WAYNE, NJ – A once empty brick wall in the Garden of Wayne Valley High School is now adorned with a mural painted by Class of 2019 Senior President, Kristen Cinquino. The colorful painting contains a simple, one-word message: “Coexist.” 

The idea for the mural came after Kristen witnessed an act of bullying in her school. “My advisor, who was the Wayne Valley High School Anti-Bullying Specialist, told me that most cases that she gets have to do with people being different. Whether its sexual orientation, whether its race, ethnicity, religion. Whatever it is.” Kristen’s passion came out as she said: “Your differences don’t make you different. It makes you human!”

“You don’t have to love other people you don’t agree with, you just have to coexist with them. And, if we teach our children in school what it means to be tolerant and coexist with others, they’re going to learn.  It’s the same concept with cigarettes. Our generation doesn’t like cigarettes because we were taught from a young age that cigarettes are bad. So, if we teach our young kids to be tolerant and they teach their kids, it becomes a cycle and we will eventually get closer to a more peaceful world.”

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Kristen didn’t have a typical high school career.  Her mother Barbara, who was also one of Kristen’s troop leaders in Girl Scouts described her as: “A whirlwind. She was very active in school, in Girl Scouts and in community service.  She did a lot!”

Barbara went on to list her daughter’s accomplishments and activities:

  • 2019 Senior Class President.
  • Voted by her class as most likely to become President of the United States.
  • Founded and was President of the Garden Club for three years.
  • Executive board member of the National Honor Society.
  • A Peer leader as a Senior.
  • Helped to found a chapter of the Junior State of America at Wayne Valley High School.
  • Collected for the food pantry.
  • She loved basketball and helped with practice for the Special Olympics Basketball team. 
  • A tutor.
  • Worked with the WVHS executive council to create the first annual homecoming.

“Not only did she do things with her own troop, but she would also assist me with my younger daughter’s troop,” said the proud mother.

The mural and a corresponding YouTube video Kristen created were part of her Gold Award project for the Girl Scouts of America.  Kristen joined girl scouts when she was in kindergarten.  “My troop was so close, we were family,” said Kristen. “Whenever we went through hard times, we always had each other’s backs.”

Through her years in the scouts, Kristen earned her Girl Scouts Bronze Award and her Silver Award but only needed to complete an approved project that would make a difference in her community to earn the Gold Award, which is the highest award earned in Girl Scouts. “When you look at the Gold award side by side with Eagle Scout, gold award recipients actually put in more hours overall,” said Carrie Mundrick a Girls Scout Service Unit Manager for Wayne. “Not enough people know Girl Scouts is more than cookies and arts and crafts!”

“Kristin did an amazing project for her Gold,” said Mundrick. She is only the fourth girl scout in the history of her troop to earn the Gold Award.

“Kristen exhibited leadership qualities in Girl Scouts back as far as I can remember,” said Gina Okun, another of Kristin’s troop leaders. “She lives by the Girl Scout law in all that she does.  It's no surprise that she earned her Gold Award by giving something of compassion and kindness back to her community by creating a mural and educating others about coexisting with one another. The project was the perfect fit for her gentle, genuine personality. She is a great citizen.”

In 2017, Kristen went on a destination journey with the Girl Scouts to Belize where she learned about the local marine life and the culture of the country. The highlight of the trip for Kristen was when they visited a local school and interacted with the young students for a day. “We got to share our culture with them, as they got to share theirs.  At one point, they sang their national anthem for us and I was hysterical crying, because I loved it. Because I got to see these beautiful kids who love their country.  They don’t have all the luxuries that we do, but they were singing their national anthem with so much pride because they have all they need.”

Because of the experience with the children of Belize, gratitude became the theme of Kristen’s college essay and the speech she gave at Graduation. “Class of 2019, we have everything!” Kristen said during her graduation speech. “So, moving forward, we need to remember that. We need to remember above all material things what is important: gratitude. Find your moments to be grateful and use that gratitude to fuel the fire that resides in all of us. Whether you are going to college, to work, to travel, or to whatever is calling your name, make it count. Find a place that makes you happy and thankful. That is what I wish for all of you here. Do what completes you.”

At the August 21 Wayne Town Council meeting, Mayor Chris Vergano awarded Kristen a commendation from the town and read a proclamation: “Whereas Kristen has distinguished herself by success in achieving a goal realized by a very small percentage of the Girl Scout population, and whereas the result of her considerable accomplishments and dedication to excellence, Kristen Cinquino has brought honor and pride to her family, her community and the residence of this township. Now, therefore be it resolved that I, Christopher P. Vergano, Mayor of the Township of Wayne, do hereby honor and congratulate Kristen Cinquino upon attaining the Girl Scout Gold Award, and further be it resolved that I urge all the citizens of Wayne Township to extend their congratulations and best wishes to Kristen on this momentous occasion.”

Kristen’s YouTube video was played at the meeting and afterword, Vergano said: “There is hope for our world with graduates like Kristen.”

Currently, Kristen is starting her first year at Boston College where her major is marketing and her goal after college graduation is to work for a charity in their marketing department.  “I just read a book called ‘Thirst’ by Scott Harrison, who’s charity is ‘charity: water,’ and he is my biggest inspiration. I want to make a difference through charity and marketing and business.”

She hopes fervently that the mural she painted on the wall of her old high school will make a difference and leave a legacy of peace.

You can view Kristen’s video here: