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Catching up with 2000’s top students

June 29, 2010
By BILL ACKERBAUER, The Leader-Herald

Editor's note: In 2000, The Leader-Herald published a series of stories about the valedictorians at seven local high schools. Ten years later, we caught up with these individuals and asked them about their experiences since high school.

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In addition to being the top-ranked student in a graduating class, a valedictorian is the person who delivers the farewell address - the valediction - at commencement. Back in the summer of 2000, the valedictorians at seven local high schools said farewell to their classmates and their hometowns, eager to begin new chapters in their lives.

Article Photos

Photo courtesy of Emily Gabeler

Emily Gabeler, who graduated in 2000 at the head of her class at Gloversville High School, is a pediatric dentist. She and her fiance live in Tuckahoe, Westchester County.

College and careers awaited all of them, along with the pursuit of the excellence expected of those who distinguish themselves academically. Today, the local 2000 valedictorians are well on their way to fulfilling the promise they showed in their teens: The group of seven boasts a surgeon, a dentist and a pharmacist, as well as an engineer, an auditor, an educator and a priest-in-the-making.

Most of the seven are following paths similar to those they predicted for themselves 10 years ago, though those paths have included some unexpected detours.

All smiles

"I never expected to bea dentist," said Emily Gabeler, who was first in her class at Gloversville High School in 2000. After graduating magna cum laude from Cornell University, she went to dental school at Stony Brook. Earlier this month, Gabeler completed a two-year residency at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. She plans to begin her career with a pediatric dentistry practice in August.

Gabeler once aspired to be an orthopedic surgeon, "probably because I was so into sports - volleyball and tennis - and had suffered through several sports injuries myself."

She studied biology at Cornell and took all the required pre-medicine courses, but meeting and shadowing several enthusiastic dentists caused her to rethink her focus.

"There are no dentists in my family," Gabeler said. But as a pediatric dentist, she taps into the work experiences of both her parents - Jim Gabeler of Northampton and Cathy Gabeler of Gloversville. Like her dad, a retired teacher, she works with children, and like her mom, a nurse, she works in a health care setting.

Like many of the local 2000 valedictorians, Gabeler says her parents were supportive but they never pushed her too hard.

"The only pressures I have ever felt to succeed have come from me," she said. "I am very hard on myself and push myself, sometimes too much."

As the top-ranked student at GHS, Gabeler was her own toughest act to follow, but she pulled it off again in dental school, graduating with the highest academic average in her class.

In the years ahead, Gabeler expects to have no shortage of white coats in her household: She is engaged to a physician, Dr. Eric Manheimer. They have at least one other thing in common -he was the valedictorian of his high school class as well. The two live in Westchester County with their cat, Willi.

Women in the sciences

In a 2008 article published in the Journal of Advanced Academics, education scholar E. Anne York reported there still were gaps between male and female valedictorians in terms of both their career choices and their projected earnings, but those gaps have diminished considerably in recent decades.

Of the seven local valedictorians profiled by this newspaper in 2000, four are women, and all four exemplify a nationwide trend toward more women pursuing post-secondary education and careers in the sciences and mathematics.

While Emily Gabeler was studying at Cornell, one of her fellow students on that school's Ithaca campus was her counterpart from Johnstown High School, Christine Kinnier. Although they hailed from neighboring communities and they both had sights set on medical careers, the two valedictorians from JHS and GHS didn't know each other.

After graduating from Cornell, Kinnier went to Duke Medical School in Durham, N.C., where she specialized in lung-transplant research. She completed medical school this spring and now is in the second week of her surgical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"I love my job," Kinnier said. "I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by such brilliant people and to work with people who need me and benefit from the extra five minutes I spend with them."

Attending an Ivy League university and undergoing the intellectual rigors of medical school have given her perspective on the experience of being the top-ranked student in her high school class.

"It's made me realize how much coincidence goes into being valedictorian," she said. "There were other people in my class who were as smart as me; I just had a better grade by one 100th of a point."

