A Final Congratulations and Send-Off to Our Mamaroneck High School Graduates
Each year, it's our tradition to give the community a glimpse into our graduating class by featuring a small sampling of students in this special edition of Tiger Tracks. The ten students highlighted here -- including our valedictorian and salutatorian -- were selected to represent a range of diverse experiences, challenges, and accomplishments at the high school. From the many academic successes to performing arts and musical accomplishments, athletic achievements and more, this year's graduating class -- a total of 393 students -- will never be forgotten. It was a year like no other. Join us in saluting once again the entire Mamaroneck High School Class of 2020!
Gabrielle Dobkin - Valedictorian
Although MHS Valedictorian Gabrielle Dobkin’s Advanced Placement classes (AP CS, AP Physics 1, AP Physics C, BC calc, AP Bio, AP Lang, AP Lit, AP USH, and AP Macro), made for a rigorous academic course load, Gaby said she always made sure to follow her guidance counselor’s valuable advice not to pursue something just because it looked good on a college application. “With so many options available at MHS, I was able to focus my efforts doing things that I loved, and that was more beneficial in the long run,” she noted. “Teachers saw that I had an interest in their subject, and they took the time to help me deepen my understanding of the class.”
Out of all her classes at MHS, Gaby was particularly fond of AP U.S. History with Mr. Goldberg, saying that course left a very memorable impression on her. “Class time was less lecture and more discussion of historical events,” she said. “While I never considered myself a ‘history person’ before, I found myself looking forward to every class. I never learned so much about the history of our country, and I loved every minute of it.”
Being on the varsity swim team for five years -- and captain the last two years -- enabled Gaby to understand the value of a community and participating on a team. She credits Coach Ferguson for her astute guidance in helping her develop important leadership skills.
Gaby also worked on the Globe, Mamaroneck High School’s student newspaper, starting from the end of her freshman year. With that experience, she gained insight into what it takes to put together a monthly publication and the work involved with conceiving ideas, writing about them and polishing articles in time for press. Additionally, during her high school years, Gaby kept busy being involved with Girls Who Code and serving as a Caprice Advisor assisting incoming MHS freshmen.
When she attends the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering in the fall, Gaby plans to major in Chemical and Biomolecular engineering. These days, Gaby and her classmates have had some practice adapting to new things so getting adjusted to college life should be manageable, she says. “These last four months have taught me that people are able to adapt to anything if they put their mind to it,” she says. “Despite the drastic change from normalcy, everyone was still able to prepare and take AP tests as well as continue learning and participating in school. The thing I missed most about school was seeing my friends everyday.”
Kaitlin Spiridellis - Salutatorian
Kaitlin Spiridellis’s guidance counselor Marsha Genwright describes Kaitlin as one of the most grounded, humble, respectful, mature, well-balanced, and fun-loving teenagers she knows. Marsha says Kaitlin’s warm, inclusive and optimistic outlook played a positive role in her capacity as a Caprice Advisor, welcoming freshmen to Mamaroneck High School, and that Kaitlin also took an interest in integrating the growing international student population into the fabric of MHS’s school community.
Spanish -- along with AP Physics and AP Macro -- was one of Kaitlin’s favorite classes because she found it so engaging and useful in everyday life. In her Video Production class, she used her Spanish to communicate with the non-English speaking mother of one of her friends for a documentary she made to highlight the struggles of attempting to be the first person in one’s family to attend college. This experience compelled her to start a club with her friend called, Bienvenidos! The goal of the club was to help newly-arrived Spanish-speaking students get acclimated to their new surroundings and feel a sense of belonging at MHS.
During her three years taking Video as an elective, Kaitlin says she was appreciative of how Ms. Dombroff developed relationships with her students. “Her classroom was a safe zone for any idea or effort. It was also super cool to learn how to convey a certain concept using the visual arts,” Kaitlin said.
Kaitlin was a member of the varsity soccer team for four years (captain her senior year) and played varsity basketball her senior year as well. “Both were really fun experiences. I bonded with my friends, met new people and kept active,” she said. “My time on the soccer team left the largest impression on me because it felt like it was a culmination of four years of work and to be able to represent my school and community on the field was a great feeling. Playing for Coach Blain taught me the importance of teamwork and treating everyone with kindness and respect.” Aside from sports, Kaitlin spent time outside of school working on projects with Habitat for Humanity and My Sister’s Place, which she says were very rewarding and allowed her to give back to the community.
