West Hempstead names valedictorian and salutatorian

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Perseverance and dedication to academics, extracurricular activities and community outreach have paid off for West Hempstead High School seniors Maheen Khan and Gabriel Berkowitz, who have been designated valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of the Class of 2016.

Holding a 104.07 GPA, Maheen enrolled in as many Advanced Placement, honors and college-level courses as she could during her time in the district. Beyond the classroom, she excelled on the field and within her community, playing tennis, running spring track and participating in several clubs and organizations. She was a member of the Homework Club, Key Club, Students Against Destructive Decisions club, Peer to Peer club, Environmental Club and the Spanish National Honor Society, and served as co-president of the National Honor Society. Maheen also volunteered for numerous high school events, including Family Literacy Night and Battle of the Schools. Following her sophomore year, she volunteered at a hospital in Pakistan, where she escorted patients and assisted in any way she could, as well as interned at the East Meadow Medical Clinic on Merrick Avenue, helping at the front desk.

Among her fondest memories, Maheen cites the time when the whole school cheered for her upon her announcement as a Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient.

“When my name was announced over the loudspeaker in seventh period for achieving the award, everyone was clapping and cheering for me in my classroom and through the halls, as well as when I walked out of the school that day,” she recalled.  
Maheen also received the Nassau County Bar Association We Care Scholarship, the Community Service and Academic Excellence Award from Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano, and the New York State Academic Excellence Award.

Aspiring to become a neurosurgeon, Maheen will double major in neuroscience and physics at Johns Hopkins University in the fall. She would like to thank Special Education teacher Kristen Kearns and English teacher Alyson Konsker for supporting her during her senior year, as well as her physics teacher, Edward Cosgrove, for inspiring her to study physics in college.   

As the salutatorian of West Hempstead High School, Gabriel will be graduating with a 103.36 GPA. Like Maheen, he challenged himself by enrolling in any Advanced Placement, college-level and honors course he could, in addition to being highly involved in school organizations and community activities.

Since the seventh grade, Gabriel’s passion has been in theater. He performed in the school’s chorus and all of the district’s theater productions for the past seven years, volunteered his time in high school as a member of the stage crew for the middle school plays, and assisted in directing one of those plays. Going into high school theater, he always felt he was a better actor than singer, but his chorus teacher, Patricia McVetty, brought out his musical talents. “She encouraged me, is always the first to compliment me if I have a solo, and fostered a love of music inside me,” he said.    

Aside from theater, Gabriel was involved in Mathletes, the Yearbook Club and Model Congress, and served as co-president of the National Honor Society with Maheen. Outside of school, he participated in community theater at St. Thomas the Apostle Church and worked as a sales associate at Bed Bath and Beyond.  

Reflecting upon his time in high school, Gabriel will always remember performing in the school’s production of “Hairspray” during his junior year. “Performing as Edna Turnblad in ‘Hairspray’ was a really cool experience because of all the costumes, the fat suit, and the nightgowns and dresses,” he said. “It was a dream role of mine to perform and was my favorite high school memory.”

On top of his vast accomplishments, Gabriel received the New York State Scholarship for Academic Excellence, Community Service and Academic Excellence Award from the Hempstead Town supervisor Anthony Santino, recipient of the 2016 All-County Choir, AMC 12 School Winner, the West Hempstead High School Love of Literature and AP Calculus award, West Hempstead Education Association Academic Award,  and Director’s Award for Mixed Chorus. He was also named a finalist in the National Merit Scholarship Program.   

Gabriel will attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., this fall, where he will major in business and minor in theater performance studies. As he embarks on this new journey, the best advice he can give to high school students is to not stress too much.

“Everything is as important as you make it,” he said. “Really focus on your studies, and prioritize your studies and friends as being most important. Everything else is an afterthought.”