Tiger Tracks Special edition: 2021 "Senior standouts"

Final Congratulations and Send-Off to Our Class of 2021 Mamaroneck High School Graduates

Each year, it is 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. This year's graduating class showed adaptability, resilience, courage, and gratitude while enduring a global pandemic. We celebrate each and every one of our 388 graduates. Join us in saluting once again the entire Mamaroneck High School Class of 2021!

See more 2021 MHS graduation photos HERE

Abigail Tucker - Valedictorian

Mamaroneck High School’s Valedictorian Abby Tucker is described by her guidance counselor Lainie Lichtenstein as a superstar - a joyful and grateful person full of life and curiosity.

“Given Abby’s smarts, personality, and attitude, there really is no stopping her!” Lainie said.

Abby was deeply involved with the Music Department, Athletics (softball) and World Languages (Mandarin) - all of which helped shape her four years at MHS. Her favorite experience was playing in the pit orchestra each year for the annual school musical. “We performed Les Misérables during my freshman year, which had gorgeous, yet difficult, music. The musical has no dialogue, so it was particularly grueling as we never got a break. I was also a keyboardist in Mamma Mia! and got to play with cool (and sometimes crazy) sound effects I programmed on my laptop. I loved tackling this new challenge. In Singin’ in the Rain, I had to perfect the “fiddling” technique to perform the iconic number “Fit as a Fiddle,” which had to match the cast’s choreography perfectly,” Abby said.

As a dedicated, passionate, and talented musician, Abby has been part of numerous musical groups and recognized by many different organizations over the years, including the All State Symphonic Orchestra (she is an All-State violist and violinist), Area All State Orchestras Concertmaster, Jazz Band, Swing Choir, and Chamber Orchestra. She has performed as a piano soloist at Carnegie Hall and at Emelin Theatre’s Honors Recital. In addition to playing piano, violin and viola, Abby sings. She also has participated in “String Buddies” -- serving as a music mentor to Mamaroneck Ave. School students -- and volunteered her time teaching lessons to underprivileged students in the community, helping them to learn and love music.

Abby has a sporty side and was a Varsity Softball captain and starting pitcher. One could often find her as the loudest cheerer in the dugout, as she rooted on her teammates. She becomes excited over and happy about other people’s successes.

Abby is grateful for the opportunity she had to take Chinese for her four high school years and attributes much of her ability to get through the challenges of learning the language to the team-like environment among Mandarin students, as well as to her teacher. “Michelle Liu (to her students 刘老师: Liu Laoshi, meaning Teacher Liu) has been my Chinese teacher for all four years of high school. Since only a few students take Chinese, my classmates have remained virtually the same as well. This has fostered a unique learning environment within the high school. Everyone is friends in that class, and we all help each other out when we struggle with the language. Liu Laoshi cares deeply about all of us and does everything she can to ensure we succeed in her class,” she said.

After taking AP Government and Politics with Mr. Liberti, Abby confirmed for herself her desire to ultimately pursue a related career. She will attend Georgetown University in the fall and plans to major in Government.

Abby is especially grateful for the wide variety of activities she was able to be involved with at MHS. “I have learned to juggle all of my schoolwork, sports, music, and other extracurriculars and have learned what I need to prioritize,” she said.

Gabriella Howse - Salutatorian

When Gabriella (this year’s Salutatorian) decided to give Computer Science a try as her elective freshman year, she had no idea what a big part of her life it would become. Her teacher Mr. Hohn made the class feel low-pressure and fun. She got to do so many different things, including learning about cybersecurity, hardware and app development. “His teaching style just matched the way I learned best,” Gabriella said. “Or maybe he matched his style for my way of learning.”

Regardless, Gabriella became hooked. She went on to take AP Computer Science with Mr.Jadav her junior year, join the computer science club and also compete in the American Computer Science League. She plans to major in Computer Science when she attends Carnegie Mellon University in the fall.

