Mineola valedictorian, salutatorian seek closure amid pandemic

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Mineola High School valedictorian Ankita Patel and salutatorian Valerie Mallon will be attending the University of Michigan and Georgetown University, respectively. (Photo courtesy of Mineola High School)

Mineola High School valedictorian Ankita Patel and salutatorian Valerie Mallon, like all seniors graduating in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, are grappling with new ways of finding closure.

Patel, who will be studying biology at the University of Michigan starting in the fall, is striving to find the silver lining.

“To look at the bright side, it’s so important to value what you have, and that’s what these last few months have taught me,” she said.

“You have to understand that COVID-19 doesn’t define us as a class,” she commented. “There’s so much that Mineola has given us.”

Throughout her time at Mineola High School, Patel was involved in Mathletes, Athletes Helping Athletes, the Student Service Center, Yearbook, World Language Club and Key Club. She was in the National Honor Society as well as the Science National Honor Society. Patel also played junior varsity volleyball, junior varsity basketball and varsity winter track.

“Mineola provided me with so many different outlets, whether it was participating in different clubs, meeting different teachers, working with different minds,” she said. “Mineola was a melting pot for all of these things, and being exposed to all of these different viewpoints helped me be prepared for the outside world.”

“The amazing teachers there truly shaped the way I see the world now,” she added. “They helped me see beyond your basic English, your basic science. They showed me the world of critical thinking. And that’s what the world is, it’s not just straightforward things, it’s more abstract, it’s a zigzag.”

Patel said that her best memory of high school is spending time with her friends during their free period.

“This year me and my friends all had the same free period, and we would congregate in the Blue Room and just talk for hours,” she reminisced. “Every single day for maybe a month, we planned a promposal and proposed to different people just sitting in the library.”

One of her other favorite memories of Mineola is science research class with Dr. Ellen McGlade-McCulloh, said Patel.

“She really changed how I see the science field,” she said. “She changed for me what research meant. Just being able to sit in her classroom every day, whether it was talking about science or talking about the world beyond school … I have a lot of fond memories.”

Mallon is committed to Georgetown University. She is currently undeclared, but is considering studying environmental policy and potentially going to law school.

She has been involved in string ensemble, peer tutoring, Environmental Club, Robotics Club and Literary Society. She was also a member of the National Honor Society and Science National Honor Society.

Additionally, Mallon has worked at a law firm for the past four summers, while working simultaneously at a restaurant.

Mineola High School helped her realize what she was looking for when choosing a college, she said.

“Mineola is such a diverse school,”  Mallon said. “I love to be surrounded by people of all different walks of life and all different cultures, and that was one of my objectives, to go to a [college] where I’m surrounded by all these different people. That is a big factor for me, which Mineola helped me with.”

She added that Mineola also taught her what she didn’t want.

“I wanted to branch out and do things that would take me beyond the little social circle, ‘the bubble,’” she said.

Throughout high school, the best part of her day was orchestra class, she said. Mallon plays the cello, which she said she “absolutely adores.”

Another highlight of her high school career was traveling to Detroit with her robotics team.

“I don’t think I would’ve met a more interesting group of people if I hadn’t joined that club, and it’s not a club I would’ve necessarily seen myself being a part of,” she said.

She reflected that while she has many fond memories of Mineola, the fall of her senior year was difficult.

“They always say senior year ends up being a cruise, but for me it was probably the busiest year of my life, especially the first half,” she commented. “I applied to 22 schools. The weight of that was a little crushing for me.”

“I’m not going to lie, it was a rough few months,” she added. “It was definitely a slap in the face for how I should be preparing for college.”

Although losing the end of her senior year has been tough, Mallon reflected that being in quarantine has also helped her find balance.

“Being as busy as I was, it’s hard to find time for self-care and balance,” she said. “Now, being at home all the time, I’m learning how to cook, exercising … I love movies and classic literature, and I’m going back to all my interests.”

She added that no other senior class in recent years has had as unique a situation as the current graduating class.

Patel also said that the pandemic had changed her perspective.

“The past couple of months have been quite interesting,” Patel said. “I can say that I definitely value having an in-person education. Throughout the year we say that we don’t like school, that we wish we could stay home, but if I had to go back I would never complain about school. It’s just different, because you realize that in-person interactions change your whole perspective. You can see people’s faces, you can hear their voice clearly. That’s something that I miss.”

“Now, with everything going on, it’s just sort of a melancholy feeling, looking back and thinking about all of the things I could’ve done if I’d had the rest of my senior year,” said Mallon. “I was really ready to go [to college], but now I’m a little sad, considering everything.”

“There isn’t that sense of closure that I was expecting,” Patel said. “Everyone said, ‘first semester of senior year, you work hard,’ but then there’s that second semester, where you get to hang out with your friends and your teachers and reflect on your time there. Having that ripped away from you … you watch all of those coming-of-age movies, and you realize that you don’t get to have that.”

Mineola is tentatively planning to hold a live graduation in August, Patel and Mallon said.

“Mineola has given me so many memories, and I wish I could just go back and relive it, but I have new memories to make,” said Patel.

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