Ian MacTaggart made the most of his years at Newark High School.
Before he spoke at the annual Academic Excellence Awards dinner, English teacher Chelsea Fladd, who coordinated the event, discussed his career at NHS that led to him receiving the Merit Cup Award at graduation:
“This NHS alumni has left a lasting impact on this school. He is currently attending the University at Buffalo and is in his second year in biomedical sciences with a minor in public health. Continuing his trend of excellence in academics from high school, three years on high honor roll all four quarters and principal’s list his senior year, Ian has made dean’s list all four semesters his past two years at Buffalo.
“Aside from Ian’s accomplishments [at NHS], his accolades outside of the classroom were astounding. Ian has played a role in nine theater productions, six of which he was cast as a lead role. He also was a member of the Concert Band, Jazz Band and Wind Ensemble, and participated in All-County during his junior year, in addition to participating in the the Hochstein School of Music Wind Symphony. Furthermore, Ian was president during his junior year of Health Occupations for Students of America, and went from junior member to corporal in the Newark Arcadia Volunteer Ambulance group.
“Anyone who knows Ian, knows he is very social and wants to include everyone whenever possible. His contagious smile and jubilant demeanor has been shared through his part-time job at Wegmans, his church, internships at local hospitals and on athletic teams where he has won several awards. His Script N citations are more than one can easily count, which helped attribute to his success on earning the Merit Cup.
“Ian is the type of leader who wants to reach out and help influence others, which he did while involved in the Link Crew program as a Link leader, welcoming the incoming freshmen class and assisting a small group of freshmen as a mentor the entire year. His genuine concern for others is not only contagious but refreshing, which he demonstrated as a team player on Newark’s first-ever unified basketball team.
“All of these outstanding achievements and qualities led Ian to be the leader he is today. He is the quintessence of accomplishing his ambitions and following his dreams of achievement, which have led to his success. He started out in the same way you all did, as students in the same desks you sit in every day. Ian set goals in his life and took charge of how he was going to accomplish them. He is the epitome of personal victory.”
MacTaggart’s talk, however, touched on an unexpected topic for a dinner that recognized students in grades 10-12 for earning an average of 90 or more during each quarter of the 2017-18 school year: failure.
“Failure does not follow a strict definition, nor does it care to try,” MacTaggart said. “Even though I am only a year and a half out of high school, I want to share how failure has affected my life and academic career, and how it has made me more successful than I could have imagined.”
MacTaggart originally wanted to attend Binghamton University, where he and his best friend, Nick Tarplee, would major in biomedical engineering on a pre-med track. Tarplee, also a 2017 NHS grad, was accepted. MacTaggart was put on a waitlist.
“I simply could not fathom that I was waitlisted,” he said. “Luckily, I had people in my life — like my parents and several faculty members like Mr. Flanagan and Ms. LaPaglia — to pull me back to Earth. All of their advice echoed the same message, that this is not the end of the world and that there are other options.”
He was accepted at his second choice, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but the $40,000 annual tuition he was responsible for after his $100,000 scholarship was too steep. Stony Brook University, his third choice, also put him on a waitlist. His last choice, the University at Buffalo, accepted him immediately.
Remembering the advice he’d received, MacTaggart toured UB again and decided to attend in the fall of 2017, knowing he could transfer to another college if he didn’t like it. After he sent his housing and tuition deposit, Binghamton University said he could join its liberal arts school in the spring. He declined.
MacTaggart said the waitlist decisions and moments of panic and hopelessness launched him into a school and area that he loves.
“I have excelled academically; met lifelong friends like my current roommate, Nimish, from Mumbai, India; became vice president of one of the largest student clubs; and, along with my executive board, brought in one of the most popular political pundits in the country to an audience of 700,’’ he said. “Most importantly, I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy my time there.”
MacTaggart said there were some setbacks along the way.
“Before I even started at UB, we had to sit through a three-hour session specifically on our major,” he said. “Long story short, I was not a fan of biomedical engineering and the kind of work that it entailed. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to keep my GPA up if I took on the difficult coursework in something I didn’t enjoy learning about. So at the end of the session when the biomedical engineering adviser asked the room ‘Does anyone know that they want to change their major?,’ I was the only one to raise my hand. Now I am in biomedical science, a major I very much enjoy and still kept me on the pre-med track.”
MacTaggart said he was waitlisted after applying to be a resident assistant in his dorm complex. Instead of letting it trouble him, he decided to pursue a backup plan.
“I enjoyed my time at Newark Arcadia Volunteer Ambulance during high school, so I took an EMT course and got my EMT certification last summer at FLCC,” he said. “I applied for a job a month ago with an agency that covers the suburbs of Buffalo and was denied employment, mainly due to my availability during the school year. So now I am going to work as an EMT here in Newark over winter break to get more experience and reapply over the summer with Twin City Ambulance.”
MacTaggart said what initially seemed like negatives have proven to be the opposite.
“All of these occurrences and more have only led to better opportunities, and I still have done very well throughout my short time in college and plan on continuing on that path,” he said. “I think it is important to talk about failure, because it is going to happen and I feel that I should have been more prepared for it. I did not hear it enough in high school and I hope the experiences that I shared show that everything happens for a reason. The path you follow may not be the one you imagined, but that may be for the better. My advice is to keep your mind open. If a door closes, do not stare at it but look for others that may be open.”