Gabriella also spent much of her time in high school in the Music Department, playing both the violin and viola. “Ms. Gellert was the kind of teacher who pushed you to be better, and I am so grateful for that,” said Gabriella of her Orchestra teacher. “I think she liked that I could jump in and play both parts.”

The experience of serving as president of the Midnight Run club and participating in 1 a.m trips to pass out food, clothing, and toiletries to homeless people in New York is one Gabriella will never forget. She said working with her fellow classmates to go out and raise money so they could buy items, pack them all up on a Friday night and then personally hand deliver them to people who would benefit was most gratifying.

Outside of school, Gabriella has been rock climbing competitively for years. Each summer (including this summer) she works at the rock climbing club in New Rochelle and assists younger rock climbers with their goals.

One way in which Gabriella believes MHS prepares students for the real world is that students from the start of their freshman year are encouraged and respected for doing things for themselves. “Rather than having parents involved in emailing guidance counselors or teachers, there is a level of separation,” she said. “It made me feel I had more control.”

Gabriella will miss the close-knit community of Mamaroneck High School and feels the end of this school year became so much more special since seniors were separated from each other for so long due to COVID. “It sounds corny, but we took fewer things for granted. We were all just so excited to be eating lunch together again.” She had a blast at the recent Dancing Under the Stars event (prom replacement) on the baseball field, when they all cherished their time together dancing.

One thing Gabriella feels she has learned to master during this year of the pandemic and also during her time at MHS is finding small steps to take to get through challenges. “If you focus on the small things - one step at a time - it is a lot easier to get through the big things,” she said.

Iverson Maldonado

Iverson came to Mamaroneck from San Marcos, Guatemala when he was nine years old and began attending Hommocks. “At first, it was very difficult not knowing anyone, and I had all kinds of uncertainties around whether I would fit in. Slowly, over the years, I began to realize that there were others here in Mamaroneck Schools who shared my story -- who also had to face language and cultural barriers -- and liked some of the same things as me. I met friends from Japan and France and from all over.” In fact, it is the bonds that Iverson formed with friends and staff during high school that he will miss the most when he moves on to college in the fall at Fordham University at Lincoln Center.

Iverson said becoming involved with clubs at MHS helped him come out of his shell. Through the Amigos club, a small group of MHS students would visit Mamaroneck Ave. School once every week to engage with elementary school students in a variety of activities, including helping students with homework, reading to them or playing games or sports. “In Amigos, I met kids in my shoes. It felt good that I could help them out,” he said. Iverson also has been involved with the Literacy Ambassador program, where he and others teamed up with the Food Pantry in Mamaroneck to provide books for children in the community who otherwise would not have them. “A Mamaroneck Schools Foundation grant enabled us to buy brand new books for kids in Mamaroneck and personally deliver them during food distribution at Columbus Park. It was so rewarding,” he said.

Iverson explained how through Literacy Ambassadors he learned the importance of reading to kids. This knowledge came in handy with his own younger sibling (now five years old), whom Iverson was the primary caretaker for during his high school years, as his parents both worked long hours outside the home. “Bedtime stories are now a thing in this household,” Ivereson said. “My parents also read to her when they can.”

Iverson goes on to say that his sister is a burst of energy. In addition to reading to her, he cooks meals for her, plays with her, and “does things I wish an older sibling would have done for me if I had one.”

As for his major and a career path, Iverson is conflicted because he enjoys so many things. He has a passion for anything that has to do with immigration and, at the same time, loves art and design. He takes great pride in the work he did to design the drawstring gift bags for the Literacy Ambassador program and also in the floral arrangements he designs at the local flower shop he works at.

Reflecting on his time at MHS, Iversen is grateful for the resources he received to be able to apply to and get accepted to college. He said the Mamaroneck Scholars program, made up primarily of first generation students going on to college, played a large role in supporting him academically and giving him the tools to succeed. “I always just wanted to make my parents proud and reach my goals,” Iversen said. “And MHS has helped me to do that.”

