Meet the Val and Sals of 2023

Amelia Liao and Grace Lee

On March 16, 2023, Great Neck South High’s class of 2023 valedictorian and salutatorians were announced. Jillian Chang, David Feuer, and Richard Zhuang, the val and sals respectively, all were excited while being congratulated by Dr. Gitz and the administration. 


What was your favorite class from each of your high school years?

Jillian Chang: So in freshman year, I would say Geometry Honors. It was really interesting to just learn about shapes. The fact we had to construct a perpendicular line not as we typically do from a ruler, but literally using mathematical skills. I think in tenth grade, I really liked AP Music Theory. So I play music outside of school and it was really nice to be able to learn about the theory behind the music. It’s essentially like grammar for music. So I thought it was super nice to be able to piece that together with my outside music endeavors. In junior year, I would say AP Psych because it was so applicable to daily life. We learned about the development of personality, why people act certain ways, how we behave in group settings, and after taking the class, I felt like everything that was happening in the world or all the behaviors that I noticed I would be like oh that’s this term or that’s the door-in-the-face technique. And then senior year, I would say AP Physics. Although the class is super super challenging, I think the labs are super fun, and I got to know some of my best friends there, so that was really nice.

David Feuer: So for my freshman year, I would say that my favorite class was Human Geography. It really introduced me to a new way of looking at the world. Of course, I had a great teacher, Ms. Macrigiane. Then, for sophomore year I really liked— that’s actually a tricky one because it’s probably a close tie between AP World and AP Art History— both of which are really interesting, and I’ve always been more interested in the humanities, I would say. For last year, for junior year, if there’s going to be a common theme here I really liked AP Euro. As I told you, I’m more of a— I’ve always taken an interest to history and the humanities. Although, of course, in all of my years I’ve always enjoyed my English classes, and this year, surprisingly, I’m actually really enjoying physics, which is something that I’m kind of surprised by because I think I haven’t had an open enough mind to sciences and STEM and stuff like that. Now I kinda realize it’s also a very valuable and interesting way of understanding and looking at the world. But also, every year, I really enjoy English and reading.

Richard Zhuang: So in 9th grade, I’d say my favorite class was geometry. Simply because I had Mr. Weisswange, and I think he’s a really cool teacher and he’s really good at math and he was passionate about it and I thought it was very nice to learn geometry from him. I also had a lot of classmates and friends in that class. It was just a really enjoyable and relatively relaxing experience, where I could learn but also have fun with my friends. In 10th grade, I think I would say journalism because— it was remote— but I really liked learning about the whole experience of doing reporting, conducting interviews, and I think it really helped me — it helped spark a passion in me for journalism. I really enjoyed that class as well. In 11th grade, I really liked AP chem. I’ve always liked chem as a subject in general, so I was really excited to take that class. I especially liked doing all of the experiments and hands-on laboratory activities ‘cause I really liked being able to conduct experiments or do titrations and whatnot. To be able to sort of figure out a solution to a certain problem or figure out an answer to some question. In 12th grade, I would probably say AP physics. Again, I think all the experiments and stuff were really interesting. I think Mr. Sckalor was a really fun teacher and I also have a lot of friends in that class too. So, yeah, I’m really enjoying that this year. 


What classes do you feel you excelled in? 

Jillian Chang: I think throughout these years, I excelled in most of the math classes and also I took Latin for all four years and I think I excelled in Latin throughout. I really like Latin and I like translating literature. Being able to piece together the bits of grammar to obtain a coherent translation. So I think part of the idea of excelling in the class I think comes from really enjoying the content. Genuinely enjoying learning.

David Feuer: I think I did pretty well in English and most of my history classes. I would like to reiterate what I said before, that the classes I didn’t do so well in were mainly math and science. I kind of wish I had approached them with a more open mind. They’re really interesting actually, and I think, if I were to give advice, the number one way to do well in school, if that’s your goal, is to take a genuine interest in what you’re learning and approach everything with an open mind.

Richard Zhuang: I would say definitely some of my stronger subjects were math, like geometry, algebra, pre-calculus especially I did really well in. I also did well in AP chemistry ‘cause I really liked that class but also, I did enjoy English and journalism. I think I did really well in those classes as well ‘cause I do like writing a lot. AP Lang and journalism I both enjoyed, and I think I did really well in those classes.


What’s your favorite memory from high school?

Jillian Chang: I would say undoubtedly chamber music. It’s so nice to be able to bond with my chamber music mates through not only playing music together, but also all the time we spent together practicing for our performances we would sometimes fool around, like sing our parts, but most of the time we were really on task and it was nice to be able to exchange our opinions and work together in order to come up with our I guess final performance.

David Feuer: I would say that my most special memories in high school have been in philosophy club, which my friend and I, together, started in sophomore year. We’ve had a lot of very meaningful and intimate discussions with a small group of people about some very deep topics sometimes. Yes, we talk about existentialism and different philosophers. We’ve talked about Nietzsche, we’ve talked about ethics, Kant, and so on. It’s just been a really great way to accrue people’s perspectives and it’s also an exercise in listening and empathy and argument and critical thinking. 

Richard Zhuang: I’d say my favorite memory is probably doing Science Olympiad. That was one of my main extracurriculars and I really enjoyed being able to hang out with many different people. The act of competing in many different science topics, such as chemistry and physics, and all that was really fun. I got to hang out with a lot of my friends where we would stay after school for a long time or sometimes some of my teammates were building and I could see how their planes or their vehicles were doing, and of course, going on the trips as well was really fun. It felt— it was a really tight-knit community where I could just study together and hang out with a lot of different people and it was a really enjoyable experience.