Kaitlin advises younger students to enjoy high school while it lasts because it goes fast. She will attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee this fall and likely major in Economics, with a minor in Spanish.
“Coronavirus has taught me that nothing is guaranteed in life and that you have to live as if something unexpected could happen at any time,” she says. “I have missed eating lunch with my friends the most, as we ate in the same spot (first floor post near the trophy case) since freshman year, and some of my best memories from high school took place there.”
Oliver Rayner is described by his guidance counselor as “confident, yet humble”. His interest in science and rocketry has inspired his involvement in science research, which has led him to be recognized with several honors and awards for his work through Mamaroneck High School’s Original Science Research program. He worked in a lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the past two summers studying Astronautical Engineering and is constantly seeking out news about modern innovations in science.
“Original Science Research teachers Mr. Garbarino and Mr. Victoria are the most caring and passionate teachers.The lengths that both teachers go through to help their students achieve their dreams is something phenomenal,” Oliver said. “The skills and connections that the program has taught me will last a lifetime.”
As a junior, Oliver earned first place at the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium for his research studying “Reaction control systems for satellites” in the Engineering and Technology category and the award for Best Poster. At the Westchester Science and Engineering Fair, he won Third Place in Engineering and then the same award with the Yale Science and Engineering Association.
Something that Oliver personally says a lot and believes in is, “There’s no harm in trying.” He likes this quote because he feels a lot of people talk themselves out of really great opportunities if they seem highly unlikely or near impossible. “Mr. Garbarino and Mr. Victoria helped me realize that you’ll never know the outcome unless you try; it’s something that has helped me build the confidence necessary to many of my successes,” Oliver said.
During the Coronavirus shutdown, Oliver said one of his biggest challenges was missing the human interaction between students and his teachers. He says what he learned about managing challenges over the years by participating in competitive rowing at Pelham Community Rowing Association helped him through. He dedicated most all of his extra-curricular life to rowing (up to four hours per day, six days a week) and as captain of his rowing team needed to be prepared for a variety of challenges that would come his way.
As for the road ahead, Oliver believes the open campus model at Mamaroneck High School, combined with the organization and efficiency skills he obtained through rowing and science research, has prepared him well for college. Oliver will continue his rowing career, when he attends MIT in the fall.
Deborah (Debbie) Margolis
Debbie attended MUFSD schools since age three, starting in the District’s special needs Pre-K program. Now 21, Debbie completed 18 years in the District, the last seven at MHS. To Debbie’s credit, and way beyond the expectations of her doctors and early educators, she earned a regular high school diploma and a CDOS (Career Development and Occupational Studies) credential. Debbie thanks her MHS Regents class teachers who supported her and prepared her for those challenging exams.
As part of the Vocational Education program, Debbie took classes at MHS in the morning and spent the second half of the day at worksites. She learned to write resumes, practice interview skills and travel on a Bee-Line bus. Debbie and her fellow vocational classmates also learned how to plan meals, budget for food shopping, and go to Stop and Shop for groceries.
The skills Debbie learned through the Vocational Education program at MHS benefited her family during the pandemic. “Normally my dog Wendy goes to a groomer, but during the pandemic my family decided it would be safer to bathe her at home. After my brother’s multiple failures to get the dog into a tub, it was time for me to take over. I knew what to do thanks to my two years of vocational education job experience at a seeing-eye dog breeder in Mamaroneck,” said Debbie. “I was able to provide detailed instructions on how to lather, scrub and rinse our dog. I felt proud to put my skills to use.”
Another one of her favorite vocational experiences was working at Julia B. Fee Sotheby's International Realty in Larchmont. She said, “Because of that, my long-term goal is to work as a receptionist at a real estate company. I am forever grateful to both Ms. Peterson, my transition counselor, and Ms. Geiger, my vocational job coach and teaching aide for many years, for everything they did for me including connecting me with work experiences and teaching me so many different employment and life skills.”
