Two Massapequa High School students recently received top honors in their class, as the school named Joseph Fiola its valedictorian and Brian O’Sullivan its salutatorian.
Valedictorian Fiola has a focused plan for the future. With a 99.979 grade point average and about a dozen advanced placement classes under his belt, he heads to Stony Brook University this fall to study biomedical engineering with hopes of one day becoming a surgeon.
A summer workshop experience at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he participated in protein crystallography experimentation used in drug research, a part of biomedical engineering, helped him decide on his major. That, along with the practical thinking that he could work in the field with a bachelor’s degree should his plans on medical school change.
But Fiola isn’t all about academics. An All-State violinist, he has played with the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York since ninth grade, performing at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the LIU Post Tilles Center. While at Massapequa High School, he performed in the symphony orchestra, string quartet and popparazzi orchestra, and was a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society during his entire high school career. In addition to music, he wrote and copy edited for The Chief student newspaper, which received the highest award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association; served as student government treasurer for three years, and was a member of the rifle team, which captured the New York State Championship for placing first in both air and 22-caliber riflery.
A member of National Honor Society, he is on course to achieving the highest AP distinction, AP National Scholar, at the end of his senior year. He also earned silver and gold medals on the National Spanish exam and won various honors in science competitions.
Throughout these accomplishments, Fiola said his favorite part of his high school years was his solo performance of “Ain’t No Sunshine” at the Mr. Massapequa contest, an all-male pageant to promote school spirit and fundraise for a good cause.
“While I was singing, people were holding up their cell phones like lighters. It was great,” he said.
He also recalled the junior prom where he was the first on the dance floor. But another memorable moment was a chilling reminder of just how fragile life can be. While working as a lifeguard this past summer, he saved a seven-year-old boy from drowning in a pool.
“I never thought I would have an experience like that; it was intense,” he said.
While his solid work ethic is his strength, Fiola said it’s also his biggest shortcoming because he’s “too hard on himself.” While focusing his efforts on schoolwork, he admits, he didn’t get to know as many people in his class as he would have liked, but as he looks ahead to college, he hopes to meet a lot of new people and get involved in the crew team and shooting sports. Those who most inspired him to work hard and succeed are his friends and family, especially his mom, who “has type 1 diabetes and never complains. She’s a great mom,” he said. He also credits his success to his AP physics teacher Mr. Ben Benbasset, “whose dry sense of humor made the class entertaining,” AP chemistry teacher Dr. Paul Hesleitner and his orchestra teacher Mrs. Marjorie Spagnuolo.
Meanwhile, Massapequa Salutatorian Brian O’Sullivan learned at an early age that hard work leads to success. He recalled his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Karen Powers, at East Lake Elementary School whose firm yet motivating teaching techniques mirrored the discipline style his father set at home.
“Her influence helped me get into the Magnet program for gifted students and she, along with my father, made the biggest impact on my work ethic,” he said.
Now, with a 99.435 grade-point average and a host of advanced placement credits, O’Sullivan will begin his college career at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to study computer science and economics. He plans to work as a quantitative analyst in the finance industry.
O’Sullivan chose RPI because he met many successful professionals that were graduates though his participation in high school internships. Last summer he took part in National Grid’s Engineering Pipeline Program in Melville, where he attended different workshops in various engineering professions, and this past spring he was one of a handful of students chosen for Northrop Grumman High School Involvement Partnership internship program, which also introduced him to various engineering and technical fields. A member of the Robotics Club, O’Sullivan served as treasurer and helped the team compete in its first VEX Robotics World Championship after winning the Southern New York State Championship. Athletically, he ran cross country all four years of high school and ran winter and spring track during his freshman and sophomore years. Outside of school, O’Sullivan has worked as an umpire for the Massapequa International Little League since eighth grade.
An AP Scholar of Distinction, the student said his greatest strength and his greatest shortcoming is his overly meticulous nature.
“This attention to detail has allowed me to have a tremendous amount of focus so I can do work that I am proud of, but it also limited the time I could have been spending with my friends,” he said.
Pointing to his senior year as the best part of high school, he said that the entire college selection process was stressful but exciting at the same time.
“I came to learn where my interests lie for the future and I also attended more school events and enjoyed myself more.” His greatest accomplishment, he said, was becoming salutatorian because “it is a culmination of all my hard work throughout high school.”
As he prepares for college he said he looks forward to taking classes that really interest him and learning how to live on his own. His advice to students coming up the ranks: “Get involved in school activities, clubs and sports. You only go through high school once so make the most of it.”