The last three months of senior year weren't exactly what the Toll Gate High School Class of 2020 expected with the usual spring traditions and celebrations interrupted by a
The last three months of senior year weren’t exactly what the Toll Gate High School Class of 2020 expected with the usual spring traditions and celebrations interrupted by a global virus unlike anything seen before in their lifetime. However, Principal Candace Caluori hopes that her graduating students will step back to see the big picture of all four years, not just the unusual times near the end.
“I am so proud of my students and staff as they have risen to the challenge that was put in front of them,” Caluori wrote. “Our seniors are now a little more prepared for real world experiences."
“I wish the best for our students moving forward with whatever they choose to do… I am happy that we could give them a graduation, and be able to walk across their own school stage.”
This year’s top ten ranking scholars will find themselves pursuing their passions across the nation, pouring the same dedication into their college classes and activities just as they did their high school ones. While the future of the world is uncertain, their devotion and perseverance will work to ensure that positive changes will take place after they graduate.
As Valedictorian of the Class of 2020, Kaylah Staknis dedicated her time and strong personal drive to many programs at Toll Gate during her four years of high school. She will be attending the University of Notre Dame this fall on a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship. She will major in political science
Engaging frequently with the community during her time at Toll Gate, Staknis served as President of her class junior year and as Treasurer of Student Senate. She was also captain of the Academic Decathlon team, as well as a member of both the Best Buddies program and the Unified Volleyball team. She also participated in Indoor and Outdoor Track as a hurdler. For her active participation and many achievements, Staknis received a National Merit Scholarship Program Letter of Commendation, the Harvard Alumni Association Prize Book Award, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award.
When reflecting on her high school experience, Staknis was adamant about her belief that her friendships and personal bonds made for the most impactful memories.
“As much as I loved pep rallies, school dances, and sports games, what I will remember most are the little special moments. I'll miss chatting with my friends while doing hurdle drills at track practice, meeting up at coffee shops to study together, and trying each other's food at lunch,” she wrote. “These little things made me smile everyday and led to strong friendships.”
“I also had amazing teachers at Toll Gate like Mr. Politelli, Mrs. Franco, Mr. Belanger, and Mr. Areson that always challenged me. They offered great knowledge and advice that allowed me to be the best version of myself… I always wanted to achieve more than I did the day before and to feel the satisfaction of giving 110 percent to all that I set out to do.”
Jaemin Hyun ranked second, earning the title of Salutatorian; he credits his success to a strong hope within him to see his efforts in school rewarded with future success in life. He matched with Princeton University as a member of the Questbridge National College Match scholarship program; this fall, he plans to pursue a degree in international relations and public policy.
Hyun was a devoted athlete, serving as a member of the Track and Field team, the Cross-Country Track team, and the Unified Volleyball theme. In addition to serving as President of Student Council sophomore year, he was also Secretary of Student Senate and the leader of Toll Gate’s High School Democrats of Rhode Island chapter. Hyun additionally participated in Best Buddies, Academic Decathlon, Science Olympiad, and the Drama Club. He was inducted into the National Honor Society and National Spanish Honor Society.
For his efforts, Hyun received many awards, including the AP Scholar with Distinction Award, the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Award, the Renee Tetreault Newell 9/11 Scholarship, and an 8th place ranking in the nation for the Group Website category of the National History Day competition.
“One thing that I cannot possibly forget from Toll Gate is the perfect balance I maintained between academic pursuit and personal satisfaction in life. I can only hope to recreate this balance in college and on so that my life can be as stress-free as it always has been and can be,” Hyun wrote.
“People that I interacted with outside of school, especially those already in college, taught me how to be mature and responsible in high school based on their own regrets about their high school experience.”
Berit Olsson ranked third, receiving the title of Class Essayist; she cites her parents and teachers as main pillars of support throughout her high school career. She will attend Williams College in the fall: while her major is still currently undecided, she hopes to pursue either physics or astronomy in the future.
