being English, foreign language, science and music.”

“As Nijha said, [we took] many A.P. classes, to the point where it was like every single day, just trying to balance everything,” Monroy said. “But it definitely exposed me to more things I never thought I would enjoy, like physics. I ended up enjoying that class a lot. And music — all the time.”

Monroy received a $1,000 scholarship from the Women’s Advance Club, and both girls received the Long Island Language Teachers Award and Presidents’ Awards. Young also received the Edward Strausman Scholarship.

The pair recalled some of their favorite memories during their academic careers, including attending concerts and performing at the district’s annual Winter Wonderland, when third-graders visit booths set up by high school clubs and play games and activities to see what they can expect once they move up and enter high school. They also attended the “spectacular” school plays and watched the talent show.

“I don’t think I’ve been to a talent show before this year, so it was a great time to see how much everyone cares about their own craft or whatever their interests are,”  Young said, “and putting in so much work.”

“Just to see the diversity in our town, as well, was incredible,” Monroy said.

Young, who will attend Ithaca College in the fall to major in communications and journalism, said that even if her major changes at any point, she will return to writing. She also plans to pursue psychology.

Monroy will attend Baruch College through the Macaulay Honors program to major in political science and law. She said she’s apprehensive, but wants to succeed and “have a happy life, and that’s the most important thing — as long as I love what I do, then everything else is good.”

“I’ve worked with kids for 36 years, so I’ve seen the best of the best, and they would be right at the top of that list,” Nolan said. “What’s so unique about them is that they are so grounded, kind and genuine, and they’re so humble. They’re going to do well academically — that’s a given — but they’re going to be successful because of the beautiful people they are. They’re unbelievable. They are just two very special young ladies who are really going to light this world on fire in their own way.”