He added, “My teachers were always there for me. For all four years, they encouraged me and all other students to do their very best. I will miss the daily interactions with them and with my friends, but take comfort in knowing that the bonds I’ve formed will last forever."

Avani Bhalla

During her time at MHS, Avani never backed away from interviewing for a club or trying out for a sports team and made incredible memories from taking on these challenges. “MHS has shown me that with risk comes reward,” she said. “It is not easy to put yourself out there and try new things, especially with such a large class size. Despite this challenge, the outcome is extraordinary. In the ‘real world,’ opportunity is not given out. One must search for opportunity, pushing themselves outside their comfort zone to achieve their goals.”

Avani played softball (2019 co-captain)and tennis (2018 co-captain) for MHS, was a tutor with the Washingtonville Housing Alliance, and a member of the Future Business Leaders of America, the Social Events Committee (SEC), Impressions magazine club (Advertising Manager), and the Multicultural Student Union. During her sophomore year, Avani founded the Art Therapy for Senior Citizens club. Inspired by her grandmother and her grandmother’s friends’ experience in their nursing home, she established a club where MHS students visited with residents at Sarah Neuman Nursing Home to conduct craft projects. Working alongside residents, she and her fellow students learned about the residents’ lives while the residents in turn learned about their lives. “We were inspired through their lively stories and artistic passions,” Avani said.

Taking design classes all four years of high school, Avani plans to carry with her to her future career the insight she gained into the world of design. She worked on editorials, logos, AP concentrations, and collaborative products, including her senior year Collaborative Design course project, where she developed a product with designers, engineers, and computer scientists.

Avani said her Spanish teacher Mr. Chabot had the greatest impact on her. “Mr. Chabot went beyond teaching me Spanish and taught me values and ideals that will stay with me forever,” Avani said. “Having his class first period, I was often stressed or tired and not in the best frame of mind for learning a new language. His teaching changed this. With consistent optimism and never-ending interactive activities, I forgot about my troubles and simply enjoyed learning a wonderful language. His enthusiasm and clear passion for teaching caused me to choose him as the club advisor for Art Therapy for Senior Citizens.”

Reflecting on the global pandemic, Avani said, “While COVID took away a ‘normal’ senior year, it also took away a heartbreaking number of lives as well. I was very grateful this year for the health of my family, friends, and myself. I was also incredibly grateful for the staff of MHS. This past year has been anything but ordinary but my teachers and the administration at MHS made the transition to and from in-person classes seamless. They provided us with immense support, always making themselves available for questions or even to just chat. Events such as Color Wars and the Night Under the Stars dance were huge successes, allowing the class of 2021 to spend time together and see each others’ smiling faces without masks in the way.”

Avani added, “The resources, opportunities, staff, and knowledge that was available to me at MHS was endless. I was surrounded by driven peers that challenged me to think outside the box and aided by passionate teachers who helped me achieve beyond what I deemed possible.“

Avani will attend Ohio State University, where she will major in Fashion and Retail Studies.

Spencer Wolff

Spencer Wolff says one of the most valuable things he learned at Mamaroneck High School was that if you hit a dead end, there will always be people who will help you get back on track. You are never alone.

“Teachers and support staff care so much. Everyone wants all students to flourish, feel happy and safe and do the best they can do,” Spencer says. He always felt he could talk to teachers and wanted to look for the same in a college.

According to Spencer, MUFSD taught him to think outside the box. “If something is not right or not the best thing, your job is to find a way to change it. I think this is something unique to Mamaroneck,” he says. Hence, he now has a passion for world affairs and hopes he can right some wrongs in the world. “Seeing value in everyone is so important. I learned here in Mamaroneck Schools the power of working together and not just shoving someone aside who could be to your benefit,” Spencer added.

Outside of school, Spencer has always participated in and watched sports. “I’m a big winter sports guy,” he says. He plays hockey and likes to ski.

Additionally, he loves researching transportation and smiles when he says he has memorized nearly a dozen subway systems around the world. “I can tell you exactly how to get from point A to point B in each of these cities.” He plans to take the subway to work this summer when he works at the Mayor’s Office of Disabilities at City Hall in NYC.

