Our New Paltz High School correspondent takes her leave of the Class of 2018

Cameryn Lesko-Jelley (photo by Lauren Thomas)

New Paltz High School’s Class of 2018 graduated last Friday, so Cameryn Lesko-Jelley’s days of profiling her fellow seniors for the New Paltz Times on a weekly basis are done. But one story remains to be told in these pages: Lesko’s own.

The outgoing student/athlete went after the New Paltz Times gig with the same drive that she displays on the soccer field, setting her sights on the position after getting to know her predecessor, Kate Fishman, in a shared class. “I’ve been very interested since my junior year,” she says. “Even when I was an underclassman, I would read all of them.” Among Lesko’s many extracurricular commitments has been serving as co-editor-in-chief of the New Paltz High School newspaper, the Maroon, and she was encouraged by the publication’s faculty advisor, Joel Neden, to pursue the post by contacting New Paltz Times editor Deb Alexsa.

Once in place, Lesko applied a similar philosophy to choosing the subjects of her senior profiles: allowing them to self-select. “I put a post on Instagram and asked if anyone was interested,” she explains. “I tried to do the least amount of picking.” While she admits that such an approach tends to favor “Type A” personalities and “people who have their stuff more together,” she made sure that introverted students who weren’t comfortable with being interviewed could participate via texting. “I think it was pretty representative,” she says of her roster overall.

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Fitting the demands of a weekly column deadline into her already-busy schedule proved more of a “shock” — especially during the fall semester, when seniors become preoccupied with filling out the daunting Common App to their colleges of choice. “It was definitely difficult,” Lesko says. “My senior year was probably the most jam-packed year I ever had in my life. I had to do a lot of writing. I made lots of schedules, lots of lists — always prioritizing things.”

Eventually, though, she got the rhythm down, working from a standard set of ten-to-15 questions that seemed to evoke interesting answers from her interview subjects. Lesko says that she prefers “the interviewing aspect, the people aspect” of journalism to the writing process itself: “I enjoy writing about people.”

Connecting with people by listening to their personal stories is a practice that Cameryn has honed over many years by interacting with her mother, Corinne Lesko, a social worker who counsels at-risk youth in group homes and homeless shelters. “My Mom is the most influential person in my life. I find her very inspiring,” Cameryn says, recalling how much she learned by accompanying her mother to work when she was little: “It was culture shock, but very informative.” She also learned to appreciate the privilege of growing up in a supportive household. “I have a Mom who can explain things. I never had to go home and think by myself.”

This psychological resource became invaluable when, over the course of Cameryn’s high school years, two of her age peers died: Maya Gold in their sophomore year and Becca Lynch in their senior year. It took the school administrators a while to figure out how best to break the news of such a tragedy, and how to help the surviving students cope, according to Lesko. “After Maya’s death, they wanted everything to go back to ‘normal,’” she recalls. “But people can’t go back to school the next day and learn chemistry. That’s not how people heal.”

The sudden loss of two friends brought out a renewed sense of solidarity and mutual support in the Class of 2018, though. “Our grade has had to go through losing two classmates. It shaped our whole grade as people,” Lesko notes. “Our classmates really came together for each other. It helped many people, including myself, prioritize what are the more important things.”

Lesko also suffered the loss of a longtime four-legged friend this year: an elderly dog, coincidentally named Maya, who had been the only child’s close companion since she first moved to New Paltz at the age of four. The timing was right, however, in that she “wouldn’t have to leave her for college.”

Cameryn says that she was always an outdoorsy type, her childhood filled with hikes and kayaking, “roaming in the forest, picking up sticks, making fires, making tipis.” She “fell in love with Native Americans” during a fourth-grade field trip to a longhouse. This led to a fascination with history and sociology, particularly “comparative studies of race and gender.” She plans to major in History with a concentration in Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies when she attends Connecticut College, a private liberal arts college in New London, beginning this fall. “I wanted a small school with small class sizes,” she says of her choice for higher education. “My favorite classes were always more discussion-based. I love it when teachers direct the curriculum to allow time to share. I like to hear my classmates’ voices and opinions.”

Besides her Journalism mentor Mr. Neden, Lesko has special shout-outs for the faculty at New Paltz High School who created a special sense of engagement in the classroom for her: Social Studies teachers Albert Cook, Lynda Costello and Jessica Fredericks and French teacher Renee Salamone. Mr. Cook’s Black History class, in particular, ignited an ambition in Lesko to visit Africa eventually and stoked her passion for history. “He’s an amazing teacher. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.”

Lesko says that she plans to stay involved in extracurricular activities at the collegiate level as well, continuing with soccer and basketball and clubs focused on social justice issues (she was vice president of the Multicultural Club at NPHS, and also “very involved from the start” with Students against Racism). “I think I’m going to write articles for the college newspaper — but not be an editor again.” Lesko also has artistic and entrepreneurial sides, and says that she might want to pursue the tie-dyeing hobby that she picked up at Dutchess Arts Camp. Law school is another option that glimmers on the longer-term horizon.

Meanwhile, there are tight bonds of friendship needing their due as graduating seniors — the Renaissance men and women chronicled by Lesko over this past year — radiate out into the pursuits of adulthood. “I want my friends to know how appreciative I am to have so many loving friends. I love them so much. They’re the smartest kids I’ve ever met. Their passion for things inspires me. We make each other better,” Lesko says. “It’ll be interesting to see where we all end up.”

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