Final farewell; Area's top students take last look at high school and focus on the future
High school seniors are looking toward summer vacation with mixed emotions. Instead of thinking about long hours at the beach, the seniors of the area's three high schools are both worried and excited to be going to college and starting over. Students at Memorial High School in West New York and Emerson and Union Hill high schools in Union City said that they are confident that what they have learned in high school has prepared them for their future. "The teachers here are very realistic with us and the future," said Randy Rodriguez, the class salutatorian at Union Hill. "Once high school is over we move on to college and the real world. There, everybody is a responsible adult." Students have attributed the schools' summer programs and diversity for much of their confidence. "Emerson High School has prepared us both academically and socially in one way or another," said Rosa Garces, who ranks in the top 10 and is looking forward to studying behavioral neuroscience at Boston University. However, the students feel that the different summer programs are what will be the most beneficial to them in college. "The teachers at Union Hill High School help you get into programs during the summer," said Andres Cifuentes, class valedictorian. He had taken a class at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and attended Governor's School for the sciences at Drew University last summer. "This helps you more than just the academic studies in the classroom." Governor's School is a four-week program where students do research, attend presentations and take college level courses in all areas of study. Crystal Proenza, Emerson's valedictorian, agreed with Cifuentes. With the help of her teachers, Proenza was able to take college-level and Advanced Placement classes at Yale University and Saint Peter's College. Proenza now has six college credits before entering Columbia University in the fall. She currently is serving as an intern at the Hudson Reporter. Rodriguez, who has taken classes at Johns Hopkins University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, said, "The most beneficial part about this experience was being able to sit in a classroom taught by teacher assistants and professors. It put us to the limit." These schools did not only push students to take more classes during the summer. The schools also were involved in getting their students summer internships. Garces fixed computers for Block Drug Company, Inc. in Jersey City last summer. "I had only two classes in computer applications here and I fixed computers all summer," said Garces. "Can you believe it?" "I am very proud of our programs, especially our technology programs," said Union Hill Principal Robert Wendelken about the school's comprehensive program that begins the students' freshman year. "Eighty percent of our students, if not more, use computers and the Internet, which translates into better grades and motivation." At an assembly honoring Memorial's 20 top seniors, Principal Timothy Schroeder said that he hoped that the knowledge and skills learned at Memorial would stay with the students forever. It appears that Jonathan Robinson, Memorial High School's salutatorian, will not be leaving his lessons behind. Robinson is taking advantage of the University of Pennsylvania's pre-frosh program that begins on July 1. This program allows students to take classes in the summer so that they can lessen their workload in the fall. Students feel that socially, the diversity within the schools have also prepared them for what is ahead. "Each year at Memorial High School got better for me," said Robinson, who remained very active at Memorial, playing football, baseball and running track. "We deal with a lot of diversity here. A lot of people don't have that experience." Proenza, who also leads her class as senior class president, added, "My four years at Emerson have been a learning experience, of course, but it has also shaped us into who we are." With some students attending local colleges and others going as far away as Miami, the students here are not only leaving high school, they are also leaving their friends and their families. However, the students seem confident. "I am definitely ready to move on," said Marissa Costal, Memorial's valedictorian who will be attending Rowan University. "I will miss my friends and family, but I am confident that college will be a great experience." Rodriguez adds, "We have lived here basically all our lives. We will always have some good memories and some bad memories that we will carry with us, but you leave a little room for the enjoyment that is ahead of you." Memorial High School in West New York and Union Hill in Union City held graduation ceremonies June 22. Emerson High School had theirs planned for June 26.