Three years after a horrifying car crash took the life of Carmen Rivera-Gotay, local attorney Carol Schlitt presented the third annual scholarship given in the teenager’s memory to Huntington High School Class of 2016 member Yardalie Daniel.
An incoming senior who would have graduated with Huntington’s Class of 2014, Ms. Rivera-Gotay and Class of 2013 member Ray Vega lost their lives on June 29, 2013 in an early morning accident on Walt Whitman Road in Melville.
Ms. Daniel came to the United States in 2010 when she was 12 years old. She fled her native Haiti after an earthquake rocked the capital city of Port au Prince. Registering 7.0 on the Richter scale, the temblor killed 220,000 people, injured 300,000, left 1.5 million homeless and affected 3.5 million folks of all ages.
The teenager was honored this past spring as a Distinguished Senior after compiling a minimum 90 academic average in every semester of high school. Ms. Daniel considered Binghamton University, Manhattan College, Mercy College and the University at Buffalo and the University of South Carolina before deciding to attend SUNY Cortland. She plans to major in business with a possible concentration in finance or business law.
Ms. Daniel said what she enjoyed the most at Huntington High School was “being able to explore different activities and classes with lifelong lessons, making friends with amazing people from different groups and caring teachers, who became friends and mentors.”
Inducted into the National Honor Society as well as the English and Spanish honor societies, Ms. Daniel was co-president of the high school’s mock trial club, vice president of the A World of Difference club, an Anti-Bias Task Force award recipient and a law firm office intern. She traveled to Alabama with Huntington’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, volunteering on community rebuilding projects.
Ms. Daniel credits her success to being “confident and determined” and to the support of her parents, friends and teachers. She’s known for never giving up when faced with a challenge and for pushing herself to succeed at whatever she undertakes.
Erin Plante was the first Carmen Rivera-Gotay scholarship recipient in June 2014. She has been studying at SUNY Morrisville. Last year’s award winner Jessica Tucker recently completed her freshman year at the University of Alabama.
Carmen Melissa Rivera-Gotay was born on December 11, 1995 in Bay Shore. She was popular around Huntington High School. Interested in art and music, the teenager set high goals for herself. She was working hard in school and had taken a job as a bookkeeper at King Kullen on New York Avenue to save money for college. She was thinking about pursuing a career as a psychologist.
Ms. Rivera-Gotay once offered advice that summarizes the essence of the scholarship presented in her honor: “Try. Take chances. Make mistakes. Life can be messy and confusing at times, but it’s always full of surprises. The next rock in your path might be a stepping stone.”
“We want to create a stepping stone in Carmen’s honor,” said Carolyn Gotay, Carmen’s mother, during the first scholarship presentation in 2014. “We want to create something tangible to remember Carmen and all the goodness she brought into our lives. Therefore, we have created this scholarship. We did so to keep her memory alive, to remember the friendship, the joy and warmth that she brought to so many. This scholarship honors Carmen’s memory by recognizing a student who shines because of the fullness of her heart, brightness of personality and willingness to give of herself.”
The Schlitt Law Firm sponsors the $500 scholarship. To be eligible for the award a student must:
- Demonstrate community involvement through activities in school or in the community.
- Have been a positive force in school through his/her caring and respectful interaction with his/her fellow students.
- Have been accepted to a two or four year college or university, trade or vocational school.
- Be on track to graduate at the conclusion of the school year.