Best of the class of 2020: Meet this year's top Cayuga County-area graduates

Best of the class of 2020: Meet this year's top Cayuga County-area graduates


Hundreds of students from public school districts within the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES region, are graduating in June and July. As part of our graduation coverage, we're publishing the names, achievements and reflections of this year's valedictorians and salutatorians.

Auburn Enlarged City School District

Div Patel, valedictorian

Div Patel

Hey there, I’m Div Patel and I intend to attend the University of Rochester for a major in chemical engineering. As for a bit about myself, I enjoy reading about religions and science, meditating, and foreign language study. Above all, I am grateful to my family and all of my teachers and friends for having enriched my mind and given support throughout my life. Glory and love to all. May we all dwell in tranquility.

Jadan Hand, salutatorian

Jadan Hand

I’d like to extend a huge congratulations to the class of 2020! We are truly a class to remember. I’d also like to thank my wonderful family and friends, and incredible teachers. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their continual support and encouragement throughout my journey. The foundation they helped me lay will continue to benefit me in the years to come. I will be attending Colgate University in the fall, and majoring in molecular biology. I hope to go into genetics research when I finish college.

Cato-Meridian Central School District

Hailey Salmonsen, valedictorian

Hailey Salmonsen

Beyond the classroom: Student Council (class president junior and senior year), National Honor Society (president), Drama Club 9-11, Link Crew leader, Science Olympiad 9-12

What’s next: I’m attending Syracuse University. I plan on either majoring in political science to become a lawyer or major in aerospace engineering.

How has education influenced your life?: Education has helped me explore what I want to do in the future. I have been able to challenge myself academically at Cato and I’m grateful for it. One of the biggest impacts on my education is the teachers. Being at a small school, I was able to create more personal relationships with my teachers. While they taught me academics, they supported me and cared about setting me up to succeed. I was able to go to them for any questions or advice I needed.

Courtney LaForce, salutatorian

Courtney LaForce

Beyond the classroom: Four years of varsity field hockey, captain for two; two years of varsity basketball; one year of varsity softball; two years of varsity track; one year of drama club; National Honor Society, Vice President; French Club, Vice President

What's next: I will be attending Keuka College in the fall to major in biology with a concentration in biomedical.

How has your education influenced your life?: Education has given me many opportunities throughout high school and helped to prepare me for college. I have had the opportunity to take many courses at Cato Meridian that will count for college credit. Also, being in a small school has allowed me to develop close relationships with many of my teachers.They go above and beyond to help students to do the best that they can.

Jordan-Elbridge Central School District

Meghan Whalen

Meghan Whalen, valedictorian

Beyond the classroom: Varsity Tennis, Varsity Softball, Varsity Golf, Masterminds, National Honor Society, Science Olympiad, Mock Trial, and Science Honor Society.

What’s next: I will be attending the University at Buffalo for biomedical engineering.

How has education influenced your life?: Education has taught me so many things. Education has taught me to work hard, be a leader, and to persevere through any challenge. I am so grateful for all the opportunities JE has given me. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I also wouldn’t be where I am without the influence of my family, friends, and teachers. I am so excited to further my education and to keep learning.

Kyra White, salutatorian

Kyra White

Beyond the classroom: Soccer, outdoor/indoor track, Mock Trial, Masterminds, National Honor Society, Science Honor Society and two gold keys/four honorable mentions in CNY Scholastic Art Competition.

What’s next: To pursue an art-related field with a focus on either fine arts or communication design.

Moravia Central School District

Jenna Morris, valedictorian

Jenna Morris

Beyond the classroom: Outside of school I was the president of Future Business Leaders of America, and part of National Honor Society. Some of my hobbies are thrifting, upcycling, going on nature walks, painting and writing poetry. I also run my own business.

What's next: I will be going to University of New Haven to major in finance. I am in an accelerated 3+1 program to get my bachelor's degree in finance and my master's in business administration.

How has your education influenced your life?: Without my education and the opportunities it gave me I never would be where I am today. All the courses offered allowed me to experiment and find my passion while altogether challenging me to be the best I can be.

Rachel Bancroft, salutatorian:

Rachel Bancroft

Beyond the classroom: I participated in field hockey, tennis, marching band, SADD club, and National Honor Society. I also enjoy paddle boarding, traveling, and hanging out with my friends and family.

What's next: I will be attending Le Moyne College and St. Joseph's College of Nursing where I will get my bachelors of science in nursing.

How has education influenced my life: Education has been such a big part of my life and has had such a positive influence on the person I have grown to be. It has taught me to work hard, persevere and become a leader.