Olsson was a prominent leader at Toll Gate, serving as President of the National Honor Society, Captain of the Mock Trial team, and a Junior Captain within the Varsity Athletes Against Substance Abuse (VAASA) program. She also participated in Drama Club and Academic Decathlon, and competed in Volleyball and Softball at both the JV and Varsity levels.
She earned the Suffolk Book Award, was named Best Scorer (2019) and a Gold Medalist for Speech (2020) in Academic Decathlon, and was named an AP Scholar with Distinction. Olsson was inducted into the French, National, and Rhode Island honor societies; she also joined the Mock Trial team in traveling to Reno, Nevada for the 2018 National Competition.
“The majority of my time in school was spent working hard and exerting everything I had into academics, but it was my extracurriculars that made all of that worthwhile,” Olsson wrote. “The creative outlet that Mock Trial, Drama, and Academic Decathlon enabled me to have were certainly my favorite parts of high school. Overall, I just loved being able to explore each and every one of my passions in the past four years, from art, to science, to acting, to athletics.”
Kerrin Li ranked fourth in her class, striving to achieve for both her parents and her own high standards and goals. She will attend George Washington University in the fall, where she will double major in both Biology and Political Science.
Li was a leader and role model for her fellow students at Toll Gate; she served as President of the Student Senate, as well as Vice President of the Best Buddies Program. She was also a member of the Drama Club, as well as the Math Team, Science Olympiad, and Toll Gate Tribune newspaper staff. Li was also a successful athlete, playing on both the Varsity Lacrosse and Tennis teams. She received the Springfield College Book Award for her academic achievements, as well as an award for her success in the National History Day competition.
She wrote that her friends and teachers contributed most to her enjoyment of high school; she stated that helping to organize pep rallies, as well as senior night for the Tennis team, would be her most memorable experiences at Toll Gate.
Carlos Betancur ranked fifth in the Class of 2020, writing that his parents, friends, and teachers motivated him to excel. He will attend Brown University this coming fall, where he plans to major in computer science on a pre-med track.
Betancur was dedicated to music, becoming a Section Leader within the Rhode Island Philharmonic Symphony Youth Orchestra; during his time at Toll Gate, he also served as a first violinist in the Chamber Ensemble. Within the medical field, he became an intern at the Providence Prenatal Diagnosis Center, as well as an ambassador at Rhode Island Hospital; he also served as an intern at Amgen through the PrepareRI Internship Program. He was a Ministry Leader at St. Patrick’s Academy Youth Ministry, and a student ambassador for Toll Gate; he also participated in Civic Action Coalition, Academic Decathlon, and Mock Trial.
For his achievements, Betancur received the Rhode Island Solo and Ensemble Superior Medal for Violin Performance, as well as membership in the RI All-State Orchestra. He participated in the Yale Young Global Scholar summer program, and received the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship as well as the AP Scholar with Distinction Award. He is also an alum of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
“Having immigrated to the United States, my parents made several sacrifices in order to ensure their children were given more opportunities than those they grew up with,” he wrote. “I feel it is my responsibility to make use of these opportunities in order to achieve the success my parents have always wished for me.”
Siya Parekh ranked sixth, citing her passion to succeed and her desire to make her family proud as major factors in her success. She will attend the University of Rochester this fall, where she plans to major in Biology on a pre-med track.
Parekh was a devoted member of the Varsity Swim and Unified Volleyball teams, in addition to participating on the Math Team, Science Olympiad, Drama Club, and Student Senate. She was also involved with the Academic Decathlon team, as well as Best Buddies, Coding Club, French Club, and Badminton Club. For her success, Parekh received the AP Scholar with Distinction Award, and was inducted into National Honor Society and National French Honor Society.
“Besides my family who always encouraged me to do my best, I had some of the best teachers who saw potential in me and made classes worth enjoying,” wrote Parekh. She credits her close friends and they laughs they shared together as some of the most memorable experiences she had in high school, as well as inspirational school assemblies and the spontaneous days schools was cancelled due to pipe bursts or other random occurrences.
She credits her motivation to excel to her dream to become a doctor, and the additional desire to make her family proud.
