For this year’s valedictorian, Peter Kropf, achieving success has been a convergence of lessons learned at home, in the classroom and on the basketball court.
Hard work and a bit of grit are at the foundation, but he humbly noted that keeping a sense of humor and just enjoying the ride are equally important as striving to make the grade.
When he stopped by the Reporter office for an interview last week, two final exams stood between him and a walk across the stage at graduation. He took a break from studying to discuss his high school experience and what the future holds.
“People might want to label us as the kind of students who only care about our grades, but that couldn’t be further from the truth for both Kelly and I,” Peter said, congratulating fellow graduate and salutatorian Kelly Colligan. “We’re not at all competitive. We just tried our best,” he said of the final rank.
Relieved that the most stressful parts are over, he’s also thankful for his support system at home.
“I never felt pressure from my parents, ever,” he said. “Their hard work inspires me. My dad is a man of many talents — he can do anything. But they also know how to have fun. They’re cool. Not many teenagers can admit that about their parents.”
Despite being first in his class, he doesn’t think he quite fits the stereotypical idea of the title ‘valedictorian.’ He’s more laid back, focusing more on the journey here rather than the final destination.
“Education was less about grades and more about focusing on the future and preparing for life,” he said.
Preparedness, Peter knows, is key to a grand-slam outcome. It’s something he learned from his social studies teacher and baseball coach, Peter Miedema.
“The four P’s,” he said, quoting his favorite mentor’s mantra: “preparation prevents poor performance.”
Peter remembers hearing this adage on the field before a big game and in the classroom before AP exams.
Playing sports — basketball and baseball each year since fifth grade —have helped build character, teaching him the importance of balancing planning with patience. “It’s helped both ways…sports with school and school with sports,” Peter said.
Sports have been a staple of his life since he was very young. As a child growing up in Queens, he first fell in love with basketball watching pickup games on the streets and jumping into as many games as possible. He loves baseball equally, and has written about both for the Reporter as well as coached and umpired around the Island.
Though he has excelled in each subject, he has a passion for history.
“Trigonometry, for example, isn’t something I could necessarily see myself using in the real world. But I found myself constantly analyzing, debating historical decisions, and just thinking about the past,” he said. “[History is] relatable. We learn about great people who go out and get things done, which can — and should — be applied to life today. This might be cliché, but there’s no better way to plan for a brighter future without knowing and understanding the past.”
His interest in history stems from a curiosity of historic political decisions and great teachers he’s been “lucky” enough to sit in class with.
“Mr. Miedema and Mr. [Sean] Brennan were both fantastic and definitely part of the reason I love the subject. Their energy, enthusiasm and ability to convey sometimes dry material to us students makes them unforgettable,” Peter said.
This fall, Peter, like many of his classmates, will leave Shelter Island behind to start college. He’s set to attend the City University of New York, Queens campus. “It was a very easy decision,” he said of his choice, citing the great value, neighborhood location and proximity to New York City as key factors in his search.
He’s always loved the city — he was born in Queens and moved to the Island with his parents at age five for school. Peter spent each summer back in Queens, soaking in the excitement and fast-paced hum of life there.
“I’ve basically done the opposite of everyone, ever,” he said with a laugh.
He may love the beaches here, but is drawn to the “diversity, anonymity and endless excitement” New York City has to offer. What’s Peter most looking forward to?
“All the fast food,” he joked.
The Big Apple has a reputation for a number of things — it’s one of the most eye-opening places and we all know there’s no place like it.
“There, you can be anybody, be your own person. Not that you can’t do that here, but at least there not everybody will know your name,” he said, adding that sometimes that’s something he loves about the Island, but most days it’s something he can’t wait to leave behind.
At CUNY Queens, Peter is planning to study history and education in the hope of one day becoming a teacher. His experience with the subject and past teachers have influenced him to want to have that same impact on students, but he also discussed the imperativeness of a stable career in his future. He may also switch majors, as many undergraduates do, already considering the possibility of studying sports media or sports journalism.
“After all, college is meant to explore and exhaust every option available,” he said.
He already knows one important thing about college: that at the end of the day, what matters more than where you earn the diploma is the work you put into receiving it. It can be applied to a high school career, too.
He wants future students and incoming high school freshman to keep that in mind. He would offer this advice: “Focus on your passions, without caring exclusively about the grades or what other people think. Do it for yourself and always remember why you’re there: to get an education. All the other stuff is complementary.”
Right now, he’s looking forward to taking a couple weeks to relax, catch some rays at Wades, his favorite beach, and watch Bucks games until he heads to the big city where he hopes to enjoy “many, many Yankees games.”