What makes these these high school students so amazing?


philanthropists, scientists, and more — Gen-Z students are stepping up as leaders in their community. These five students from Lynbrook and East Rockaway were honored by Assemblyman Brian Curran recently as young leaders in the 21st century for their dedication to their education and their commitment to helping others.

Daniel Cullen, 11th grade, Lynbrook High School

Cullen is a member of the National Honor Society and the National Science Honor Society, and is in multiple AP classes. He also has a passion for graphic design — his talents won him second place in the Mission Patch design for the Lynbrook science project representation on the International Space Station. Lynbrook parents may have also seen his work as the logo designer for the April 29th Color Run. Cullen is also a Life Scout in Troop 336, and is currently working on his Eagle Scout project.

Dea Pulatani, 11th grade, Lynbrook High School

Pulatani is involved in ten clubs including Student Government, the Student Council of Excellence, Women in Stem, and Future Doctors of America, and holds a leadership position in five of them — all while maintaining high averages in her all-AP classes. As the president of Key Club, she was responsible for overseeing all three of this year’s blood drives. The blood drives combined ultimately saved over 800 lives. She is a member of the National Honors Society, the National Science Honors Society, the National Mathematics Society, and the National Honor Society of Scholars. A philanthropist, Pulatani plans on spending her life trying to help others.

“Ever since I was a young girl it’s been one of my dreams to be recognized for helping those around me,” Pulatani said. “To be recognized by Brian Curran and all the officials present at the ceremony the other day was such an amazing honor. It is the most exhilarating feeling.”

Eric Reilly, 10th grade, Lynbrook High School

Reilly, a member of mathletes and the science research program, won high honors in the Long Island Science Congress last year for his biochemistry project and went on to win 4th place in the statewide Science Congress competition. Reilly is an athlete as well, playing on the school’s JV baseball and football teams. He won the “Unsung Hero” award from his football coach for his performance. Reilly is also deeply involved in music — he plays principal oboe in the Long Island Youth Orchestra, principal English horn for the Hofstra University Symphonic Orchestra, and won an award of merit for his composition in the 2021 PTA Reflections contest. His favorite achievement was performing at Carnegie Hall, which he says inspired him to perform music at a higher level. He is currently putting together a non-profit that allows young musicians to perform for those in need.

“I also want to congratulate the other students on their achievements and their awards,” Reilly said. “I know that there are many deserving students, so being selected as one to receive this honor is truly humbling.”

Kate Chiulli, 12th grade, Lynbrook High School

Chiulli is the valedictorian of her graduating class, and is the editor-in-chief of the Horizon, the school’s award-winning student-run newspaper.

“It’s a lot of work, but seeing the end product and getting to display students’ work is very rewarding,” Chiulli says.

On top of that, she is the president of the Tri-M Music Honor Society. Chiulli is a talented violinist and has been playing for ten years. She is currently the concertmistress of the Lynbrook High School orchestra. Next year she’ll be attending the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University to study veterinary and biomedical sciences. She hopes to become a large-animal veterinarian in the future.

“It feels great to be recognized,” Chiulli said. “I’ve devoted countless hours to my academics, school newspaper, Tri-M music honor society, and volunteering, so I’m glad that my dedication is being appreciated.”

John Gaffney, 9th grade, Kellenberg Memorial High School

Gaffney is involved in a whopping 17 clubs, including Model UN, photography, and hiking club. He’s involved with St. Raymond’s church, where he has served as an altar boy since the 4th grade. He has received the Light of Christ, Parvuli Dei, and Ad Altare Dei religious emblems. He’s also an active Boy Scout and is a member of troops 332 and 87, and is on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout. This summer Gaffney was elected as vice chairman of the first Nassau County Teenage Republicans. He also volunteers with the East Rockaway Kiwanis and the Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Center foundation.

“The point of being a leader is to stand up for what is right and take a different path,” Gaffney said. “All of us as a society need to do something, small or large, with great love and passion to make sure we have a better tomorrow.”

Despite young people’s reputation as phone-absorbed, it’s clear that for many students — Cullen, Pulatani, Reilly, Chiulli, and Gaffney in particular — community betterment is at the forefront of their priorities.

“Young people are powerful,” Curran said in a statement. “I want to encourage young people to be bold. Change the world. Don’t be afraid to be a part of something bigger. Use your powers to make our small planet a better place. Daniel, Dea, Eric, Kate, and John are great examples of young leaders.”