But she acknowledges the valedictorian distinction may have been a factor in her college admission.

"Cornell was a very good place for me," she said.

Though she always intended to have a career in the sciences, Kinnier said the teachers she appreciated most at Johnstown were in other departments. She credits William Crankshaw, who was then the JHS choir director, with challenging her and broadening her cultural horizons.

"The exposure to classical music that I got was uncomparable," she said.

Likewise, she said, English teachers Nolan Marciniec and Elizabeth Batchelor held her to high standards. The critiques and comments they offered helped her hone the writing skills she now uses to prepare grant applications, Kinnier said.

"At Cornell, a professor asked where I went to high school," she recalls. "She was stunned that I got such a great education at a public school."

Crucial research

Like Kinnier, pharmacist Katie Cardone is in the business of providing lifelines to patients in fragile states of health.

Cardone, whose maiden name was Pallotta, was the 2000 valedictorian at Broadalbin-Perth High School.

The daughter of Dominic and Kathleen Pallotta, she earned a doctor of pharmacy degree from the Albany College of Pharmacy in 2006, then completed a two-year program in nephrology. In addition to teaching as an assistant professor at the college and working part-time as a druggist, she studies the ways drugs interact with the kidneys.

"One of the things I deal with is how medications are removed from the body by dialysis," Cardone said.

She finds the work rewarding, especially the interactions with patients involved in research.

"The patients like to be part of the studies," she said."They're contributing something."

Cardone remembers science teacher Anne Dietrich as a key mentor during her years at Broadalbin-Perth.

"She was a big influence," Cardone said.

In 2000, Dietrich had high praise for her student, calling her "a role model" for her peers -"a very special student and a very special person."

Cardone has a special person in her life and is about to welcome one more: Last year, she married fellow B-P alum Sean Cardone, who is a dialysis nurse, and they are expecting a baby in October.

Career came first

Also expecting this year is Danielle Montanye, the valedictorian from Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School's class of 2000. The former Danielle Fineout, she now lives in Rotterdam with her husband, Terrence Montanye. They are due to become the parents of a baby boy next month.

Raising a family didn't become a priority for Montanye until recently. Back in 2000, she told The Leader-Herald that she didn't want a wedding to be the next big celebration after her high school graduation.

"I'm not thinking about relationships until I further my career," she said.

After high school, Montanye studied accounting and business administration at the University at Albany, where she made the dean's list for four years straight and graduated magna cum laude in 2004. After college, she worked for Walmart Corp. in its internal audit department, rising to the position of senior auditor. Since early 2008, she has worked as an internal auditor for the New York State Unified Court System's Internal Affairs Department.

Last year, Montanye earned the designation of certified internal auditor, an accomplishment she lists among her proudest.

"I feel I've followed the path I set for myself," said Montanye, who acknowledges the role a cousin played in encouraging her to work toward a career in accounting. She also credits the support of her parents, Wayne and Julie Fineout of Oppenheim.

"They always taught me that the sky was the limit and encouraged me to do and be anything I wanted," she said.

Third-grade inspiration

Ten years ago, Mayfield High School Valedictorian Josh Dinaburg said he was leaving his options "good and open," planning to dive into his studies at the University of Maryland for the sake of learning itself.

He did indicate an interest in engineering, however, and he ended up earning bachelor's and master's degrees in that discipline. Today, he works as a fire safety engineer for HAI Fire Protection in the Baltimore area.

Recalling an inspirational figure from his formative years, Dinaburg reaches all the way back to his days at Mayfield Elementary.

"My third-grade teacher, Mrs. [Paula] VanDerVeer taught me a lot about the importance of thinking and reasoning and creativity," he said. "I attribute a lot of my early desire to learn to her."

Looking ahead 10 years into the future, Dinaburg says he hopes to be raising children with his wife, now his fiancee, Amy.

"And working just hard enough to keep them happy and fed."