In the fall, Spencer will be ready to move on to college life at Davidson College outside of Charlotte in North Carolina. “They have small class sizes and a sense of community, and I’ll really be able to get to know my professors the way I got to know my teachers in Mamaroneck.”

In addition to his roles each year of high school on the student newspaper The Globe, Spencer was a PA announcer for the Mamaroneck Hockey Team and also announced at times for Boys/Girls Lacrosse, Unified Basketball and Baseball. He was involved with the Building Bridges program, participated in the Original Science Research program, was a peer leader,and a member of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA).

Wheelchair bound since elementary school, Spencer holds in high regard Mr. Justin Washington, the aide he has had since 7th grade, and all of the other aides who have helped move him along in life. “It has been a pleasure to watch Spencer grow into the young man he is today. Witnessing him conquer the many obstacles he has faced is a true inspiration to us all,” Mr. Washington says.

Wrapping up his Mamaroneck Schools experience, Spencer says, “It has been an interesting ride.” Although they do not have a hockey team at Davidson, there is no doubt that Spencer will find his niche and more than likely be involved with sports one way or another. And there is no doubt he will continue having an impact on so many others.

Alexandra Zisa

Alexandra Zisa is a deep and thoughtful thinker who in many ways appears beyond her age. Her guidance counselor Jen Lichtman says the trait that stands out most with Alexandra is her overall grace. “She is thoughtful in ways that matter,” Ms. Lichtman says. “She is genuinely empathetic, and it shows in how she makes her way through her relationships and the world around her.”

In reflecting on her high school years, Alexandra says participating in the PACE program has been her most rewarding and valuable experience. She is an accomplished ballet dancer who has spent many years dancing outside of school as well.

Juggling challenges at home during her high school years -- on top of taking a rigorous academic load (including P Physics C, AP BC Calculus, AP Computer Science, AP Macroeconomics, and AP Language and Composition) -- Alexandra appreciated more than once hearing the advice “You will be okay.” She is grateful that she has built her confidence and come to understand what she is truly capable of.

Alexandra was particularly fond of her Spanish courses at MHS. “Ms. Doly Lugo, being my Spanish teacher for both my first and last years of high school, gave me the knowledge to succeed, the perseverance to take on challenge and the confidence to continue forward. I have taken this into the rest of my life experiences, and I will now begin studying Spanish further as a minor in college,” she said.

Because of her love of the Spanish language and the joy she finds from learning, Alexandra was thrilled to be a part of the Amigos club. “Meeting with elementary school age kids and helping them learn was such a beautiful thing to watch, honestly,” she said.

Alexandra’s knack for working with children is apparent to all around her, and she plays an instrumental role in helping to care for her two younger siblings. She is particularly skilled at working with those with unique needs. Working at a summer camp, Alexandra provided a 1:1 support for a child with learning differences, enabling the child to have his first successful summer in years at the camp.

This fall, Alexandra will attend Binghamton University, where she will major in biology on a pre med track. Her plan is to become a pediatrician. She is sad to say goodbye, but looking forward to the next chapter.

Nabeel Rizk

“During COVID, all routines broke down and had to be rebuilt,” said Nabeel Rizk. “I was far less healthier for a while. Academics became much harder for a time...but after adapting and persevering, I was able to come out stronger than ever.”

Nabeel easily admits that he takes great comfort in familiarity. When he moves on to University of Michigan this September to study Applied Mathematics he will miss his familiarity with MHS - knowing his way around, knowing people and the environment. “I’m terrible with directions so making my way around a big school will be tough at first.”

Although he has since branched out, Nabeel said he was hyper-focused on computer science for the first portion of high school. He has been a key member of both Future Business Leaders of America and the Robotics club, taking on programming roles and participating in competitions. “I enjoy seeing things that are built work and watching others who are engaged in what they are doing. Most of all, I loved the camaraderie,” Nabeel said.

