Julia Cutajar is Class of 2020 Salutatorian
Ten years from now, Oyster Bay High School Salutatorian Julia Cutajar hopes to be designing buildings and amusement park rides that are perfectly accustomed to those with special needs and/or complex medical conditions.
“Whether it be playing with Lincoln Logs as a child or making furniture, I have always had the urge to create,” Julia said. Her passions for art & design and mathematics, coupled with her years of experience working with those with special needs, have put Julia on a clear path to making the world a better, more inclusive place.
This fall, she will begin her studies in architecture at the University of Notre Dame, an institution she was instantly drawn to because of its “powerful message of being a force for good in the world,” Julia said. “Notre Dame has an unparalleled community and network that I know will help me make an impact in the future. I truly appreciate how they stress students being a family and not in competition with one another.”
Through volunteering, Julia said she has seen first-hand the limitations those with special needs have in their everyday experiences. “My mission came to be when I volunteered at a children’s hospital and saw an inclusive playground,” she said. “I realized that I wanted this inclusivity to go beyond hospital walls and playgrounds.”
Julia honed her interest in the field by taking architecture classes at New Jersey Institute of Technology and the Catholic University of America “to solidify that architecture was right for me.”
A perfectionist at heart, she completed all work, both in and out of school, to the absolute best of her ability and will graduate Oyster Bay High School with a 110.01 grade-point average, after carrying a hefty course load and a busy after-school schedule. “During junior year, I was a media and PR intern at Oakcliff Sailing Center simultaneously with being a stage manager of stage crew. The end of ninth period was only the start of another hectic schedule. Right after school I would go to stage crew, and then run to work, and go back to the school if needed,” she said.
Throughout her high school career, she received numerous awards. Among her greatest academic achievements is receiving the District Attorney’s SHIELD Award, given to one junior in each high school in Nassau County who exemplifies service, honesty, integrity, excellence, leadership, and duty. “Most times, students are recognized for academics or sports, but rarely for character. While I am proud to graduate as Salutatorian, I place kindness above academic accolades because that is what I believe truly matters. Years from now, no one will remember your GPA; they will remember the kind of person you were.”
Julia is also proud of earning a perfect attendance record, a gold medal for the student literary journal AGAPAE, from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association while she was managing editor, and having her artwork featured in the Congressional Art Competition, All County-Art Exhibition, and the GO APE Exhibition. She also won awards at the Huntington Camera Club Contest and the Long Island Media Art Show.
Among her many activities, she was treasurer of National Art Honor Society and International Club, and have been involved in those activities, along with Mathletes and Stage Crew, throughout her high school career. She was also vice president of Math Olympiads and Theatre Arts Club, vice president of Foreign Language Honor Society, and a member of honor societies for mathematics, science, social studies, English/language arts, as well as National Honor Society.
Her greatest high school memories are the opening nights of the high school’s musicals. “After months of working on sets and collaborating with the cast and pit, all our hard work is finally able to be showcased to the entire community,” she said. “The night is filled with nerves and excitement. It is a great feeling being able to present Oyster Bay’s talent and creativity.”
Julia, who attended Theodore Roosevelt Elementary and James H. Vernon schools before attending Oyster Bay High School, said she has her family, teachers and her special needs friends to thank for her success.
“My family has always been supportive of me. They never placed one bit of pressure on me, which I greatly appreciate,” she said. “Ever since I was little, they always told me that as long as I try my best, they will always be proud of me. This positive outlook groomed me into the student I am today,” she said. “The faculty at Oyster Bay High School has been nothing but supportive and helpful…I am also incredibly thankful for all of the opportunities my guidance counselors have given to me; they always believed in me, which pushed me to work even harder. Last, but certainly not least, some of my greatest inspirations are the special needs friends I work with during the summer,” she continued. “These friends are some of the most determined and kind people I have ever met. They never let any obstacle in their lives stand in the way of their achievements.”
If anything could change about her high school experience, Julia said, “If I were a time traveler, I would try to prevent the virus from ever occurring. I wish we could have been in school for our final months. However, even though my classmates and I will not have the traditional ending of our senior year, I believe that the unique activities set up for us will be even more memorable. I also regret not having a chance to give my teachers a formal and in-person goodbye.”
As she transitions to college, Julia offered this advice for underclassmen: “Take advantage of every opportunity possible in and out of school. Be part of extracurriculars, service projects, and internships that really interest you—not just because your participation ‘looks good for college.’ You will get more out of an activity if you are truly passionate about it.”