Francis Lewis College and Career Center Hosts Decision Day Celebration in Person

A drone hovered, capturing a photo of the seniors. The music blasted from the speakers. The participants lined up at the tables where they took pictures of themselves and with peers against backdrops and signed their post-secondary plans on their shirts, “#IDecided” emblazoned on them. 

Hundreds of members of the Class of 2021 attended the Decision Day Celebration Thursday, May 6. Hosted by the Francis Lewis College and Career Center, following COVID-19 guidelines on the school field, the event marked the first time the seniors had stepped onto school grounds since the pandemic shut down schools across the country a year ago. 

Leonardo Bernarbezheng, a senior at Francis Lewis High School who will study computer science at New York University in the fall, described feeling “excited” about going to the Decision Day Celebration.  

“It feels like I’m looking through the past again because I spent three years here and went through a lot of experiences,” said Bernarbezheng, who transferred to Francis Lewis sophomore year. “After a year of not spending time here and coming back, I’m enjoying this a lot.” 

Proximity and cost played a role in his decision to attend the institution, Bernarbezheng told FLHS News. 

“Out of all the schools that accepted me, my dream school was NYU,” he said. “It’s the closest — it’s in Manhattan. But the other schools, they’re pretty far away in Boston, Upstate NY or other states. Of all the options, including financial costs, NYU’s the best for me.”

The event symbolizes the Class of 2021’s “courage to keep fighting,” according to Cindy Yang, who is in a five-year dual-degree program for her bachelor’s and her master’s in physician assistant studies at Hofstra University.  

“I think that it actually allows us to unify together, showing us this hope that we can come to our normal selves,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to look back on all of our achievements since the beginning of freshman year, to get to see our friends and to know that we can celebrate for as long as we can until we make even more memories in college.” 

Envisioning herself surrounded by her patients enabled her to commit to her university, Yang added. “Knowing that I got accepted and that they were really excited to have me, I think it was a win-win situation to accept them.”   

Athina Halkiadakis reported feeling “anxious” about seeing her classmates for the first time in a year.  

“I hadn’t seen a lot of these people in over a year,” she said. “I’m so excited to see where everyone’s going and what people are going to do in the future.”

Although family and friends did not expect her to major in computer science at University at Albany, Halkiadakis believes that she will break barriers as a woman of color in STEM. 

“It’s not really a common thing you see,” she said. “I’m terrible at math, but I’m going to challenge myself and I think I’m going to do well in college. I believe in myself because it’s a career I want to go into.”  

Paulina Robles, who will study business at Queens Community College, recalled her favorite memory of signing her friends’ T-shirts that they had picked up from the tables at the Decision Day Celebration. 

“It kind of reminds me of middle school,” she said. “I had fun signing it, especially with peers I’ve been to middle school with.”

Seeing her friends made her “kind of nervous, but excited kind of nervous,” she told FLHS News, noting that the masks obscured her friends’ faces before she could identify them. 

“But there were some times where I saw someone, squealed at them and ran up to them in excitement,” she added.  

She thinks that the event reminds seniors to value graduating from high school more than gaining acceptance to selective schools. 

“I want all of my peers to give a little pat on their shoulder,” Robles said. “I’m pretty sure a lot of us have had our doubts and gone, ‘Oh, I’m probably not going to get into this school or whatever.’ If you have, congratulations — but if not, who cares honestly? You still made it at the end of the day.”  

Applying to college amid the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges to seniors, including record-low acceptance rates from top colleges that stopped enforcing test scores in undergraduate admissions, but Ms. Isshiki, college counselor, called the Class of 2021 “super resilient.” 

“No matter what the challenges were, we’re so proud of how you guys adapted and really did not skip a beat,” she said, speaking on behalf of herself and her coworkers in the College and Career Center. “We’ve worked with them throughout the year and it’s just so nice to see all the different colors of the sweatshirts and the colleges.” 

Halkiadakis offered advice to the Class of 2021. 

“Stay around good people and take good care of yourself,” she said. “I know a lot of seniors who worked hard to get where they are. They deserve to be where they are, to keep that mentality through college and to take care of themselves.”

Bernarbezheng reflected on going to Francis Lewis, delivering a message to his freshman self.  

“In these years, you will meet a lot of new friends and through these experiences many will change your life and you will go to your dream school,” he said. “Spend time doing things that you want and things you think will bring you joy.”