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At SWR, two students share spotlight as Class of 2021 valedictorian

When Mika Misawa received an email requesting she attend a meeting at Shoreham-Wading River High School, she figured it wasn’t a bad thing. A pessimist by nature, however, she said she couldn’t help but start to think about anything that just maybe could have landed her in hot water.

Her mother took a more pessimistic outlook at first too, forwarding the email and asking her daughter what she had done.

“I didn’t do anything bad, so I was really confused,” the SWR senior said.

At the same time, the high school also reached out to fellow senior Owen Beran. He recalled going into a meeting with high school principal Frank Pugliese and superintendent Gerard Poole.

The secret was soon revealed to both standout students: They had both earned the honor as the class of 2021 valedictorian.

With a weighted grade point average of 103.7, the two students finished with identical marks for the rare double honor in one district. Daniel Julian earned the salutatorian honor with a weighted GPA of 103.4.

All three students will get the chance to address their classmates at the commencement ceremony June 25, a return to normal as all the graduates will celebrate together after last year’s graduation was split up to limit the gathering size during the pandemic.

While both students knew they were at the top of their class, the announcement that they had both finished as No. 1 came as a surprise.

Owen said sharing the valedictorian honor didn’t change the feeling of earning the accomplishment. It was back to business and his typical routine once he found out back in March, he said.

Mika said she heard from people throughout her high school career that she may be the valedictorian, but it wasn’t something she focused on.

“I never thought it was a big deal or something people should strive for,” she said. “I don’t put too much weight into it, but I am honored to be able to talk to my classmates during graduation. I think that’s what I was hoping for.”

A dual valedictorian, while rare, is not entirely uncommon. Across Long Island this year, four other districts feature more than one valedictorian. Huntington High School was the only other Suffolk County school with two valedictorians. The top two students in that high school finished with identical GPAs down to the exact hundredths of a point.

Both SWR students said school officials didn’t get into specifics with them as to how they were determined to be exactly even. Mika said in a year with so many oddities, it seemed only fitting to cap the year off with something like a double valedictorian.

“Most of my friends found it really funny and really weird that both Owen and I are sharing the title,” Mika said. “And I’m fine with it.”

Owen said he had friends requesting a shout-out in his graduation speech.

Both valedictorians boast impressive resumes, tackling multiple extracurricular clubs, athletics and AP courses. Owen will attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. to major in nuclear engineering. More so than a valedictorian honor, attending the Naval Academy was a goal he had set for himself going back to fifth or sixth grade, he said.

“I’ve kind of grown up around service with my dad being in law enforcement and my mom being a teaching aide,” he said. “I’ve kind of been surrounded by it my whole life so it’s kind of been ingrained in me. I want to continue serving my country and get a good education at the same time.”

Owen found out he had been accepted into the Naval Academy around the same time as he learned he would be valedictorian. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) called him to share the good news.

Owen said he nearly didn’t pick up the call, but seeing a Washington, D.C., number, he knew decisions on the Naval Academy were coming.

“It was very cool,” he said to receive the news from Mr. Zeldin.

The congressman shared a video of the call on his social media in March.

“I can’t imagine how hard you worked for this moment,” the congressman said on the call.

“Wow,” Owen said in response.

Mika will attend Cornell University and plans to major in mathematics. She is also considering philosophy, which has been a big interest. In high school, she’s served as a member of the Journalism Club and president of the Global Awareness Club, which she described as a social justice club. She’s been editor-in-chief of the Global Awareness Club’s monthly newsletter as well as the school’s digital newspaper, The Pause.

She’s currently working on her final newsletter for the Global Awareness Club and hopes “to make it something special.”

And for both students, the next month will give them time to fine tune their speeches as they address their classmates after a school year unlike any other.