Whether you were the jock, the artist, or the science nerd in high school, we’re sure there’s a lot about those days you remember fondly—and maybe some things you’d rather forget. We caught up with seven Westchester teens to find out how the teen years are different these days, what has stayed the same, and what it’s really like to be a teen wearing a label—and we’re not talking Prada.
[The World Citizen]
Nadia Ahmad, of Larchmont, is a 17-year-old senior at Riverdale Country School.
Interest: International Relations. Nadia is involved with Model U.N. at school, takes Urdu, has worked with the Hispanic Resource Center in Mamaroneck, and traveled to Botswana this past summer to do community-service work.
How did you become interested in international relations? My dad is from Pakistan and, from an early age, I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and traditions.
What do you like to do most outside of school? I’m a competitive horseback rider. I sing inside and outside of school, and I took piano for fourteen years, but recently quit.
What teen look do you despise? Punk.
What do you think about “sexting?” People think it’s ridiculous.
What do your friends think of teen pregnancy? It’s so far from reality at my school.
What do your friends tease you about? Not being Jewish since my school is ninety-eight percent Jewish.
Is there a lot of drinking and drugs in your school? Yes. Being in the City, it’s so easy for kids to access drugs and alcohol. Although, at my school it’s completely fine to not do it and still be accepted.
What do you do on the weekend with your friends for fun? I go into the City.
Jamaal Gill, 18, of New Rochelle, is a freshman at Boston University.
Interest: Sports (especially basketball). In high school, Jamaal played on the New Rochelle High School Varsity team and on the Brooklyn Ballers AAU team. He won five Most Valuable Player Awards in basketball from 5th through 12th grades and helped younger athletes at Remington Boys & Girls Club in New Rochelle.
Have you ever been in a serious relationship? Not since eighth grade. I’m kinda sad about that.
Do kids at your school date? Definitely—a lot.
If they made a movie of your life, who would you want to play you? Cuba Gooding, Jr.
What teen fashion look do you despise? Those short, tight leggings that all the girls wear.
Favorite musician? Ne-Yo.
Favorite website? NYChoops.com.
What was your most embarrassing moment? Last year in a basketball game, we were playing against Mamaroneck. I got a steal and had a wide-open layup. But I missed the shot and the whole gym was laughing at me.
What did you most hate about high school? Free periods—they’re so boring.
How much drinking goes on in your school? A lot. Most everyone in tenth through twelfth grades drinks on weekends. And it seems like the kids who get drunk the most get the best grades. I struggle to get my good grades, and I don’t drink at all.
Who do you admire most and why? Kelly Johnson [Executive Director of the New Rochelle Youth Bureau]. He is African American and in a wheelchair. He has to be bold and courageous to do his job. He’s changing the lives of kids in New Rochelle every day.
If you could trade places with anyone in the world for one day, who would it be? Jay-Z. He is the man.
William Snyder, 18, of Ossining, is a freshman at the University of Rhode Island.
Interest: Engineering/Science. William is an INTEL Science Talent Search Semifinalist who came in second place in Physical Science at the New York State Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. He was a member of his high school’s engineering club. William built an underwater ROV (remotely operated vehicle) and is a diver, pursuing his interest in ocean engineering.
How would your friends describe you? Smart or computer savvy.
Whom do you admire most and why? Bob Ballard. He started the JASON Project, a program designed to teach students about scientific exploration. He found the Titanic and other wreckages.
What’s your favorite book? I read a lot of Clive Cussler, but one book I liked when I was younger was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
What’s your favorite TV show? MythBusters.
What reality show would you want to be on? Wipeout.
What did you most hate about high school? The cliques.
What was your worst grade ever? At the beginning of junior year, in AP U.S. History, I got a sixty-five on the first test. The whole class got twenties and forties. It was a wake-up call for me.
If you could live elsewhere for one day, where would it be? Underwater as an aquanaut.
What’s your worst habit? Wasting lots of time online. I know all the cellphones scheduled to come out three months from now.
What do your friends tease you about? They joke around about how I know everything about computers. I’ll be on my laptop and they’ll ask me if I’m hacking into the school computer.
Rachel Groh, 19, of Purchase, is a sophomore at Dartmouth.
Interest: Volunteerism/Activism. Through her participation in the Tucker Foundation, Dartmouth’s student community-service organization, Rachel is involved in a number of volunteer projects. She works with the Prison Project (programs for inmates at a local prison), Book Buddies (reads with a second-grade “buddy”), and she bowls with Special Olympics athletes. Rachel also organizes events with the Generations Project (with local senior citizens) and participates in North Country Weekend (which encourages inner-city kids from Boston to attend college). When she was in high school, Rachel was very involved with the Port Chester Carver Center, and she still volunteers there when she is home from college.
What do you like most about being a volunteer? I enjoy the people I get to meet—people I’d never get to meet or understand otherwise. For instance, I volunteer at a prison and getting to know inmates is something I’d never get to do outside of this situation.
What are the biggest challenges in being a volunteer? Sometimes the people you want to interact with don’t want to interact with you—that can be discouraging. But that only makes the rewards so much bigger when you do break through.