Port Byron Central School District:

Jenna Mapley, valedictorian

Jenna Mapley

Beyond the classroom: Member of: both varsity basketball and field hockey and won the field hockey sectional title in 2019. Also a member of our high school band, the jazz band and All County Band. President of the International Club, vice president of Student Government, member of the Yearbook Club, and Panther Press Live (our morning announcements show). The student government gave me lots of opportunities to participate in community service. Through that club we put on food and items drives every Thanksgiving, put on a spike night fundraiser for the local SPCA, and even volunteered at a local church to help hand out food to families in need.

What’s next: After I graduate my plan is to attend Colgate University to study mathematics with a minor in educational studies.

How has education influenced your life?: Education has definitely influenced my life in an extremely good way. Throughout my high school experience I have made so many memories and many friendships that I know I will never forget and am very grateful to have. Along with that the teachers not only taught me the curriculum for the course but they taught me many things about life and shared their experiences. Port Byron has given me many opportunities to explore many of my passions and even try new things that has allowed me to decide what I want to do in my future. My education at Port Byron has inspired me to want to become a teacher myself and to influence and inspire other generations of students to pursue their passions as my teachers have done for me.

Anna Vincent, salutatorian

Anna Vincent

Beyond the classroom: I spent the majority of my senior year participating in Student Government (treasurer), Panther Press Live Morning News (anchor), National Honor Society, Jazz Band, Pit Band, and varsity volleyball. Over my high school career I have also been a member of Foreign Language Club *president), Panther Press Print, Environmental Club, Masterminds, and FTC Robotics. 

What’s next: I will be studying at the University of Pittsburgh in the College of Business Administration as a finance major with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation.

How has education influenced your life?: It is through education that I have been able to form bonds and develop lasting relationships with my teachers and peers who have set me on the path of where I am today. I am thankful for all of the teachers and faculty at Port Byron who not only taught the curriculum, but went beyond the teaching role to act as mentors to help me find where my passions lie and discover what will make me happy in life once high school is a memory. My time in high school has taught me that dedication and self-motivation are the two most critical factors for success in all aspects of life. I am excited to take these lessons that I have learned as a result of my education and apply them in college and whatever else may lie ahead in the future.

Skaneateles Central School District:

Charles Pinckney, valedictorian

Charles Pinckney

Beyond the classroom: National Honor Society, peer tutor for middle school students, volunteer at the Brian Bisgrove Home of Courage and the Syracuse Samaritan Center; JV basketball and soccer, varsity indoor track and golf; lifeguard at the Skaneateles YMCA.

What's next: I will be attending Duke University to study mechanical and aerospace engineering.

How has education influenced your life?: The courses at Skaneateles High School have given me many opportunities to explore my interests and have helped me figure out what I want to pursue in college. For example, the courses that I took in Project Lead the Way have helped me gain engineering knowledge and skills that I would like to continue studying at Duke University. In addition, these classes not only brought me knowledge, but also taught me how to work with others. All of these learning opportunities have given me the ability to explore my interests and have enabled me to form lifelong bonds with friends.

AJ Teixeira, salutatorian

AJ Teixeira

Beyond the Classroom: Skaneateles Lightning Swimming (14 years, 5 time NYS YMCA State Record Holder), assistant coach, Skaneateles Lakeshore baseball, Auburn Community Hospital volunteer, Skaneateles Library Junior volunteer, Skaneateles Middle School tutor, Laker Link Leader, National Honor Society.

What’s Next: Attend Davidson College and compete on the Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Team with an athletic scholarship. Major on a pre-med track.

How has your education influenced your life?: Beginning at a young age, my parents told me my “job” was to attend school and work hard. So, I listened, and it didn’t help that I was motivated to keep up with my older siblings. I quickly learned the values of hard work, dedication, and perseverance, and I was inspired to keep working by my parents. As I began taking a variety of classes at Skaneateles, I discovered my passions. My teachers’ positive and motivating environments played a large role, making learning fun and class worth looking forward to. I learned how to manage my time -- balancing school with sports -- and how to work well with others. Skaneateles has shown me that everyone has the same goal to better themselves, and we all need to work together to achieve that goal.

Southern Cayuga Central School District:

Abigail Johnson, valedictorian

Abigail Johnson

Beyond the classroom: Competitive gymnastics (from 6-15 years old; team captain, four years), National Honor Society, sustainability website owner ( and assistant gymnastics team coach at Champions For Life Sports Center.

What's next: Plans to major in sustainability at Paul Smith's College in the fall.

How has your education influenced your life?: My education has taught me how to work hard and to do my very best in both school and life situations. As a result of my rigorous education in the honors/college classes at Southern Cayuga, I have been able to develop a strong work ethic and efficient time management skills that I will be able to use throughout my college career and life in general.

