Always looking ahead

PCHS valedictorian Thomas Ross believes Port Chester Schools are geared for the future

By John Donegan

This story originally appeared in the 7/2/21 edition of the Westmore News. For the original article, follow the link.

Thomas Ross is the typical atypical student. Member of this; president of that.

He is a member of three honor societies—National, Spanish and English. He competed in the 200-yard medley, 100-yard individual freestyle, and both the 200 and 400 freestyle relay on the varsity swim team. He presided over the One World Club, vice presided the Hack Club and kept records as secretary for the Entrepreneurship Club. He helped film the Ram Watch student interview series, dabbled with the Investors Club and co-founded Stumped, a school-wide icebreaker trivia game that encouraged students and teachers to get to know each other.

Somehow, Ross was surprised when Port Chester High School Principal Luke Sotherden told him in March that he was to be the Class of 2021 valedictorian as well.

“I was scheduled for a meeting with my counselor and principal, which I did think was a bit unusual,” Ross said. “It was definitely a shock. I knew I was a contender just because my GPA was so high, but I didn’t think I would be number one.”

According to Ross, the principal jokingly asked him for his input on a speech he had to deliver at graduation. Sotherden added that it would be good practice for Ross to help since he would be giving a speech, too.

While he had much to pick from, Ross did not ruminate over his feats at Port Chester High School too much in his speech. Beyond his extracurricular life and GPA, Ross is optimistic. He believes the district, in the way it was forced to adapt to virtual learning under COVID restrictions, inadvertently prepared itself for the post-pandemic world.

While Ross paid homage to the school’s resilience over the past 15 months in the beginning of his graduation speech, for the most part he focused on the future ahead.

“A fundamental thought I have is that we’re entering a new economy and COVID has shed light on how fast we’re entering this new economy,” he said in a later conversation. “We’re going from a world where you went to college and you got a job to a world where you can go to college but the job is not guaranteed. The only way to guarantee the job is to make the job.”

Ross practiced what he preached. With most of his clubs, he and his classmates probed for ways to either monetize an otherwise hobby or find ways to connect with a global audience. As a member of the Hack Club, he and club founder Eli Taylor-Lemire, a Class of 2019 graduate, built website structures through Node.js, an open-source server widely used by industry leaders such as Google. Ross said at one point they tried to make a business of it, though it ultimately fell through.

“We mostly built out the frameworks that a website would run on—databases, login systems and infrastructure systems,” Ross said.

The valedictorian was also heavily involved in the One World Club, an international program that former Rye Town Supervisor Joe Carvin founded in Port Chester that now has over 100 clubs spanning 10 countries. Ross wholly believes in the One World goal of integrating a global perspective and competency into the school curriculum.

“I have nothing but good things to say,” Ross said. “It was a great club and I think it really gives you an international perspective, which I think is important coming from a United States public school. You don’t really talk about global affairs or what’s happening internationally. I was very involved with the club.”

He joined One World’s leadership program in the eighth grade before transitioning to the club the next year. As a sophomore, he attended a February world conference that was hosted in Port Chester in 2019. Later that year, Ross traveled to China in April and then Wales in July for conferences as a representative for the district. While at the conference in China, he delivered three speeches to a total of 3,500 people.

And while the pandemic may have derailed some of Ross’s senior year goals, it did not deter his chances of entering a good college.

The valedictorian will attend Boston University in the fall. He chose their business school but isn’t sure if he’ll stay or transfer to another program. He’s interested in one day building his own business.

“I’ve always liked entrepreneurship and buildings things that others will find appealing, so that’s kind of what I’m naturally gravitating towards,” Ross said. “Another one of my interests is computer science, but I found that I like doing that on the side and learning through self-studying rather than getting a formal degree in it.”

However, what attracted him to the school wasn’t the campus. Boston University wasn’t even his first choice. On top of that, Ross has never actually seen the university in person, thanks to COVID guidelines restricting college tours.

“It’s definitely something I never expected doing,” he said. “I was hoping to go visit the college last spring when the pandemic first hit. It’s weird, but it also gives you a different perspective that you’re looking at the school a lot more closely than you would otherwise.”

What drew Ross there was Boston itself. His mother graduated from Boston University. He also appreciates the university’s innovation and its outlook on the future that matches his own.

Ross added that when it comes to fields like computer science, there isn’t as much value nowadays in a degree.

“I mean you can study the fundamentals in college, but really anything you study is not going to be things you can use, beyond the fundamentals,” he said. “By the time you graduate, the industry moves so quickly, you’re really just learning fundamentals.”

Though Ross is someone who perpetually looks ahead, he is still nervous about his move from the quaint Village of Port Chester to the bustling thoroughfares of West Boston, where he’ll be within eyeshot of some of the most prestigious colleges in the world. The 18-year-old has been a Port Chester kid his whole life. He began his education at King Street Elementary School. He keeps in touch with junior year English teacher Aaron Glazer.

“When you’re in the building, surrounded by your peers, there’s just this sense of community that I’ve always felt,” Ross said. “It’s a big school, but it’s a small school at the same time; it’s a tight knit community. And going to BU, I’m going to miss that close-knit feel.”

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