If you could change one thing about adults, what would it be? This isn’t with all adults, but sometimes they think that just because a younger person comes up with an idea there’s something wrong with it.
What teen fashion look do you despise? Crocs.
What superstar do you like and why? Amanda Bynes. She seems down-to-earth, has kept out of the tabloids, and lives responsibly even though she has money and fame.
What reality show would you want to be on? The Amazing Race. It’s my dream to travel the world while doing exciting and challenging activities.
What’s your worst habit? Late-night snacking.
Is the girl “drama” different in college than it was in high school? Yes, very. Maturity makes a big difference. Issues that would have been huge in high school don’t matter in college.
Where do you see yourself in five years? I’d really like to be in the Peace Corps or Teach for America between college and graduate school.
[The Miss All Around]
Mayra Pesantez is a 17-year-old senior at Port Chester High School.
Interest: Mayra is president of the junior class, president of Lions United, and active on the Westchester County Youth Committee, Yearbook Committee, volleyball team, softball
team, and community service club. She also works two jobs (as a lifeguard and at a store).
Have you ever been in a serious relationship? No.
Do kids at your school date? Too many. You can’t go down the hall without seeing couples kissing or fighting or hugging or talking. A lot of girls at my school are pregnant.
Is there a lot of partying at your high school? Yes. There are parties every Friday night at people’s houses or people go to clubs.
A lot of drinking and drugs? Yes.
What would you ask President Obama to change about our country? I’d ask him to make abortion illegal.
What do you want to be when you grow up? An accountant, because I really love math, and it seems like a cool job.
If you could change one thing about adults, what would it be? For them to remember how hard it was in high school.
What are you most thankful for? My mom.
What teen superstar do you like? Adrienne Bailon from the Cheetah Girls, because she’s a good role model. Even though there were rumors about her that there were naked pictures of her, she’s moved on.
What’s your favorite shop? Joyce Leslie in Port Chester.
Do girls in your school wear a lot of makeup? Yes. I don’t wear a lot because I don’t like it. When you take it off, you don’t look the same. There’s no point to it.
What are the boys at your school mostly into? Besides girls, sports.
And the girls? Boys or clothing.
[The Black Belt]
Sabine Williams, a 16-year-old junior at the French-American School of New York, lives in Hartsdale.
Interest: Shotokan Karate. Sabine is a black belt in the Shotokan style. She has competed in and won several tournaments and attends the Horie Karate Dojo in Hartsdale at least twice a week.
When and how did you become interested in karate? According to my mom, when I was four-and-a-half, I saw it on Sesame Street and I wanted to do it. So she let me.
Do you have a boyfriend? No. Boys complicate life.
Do kids at your school date? There’s really no opportunity. Our school is so small—there are only thirty-six kids in my grade.
How much drinking goes on in your school? It’s not a big problem.
Do girls in your school wear a lot of makeup? No.
What’s your favorite shop? Forever 21.
What teen fashion look do you despise? Uggs with summer skirts.
What teen superstar do you dislike? Miley Cyrus, because she seems really fake.
What’s your favorite TV show? Scrubs.
Is there a “mean girls” thing going on in your school? There used to be, but then they all left.
If you could get a professional makeover on any part of your life, what would it be? My house because I’d like to have my own room. I share with my ten-year-old sister.
If you could trade places with anyone in the world for one day, who would it be? Nelson Mandela.
Whom do you admire most and why? My mom, because she just finished law school.
What magazines do you read regularly? I like Seventeen. It’s not all fashion and telling you to to be all skinny.
What’s your favorite thing about living in Westchester? I feel safe.
[The Openly Gay Teen]
Thadius Lajara, of Bronxville, a 16-year-old junior at Sacred Heart High School.
Interest: Gay Activism/Poetry. Thadius attends programs at Center Lane, Westchester’s only community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and attended the Prideworks for Youth conference. Thadius is also an editor of his school’s newspaper and literary magazine.
How old were you when you came out? Fourteen. I told my mom and she was okay with it.
Whom do you admire most? My mom.
Is it difficult being gay in Westchester? Not really; just in parts. Like at the Cross County Shopping Center or places I’m not familiar with. When you’re different in a crowd, you stand out.
Are you dating anyone? No. It’s bad. I don’t like to be single.
Is it hard to meet other gay boys in Westchester? Yes, very hard. I meet people at Center Lane. I wish I didn’t have to go there to meet boys, but it’s the only place I see other gay kids.
If you could change one thing about adults, what would it be? Bigotry.
What reality show would you want to be on? The Real World because it seems cool to be in a house with different people and get to know them.
Favorite music group? Danity Kane.
What do you most hate about high school? The drama—it’s petty; the ‘he said/she said’ stuff—it gets annoying. It’s like middle school.
What’s the drinking situation at your school? There’s a lot. There’s actually more smoking and more peer pressure about that.
If you could get a professional makeover on any part of your life, what would it be? I’d want to go on an extreme shopping spree and get a new look. I’d go for the rocker look, punk.
What do you and your friends talk about? We mostly gossip.
Photography by Chris Ware