SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. – Mayayi Izzo didn’t expect to be valedictorian of South Kingstown High School’s Class of 2020.
In fact, there were stressful times during her classes when she had to persevere and stay focused on her goals.
“I just always tried to work hard and put in my best effort in so I could go to college and get scholarships,” Izzo said by phone. And the hard work paid off. Izzo will attend Brown University in the fall. She’ll study biomedical engineering.
At the start of her junior year, she attended the Biomed Academy, a summer program at Drexel University, that sparked her interest in the biomedical field.
“I might consider going pre-med, but I wanted to explore different interests and figure that out during the next two years,” she said.
Izzo, 18, typically has worked at Belmont Market for the past two years, but chose not to do so this summer because of the coronavirus.
She was very active during high school – she was on the varsity tennis team and was a member of several clubs.
“The Smile Club is a STEM club that does engineering challenges,” she said. She also was a freshman mentor and a member of the National Honor Society.
“Another one was Relay For Life, where we fundraise for the American Cancer Society,” she said.
Izzo said it was hard not to see her friends and classmates, and teachers, in person during the past few months.
“It’s kind of hard not to have the closure,” she said. “But I did like that we were able to have the virtual graduation and we were able to walk across the stage of our high school auditorium.”
She said she expects to hear from Brown University in mid-July about whether in-person classes will be held. The school has sent out a survey asking students whether they’d prefer virtual classes, in-person learning or a hybrid.
“I’m hoping to be on campus in the fall,” Izzo said. She plans to live on campus in Providence.
One thing Izzo hopes to experience again is participating in the South Kingstown slow-pitch softball league, which usually plays games in the spring.
“They’re planning on doing a shortened season this year, to play a few games with my teammates. This is going to be my last season,” she said.
Since she’s studied Spanish in high school, Izzo said she’d like to have the chance to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. She traveled to Ecuador as part of a science class in high school and was scheduled to travel to Peru before COVID-19 canceled the trip.
As for where she’d eventually like to live and work, she said New England is at the top of her list, but “I’m just not sure where yet.”
She’ll miss the South Kingstown community, as well as the high school.
“It gave me a lot of opportunities,” she said.
Opportunities and adversity also presented themselves to Lauren Hubert, the class salutatorian.
“Being apart from my friends has been the hardest part for me,” Hubert said. “People that I’d see just walking in the hallway every day. Not getting that was very difficult.”
Seeing friends via Zoom of Facetime became the norm, but that was not the same.
“Everybody was so busy with individual work and mental health and trying to find their own routines,” she said.
Hubert said she’s looking forward to change. She’ll be attending the University of Rhode Island in September, studying biomedical engineering as well. She was fortunate to receive the Thomas M. Ryan scholarship.
“I cannot wait to pursue all the opportunities that come with that scholarship, and hopefully get to study abroad and pursue some research opportunities,” she said. “Can’t wait.”
URI is preparing to tell Hubert and other students how and when they will return to class, she said. She wants to live on campus, if possible.
“Hopefully we’ll have in-person classes,” she said.
Hubert is a soccer player, and played on both the high school team and Premier league. Her best memory: Winning the state high school championship this year.
“That was really cool. It was an amazing way to end my four years. I get goosebumps talking about it.”
She also is a musician, and loves playing piano and guitar, and singing.
“I was part of eSKape at the high school,” she said. Performance videos by the vocal ensemble have received thousands of online views.
Hubert could list “so many people” that have helped and inspired her along the way. But her AP U.S. History teacher and Escapades adviser, Andi Kenyon, drew a special mention.
“She not only pushed us in the class, but that carried over into the rest of my studies. That was one of the hardest classes I took, and it was super rewarding.”