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LIVINGSTON, NJ — After recently being named as 2020 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists, 12 Livingston High School (LHS) seniors had the opportunity to thank the K-12 teacher who has had the biggest impact on each of their lives. During a special ceremony at the high school on Monday, the seniors presented the teacher they selected with a book that they felt best represented their relationship.

“We were very fortunate in Livingston this year that 12 of our LHS students were selected to be National Merit Semifinalists,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Block. “This is a very difficult status to achieve; as the title implies, it’s a national recognition, and students are measured against other students throughout the country. We are really proud of our students at LHS that they have achieved this distinction.

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“We know that their achievement is supported by their own hard work and the support that they get from their families at home, and we believe that at least part of their achievement is also supported by the great educators that they have had the chance to interact with here in the Livingston Public Schools.”

In addition to honoring the achievement of the students, Block explained that the board also wanted to give the students the opportunity to recognize one educator who they believe has “made a difference in their life, has inspired them or has helped their achievement either personally or academically.”

The semifinalists are listed below along with the educator they selected as well as a brief explanation of the book they each selected.

Dina Brustein honored LHS physics teacher Megan DeBlieck and presented her with a copy of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” by Richard Feynman.

“I chose to honor Miss DeBlieck because she has been very supportive throughout my high school years and inspired my passion for physics,” said Brustein. “I chose [this book] because it is about a physicist exploring other disciplines for fun, and that reminded me of Ms. DeBlieck’s diverse passions outside of physics, and how she always encourages her students to apply their skills and thought processes from physics to other industries.”

Jacqueline Chan honored LHS physics teacher Dr. Dorine Starace and presented her with a copy of “What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” by Randall Munroe.

“Thank you so much, Dr. Starace, for fueling my passion for science research and for guiding me and supporting me every step of the way thus far,” said Chan. “I chose [this book] because it was one of my favorite childhood books growing up, and I hope that you will enjoy the outside-of-the-box and creative applications for physics.”

Erin Chang honored LHS English teacher Charissa Sorrentino and presented her with a copy of “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann.

“You inspired my passion for English, fueling my hunger to use words carefully and fervidly,” said Chang, who credited Sorrentino for making English class one of the most rewarding experiences she has had at LHS. “I chose [this book] because this book made me work more cognizant and empathetic toward the world around me, much like [your class] in general.”

Aditi Desai honored LHS chemistry teacher Susan Spadafina and presented her with a copy of “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova.

“Thank you, Miss Spadafina, for making feel both challenged and also comfortable in chemistry,” said Desai, adding that Spadafina inspired her passion for the subject. “I chose [this book] because I was inspired by the resilience and the courage the main character, Alice, demonstrated towards the struggles she encountered.”

Kenneth Ding honored LHS investing/personal financial literacy teacher Alex Lamon, who could not be present, but will receive a copy of “The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan” by Sebastian Mallaby.

“I chose to honor Mr. Lamon because he is an excellent economics teacher, debate coach and mentor,” said Ding. “I chose [this book] because it discusses the life of Alan Greenspan, a man who is deeply and intimately connected to economics, the subject that Mr. Lamon is most passionate about.”

Jeffrey Liao honored LHS environmental science teacher Michelle Sipe and presented her with a copy of “Drawdown” by Paul Hawken.

“Thank you, Miss Sipe for being an inspiration and a passionate environmental science teacher and for teaching me about important scientific issues,” said Liao. “I chose ‘Drawdown’ as my book because it talks about climate change and how we can address it.”

Nirav Patel honored LHS U.S. History teacher Ernest Cuneo and presented him with a copy of “George Washington’s Leadership Lessons” by James Rees and Stephen Spignesi.

“I chose to honor Mr. Cuneo because, by far, he was my favorite teacher—no offense to anyone else—and he really made me appreciate history and the world around me,” said Patel. “He also helped me realize my potential and really inspired me in the classroom. I chose [this book] because it explores the lesser-known side of George Washington as an entrepreneur and a leader.”

Katrina Pham honored LHS music theory/orchestra teacher Nancy Ciminnisi and presented her with a copy of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain.

“Throughout my high school career, Mrs. Ciminnisi has taught me to look at the world through a different light,” said Pham. “[This book] reflects how Mrs. C has always encouraged me to understand others, and I would now like to thank you for everything you’ve taught me.”  

Ethan Reiter could not attend the ceremony, but honored LHS sociology/U.S. history teacher Dawn Feeley, who accepted a copy of “Utilitarianism” by John Stuart Mill. His written statement was read aloud to the audience.

“I chose Mrs. Feeley to honor because her class instilled within me a desire to better understand the world and my place within it,” he said. “I chose [this book] because it provides and interesting perspective on morality and goodness and builds on many of the philosophical discussions I have had with Mrs. Feeley.”

Angela Wei, who was the only student to select a teacher from her earlier years at Livingston Public Schools, honored her Harrison Elementary School teacher, Dolly Mendes, and presented her with a copy of “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr.

“I chose [this book] because both the writing and storyline are really beautiful, which I thought you would appreciate,” said Wei. “Thank you, Mrs. Mendes, for inspiring my love of art, which I have carried far beyond elementary school.”

Ian Xiong honored LHS algebra/computer science teacher Matthew Wasserman and presented him with a copy of “The Sorcerers and their Apprentices” by Frank Moss.

“I chose to honor Mr. Wasserman because he is someone who constantly challenges me to explore new fields of computer science both in and outside the classroom,” said Xiong. “Specifically, I chose [this book] because it’s full of innovative and creative technology that I hope will inspire him just as much as it inspired me.”

Emily Zhang honored LHS algebra/calculus teacher Dorte Poyner and presented her with a copy of “Tessa & Scott: Our Journey from Childhood Dream to Gold” by Steve Milton.

“Thank you, Mrs. Poyner, for being a supportive and helpful teacher and for making algebra and AP calculus fun,” said Zhang. “I chose [this book] because it has a really inspiring message, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

The superintendent recognized LHS Vice Principal Dr. Danielle Rosenswag for organizing Monday night’s program and reiterated the importance of demonstrating to the teachers the impact that they have on their students’ lives.

Many in the audience during Monday’s Livingston Board of Education meeting congratulated the district for hosting such an inspiring ceremony.