In the lives of many young people, high school graduation marks the celebration of a fresh start, the beginning of life as a young adult.
You’re no longer a teen with multi-colored braces, struggling to complete your math homework on the subway before you get to school. Instead, you’re ready to tackle the challenge of college, or even a new job. Or simply looking forward to discovering what a real fraternity party is like.
Justin Qi is definitely ready to explore that next chapter, especially after all the traveling he’s done in his young life. The Bronx High School of Science grad was born in Ottawa, but moved to Wisconsin when he was 4. Right before high school, his family picked up and moved again, this time to Riverdale. And he’s been there ever since.
“I felt like Bronx Science was a unique experience in that a lot of people I met didn’t really know anyone in the school, since we came from all over the city,” Qi said. “It was a fresh start for not just me, but everyone. So that made the transition a little bit easier.”
Before arriving in New York City, Qi ordered a prep textbook to get him ready for the specialized high school admittance test, since there were no prep classes in Wisconsin. Ultimately, that was more than enough as he landed a spot in one of the city’s more prestigious schools, Bronx Science.
One of the biggest benefits of the school was something known as “SGI” — small group instruction — where students seeking extra academic help could schedule time to meet with their teachers.
“Having access to teachers outside the classroom obviously helped me build relationships with them,” Qi said. “I really don’t think I could have gone anywhere else.”
One of his favorite instructors was Vladmir Shapovalov, Qi’s math research teacher, who worked hard to help students like Qi get through the college process. Shapovalov also ran the Bronx Science math research program, which led to Qi being the only high school presenter at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America last year. There he explained his project of calculating ages for fossilized animal teeth found in a Serbian cave in order to learn about the Neanderthal presence from long ago.
He presented similar research at another conference in Texas last April. And that was all after spending time working in a geochemistry lab at Williams College in Massachusetts.
“Most of my research stuff was not in the classroom,” Qi said. “I would work in a lab during the summers and during school breaks. Basically, it was a full-time job when I wasn’t in school.”
That may have made Qi a popular man on campus, but at Marie Curie High School for Medicine, Nursing and Health Professions, there is only one king, and he’s known as King Trell.
That royalty comes in the more common form of Lutrell Vivians, who not only graduated with honors from Marie Curie, but he also won accolades as a member of the school’s basketball team. He earned his regal nickname for constantly overshadowing his teammates when it came to statistics.
“They called me King Trell my whole junior and senior year because I carried the team on my back, comparing me to Lebron James,” Vivians said, referring to the NBA superstar who recently jumped from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 6-foot-3 forward averaged 22.4 points per game, 21.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists — during his junior year. By the time he was a senior, those stats had grown to just under 35 points per game, as well as 23.6 rebounds. Those numbers earned him a spot among New York City’s top 102 prospects coming out of high school, according to NYCProspects.com.
“The main reason behind those stats was for my team trusting in me,” Vivians said. With a roster filled mostly with freshmen and sophomores, Vivians knew he had to take a lead role.
“My coaching staff needed me to play that part,” he said. “Leading by example and showing them the right way to play by giving them 110 percent every game.”
Being a student and an athlete is not an easy balance. Vivians credits his success to a support system both at home and in school — all of which led to him walking across the stage to get his diploma.
“Academically, he was struggling because he was trying to adjust to balancing his studies and basketball, so he took some time off,” said Vivians’ mom, Serena. He used that time to focus on things that might help benefit him later in life like setting attainable goals through out the day, working out more, and setting time aside to study.
“He comes from a family that seeks a higher education over basketball,” Serena said. “We always encouraged him to go beyond his limit. I saw him make that U-turn in no time after his freshman year. He corrected that quickly, and now he’s successful.”
Qi isn’t done traveling just yet. In fact, he’s already starting to pack for a fall that will take him to not just any college — to Harvard University.
“I have very mixed feelings about leaving Bronx Science,” he said. “On the one hand, going to college next year is an incredibly exciting prospect, and it will definitely give gateway to a lot of new experiences and resources that I couldn’t access during high school. On the other hand, I’ll miss a lot of friends I’ve made at Bronx Science, and I also think that unique environment created by the specialized high school system, that’s kind of inevitable.”
Vivians is sticking around New York, taking his talents to Cayuga Community College in Auburn. There he hopes not only to play some more hoops, but also to study engineering — from a school that has a huge reputation in that field.
“I like basketball,” Vivians said. “But I’m a student first, and an athlete second.”
Qi’s still not sure what major he’s taking up quite yet at Harvard. But one thing he is sure of, his now former high school made sure he’s ready.
“I would say the biggest thing that Bronx Science has meant to me is an opportunity to engage with other students in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t moved from Wisconsin,” Qi said. “I’ve made a lot of close friends that I would like to stay in touch with for a long time.”