Through his Collaborative Design course (a senior year elective made up of design, computer science and robotics students), Nabeel worked with his peers to build a virtual reality conferencing application. The purpose was to make everyone using the app feel like they were in the same room. Using the app, people could select their virtual avatars then gather together in VR. With only a phone and an inexpensive cardboard holder, users were able to employ the proximity voice chat feature to feel like they are right next to each other. “It was great working with people from different disciplines and backgrounds,” Nabeel said.

Nabeel also used his skills to help out in the community. When the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Hunger Task Force was having difficulties checking people in while maintaining social distancing, he built an app that scans the barcodes on people's cards to efficiently check-in clients while observing COVID-19 guidelines, keeping everyone safe and making sure the clients were served.

Nabeel believes his constant desire to learn comes from the fact that he does not like the unknown. “Curiosity is like a drug, but in a good way. The more curious you are, the more you know and then the more you realize you don’t know so you want to know more,” he said.

Summing up his MHS experience, Nabeel said the “amazing and dedicated teachers go above and beyond to help you learn and grow.” Teachers like Ms. Ammerata (social studies) and Dr. Filippova (physics) helped him build real-world skills, such as good study habits, and enabled him to improve his executive functioning skills. “I learned to try, fail, succeed and ride with the flow,” he said. “I will be forever grateful.”

Max Nodiff

When Max found it challenging to learn Java -- an entirely new coding language -- he became more motivated than ever to put in hours upon hours researching, practicing and improving, he did not give up until his code was properly organized and running. This is just one example of his determination and loyalty in all aspects of life. "From his academics, to his sports teams, friends and family, Max is determined, confident, reliable, ambitious and hardworking," said his guidance counselor Lainie Lichtenstein.

“The hockey and lacrosse teams have left the most memorable impression on me during my four years at MHS. The teams have become family and the relationships built will last a lifetime. You start playing with these teammates at a very young age - team chemistry means everything,” Max said. “Wearing the Mamaroneck jersey means more than just the sport itself, the deep ties to those who have come before and those who will play after understand the responsibility you take on when wearing the Mamaroneck M. You want to work your hardest at all times not only for yourself but for every teammate next to you.”

Max was Varsity Lacrosse Captain his senior year and a two-time Varsity Hockey Captain. He had the thrill of participating in the NYSPHSAA State Semi-Final lacrosse game in 2019 and in the Section One Finals for Hockey his 2019 and 2021 years.

As president of the One Love Club, Max worked with his fellow Boys and Girls Lacrosse team players to raise awareness and help educate people about the warning signs of domestic violence. He also was president of the SEC (Social Events Committee), where he planned and implemented student body events, including Munch Madness, Name That Tune, Holiday Calendar, Virtual CookBook, Scavenger Hunt, and many more.

Max had an appreciation for doing his own thing and not feeling obligated to do what the student next to him was doing. He said the most valuable advice he received at the high school was to “take the classes you want to take and that are of interest to you. You succeed where you enjoy spending time,” he said. Among his roster of courses, Max took AP Physics C, AP BC Calculus, AP Computer Science, AP Macroeconomics, AP Language and Composition and college-level Journalism.

“Mamaroneck High School has prepared me for the real world by shaping me as a great student in and out of the classroom. I have learned how to effectively communicate, time manage and always give 110%,” Max said. “The teachers did not only care about the students' grades but also the relationships built throughout the academic year. This has given me a great understanding about respect and responsibility when it comes to everyday interactions with both my peers and adults.”

Max is looking forward to continuing his lacrosse career at Hamilton College, where he will study Economics as a major and minor in Computer Science.

As for the impact of COVID, Max said he and his peers have learned not to take anything for granted. “Cherish the small moments and embrace challenges big and small,” he said.