What is something you would tell your freshman self?

Jillian Chang: So, I think one thing I would say to myself is definitely step out of my comfort zone. Try new things because the more clubs you try out, the more things you try, the more you put yourself out there, you put yourself in an uncomfortable place, there are so many things you can gain from it. Like whether that be trying a new sport that you’ve never ever tried before or just talking to the person next to you in any class. There’s so many bonds you can develop and so many new activities and passions you can discover from just trying everything. And I think another thing I would tell myself is in the grand scheme of things, like you have to value sleep because that’s so important. If you’re deciding between an extra hour of studying or an extra hour of sleep, definitely everytime choose sleep because the extra hour of studying is not going to be worth it if you’re going to be so sleep deprived.

David Feuer: Actually, one of my regrets, if I may, if I have any, would be not joining The Southerner, ‘cause it seems like a really cool club and a really cool organization. I have some friends who are in it. I think I was kind of put off by the alternating days. There was a scheduling problem. I let that deter me, but I shouldn’t have. I would really like to say to everyone that our school has so many great extracurricular activities and opportunities and clubs. It’s really a great community to be a part of. Even though I, you know, have participated in many clubs I do feel like there are certain things that I should have done that I didn’t. Maybe, debate and The Southerner are among those two, I would say. 

Richard Zhuang: I would probably tell my freshman self to not be as uptight and sort of that pressured or worried about high school. I think, generally, I got even better grades or I did better in school when I didn’t take as seriously as I did ‘cause back then there’s a lot—coming into high school there’s a lot of pressure to get good grades and do well and join a lot of clubs and extracurriculars and I think it was definitely helpful being open-minded and trying to do a lot of different things, but I would genuinely recommend myself to be open-minded, be willing to try to new things, but don’t feel pressured to do anything and it there’s something that I’m not enjoying it’s better to drop it than to force myself to do it. So generally having a more open and relaxed experience.


What is something you want everyone to know about you?

Jillian Chang: I think I would want everyone to know that I am just a pretty normal kid. I love traveling. I love baking. I love ice cream.

David Feuer: It may not be so well known, but I was actually born in the United Kingdom and I lived in London for seven years before moving here to Great Neck, but my family is actually Hungarian, so my native language is also Hungarian. I only started learning English at the age of two. This is something that maybe is not so readily apparent, except if you know me personally.

Richard Zhuang: I’ve always been known — I guess for being “smart” and studying a lot or whatever, but I think I genuinely have a lot of different interests that people aren’t aware of. I like to play a lot of different sports or I have interests in playing video games and all that. Stuff that I’ve never really branched out about or opened up to other people about ‘cause I’ve been relatively reserved about, you know, some of my other hobbies or passions and I think I would want more people to know about that— that I do have diverse interests and yeah, I just don’t want people to think that oh I just study all the time. I actually—there’s a lot of things I enjoy doing.


When you walked into South for the first time, did you know or want to be val/sal of your grade?

Jillian Chang: Definitely not. It’s kind of funny because in middle school, I was always like wow wait being a Val means you need to give a graduation speech and I was so scared at that time. Public speaking terrified me. I did not want to go through this, so yeah when I was younger, I didn’t have that aspiration and I don’t think even as I got into high school, that really wasn’t my goal. My goal was just to try my best to achieve the grades through putting in my hard work.

David Feuer: I did not even know what sal, or salutatorian, meant, so no, I certainly didn’t have any plans or designs to this effect. I was actually kind of surprised when I heard the announcement. I did not know. I did not expect it. It is of course an honor, but it is also a responsibility and I hope to be able to live up to expectations and to give a decent graduation speech.

Richard Zhuang: I never really had that as the primary goal. My objective was to just do as best as I possibly could and, you know, as long as I got grades that I knew that “okay, this is the best that I can do” or as long as I knew that I put the best effort possible then I was happy with it when being the Sal was just a product of my efforts. It was never really a specific goal but I just tried to do the best that I possibly could and if I did that, then that was satisfactory for me.


Would you be satisfied with your high school experience if you hadn’t been val/sal?

Jillian Chang: Yeah, a hundred percent. As I’ve said before, I don’t think Val was necessarily my goal. I think all the memories that I’ve experienced through playing chamber music, through DECA, through all the activities that I’ve done. I think that has been such a memorable experience and I will never forget and I think grades are such a small part of high school. It really, for me, it’s not such a big thing. I think also personal growth is something that I valued a lot. I’ve learned so many skills since the start of high school. I learned how to manage my time properly. How to balance school life and social life. And I think those are so invaluable

David Feuer: For sure. As I said, it’s an honor. High school is about the things you learn, the friends you make, I mean, yeah, the classes you take too. All the memories and experiences you form and all of those would have still been there, had I not become salutatorian.

Richard Zhuang: I think definitely yes. It didn’t really affect me as a person. It didn’t really change how I viewed high school. At the end of the day, it simply just reflects your grades and that’s only one part of the high school experience. For me personally, grades have always been important. I’ve always had the goal of maintaining high grades but getting Sal specifically didn’t really change that and I’m still proud of the work I put in and getting the award wouldn’t have changed that.


Jillian Chang (Val)
Richard Zhuang (Sal)
David Feuer (Sal)