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Kukic and Sklyar Graduate as Top Two Seniors

Posted on Wednesday, May 31, 2023 by for Awards, Media, Miscellaneous.

Two students standing in the hallway
Valedictorian Altin Kukic (right) and salutatorian Aleena Sklyar (left) appear poised for great things. Photo: Caroline Pychynski

High School – full of tests, quizzes, friendships, and stress – is coming to an end for the class of 2023. Amongst the students who have left their mark on Midwood are valedictorian Altin Kukic and salutatorian Aleena Sklyar.

After surviving the hardships of high school, Kukic finished with a GPA of 103.49, while Sklyar finished with a GPA of 102.7.

Kukic was accepted to Harvard University on a full scholarship as well as to the Macaulay Honors College to obtain an undergraduate degree in chemistry education. He plans to eventually get a master's degree at Columbia Teachers College and return to Midwood to become a chemistry teacher.

"I fell in love with chemistry on the first day of ninth grade because of Mr. [Vincent] Adams," he said. "The class upheld my motto of applying knowledge to various questions rather than memorizing concepts." Kukic went on to take AP Chemistry as a sophomore.

Although the work was really hard, his family was always by his side. "My mother and sister, who I think of as 'comfort,' would always buy me a Red Bull before each exam," he said.

Kukic has been a chemistry tutor at Midwood since his freshman year and joined the science research team in tenth grade, working on cervical cancer research with professors at CUNY and St. Francis. A busy guy, he's also the office secretary at a doctor's office on the Upper East Side, an election chairperson at the Board of Elections, and the superintendent of his building. Still, he somehow has time for hobbies.

"I enjoy planespotting and walking by the Caesar's Bay waterfront with my sister, usually sipping on Starbucks," Kukic said. "I'm also a creator of an AP Calculus prep book, and I played badminton for twelve years."

Kukic has an interesting test prep strategy that other Hornets might want to give a try. "My favorite memory at Midwood was going to the library before I had exams and giving lectures to myself, especially about AP U.S. History, while everyone, including the librarians, would listen," he said.

Ms. Cecelia Manno, Kukic's AP U.S. History teacher, will remember him as a very eager and hardworking student.

"Altin is the most diligent student, avid reader, and real critical thinker I have ever met," said Ms. Manno. "He is always looking to learn, and I felt that a lot of the time, I was talking to an adult. He has a lot of potential, and he's a kind-hearted person with an old soul."

"I hope that when I come back in six years, I'll see that same Midwood buzz, and most importantly, still see Ms. Manno in room 2S," said Kukic.

Sklyar, the school's salutatrian, took 10 AP's during her academic journey. "It was nice to know after all the AP classes I took, something came out of it," she said.

The accomplishments took dedication and sacrifice.

"To get a high average, you have to take a lot of classes," said Sklyar. "During my junior year, I took four AP classes, including AP Chemistry, which definitely hit me. But even though all those AP tests were hard, I studied a lot for each of the exams and it paid off."

One of Sklyar's most rewarding classes was science research, she said, where she worked with her partner to study neuroscience.

She is continuing her education at Tufts University, where she will be majoring in biochemistry.

"I really like chemistry, which is why I took AP Chem," said Sklyar. "In the future I want to major in pharmacology, which is the study of drugs and medicine, and biochemistry is the first step in understanding how substances react with the body. So I would major in biochemistry first, then go to graduate school for pharmacology."

The support she got from her teachers had a big impact, she said. "All my teachers helped me a lot," said Sklyar. "They were always willing to work with me."

Sklyar, who also enjoys dancing and reading, was described by her friends as "honest" and "optimistic."

"Aleena is one of the most hardworking and motivated people I know," said senior Zita Zhong. "Even during times when she's not feeling well, she still manages to get her work done without any hesitation. I would say that, as a student, she's super diligent, disciplined, and responsible. And as a friend, she's always willing to help out others when they are in need and will give 100% of her support to them."

So keep your eyes open as these two seem poised for great things, in science and perhaps even back in Midwood's halls.

Written by Caroline Pychynski and Charlotte Lee (Class of 2024)
This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of Argus.