Eyes On Ivy

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Westbury val and sal head to Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania

The path to success is different for everyone, with each journey coming with its own unique set of challenges and victories along the way. For Westbury High School valedictorian, Jose Alvarez, and salutatorian, Wilnaphekie Taloute, their high school years have been filled with both high and low points. But as they reflect back on their high school careers, they both credit the hard times for getting them to where they are now.

Taloute moved to the Westbury School District from Haiti in eighth grade. Not only did she have to adjust to a new culture and school setting, but around the same time, her parents separated, with her dad moving back to Haiti.

Jose Alvarez

“It wasn’t easy not having that fatherly support and adjusting to the new culture,” Taloute said. In addition to the change in her familial structure, there were problems at school too. “I had to face bullying. When you come from a different country and are not used to the ways of the United States, kids make fun of you. It allowed me to build a [tougher] shell.”

The middle child in a single parent household, Taloute said she had a lot of responsibilities at home. She was briefly part of the track team, Student Council, National Honor Society and Crochet Club, but had to drop out freshman year to take care of her little sister and get a job to help support the family.

“It was both good and bad,” she said. “I wasn’t able to get involved with as many extracurriculars and my social life wasn’t the best it could have been. But it allowed me to grow up and become more mature. And I was a role model to my younger sister. I don’t regret it.”

In addition to balancing her household responsibilities and job, Taloute also maintained a rigorous course load. She took numerous advanced placement classes and studied during the summers to stay ahead.

“I challenged myself and took on more than was expected to be where I am,” she said. “At a point, it was very overwhelming. But it also prepared me for life. I’m ready to enter into college and I’ve been exposed to a lot of difficulties that others may not have had and I think that will help me.”

Taloute said she was not expecting to become salutatorian, but was full of gratitude for those who have helped her along the way.

Wilnaphekie Taloute

“My mother has been my support through all these years. Though at times I did not show how much I appreciated her, she allowed me to have all these opportunities,” Taloute said. “Tony Jean [an acquaintance], Ms. Diane Johnson [college mentor] and Ms. Sandra Auguste [guidance counselor] also all believed in me when I didn’t, and challenged me to do the impossible.”

When she looks back at the highlights of her high school career, she said there was a clear bright spot.

“It’s definitely the people,” Taloute said. “Life is all about people and [school] was not competitive. We collaborated and care about each other and help each other out. I feel so grateful for that.”

In the fall, Taloute heads to the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school she hopes will broaden her horizons.

“I feel like it will expose me to a variety of people. It’s diverse and will help me become more socially aware,” said Taloute. “It’ll give me a full four years of experiencing new things.”

Also heading to an Ivy League university this fall is valedictorian Alvarez, whose 100.89 GPA earned him the top spot in the class. Alvarez plans to attend Dartmouth, following in the footsteps of his sister, who was valedictorian of the class of 2012.

“My role model has been my sister. She’s accomplished a lot of great things and I have that competitive drive to be like her,” said Alvarez. “That had the most impact on my decision to attend Dartmouth. I knew she loved it and I knew the community was very inviting.”

Alvarez said the highlight of his time at Westbury High School was when he first enrolled in the Cradle of Aviation STEM program as a freshman. Though the program there was challenging, Alvarez enjoyed the opportunity to use the museum as a hands-on learning tool.

“I got to be exposed to taking rigorous classes and instead of just living the high school experience and doing things systematically, we were ahead of the game and under pressure to do well,” said Alvarez. “It was the beginning of me branching out and meeting new people. I got perspective on what it’s like to take classes that aren’t easy.”

Alvarez’s love for science will serve him well as he pursues a psychology major and biology minor. He said he wants to become an orthodontist and one day own his own dental practice, a desire that grew out a bad childhood experience.

“When I was about four years old, a dentist took out my four front teeth and then every time I went to the dentist, I would be scared,” Alvarez said. “That’s how I got the idea. What if I was a different kind of doctor, and encouraged my patients and showed a connection to them?”

He said that diligence and the support of his family have been the keys to his success, and that being named valedictorian was exciting.

“I felt really proud. I felt like I had done everything I could to make my parents proud,” said Alvarez.

Alvarez, Toulete and the rest of the Westbury High School Class of 2017 graduate on Friday, June 23.

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Betsy Abraham is senior managing editor at Anton Media Group and editor of The Westbury Times. She also writes for Long Island Weekly.

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