Valedictorians and salutatorians check in

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Among the many students that have walked the halls of Townsend Harris, there have been a select few honored with the title of valedictorian or salutatorian. These THHS elite excelled in their high school classrooms, and after checking in with them, they’re succeeding just as much in their post-THHS lives.

A number have found success in legal careers.

THHS salutatorian of 1995 Seth Cohen, former editor-in-chief of The Classic and Student Union president, is currently an attorney practicing at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP in Manhattan.  He is a trial attorney focusing on complex commercial litigation. Seth graduated from Cornell University in 1999 as a pre-med majoring in communications, and went on to receive his professional degree from Emory University School of Law in 2005. He attributed THHS to instilling “a sense of excellence in all aspects of [his] life.”

Michele Carino, the class of 1989’s salutatorian, has been a practicing attorney specializing in litigation, securities, and corporate governance. Much of her time at THHS inspired her work ethic.

“When I can, I try to speak up for people who have been taken advantage of or who need help navigating a complicated system,” she explained. “I view these activities as part of my responsibility as a lawyer and as a fellow human being, and I think Townsend Harris was instrumental in providing me with that moral compass.”

Like many others, she cited the Ephebic philosophy as a powerful force in her life: “To me, the idea that we can—and should—affect the lives of others in a positive way represented what Townsend Harris was all about.”

THHS valedictorian of 1991 Jonathan Perry is currently an in-house lawyer focusing on litigation in Stamford, Connecticut, where he has worked for two years. Jonathan previously clerked for a New Jersey Supreme Court Justice and later worked in private practices for thirteen years. Jonathan graduated from Cornell University in 1995 and then from Harvard Law School in 1998. On his high school experience, he stated: “The work ethic and ability to organize and meet tight deadlines that I developed at THHS served me throughout college and law school and through today. THHS also helped give me a lot of confidence, and I think you and your classmates should feel that confidence as you head to college and beyond.”

Yale alum Andrew Goldberg and salutatorian of the class of 2000 now works as a media lawyer and in-house counsel for The Daily Beast, an award-winning news reporting and opinion website. As a former editor of The Classic, he felt that THHS guided him considerably on his path towards journalism and law. “I was very proud of the newspaper we produced. After all those long days and late nights in The Classic office, I knew that I wanted to continue writing and advocating for journalists,” he explained.

However, not everyone ended up practicing law.

A reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, a Yale alumna, and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale School of Medicine, and a mother of four children, THHS 1990 valedictorian, Pinar Kodaman has gone on to be accomplish much in the medical field. She commended THHS for supplying her with the tools necessary to succeed, particularly the opportunity to experience college firsthand before enrolling in one. “THHS gave me a great background in both the humanities and sciences and provided me with sometimes challenging, but wonderful educational opportunities,” she said.

Class of 1997 valedictorian Cory Polonetsky works as a strategy and marketing director at Elsevier, a leading publisher of science and technology books and journals.  He studied Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology.

Diana Tuite, salutatorian of her 1994 graduating class, holds the title of Katz Curator at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine, now the largest art museum in the state.  Her responsibilities include conducting research, working with artists, faculty and students, writing about modern and contemporary art, organizing exhibitions, and publishing books. Diana gives a lot of credit to THHS for shaping her as a person: “Townsend Harris is largely responsible for the extent to which I was prepared for, but also enjoyed, everything that has followed.” Diana also believes that the extracurriculars that THHS offered her alongside a demanding and rigorous curriculum gave her the confidence to know that she “could and should balance them with academics.”

Each of these accomplished alumni have sound advice to give as a result of their high school experience.

Pinar advised students to “work hard and appreciate your teachers and their dedication to your education.” Laurie  Beckoff, 2012 salutatorian, reminisced about her high school teachers: “I miss the opportunity to get so close with teachers. Professors have more students and less time. I love that I am still in contact with a number of my teachers who inspired me personally and intellectually.”

Some focused their advice on extracurriculars:

Many advised that students shouldn’t try to achieve a 99 average, but to take advantage of what THHS has to offer. Cory said that “as a manager, I want to hire someone who is interesting, well-balanced, and mitigates and manages their stress—not necessarily the person who got an A on every test.” Andrew agreed: “No one will ask you about your high school transcript once you get into college, but they will want to hear about your high school friends, the people you dated, and the fun you had outside of class. Make sure that you have some good stories to tell.”

Others focused on learning to value the Ephebic Oath. “I didn’t
realize it fully when I was at Townsend Harris, but the Ephebic Oath is right on,” said Cory.

“You’ll have many ‘cities’ in your life—your family, schools, towns, companies, volunteer organizations—and you have the ability to make them better.  When you make a group of people happier, an environment greener, or an organization more productive, you live by the Ephebic Oath, and you make the world a better place. I try my best to do this in all my ‘cities.’”