Victoria Majka, salutatorian

Victoria Majka

Beyond the classroom: Played piano since I was four, direct church choir services and play organ, varsity soccer (9-11, not enough for a team senior year), played volleyball senior year, (Most valuable (rookie) player award), National Honor Society member (secretary grades 9-11), Sources of Strength member, Student Council secretary (grades 10-12), Student Athlete Leadership Club member, Traveling piano teacher for little students, shoe customization and college custom business (via Instagram and Etsy)

What's next: I plan to attend the University at Buffalo (Honors College) to pursue dental medicine, in hopes to become an oral surgeon.

How has your education influenced your life?: Ever since I was young, I have always valued my academics. My parents taught me it was important to create a firm foundation for myself, and they allowed me to explore many different paths that I might have interest in. They have always encouraged me and supported me no matter what, and they have always told me how valuable an education is. In turn, I love learning, and I cannot wait to pursue dental medicine this coming fall.

Tyburn Academy of Mary Immaculate

Anna Zabriskie, valedictorian

Anna Zabriskie

Beyond the classroom: National Honor Society, The Aurora Inn, Aurora, NY (11th), babysitting (6th-12th), peer tutoring (11th-12th), community service (40 hours per school year), volunteering around school: preparing for special event days, student tutoring 6th-10th grades. Varsity basketball: 9-12 (captain 10th-12th), varsity soccer: 8-12 (captain 11th-12th), all Star and all league soccer (11th-12th), all star and all league basketball (11th-12th). Newspaper Club (editor 11th-12th), Founder of Debate Society, Tyburn Academy (10th-12th), Student Government (9th-12th), Maria Goretti Guild (11th-12th), Schola Cantorum (11th), Drama Club, musicals (9th-11th), singing in St. Mary’s Choir, Auburn, NY (11th-12th).

What's next: Anna will be attending Catholic University of America in Washington, DC this fall. She intends to study nursing, and will be participating in CUA’s rowing team.

Elisa Faiola, salutatorian

Elisa Faiola

Beyond the classroom: Basketball (captain), soccer (captain), ski club, Maria Gorretti Guild, SGO, National Honor Society, employee at Marshalls. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family and friends.

What's next: I will be attending Hobart and William Smith College. I have an interest in the medical field, but my major is undecided.

How has your education influenced your life?: Beginning with elementary school and continuing through high school, I always wanted to have the best grades so that I could be on the high honor roll. My older brothers were very smart and set that bar high for me. Eventually my education became less about getting good grades and more about actually learning. I desire to never stop learning and use what I know to do good in the world and help people.

Union Springs Central School District:

Maeve Smith, valedictorian

Maeve Smith

Beyond the classroom: Volleyball, track, MasterMinds, student government, amnesty international, Spanish club, school musicals.

What's next: Vassar college to study Greek and Roman studies and political science.

How has your education influenced your life?: I’ve been going to school for about the last 13+ years of my life, so it’s safe to say education has been a big part of it. Most of what I've learned in life is from my parents, school, the world around me, or weird shows on TV. I like to learn and know about stuff so college will probably give me a chance to learn more in-depth about topics I already find interesting.

Dylan Walawender, salutatorian

Dylan Walawender

Beyond the classroom: NHS, secretary of Amnesty International, Student government, Literature Club, MasterMinds, Varsity Soccer, Varsity Bowling, Yorkers, tutor, work in the community and school drama programs, pep rally Emcee, Journalism Club, CCC graduate.

What's Next: I am attending Bennington College in Vermont to study literature and creative writing.

How has education influenced your life: I love learning; as a reader, I want to indulge in every facet of the piece I am working with as possible. I recognize that I know almost nothing about the world itself, and about the ideas, other writers wish to portray. Reading is an endless pursuit of education; we read to understand humanity, and I wish to dive headfirst into that kind of endeavor. This type of mindset has fueled my ambitions since I was younger; I knew I wanted to study the ideas of humanity literature portrays and be a part of that endless discussion. I want to be a professor, so in doing so, I am feeding the ambition to learn within me, while also helping others to cultivate their own love for learning and literature in their own pursuits into the study of humanity. In doing so, education has--and always will--influence my life.

Weedsport Central School District

Garrett Sevier, valedictorian

Garrett Sevier

Beyond the classroom: Member of the National Honor Society has played football and basketball. He has also attended Boy’s State and been a member of the chorus.

What’s Next: I’m attending the Culinary Institute of America to study baking and pastry arts.

How has education influenced your life: My education has taught me to work and put my 100% into everything I do because in the end the extra effort you put in will reward you in the end.

Bridget Hickey, salutatorian

Bridget Hickey

Beyond the Classroom: Class president and is also president of the Weedsport branch of the National Honor Society. Member of the field hockey, softball, and bowling teams, and has been a member of the band and chorus, jazz band, and chorale.

What’s next: Plans to attend SUNY Geneseo and major in education with a focus on history.

How had education influenced your life: It’s a pretty good feeling knowing all my hard work ended up with this recognition. I think it’s about working as hard as you can and asking your teachers for help if you need it.


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