Leah Hochman and Laura Chumpitaz are the valedictorian and salutatorian of Freeport High School’s class of 2019.
Hochman, 18, was a member of the FHS Select Chorale. She was also involved with the Peer Leadership Program, which helps freshmen make the transition into high school. When she wasn’t buried in her studies, she also volunteered as a peer tutor. And she was cast as Ariel, the lead, in the high school’s production of “The Little Mermaid.”
“I never made [being valedictorian] my goal,” Hochman said. “I just did the best I could.”
She is now focused on chemical engineering research. She competed in a number of regional science fairs, where she presented six years of research into the physical properties of gold nanoparticles in sodium chloride solutions. Through her research, she said, she hopes to develop alternative water filtration systems.
Hochman will attend Tufts University in Medford, Mass., to study chemical engineering. After that, she hopes to go to law school. Her ultimate goal is to combine environmental law and engineering to conduct renewable-energy re-search and enforce environmental law.
At Tufts, Hochman said she hopes to present her research, and she believes her professors will allow her to do that.
“One of the hardest parts of moving on to the next stage of my life is saying goodbye to the intimate community that is Freeport,” she said. “I’m going to a much bigger place, and I don’t know if I’ll feel the same level of togetherness that I felt in Freeport. It’s scary.”
Chumpitaz, 18, is a member of the FHS Student Government Association, participated in the Peer Leadership Program and volunteered as a peer tutor. She was also a member of the high school’s musical ensemble, playing the violin.
She will attend the City College of New York, in Manhattan, where she plans to study psychology. She eventually hopes to earn a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate in psychology.
“Mental health is overlooked in society,” Chumpitaz said. “Personally, after going through dark times and seeing others go through the same, I think it’s my responsibility to try to get rid of the stigma around mental health. I want to help others understand that.”
This year, she and other members of the student government traveled to Albany to meet with State Sen. John Brooks and Assemblywomen Taylor Raynor and Judy Griffin to lobby for more funding for education.
When she was not helping her classmates with homework, she practiced the violin, which she has played since fifth grade.
“Graduating is a bittersweet feeling,” Chumpitaz said. “I’m going to miss my friends and the teachers — they taught [me that] my grades don’t define me as a person, and that there were other things that defined me.”
Hochman, Chumpitaz and their classmates will graduate on Saturday at Hofstra University’s Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex.