“Look for what you’re passionate about,” advised Oceanside High School’s 2018 valedictorian Alex Meyerowitz. “Find what you want to do.”
“Don’t just check off those boxes,” added salutatorian Josena Joseph. Too often, the two agreed, students focus on grades while trying to fit the mold of a model student. But the reality, they said, is that pursuing a successful high-school career is a much more organic experience.
The pair would know from experience. Each is specializing in fields near and dear to them. Joseph is seeking to follow the pre-med track at John’s Hopkins University, with an eye towards international issues. She said she was initially inspired to study medicine early in sixth grade when her grandmother in India died of a heart attack, a death she said she believed was preventable if there had been better access to medical services.
Meyerowitz is looking to study computer science and artificial intelligence at Brown University. He said his father, who at one point developed stock trading software for Bloomberg, had a big influence on him and would sometimes bring disassembled electronics home from work for Meyerowitz to play with. The circuit boards and hard drives, he said, “Were like action figures to me.”
Although they suggested students pursue areas of study they can be passionate about to have fruitful academic careers, with grade point averages nearing 105 each, having good grades doesn’t hurt either.
Joseph was born in southern India, and is the first in her family to attend college in the United States. She is also president of the high school’s World Interest Club, which she said forced her to look at issues from other countries’ perspectives, and help her gain greater understanding of the world.
She said her current goal is to intern for Last Mile Health, a non-profit that since 2012 has been working with the Liberian government to extend and improve its health care infrastructure. Joseph’s dream, she said, is to help poorer countries bring their medical services up to par with those here. “I don’t know if that’s too lofty a goal,” she said, “but I’m going to try.”
Meyerowitz, originally from Rockville Centre, said he had learned JAVA programming language before he was 12 years old, and added he has been studying computer code for so long that when he sees a programming problem, “I just apply what I know automatically.”
But he admitted that when it came to hands-on tasks he is a bit out of his element. As a member of the high school robotics club, he said he had hoped to avoid the engineering side of the field, but at one point was forced to “figure out how to use a drill,” he joked, and recalled hours of stripping screws and breaking small bits of equipment, “It was a mess,” he said.
He said he hopes to join a team of AI programmers similar to the one that developed Deep Blue, a computer that in 1997 beat a grandmaster in chess, or become part of DeepMind, a team of Google engineers that developed a program to play Go!, a Chinese board game that he said contains more moves than there are atoms in the universe.
While both said they are going into college open to finding new passions, or at least narrowing down how they would like to pursue them, for Joseph at least, she said a Mark Twain quote she had seen posted in the school hallway often served as guidance to shape her future. “The world owes you nothing,” it read. “It was here first.”