MHS School Psychologist Ms. Gudaitis has been a special part of Debbie’s education for 10 years at both Hommocks and MHS. “Ms Gudaitis has helped me through many situations. She is always someone to talk to. She understands me. She respects me. She has helped me understand what the other person or group of people might feel in a situation that I am in,” Debbie said. “For years I carried an index card that Ms Gudaitis gave me that read, ‘I am going to stay SUPER CALM and I am going to do GREAT TODAY!! I’ve GOT this!!’ She taught me to put this card on my desk before tests. Those words kept me calm and focused on what needed to get done.”
Debbie has been passionate about singing in the choir since elementary school. She will never forget when in 2018 she was selected to sing a solo in the MHS choir’s performance of ‘This is Me’ from the movie The Greatest Showman. “It was AWESOME!” she said. “I performed at the MetLife building, the MLK Assembly, and at a districtwide choral concert at Hommocks. I think ‘This is me’ is a really beautiful song, and I really connected with the message of the song. I am deeply grateful to Mrs. Gundling and Mrs. Madden for the opportunity to express myself and for encouraging me so much over the years,” she said.
As a participant in the Be A Friend Club -- which pairs typical and special needs students to have lunch together and hosts in-school parties for special events -- Debbie has made many good friends. “It is great to have lots of different students together,” she said. “I really enjoyed all the fun conversations over lunch.”
Debbie added, “There are many super nice and kind people at MHS who I am going to miss - teachers, nurses, aides, administrators, staff and most of all students. All the small gestures of saying hello, holding doors open for one another, asking “how are you?” all make a difference. People being kind made me happy to go to school every day. I try to do these small things wherever I am, and I hope the world will be as nice as MHS.”
“Four months of the pandemic taught me the value of Intrinsic motivation. I’ve always had people count on me; that was a major driving force for everything I did. But, when I had no one at home telling me to do something, I realized how important it is to have your own motivations to become the best version of yourself,” Antonio Caceres said. “I miss the connections - with teammates, friends, teachers or even mere acquaintances. Having familiar faces around always made me feel like I was where I belonged.”
Antonio’s resume is a true testament of a student who can handle a rigorous academic schedule, be a two-sport varsity athlete, and give back to the community at the same time. Antonio participated on Varsity Football since his sophomore year and wrestling since freshman year (captain senior year) and was treasurer of the Amigos Club.
“My wrestling coach, Coach Wheeler, had the greatest impact on the person I am today. He made the best out of any situation. We would work hard despite any roadblock in our way. Many kids couldn’t afford to get memberships to expensive wrestling clubs to get better. Thus, he had practices in the spring and summer with the kids who couldn’t attend. Only a handful would show up, but he would still work us to get better,” Antonio said.
Antonio was co-founder/co-president of a student club called AdaptAbility, which raised funds for a Brooklyn-based non-profit that makes special bikes for children with physical disabilities. “My favorite experience was revealing a bike with my co-president Ethan Zoland to a little girl, who started riding in the Kissena Velodrome in Queens. Her face lit up with joy, and her parents were really grateful,” he said.
Antonio’s favorite classes at MHS were AP Physics C, AP Computer Science and AP Macroeconomics, with the unforgettable FED Challenge. He looks forward to attending Northeastern University in Boston this fall, where he will major in Computer Science & Finance.
Antonio said that MHS gave students a lot of independence, but that came with responsibilities and, ultimately, the inevitable gain of time management skills. “You could choose to leave school premises for food or whatever, but if you were late to class it was on you - that’s the beauty of it,” he said. “With open campus and a plethora of resources for extracurriculars, everyone could find their niche and hone in on what interested them, much like the real world. You receive a holistic education with the liberty to go above and beyond in any aspect the school offers...Whether that be a certain subject or an extracurricular, you can undoubtedly learn a lot about yourself by just diving in, and the others brace you with open arms - that’s MHS.”