Yashaswini Mandalam ranked seventh in her class, crediting her friends, parents, and teachers as the keys to her success and happiness. She plans to attend the University of Rhode Island, where she will major in computer science.
Mandalam served as Vice President of the National Honor Society, as well as participating in both Math Team and Science Olympiad. She was a recipient of the Bryant Book Award, as well as the Bausch and Lomb Honorary Science Award.
When asked what she would remember most, she wrote: “The teachers who have been amazing role models and have helped me become better as a person.”
Natalie Aloisio ranked eighth, speaking of her inspiring experiences with sports, teachers, and her school committee. She plans to attend the University of Connecticut, where she will major in biological sciences on a pre-med track; she will also minor in physiology and neurobiology.
Aloisio served as Vice President of her senior class, as well as Treasurer for the National Honor Society; she was also a Student Ambassador for Toll Gate, and was inducted into the National Spanish Honor Society. She also achieved considerable success as an athlete; in addition to serving as a member of VAASA, she was Captain of the Basketball and Track and Field teams and a participant on the Volleyball team. Music was also a significant part of her high school career, as she was a performer in Concert Chorus, Chorale, Show Choir, and Stage Band.
Aloisio received the Wellesley College Book Award, as well as the RI Civic Leadership Award and the Stephen Chrabaszcz Memorial Scholarship Award. For her achievements in athletics, she received the Coach’s Award and All-Class Award for Track and Field, earned First Place in the JV States Long Jump, and received the Sister Charlene Academic All-State Award for Basketball.
“I will mostly remember the connections I made at Toll Gate. Among my closest friends, teachers, and staff, I could not have a better support system by my side,” she wrote. “They have pushed me to my fullest potential, and I became the best version of myself because of it.” She also remarked that Mr. Royster and Ms. Catanzaro were influential teachers during her time at Toll Gate.
“Throughout all of high school I have aimed to make my mother proud. After passing away in 2013, I have always known my mother has remained by my side through my struggles and successes. Knowing that she also went to Toll Gate High School and played volleyball, basketball, and track and field, I had someone to motivate through both sports and academics.”
Justin Caron ranked ninth, noting that his friends helped him enjoy high school in both classes and simple fun. He will attend the University of New Haven, where he will major in biomedical engineering and chemical engineering.
In addition to being President of the Toll Gate Orchestra and a member of the Band, he was also a member of the National Honor Society, the National Italian Honor Society, and the Rhode Island Honor Society. He wrote that his music classes, which served as a good change of pace from the rest of the school day, were always a source of fun and relaxation.
“My motivation to excel came from a simple yet rare quality. I simply wanted to excel; whether I was top 10 or not wasn't important and still isn't,” he wrote. I excelled because I wanted to, but I did this while also recognizing the lack of need to be the best or the smartest. My motivation was myself and myself alone. I excelled because I wanted to.”
Elana Caparco ranked tenth, stating that the collaborative nature of her friend group helped her to thrive and succeed. She will attend American University, where she will be majoring in international relations.
Caparco served as President of Best Buddies and Vice President of Student Senate; she also participated in Math Team, Academic Decathlon, Science Olympiad, Newspaper, Student Council, and Drama Club. She was also a member of the Varsity Swim, Tennis, and Lacrosse Teams.
She received a Gold Medal for Speech in Academic Decathlon, as well as two Gold Medals for Interview. Caparco was also named an AP Scholar and a Questbridge Finalist; she also received the Horatio Alger National Scholarship, and was a Semi-Finalist for the Coca-Cola Scholarship.
“Above all I’ll take away all of the valuable relationships I formed and what each of them has taught me. The friends I’ve made and the teachers I’ve met have each made an impact in my life,” she wrote. “Without all of those people high school would not have been as enjoyable of an experience.”
“I discovered that nothing exceptional comes easy therefore I would need to strive for success in school. When I struggled with my workload I relied on the idea of having a stable future to motivate me. I focused on my dream of pursuing a degree in foreign diplomacy whenever I lost focus.”