By Derek Liebig
The term polymath comes from the Greek word polymathes and defines a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas, a Renaissance man (or woman) if you will.
In ancient times the term often referred to scientists. Leonardo Da Vinci is widely recognized as the most well known polymath. Myron Rolle, the Rhodes Scholar who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans is a modern day polymath.
In Whitehall, a polymath looks a lot like Kelsie Benjamin and Kaitlyn Fiorini, this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian.
Like every valedictorian and salutatorian before them, Benjamin and Fiorini excel in the classroom; Benjamin has a 97 average while Fiorini a 95. But their excellence extends beyond the field of academia.
Both are members of the school band and lent their musical talents to this year’s Drama Club production. Both are exceptionally well rounded athletes and active in their community. And both have received some very high honors recently, besides being named the schools top two seniors.
Fiorini, this year’s salutatorian and a New Visions Health Careers Exploration student at the BOCES’ Southern Adirondack Education Center, was recently awarded the Adirondack School Boards Association Community Service Award.
She earned the distinction by demonstrating hard work and leadership in the New Visions program in addition to her volunteer efforts in the community which have included involvement with groups such as Big Buddies, the Girl Scouts, the Skene Manor, her church, and the Make-a-Wish Program.
Nancy Wiley, Fiorini’s New Visions Health Careers Exploration instructor describes her as a “student who always wants a challenge and continues to be motivated to step outside the box. She has been a joy to have in the classroom and has continually impressed me with her quality of work.”
Junior-Senior High Counselor Kristen Carey said it took a lot of guts and sacrifice to enroll in the New Visions program and be away from her friends during her senior year. “She’s has no fears. She’s very mature, friendly and brave,” Carey said.
Besides her volunteer work and diligence in the classroom, Fiorini has also participated in three varsity sports including soccer and softball.
“She’s a very sweet girl. There are not enough nice things to say about her. She’s always willing to lend a hand,” said Molly Gordon, Whitehall school psychologist and Kaitlyn’s softball coach. “She’s a leader and is just great to be around. She has a very bright future.”
This year’s valedictorian, Benjamin, is also a stand-out athlete competing on the varsity soccer team as well the indoor and outdoor track teams. She was also a member of the softball team before giving it up to concentrate solely on track.
In fact, she recently became the second member of Whitehall’s track program in as many years to sign a letter of intent to compete on the Division-I level at the University of Vermont, joining Brittany St. Clair who graduated last year.
“We’re very excited for both of them. They are great kids and will excel in college. They are both smart and very confident,” history teacher and head track coach Justin Culligan said.
Benjamin received scholarships for both her academic and athletic achievements and had also considered attending Lehigh, another college with high academic standards.
“In the end, I felt it was a better fit at UVM,” Benjamin said. “I’m looking forward to the new experiences and competing at a higher level.”
Carey describes Benjamin as “responsible, hardworking and resilient.”
“An interesting thing she told me; I asked her how she had done so well and she said when she hit seventh grade she knew she had to work her butt off.”
Besides her involvement in school, Benjamin was also chosen to help organize a youth leadership council at SUNY Adirondack and went to Costa Rica where she learned more about the Hispanic culture.
The academic success of both students is all the more impressive when you consider the types of classes both girls took.
Carey said Whitehall offers a variety of college level courses that enable students to earn up to a semester’s worth of college credits while they are in high school, something both girls have taken full advantage of.
“They’ve done outstanding especially when you consider the rigor of the courses they’ve taken,” Carey said.
Benjamin is expected to study business next year at UVM while Fiorini will pursue study in a health related field.
And perhaps more important than anything they’ve done in school or where they are heading is the type of people they have become.
“They are very down to earth and friendly,” Carey said. “They’re great kids.”