Emily Jaswal’s creativity shines through her music, photography and fashion. The music wing on the Post side of the Mamaroneck High School is where she has always felt a particularly palpable sense of possibility. “Ms. Gellert has been the only teacher of a class I’ve had for four consecutive years. I don’t believe I will ever be able to fully express what orchestra with her has done for me. At times where I was struggling the most with my mental and physical health, music was my most healing medicine, and most powerful weapon of all. Ms. Gellert has taught me not to hide my creative ideas any longer. She has also taught me the power of the stage, and how music can touch every audience member in a completely different and uniquely beautiful way,” Emily says, “Choosing to wake up early for 7am Chamber and Pops ensemble rehearsals was the best decision I ever made.”
In addition to studying the viola (her main instrument), Emily is a self-taught guitarist, pianist, ukulelist, singer, and songwriter. She enjoys teaching violin and viola to elementary and middle school musicians within the Mamaroneck School District. She has also been collaborating with Dr. Sinsabaugh (orchestra teacher at MAS) and her peer Liana Haigis to help create and lead the Larchmont Junior Symphonia orchestra ensemble.
About a year ago, Emily bought a used sewing machine for $20, solely for the purpose of reinventing old t-shirts and jeans that she had grown tired of. After being overwhelmed by her inquisitive peers dying to know where she bought such unique clothing from, she realized she could do something even more impactful through fashion. She transformed her attic into a studio and her closet into an enterprise and now, through her passion for sewing, can turn thrift-store clothes into one-of-a-kind shirts, jeans, and pajamas. After researching platforms on which to sell her clothing, she decided on Depop. With a layout similar to Instagram, Depop has become the new shopping mall for generation Z - accessible straight from the cell phone. “My mission as a young entrepreneur is to celebrate the extraordinary aspects of everyone and encourage society to be aware of the impact their clothing has on the environment. Today, I have sold hundreds of custom pieces made from vintage material that I am proud to see worn by people, rather than the planet,” she says.
Emily uses many of her custom clothing pieces as costumes for her surreal photography. “When I showed Ms. Bettencourt my first batch of self-portrait images in January, I don’t believe I’d ever seen her laugh so hard in my life! Her reaction sparked something in me. I realized that art exists not only for the benefit of the artist, but ALSO for the viewer. That is my reason for creating.” During quarantine, Emily has been continuing her self-directed photoshoots, and challenged herself to re-create stills from various cartoons for her animated character self-portrait series.
Emily says, “MHS has taught me the importance of the ability to analyze situations from ALL possible perspectives. Every student and staff member within the building has such a different life story with different talents and extraordinary ideas. It is so important to listen and learn. Frankly, it would be impossible for our society to progress if everyone shared the same interests and passions. The balance between curriculum learning time and time to learn from peers is perfect, in my opinion!” She will further her knowledge on business, music, fashion, and photography when she attends the Honors Program at SUNY New Paltz.
Ravi Bhalla said the Coronavirus taught him - among many things - to appreciate the little moments. “Over the past few months, I found myself strangely reminiscing over certain aspects of high school I used to hold in a negative light… things like 6:30 am wakeups for 1st period BC Calculus, frantic study sessions with friends on a hallway walk to a big test, or arriving home late at night with a full slate of homework waiting. All those small, day-to-day moments in high school were dashed with the virus, and I suddenly found myself forced to live without them. It showed me not to take those moments for granted and to be grateful for every single thing we wake up with on a daily basis,” he said.
When Ravi reflects back on Mamaroneck High School, he thinks about its school culture and the emphasis placed on encouraging students to be well-rounded. He said, “Students are encouraged to do far more than just get good grades and high test scores, but also to be well-rounded. With the variety of clubs and activities offered - as well as the faculty’s emphasis for students to take advantage of these opportunities - we are all taught the value of having multiple passions and goals in life.Through the culture of getting involved and taking advantage of opportunities to be a multi-faceted individual, MHS has shown me the importance of striving beyond the mainstream and stretching myself as much as I possibly can.”
At MHS, Ravi participated in the drum ensemble, The Force, where he learned to appreciate the value of dedication and community. He said he could feel the energy and bond of this group from the minute he stepped through the doors his freshman year. “We would come to know each other as good friends and form a bond across grade levels that I still appreciate to this day. In large part, the reason we sounded so good is not just because of the hours spent rehearsing before a football game, but rather because of the hours we spent bonding as a community. From starting as a cymbals player freshman year to becoming a quints player and captain my senior year, I appreciated the hard work that got me there,” Ravi said.
