By TAYLOR HARTZ
Southington High School’s (SHS) top three students agreed on three things when reminiscing on their soon-to-be-over high school days:
They couldn’t have done it without each other. They will remember their time at SHS fondly, and even though they are leaving Southington for college this fall, they’ll be back.
As they prepare to turn their tassels at graduation next Friday, Timothy Cocozza, Emily Maciejewski, and Natalia Gimenez, leave SHS behind with a wealth of positive advice for underclassmen.
The first tip on their list: Don’t take anything too seriously. Although the three seniors worked hard to maintain their high GPA’s throughout high school, they agreed that the friendly competition between them died down after their freshman year.
“After that, we just motivated each other,” said Cocozza, the 2016 SHS valedictorian. “What mattered was that we did our best.”
They said that they hope to pass on their sense of camaraderie to future classes with a few words of wisdom to this year’s underclassmen and next year’s freshmen.
“Get involved in as much as you possibly can and just be happy,” Cocozza said.
For salutatorian Maciejewski, the key is communication and cooperation. “Never be afraid to ask for help,” she said. “You have a whole community behind you to support you.”
Gimenez, the Class of 2016 essayist, hopes to encourage others to be kind, friendly, and eager to pay compliments to one another in order to brighten someone’s day. “Smile, love everyone, and remember life is wonderful,” she said.
Cocozza, a year-round volleyball player, maintained his rank as first in the class of 467 students for all four years. This fall, he will attend the University of Connecticut (UConn) where he will seek a double major in psychology and allied health, with plans to attend medical school for pediatric oncology.
While Cocazza said he greatly enjoyed his psychology and anatomy courses at SHS because “they motivated me for what I wanted to do,” many of his extracurricular opportunities at SHS inspired his career plans.
During his high school tenure, Cocozza participated in Project Lead the Way and the UConn Early College Experience, where he shadowed Dr. William Pesce at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain.
The valedictorian said his schedule included lots of after-school help from his teachers, and he found a great mentor in Rebecca Migliaro, who teaches AP literature and composition.
“She taught me to be confident in myself and who I want to become,” said Cocozza, and he added that her advice had a major impact on his success by adding to his internal motivation.
“It’s been about believing in myself and focusing on the positive” said Cocozza, who said he hopes to work with children. “With my personality, I can really cheer people up,” he said.
Outside the classroom, Cocozza said he experienced a lot of inclusion and collaboration around the school.
“Everyone gets their time in the spotlight,” said Cocozza, whether it be in robotics, band, or athletics.
A member of the boys varsity volleyball team, Cocozza also plays for the New England Husky Boys Volleyball team, and manages the SHS girls volleyball team.
Off the court, he is a member of the National Honor Society (NHS), the math team, and the SHS Knights of the Round Table. His favorite activities included volleyball and working on the ride management team at Lake Compounce.
Salutatorian Emily Maciejewski will join Cocozza at UConn this fall, where she will study mechanical engineering with plans to pursue a career in the areas of aerospace or computer science.
Miciejewski said it has always been ingrained in her to be the best she can be, and that she benefited greatly from opportunities like Project Lead the Way, which solidified her desire to become an engineer.
She said that when it came to class work, she has always loved solving math problems. “It’s so cool how a lot of the problems are little puzzle pieces you can put together,” she said.
Miciejewski was a captain of the varsity girl’s soccer team. She competed in indoor and outdoor track, and is a member of the Academia Futbol club in Cheshire where she plays soccer year round.
The senior spearheaded a recycling program throughout the school, was involved in the Key Club, the Jump Start Summer Program at Hatton Elementary School, and was a member of NHS and the math team. She also found time to play violin for the orchestra and the drama club orchestral pit.
Gimenez, ranking third in the graduating class, will head off to Utah in the fall, following in her sisters’ footsteps at Brigham Young University. There, she hopes to study language arts, English, and foreign languages.
“The syntax of different languages are so beautiful,” said Gimenez, a passion she developed while taking Latin during her senior year.
Throughout high school, Gimenez has been actively involved in her church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She attended seminary classes five days per week, received the Personal Progress Award for more than 100 hours of church service and earned the Honor Bee Award for over 40 hours of service to the Young Women’s program at her church.
She played on the SHS varsity girls tennis team and played with the Parks and Recreation Summer program. She is a member of NHS, World Language Honor Society, and the Key Club.
As she prepares for her move to Utah, she said she isn’t nervous for the next step. “I’ve always felt prepared for what’s coming,” she said.
Gimenez said she was driven to give her parents “the success and good grades they deserve after all they’d invested in her success.” She said that she received a lot of support at home and at school.
“The teachers are involved, welcoming, and accepting,” said Gimenez about her time at SHS. “It really shaped what I want to do in my career. If I’ve ever needed help, I’ve always received it with open arms.”
As they finished recalling their favorite activities, most supportive teachers, and hardest assignments, the students were eager to rush off to use the remainder of their free period to continue working on one final essay. All three students will deliver speeches at the SHS graduation ceremony on June 10.