Christopher Rivera

Chris’s guidance counselor Greg Cuddy describes him as being very goal oriented and ambitious, yet having the wherewithal and wisdom to enjoy the journey needed to achieve his goals. Hence, it is not surprising that the advice Chris valued most throughout his high school years was “Try not to psych yourself out about academics at such a young age, and take time to enjoy your years as an underclassmen. In the end, it’s all going to work out.” (paraphrased from his Mr. Cuddy).

During his four years at MHS, Chris took on a heavy load of AP classes, including AP US History, AP Language, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Government and Politics, and was involved with Orchestra and Varsity Track. Also a member of the Model Congress club, Chris was pleased that the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop him and his fellow club members from conducting regular meetings and creating a pre-pandemic type of atmosphere.

“Model Congress was an amazing club to be a part of, and it created a safety net for all four years of high school. Some of my best memories are from the conferences we went to as a club, such as the Penn Model Congress Conference and the Yale Model Congress Conference. It’s overwhelming to think about how influential the seniors were in my younger years, and how I was put in that same position this year,” said Chris, who served as co-president of Model Congress this year.

Another aspect of MHS life that will always stand out for Chris is the high level of school spirit. Battle of the Classes ranked among his top favorite activities at MHS. “I cherished every moment that we could be together as a class,” Chris said. “And, particularly given the pandemic, it’s a memory I will always cherish greatly.

While Chris believes that MHS -- with its open campus policy, drop-schedule and massive building -- gives students ample responsibility upon arrival as freshmen, he believes this pandemic year made everyone mature a little faster. “Having the rug swept from under our feet was a wake-up call to a lot of us, reminding us that nobody has an idea of what is to come.We could sit and lament about all of the losses we’ve received as a class, but I think it’s better to focus on how much closer we’ve become and how much we’ve developed. No other class has gone through what we’ve gone through, and I think that’s pretty special,” he said.

In the fall, Chris will attend Cornell University, where he will major in Industrial and Labor Relations.

Britney Urrutia

Britney Urrutia was born here after her parents had just recently come to the United States from Peru. During her years in Mamaroneck Schools, her parents spoke very little English and worked so hard to learn the language -- taking classes at Westchester Community College and the Community Resource Center just so they could live in the United States comfortably, Britney said. “I would see the kids at school reading all of these great books, but my parents couldn’t read to my sister and me,” Brittney said.

As president this year of the Literacy Ambassadors club, helping to put books (Spanish-English text) into the hands of kids in the community who wouldn’t otherwise have them, Britney is ecstatic that the program seems to have had an impact. She understands firsthand the difference that extra support within the community can make.

As a first generation college student, Britney will be attending NYU in the fall majoring in Biomedical Engineering. She says her involvement with so many different organizations and clubs throughout high school, including the Mamaroneck Scholars, Her Honor mentoring, Amigos, Yearbook, Cheer team, and Caprice programs. helped her to get where she is today.

“I had to push a lot harder to understand what college would be like and how the application process would run,” Britney said. “I learned during high school that it is OK to ask for help.”

Britney had to juggle a heavy course load of academics while also maintaining a tremendous amount of responsibility within her home. During the pandemic, her cousins would come down from their apartment upstairs, and she would take care of them while their parents (and her parents) were at work. “It was a lot to manage while also trying to do all my homework and keep up with my clubs and all,” she said. “I was doing chores all day and cooking dinner, completely isolated from all my friends and all of the in-person activities that I used to keep so busy with. I lost a lot of drive and motivation.”

Like many students, Britney at first felt quite confused and overwhelmed with the re-entry after COVID. “How did I do all this for three years and be fine with it?” she asked herself as everything suddenly started resembling some sort of normalcy again. Now, she is acclimating and regaining her motivation.

Britney said her participation in PACE as her elective all four years had a huge impact on her, showing her how to grow confidence and be a part of a community where people could express themselves in many art forms with no judgment. Most of all, Britney is going to miss her friends.”Letting go of seeing my friends every day is hard,” she said. “My parents left everything in Peru to live the American Dream. I want to give them my success...be successful for myself, but for them too.”

Congratulations Once Again to the Class of 2021!