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Greenburgh Alumni Return to WMHS to Connect with Students and Share their Journey

Mr. Tokarski, WMHS science educator and NYS Master Teacher, doesn’t have much of a presence on social media besides the networking platform Linkedin for professional connections. However, it also became a way for him to see where his former students have landed after graduating from WMHS. “Our alumni are doing great things out in the world,” he said. “I realized this  was a great opportunity for current students to hear their stories and  have access to a network of alumni - whether it’s for Science National Honor Society or for our WISE program. There’s also great value in just hearing about their different paths and where it led them.”

It was an idea that turned into action. With the help of WMHS science teacher Ms. Lwanga and WISE coordinator Mr. Fritz, a panel of five former GCSD students presented to a packed audience full of WMHS students in the black box theater. David Castaneda (‘19), Nile Williams (‘16), Awa Nyambi (‘15), Daniel Kraemer (‘15), and Heather Valentine (‘14) each spoke about their trajectory from WMHS to the present day in careers in the fields of finance, data analysis, law, doctoral degrees, and entrepreneurialism . The alumni spoke about the college experience (Fordham, University of Buffalo, Harvard University/ Howard University Law School, University of Connecticut, and Baruch College) and how following their interests led them to discover what they truly wanted in a career. Highlights of wisdom that the alumni shared included the importance of time management, networking, putting in the work and seeing the results, setting priorities, having a stake in what you do, and making an investment in yourself. “As educators, we have conversations with students all the time about possibilities and pathways for their future,” said Ms. Lwanga. “But to hear from other students who have traveled this same road ahead of them, that adds the impactful layer of relatability.”

The insight and advice from the alumnus come from a place of practical knowledge. For some, the path wasn’t always linear. Nile Williams started out as an international business major at the University of Buffalo. His sophomore year he switched to finance because he thought that would bring more career opportunities. In his junior year, he added a second concentration - data analytics. “I ended up transitioning out of finance and into data analytics because I found it much more interesting,” he said. After working for a stint at an investment firm as an analyst, Niles ended up landing a job that combined both his personal and professional interests. “I work as a data analyst for the USTA (United States Tennis Association). It’s a great fit because I love sports.” he said. “I really enjoy what I do now.” 

Heather Valentine started out studying biology at WCC and graduated from Baruch College with a business degree. “Going to a CUNY school was one of the best decisions I made,” she said. “It became really important to me to stay in New York City because I had built such a strong network circle.” Heather works in real estate, managing large complexes in Manhattan. 

Awa Nyambi majored in economics at Harvard University. Math was a favorite subject at WHS, but it wasn’t the only one. Civil rights and racial justice was equally compelling to Awa. “I was fascinated with civil rights leaders who fought for racial justice in the legal system and won,” he said. And in college, one class really struck a chord with him. “There was a class I took in college called Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Question of Conscientious Citizenship,” he said. “It was about how to contribute to society, no matter what you do.” So, after an internship with Bank of America led to a full-time job after graduation, Awa decided to stack opportunities by incorporating the racial justice piece in his future career plan by pursuing a J.D./M.B.A. degree from Howard University Law School. Awa will be completing his degree in 2025.

The message was clear from the former Woodlands students that - yes - hard work can be challenging, but it’s often what will yield the best results. Mr. Tokarski had a slightly different take. “That can sound almost like a cliche,” he said. “A better reframe would be: always show your work ethic.”