The road ahead was not clearly paved for Carmine Passarella. Instead, C.J., as he's known to family and friends, forged his own path through determination, diligence and dedication.

Noting that she separated from her husband when C.J. was 9, his mom, Judy Passarella, said, "I've heard him say that he's never going to struggle like I did." To prove it, she said, "he's got the brains and the smarts and the drive and the will power."

Observing how hard his mother worked to support four kids on her sole income, Passarella described himself as "naturally driven," said, "it just gave me more reason to try hard In school and get involved in the community, so I could be successful when I'm older."

Passarella, 17, a senior at Sachem High School North, said that his mom let him become his own person. "Having a mom who cared more about me wanting to be happy and me just being successful at whatever I enjoy, that was more important to her than me having a certain resume," he explained.

In high school, the peripatetic Passarella served as president of both the Economics and Future Club and the French Language Honor Society, vice president of the National Honor Society, and team captain of the Euro Challenge Competition Team. He also founded the Fed Challenge Competition Team, an economics competition, and serves as team captain

In addition to a stellar academic record, Passarella, with a friend, founded Sachem North Free Library, which provides Advanced Placement and other test-prep materials to less-advantaged students.

"We felt it was something that was becoming more and more necessary in our district, especially if we want to make ourselves a more competitive district," Passarella said.

Volunteering at a food pantry and the Cental American Refugee Center in Brentwood, where he teaches English to immigrants, adults and adolescents, Passarella began a letter-writing campaign to state officials to appeal the decision to cut funding for refugee-assistance programs.

He credited that volunteer work with expanding his community, saying "it just gets me talking to people who I normally wouldn't really be speaking to."

Running through Passarella's many activities is his genuine desire to have a positive, lasting impact on other people's lives.

"It does makes me happy to know that the students that I'm teaching English to are able to find jobs now and go to parent-teacher conferences now and feel confident because I helped them learn English," he said.

Judy noted that from a very young age, her son was the one to set goals for himself.

"And he's achieved every one of them and then some," she said.

Regina Marcazzo-Skarka, a French teacher and adviser to the Foreign Language Honor Society, said Passarella "is the type of student that one only encounters a few times in an entire career of teaching. He's a person that will be a lifelong, passionate learner. He is also a great leader."

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HIGHER ED: Passarella will attend Harvard University and double major in linguistics and statistics.

FRESHMAN YEAR: Passarella said he's "looking forward to meeting new people and having even more opportunities to go out in the world and see what fits me."

IF I RULED THE WORLD "I would want people to be more empathetic."

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