CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – It was Kaley Mamo’s love of literature and reading that began her road to academic success. The 2018 John Jay High School’s class salutatorian remembers how her father read the Harry Potter series aloud when she was a young girl and she became enamored with the written word.

She attended Katonah Elementary School, John Jay Middle School, and John Jay High School and although she accelerated in math and science early on, she discovered a real passion for the humanities courses.

“I was more excited about things like AP European history, which I took in my sophomore year and I loved,” she said. “The first advanced English class I could take was in my junior year, which was AP literature, and that was probably my favorite class at high school—I liked the challenge and the material.”

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Though she credits a very supportive family, Kaley sees her motivation to succeed as something intrinsic and saw that her grades reflected that when she was able to pursue her personal interests as much as possible.

“I would say, take classes that you are interested in because it is easier to excel at things that you like—I think that is really important,” she said. “I took humanities research, which I think is a very under-represented program at John Jay, but I think it’s really fantastic.”

For her two-year-long humanities research program, Kaley did a study of post-modern film and says that she may pursue a major in film studies, creative writing or English at Columbia University, which she will be attending this fall.

“I probably want to be a writer. I don’t quite know if I would go to the world of fiction, screenwriting or writing for TV,” she said. “I’d really love to write short stories for The New Yorker—that’s like a dream.”

Kaley’s love of writing has really shaped her extracurricular interests. She has been involved with Writopia, a nonprofit creative writing program for kids and teens, since fifth grade and has worked as an intern helping younger kids with their writing in workshops. Her fiction work has been recognized nationally and some of her original plays were produced for a single-night showcase in Manhattan. At school, she participated in Campus Congress at JJHS and works as an usher at the Jacob Burns Film Center.

Kaley credits some teachers and counselors as being great influences on her achievement.

“My English teachers Mr. Lewis, Ms. Weiss, Ms. Zlotnick were great, and Mr. Nittle, who teaches Latin—and all of the guidance department is super helpful and friendly,” she said.

High School Principal Dr. Steven Siciliano sees wonderful teachers as part of the larger picture when accounting for the success of John Jay’s students.

“Caring and committed teachers, engaged and supportive parents and community, rich curriculum offerings, a safe environment, and terrific students who are motivated, curious, and very hardworking,” he said.

As for some advice for other students going through the rigors of high school, Kaley offered, “Ask for help if you need it. Extra help is a good place to go, no matter if you think you should know the material or not—it could be a stupid question, but just go and ask.”

Her tenacity paid off with a grade point average above 100, ranking her No. 2 in a class of 298 graduates.

“It was never something I was striving for, specifically. It’s nice to get an honor after working really hard in school, so I was really happy and thankful to be named salutatorian,” she said.