Ravi credits his band teacher and The Force faculty liaison Mr. Hooker for sparking his passion for music and reinforcing why he wants music to be a part of his life forever. Ravi noted, “What impressed me the most about Mr. Hooker was his sense of passion for what he did. Day in and day out, his priority was making music with all of us - his students - and that passion was absolutely infectious. No matter how much I liked or disliked a particular piece or performance, I could always count on Mr. Hooker’s spirit to carry me through.”
Ravi also participated in the Original Science Research (OSR) program and garnered a myriad of science accomplishments that would be coveted by most medical students for his Molecular Biology research (including a highly successful summer internship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a First Place in the Westchester Science and Engineering Fair and Second Place at the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium). Ravi is grateful for the personal development and self-discovery that he experienced as a result of OSR. Ravi has learned that he can accept any challenge, persist, and through hard work, not only survive, but be highly successful. After hearing Hindi being spoken by his extended family, he challenged himself to complete two years of courses and to obtain a certificate in basic Hindi language during high school. We are reminded of his passion for his heritage by the bracelet with Sanskrit lettering he wears on his wrist every day.
The most valuable lesson Ravi ever learned was from his guidance counselor Ms. Martinez, who taught him to embrace mistakes: the broken friendships, the poor test grades, and the failures as part of a long-term process. “High school can be seen as a very stressful ‘middle zone’ in which students still depend on their parents and others for their day-to-day life, but are starting to make big decisions independently,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure that is created to not make a ‘wrong turn’ and to stay on track for college, professional life and beyond as every action now seems to have implications for the future. Ms. Martinez always taught me to embrace the mistakes: the broken friendships, the poor test grades, and the failures as part of a long-term process.
“We are lucky to get such an immersive and quality high school experience in a great area, so learning to appreciate every up and down in those four years is important, as everything is vital to the journey. I know that when I head to college next year I will take these lessons with me and remember to enjoy every moment,” Ravi added.
Ravi will follow his aspirations of becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company as he moves on to Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, where he will likely pursue a major/concentration in Business Management.
Ariellys Reynoso, who will attend Shenandoah University in the fall to pursue a BFA in Musical Theatre, recognizes that she will never be able to replace the time she spent laughing and talking with her PACE (Performing Arts Curriculum Experience) Dance Teacher Allison Parsley, but she knows that whatever dance studio she steps into or stage she walks out on in the future, Ms. Parsley will always be there encouraging her to dance like nobody is watching. Ariellys said being a part of the award-winning PACE Program taught her that being different is OK. “Going into high school I was always scared of choosing a different activity from my friends, or not going along with the group. After some time in PACE, I wasn’t scared to go my own way,” Ariellys said.
She is passionate about performing, and is a talented actress, dancer, and singer. Through her participation in PACE, Ariellys has choreographed dance pieces that have received numerous accolades and has expanded her skills in productions at other local high schools during the school year and over the summer months.
Ariellys said, “Everyone knows Ms. Parsley as the PACE Mom. She doesn't just teach dance, she opens a world of creativity where her students can dance freely with no judgment. Her dance studio became an entirely different world. She cares for each and every one of her students, and wanted to make sure we all felt safe within the PACE walls.”
Another place in which Ariellys found comfort was on the cheerleading team. With Ms. Ferraro as coach inspiring her leadership skills and supportive teammates, a highlight for her was in the fall, when she was asked to sing the national anthem for a Friday night football game. “Of course I said yes with so much excitement,” she said. “Fast forward to that game, I walked up the bleachers to the sound booth, took a deep breath as the announcer introduced me, and I sang. It was amazing to walk out of that booth and have people clapping for me. As soon as I got down onto the field my entire team swarmed me in a huge group hug...I almost couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t care. It was a moment I wished would have lasted forever.”
And speaking of cheerleaders, Ariellys points to Ms. Genwright (guidance counselor) as another one of her biggest cheerleaders at the high school. “Ms. Genwright was always there to listen and helped me through my four years of high school like no other. I can’t explain the amount of times I sought out her advice or went to her for a good old game of Uno. Ms. Genwright’s impact on my high school career and life in general will never be forgotten.”
