Chaminade valedictorian, salutatorian reflect on high school experience

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Chaminade High School salutatorian Liam Brown (left) and valedictorian Derek Lekhwani (right) will be attending the U.S. Naval Academy and Hofstra University, respectively. (Photos courtesy of Liam Brown and Derek Lekhwani)

With graduation fast approaching, Chaminade High School valedictorian Derek Lekhwani and salutatorian Liam Brown say that leaving Chaminade is bittersweet.

Lekhwani plans to attend Hofstra University’s physician’s assistant B.S./M.S. dual degree program, an accelerated five-year track.

“I’m very excited, but obviously sad too, to leave friends and all of the wonderful faculty at Chaminade,” he said. “But it’s definitely something I’m excited about, to venture out and see what happens in the future.”

While Hofstra overall felt like the best fit, the uncertainty that the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it definitely influenced his decision to stay close to home, he said.

Throughout his time at Chaminade, Lekhwani played the cello in the school orchestra and was involved in Emmaus Apostolic Program, Senior Leaders Program and Latin Club. He served as the president of the National Honor Society during his senior year. He also played baseball during his freshman and sophomore years.

Lekhwani did not have a traditional high school experience. In the middle of his junior year, he was hospitalized with sepsis, which led to septic shock and necrotizing fasciitis. He spent 46 days in the hospital, including six days on life support with multiple organ failure.

“That’s where the drive to go into health care came from,” he explained. “They saved my life, and after going through this, I want to help people.”

Beyond the rigorous education that he received at Chaminade, Lekhwani said he values the community of brothers that were there for him, particularly during his battle with sepsis. Members of the school community not only prayed for him during this time, but frequently came to visit him in the hospital.

“My top [memory] has to be the first day I came back to school after missing three months,” he reflected. “That was really special for me.”

Some of his other favorite memories include orchestra concerts and winning the baseball championship during his freshman year. While he has been able to start playing cello again, despite sepsis-related permanent damage in his right index finger, he has not been able to return to baseball.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has drastically reshaped his plans for the end of his senior year, Lekhwani chooses to look on the bright side.

“Obviously there’s some anxiety surrounding it,” he said. “But it’s been a time where I can help other people, especially with mental health and anxiety, with being stuck at home, because it’s sort of a similar scenario [to what I went through last year]. I can use that to help other people going through it.”

Brown plans to attend the United States Naval Academy. He is considering studying chemistry and then pursuing a career in medicine, but said that he is keeping his options open.

Brown was on the football team throughout his four years at Chaminade and served as captain during his senior year. He was also on the wrestling team during his junior and senior years. He was active in the Parish Religious Education Program, through which he taught third-graders at Saint Aidan Parish in Williston Park, as well as Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow, through which he spoke at an alumni board meeting and helped with various events. Additionally, Brown served as vice president of the National Honor Society during his senior year.

He considers winning the football championship during his senior year and attending football camp with his team last summer to be his best memories of high school.

“We go to camp every year, and it’s just a great time with your teammates, and to get to know the juniors,” he explained.

Brown said that Chaminade provides students with a very well-balanced experience.

“There’s really rigorous academics, but on top of that, all sorts of activities, whether it’s sports or participation in clubs,” he said. “From what the teachers expect of you, you become more responsible on your own. At the end of the day, you do have a lot to do, but nothing that you can’t handle.”

Chaminade has tentatively scheduled a live graduation for Aug. 1. Brown, who is supposed to deliver a speech at graduation, is unsure whether he will be able to attend, since he leaves for the Naval Academy on July 2.

“You plan how you want your senior year to end, but at the end of the day, it’s out of your control,” he said. “You kind of just have to make the best of it.”

He added that although his class members missed out on events that they have looked forward to since their freshman year, being quarantined for the past two months has allowed him to spend more time with his family and prepare himself physically for the Naval Academy.

Graduating from Chaminade is a bittersweet experience, he said.

“These past four years at Chaminade have been probably the best of my life,” he said. “I had a great time — the friends I’ve met, the experiences along the way. But I’m also excited to take the next step, and particularly to see what the Naval Academy has to offer, and what the future has in store.”

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