Answering the call

One local millennial valedictorian has no plans to have children, though people soon will be calling him father.

Jay Atherton, of Northville Central School's class of 2000, is a year away from becoming a Roman Catholic priest.

"The priesthood was something I was thinking about when I finished high school, but I certainly took my time to run from that vocation for a while," Atherton said. While studying at LeMoyne, a college in Syracuse affiliated with the Catholic Church and the Jesuit order, he considered a variety of career paths - social work, teaching, counseling and higher education -but he wasn't certain which road to follow.

"A volunteer program seemed the best way to spread my wings and try stuff out," he said. "And it was."

For two years, he worked with Redemptionist Volunteer Ministries in inner-city Philadelphia. Through that program, he worked as a GED tutor in the prison system and did administrative work for a women's shelter in Atlantic City, N.J.

"It was a precious time when I got to try all of the things I thought I might want to do," he recalls. Unlike some of his peers, Atherton enjoyed leading fellow volunteers in prayer.

"I found it life-giving ... " he said. "I needed to take a more serious look at the priesthood."

He applied to the Catholic Diocese of Albany's priesthood formation program and became a seminarian in 2006. Finishing his philosophy studies at Sienna College, he was sent to Mundelein Seminary in Illinois for theology studies.

With one year left to go at the seminary, Atherton was ordained this spring as a deacon, and he is expected to be ordained as a priest next June. This summer, he is working at Albany Medical Center to gain experience serving as a chaplain.

"The models I had in my parents [John and Cathy Atherton] of sacrifice and service have certainly influenced the way I was finally able to embrace my vocation," he said. "My grandparents, and the ways in which they looked after people, especially my paternal grandfather [Harvey Atherton] and his hospitality, have provided me with models of passion."

'It's not about us'

Like most high-achieving graduates of the last few decades, the 2000 valedictorians have left the Fulton-Montgomery area to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

Luke Prime, the 2000 valedictorian at Fonda-Fultonville Central School, spent the better part of the decade away at school or overseas doing missionary work. More recently, however, he felt the pull of home and family and faith.

After high school, Prime earned a bachelor's degree in biology, graduating summa cum laude from Houghton College. Leaning toward a career in medicine, he earned a master's degree in public health from Dartmouth College. While doing research for his master's project in the Dominican Republic, he also did missionary work through Simple Purities, a faith-based organization that serves the medical and spiritual needs of refugees in that Caribbean country.

"You feel like you are at the forefront of Christ's kingdom ... You sharpen yourself through these experiences," he said, citing Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

Prime is deeply involved with Saving Grace Baptist Church in Fonda, where his father, Wade Prime, is the pastor.

After completing his master's degree, he was accepted at Upstate Medical University at Syracuse, but he deferred his enrollment. His father and other leaders of his church asked him to start up a new Christian school, Buckler Academy.

"I felt that was where God was leading me," Prime said. He served as administrator of the church-affiliated school for three years before it shut down, partly for financial reasons.

"A lot of unfortunate factors lined up," he said.

Since September, Prime has worked for the Upward Bound program through Fulton-Montgomery Community College. He tutors underprivileged students at Amsterdam High School, helping them become the first members of their families who will go to college.

He is active in his church, leading a youth group, directing the choir and playing the piano during services. He is preparing to teach a Bible class, as well.

Being his class valedictorian, he says, taught him some things about ambition and the drive for success.

"Being a motivated student is often a very self-focused lifestyle, but it's not about us," he said. "It's about other people and what we can do for them and for God - for his good and his glory."

Though he's tempted to seek opportunities in other areas, where he might be able to put his degrees to better use, for now he is content. In August, Prime plans to move from Fonda to Johnstown, where he is buying a house.

"I like being here. I like being in my area," Prime said. "I have a solid family and a solid church family."

Bill Ackerbauer is assistant city editor of The Leader-Herald. His blog, "Bill's Broadsides," can be read at



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