Ariellys also served as a peer leader, participated in choir and enjoyed creative writing. “Mamaroneck High School really is a special place. I learned so much about myself and the world within those walls. I hope to never forget the past four years. They were pretty incredible,” she said.
As for the last four months, Ariellys said Covid-19 taught her to appreciate the small moments. Some things she will miss the most include the PACE theatre and dance studio, the couch behind Mrs. Ferraro's desk, Mrs. Genwrights office, the library, McLain auditorium, the choir room and “honestly the entire school”. Never did she imagine high school would go by that fast. “I just wish I could walk down the overpass and be late to my third period class just one more time,” she says.
Alexander (AJ) Astorina
AJ Astorina spent his high school years participating in ice hockey and Tae Kwon Do (he’s a first degree black belt) and maintaining a rigorous academic schedule. He particularly liked the challenge of Advanced Placement BC Calculus and Advanced Placement Physics C -- subjects he enjoyed learning about even when he wasn’t in class.The enthusiasm of his teachers (Ms. Valdez and Dr. Nunes) was infectious.
“Being on the high school hockey team I became friends with many people who I wouldn’t have otherwise met. It taught me that hard work can bring you much farther in life than natural talent alone,” AJ said. “Through both teaching and studying Tae Kwon Do, I learned about overcoming adversity and hard work. The principles of discipline, mental fortitude, mutual respect, and self-respect have all had a huge influence on the person I am today.”
AJ was part of the Mamaroneck High School Computer Science Club and Team, where he acquired knowledge of what it is like to be a programmer outside of coursework alone. There were projects, deadlines and end goals, which helped solidify his interest in computer science and computer engineering. In a refreshingly different activity, AJ also was a member of the Midnight Run Club, which he says had a profound effect on helping him appreciate the things that he has and find joy in giving back to others who are less fortunate. While delivering clothing, food, and toiletries, he was able to meet and speak with many interesting people.
“Two of the most important skills I have learned at MHS are meeting deadlines and time management,” AJ said. “At first, I found it really difficult to work on a project due two months from when it was assigned because the deadline was so far away, but I soon found out that I would need to budget my time effectively to have my assignments in on time.”
In September, AJ plans to attend Northeastern University as part of the University Honors Program, working towards a five-year combined Bachelor’s/Master’s degree before studying Computational Neuroscience in graduate school. He will major in Computer Science and Computer Engineering and pursue a minor in neuroscience.
Bryan Uvaldo will attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the fall, where he will pursue a major in Film and TV production. During his training to become a MHS Caprice Adviser to assist incoming freshmen, Bryan will never forget one of the facilitators saying, “Leaders are remembered for how they react to situations.” He tries to incorporate this into his life and believes it will help him achieve his dream of being the best movie director and leader he can be.
“Since I was really young, I always wanted to go to film school and become a movie director in the future,” Bryan said. “It is an honor to be admitted into one of the most prestigious film schools in the country because I know I will be surrounded by people who share my strong passion for filmmaking, and most importantly, I will be working with those who work as hard as I do.”
Bryan created his college accepted film as a ‘love letter’ to all of the amazing teachers he had over the years (at MHS and elsewhere). “Every teacher I’ve ever had has guided me and helped me with everything I needed. Specifically, my video teacher Ms. (Emily) Dombroff has encouraged me to push myself to face all challenges that come my way and learn new ways to achieve what I want in my short films. She inspired me to take some of the most important steps into filmmaking. I owe all my success in video to her incredible advice, support and dedication over the past three years. Ms. Dombroff has helped me grow both as a video student and as a person in general,” he said.
One of Bryan’s fondest memories of high school was being a part of the production team on the Advanced Video class film. “Being on set with classmates, having the chance to edit the film and finally seeing it all finished on the big screen was a dream come true,” he said. “Together, we brought a 20 minute short film to life, and I was extremely proud to be a part of it.” Following the premiere of the film, the class held a Q&A with the audience, which Bryan says felt like a really cool Comic Con panel. He relished in the answering of audience member questions and the opportunity to speak about his editing process to an audience.