In closing, MacTaggart congratulated the students being recognized at the Academic Excellence Awards dinner:
“Seniors, I wish you luck in wherever you go next year. Sophomores and juniors, good luck in these next few years and do not forget to have a good time.”
Principal Tom Roote spoke after MacTaggart, welcoming everyone and congratulating the following students.
Class of 2019: Natalie Acquista, Abigail Belliveau, Haley Brown, Jasmine Bueso, Megan Bullock, Sierra Caldwell, Liam Childs, Caitlin Chopan, Alexander Collom, Emma Correia, Anabel Darling, Madison Dillion, Jayden Durfee, Amanda DuVall, Casey Fox, Jacqueline Furfaro, Elizabeth Henniger, Jake Huber, Bryson LaBerge, Joseph Malach, Bailey McCormick, Alberto Morales, Emma Perrone, Chastity Reynolds, Connor Robbins, Zachary Rodrick, Damon Rogers, Colin Steiner, William VanDusen, Medina VanDuyne, Alexandra Ventura, Mallory Williams and Dylan Wong.
Class of 2020: Phoebe Bates, McKenna Briggs, Adria Brown, Kelsie Bushart, Benjamin Cepulo, Sami Chamberlain, Jenna Duffy, Hannah Fisher, Cherylanne Garrett, Andrew Greene, Lynzee Havert, Emma Healy, Stephen Hughes, Matthew Hutteman, Evelyn LoTempio, Lauren MacTaggart, Cameron McAllister, McKinley Miller, Luis Ortiz, Nadia Rothpearl, Deborah Szarek, Emily Tang, Madeline Tulloch, Elana Verbridge-Day, Emily Wells and Kayla Williams.
Class of 2021: Ashley Allegretti, Jalen Bel, Alexandra Briggs, Faythe Burns, Jensyn Cintron, Michaela Colacino, Phillip Collom, Isabelle Figueroa, Rachel George, Ryan Hermanet, Morgan Hildreth, Nicholas LaVilla, Leah Lockwood, Joshua Mercer, Layla Naschke, Preston Precourt, Emma Robbins, Ryan Rossell, Stephen Skvarek, Jacob Stalker, Brenna Stefanides, Carter Steve, Julius Teabout and Cameron Watson.
“It is with deep gratitude and special pride and honor that I have the chance to address you here this evening as we celebrate the accomplishments of our most academically gifted,” Roote said during his speech. “Unfortunately for our honorees, this recognition does not represent the closing of a difficult chapter only to be replaced with a simpler one. Instead, this is really a turning of the page to more perseverance and grittiness.
“When considering what message to share with you tonight, I was drawn to the calendar as I often am when seeking inspiration. Two dates drew my attention. First was Nov. 6, or Election Day. In the U.S., Election Day is the day set by law for the general elections of federal public officials. It is statutorily set as ‘the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November’ or ‘the first Tuesday after Nov. 1.’ The earliest possible date is Nov. 2 and the latest possible date is Nov. 8. This year, we are looking at Nov. 6. Election Day is a public holiday in some states. Some other states require that workers be permitted to take time off with pay. There you have it, a few fast facts about Election Day.
“The second date that caught my attention is a bit more somber. On Feb. 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and staff and injuring 17 others. It was the deadliest shooting at a high school in U.S. history, surpassing the Columbine High School massacre that took place on April 20, 1999. The shooting was the deadliest mass shooting of 2018, and came at a period of heightened public support for gun control following the attacks in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas.
“Given your bright futures in our democracy and the impact social issues are having on today’s young people, I ask you to do what many students impacted by the Parkland shooting are doing and consider how you can have an impact. How can you turn lofty dreams into realities?
“Several news outlets reported, ‘Parkland students are finally facing the moment they’ve been leading up to with marches, school walkouts and voter registration events throughout the country: their first Election Day. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student activists set their sights on the 4 million U.S. citizens turning 18 this year. They’re hoping to counteract the voter apathy that’s especially prevalent among the youth during midterm elections. Jaclyn Corin, one of the founders of the March for Our Lives group, states, “This is truly the moment that young people are going to make the difference in this country.”’
“I will close by asking you to use your voice, use your intelligence to be powerful. Whether it is readying yourself for your first election or simply sharing a smart, well-crafted opinion to effect some change, I dare you to have a voice and make a difference in this country.”
Roote and Assistant Principal Robyn Ross-Squirrell presented students with certificates of recognition for their academic achievement.
Dinner guests included Superintendent Matt Cook; Krista Lewis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction; Jennifer Singer, director of pupil services; Monica Stadler, assistant director of pupil services; and Russell Harris, president of the board of education. Fladd thanked everyone involved in the Academic Excellence Awards dinner:
“This is the 14th year that the Rewards and Incentives Committee has hosted the Academic Excellence Awards dinner,” she said. “Tonight’s dinner will be served by the following members of our faculty: Becky Hauf, Danielle McGavisk, Lindsey Lapaglia, Lori Reed, Elaine Esan, Haley Curley, Justin Fladd, Alex Hennessy, Becca Yuhas, Shannon Hersh and Mark Eakins.”
Fladd said students who had been recognized for two or more consecutive years at the Academic Excellence Awards dinner would receive an athletic pass. This pass will allow these students to attend all athletic events for the upcoming year at NHS for free.