By Ava Aschettino
Julia Cutajar has earned one of the most coveted spots in her class: Salutatorian of the Class of 2020. Julia’s strong character, impressive accomplishments, and years of dedication and hard work make her an exemplary member of the student body. In addition to her involvement in school clubs, honor societies, and volunteer organizations, Julia managed to earn one of the highest GPAs in her class. Interested in learning more about this star student? Julia recently sat down to answer some questions about her experience at OBHS and her future plans.
Where do you plan to attend college and have you made any decisions on what to study?
“I will be attending the University of Notre Dame, and I will be majoring in architecture. My dream job is to design buildings and amusement park rides that are perfectly accustomed to those with special needs or complex medical conditions. Through volunteering, I have seen first-hand how there are limitations in their everyday experiences. My mission came to be when I volunteered at a children’s hospital and saw an inclusive playground. I realized that I wanted this inclusivity to go beyond hospital walls and playgrounds.”
What will you miss the most about high school?
“I will miss the faculty at OBHS the most. Over the years, I have had great experiences with my teachers; I have always been able to go to them for advice and support. They are not only my teachers, but they are my mentors.”
Were there any special awards or recognitions you received during your high school career?
“Perhaps my greatest achievement is receiving the District Attorney’s SHIELD Award. This is given to one junior in each school in Nassau County who exemplifies service, honesty, integrity, excellence, leadership, and duty. Most times, students are recognized for academics or sports, but rarely for character. While I am proud to graduate as Salutatorian, I place kindness above academic accolades because that is what I believe truly matters. Treating others with respect is much more rewarding than an impressive test score. Another accomplishment I am proud of is perfect attendance throughout high school. My grandparents have instilled in me the value of education. They made me realize how privileged I am to receive such an excellent education, and I wanted to take advantage of all the opportunities I have been granted. I have developed a thirst for knowledge that has continued throughout my education and will continue to manifest. Another achievement important to me is receiving a gold medal for AGAPAE from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. The other co-manager and I worked very hard to create unique layouts for the magazine, and it was a great feeling knowing that our long hours paid off. Also, my artwork was featured in the Congressional Art Competition, All-County Art Exhibition, and GO APE Exhibition. I also have won awards at the Huntington Camera Club Contest and at the Long Island Media Arts Show. At OBHS I also have been honored to receive Academic Excellence Awards in Mathematics, Art, French, Science, and English.”
What is a high school memory that you will remember for the rest of your life?
“I will never forget my stage crew experiences. The long hours in the OBHS auditorium have taught me many lessons. Before being in this group, I rushed into art projects and academic assignments. As a crew member, I started projects by brainstorming and planning out my ideas. I also adapted to not becoming too attached to one vision. It was okay to go back to the drawing board and try again. The opening nights of the school’s musicals are the days I will never forget. The nights are filled with nerves and excitement. Everyone wants to present all of the hard work the cast, crew, and pit have put into the show and present our student body’s talent and creativity.”
During your time at OBHS, was there something you partook in that especially inspired you?
“For the past six summers, I have volunteered at our school district’s Summer Enrichment Program for special needs students. This program provides academia support and social activities for students with special needs. During the past few years, I have been involved in working with the younger students, and it has been amazing to see their yearly progress. These students are some of the most determined and kind kids I have ever met. They never let any obstacle in their lives stand in the way of their achievements. They inspire me everyday to try my absolute best.”
What did you learn about yourself from your many years at OBHS?
“Throughout my years at OBHS, I have realized my greatest strength and greatest weakness. My greatest strength is that I am a perfectionist. This quality leads me to have the motivation to complete all work, both in and out of school, to the absolute best of my ability. However, my greatest weakness is also that I am a perfectionist. I tend to spend too much time on the littlest of assignments. This trait of mine has led me to have many sleepless nights. Over the years, I have tried diminishing the negative side effects of this characteristic of mine by not being so hard on myself. I have come to accept that I should always be happy with the end products of my work if I tried my absolute best.”
How do you think OBHS has prepared you for life at college?
“OBHS has taught me how to take responsibility for my education. Especially during online learning, I have become more independent with my work. In college, professors will expect me to learn outside of the classroom, and I can now say that I will be prepared for that. I have also learned to use time management when meeting deadlines. Though I did have to learn this the hard way, saving work until the last minute is certainly not the best idea. Between balancing rigorous coursework and extracurriculars, I have found it best to plan out times during the week to work on a project and study.”
Is there something or someone that motivated you to do your best?
“My family has always been supportive of me. They never placed one bit of pressure on me, which I greatly appreciate. Ever since I was little, they always told me that as long as I try my best, they will always be proud of me. This positive outlook groomed me into the student I am today. Additionally, the faculty at OBHS has been nothing but supportive and helpful. Whenever I was confused during class, they were all more than happy to help me before or after school. I am also incredibly thankful for all of the opportunities my guidance counselors have given to me; they always believed in me, which pushed me to work even harder.”
During this pandemic, what have others done to recognize/celebrate your final time spent as an OBHS student?
“The faculty at OBHS and the PTSA have come up with great ways to celebrate the seniors. Between a faculty drive-thru parade, lawn signs, flags in front of the school, Google Meets with teachers and administrators, and weekly gifts in my mailbox, our school district wants to keep reminding us that we are not forgotten. These great memories and mementos have meant so much to me and have brought a smile to my face (along with some tears of joy). I will be forever thankful for all of this thoughtfulness.”
What would you want future students to know about this school?
“Students are truly lucky to receive the education and support that they do at OBHS. Teachers not only know all of their students' names but also try their best to connect with all students.”
If you could give students any piece of advice, what would it be?
“Take advantage of every opportunity possible in and out of school. Be part of extracurriculars, service projects, and internships that really interest you - not just because your participation ‘looks good for college.’ You will get more out of an activity if you are truly passionate about it.”
Salutatorian is just the beginning for a student like Julia Cutajar. Julia’s commitment to her academics and helping others has solidified her legacy as a memorable member of the OBEN community. Her moral compass is most certainly pointed in the right direction as she heads off to the University of Notre Dame in pursuit of making the world a better place. OBHS cannot wait to witness all of her accomplishments and successes, first hand. Good luck and congratulations, Julia!