By STEPHANIE BERNABA On May 21, Cranston High School West senior Dan Marella was notified that he was chosen, along with 160 other students across the country, as a United States Presidential Scholar. The program, which is highly selective in nature, has
On May 21, Cranston High School West senior Dan Marella was notified that he was chosen, along with 160 other students across the country, as a United States Presidential Scholar.
The program, which is highly selective in nature, has honored over 7,600 of the nation’s top-performing students since its inception in 1964.
Marella had been recognized as a semifinalist alongside classmate Rachael Perrotta in April, and selection as a finalist came as a very welcome surprise at the end of a challenging school year.
Marella earned his Presidential Scholarship in the area of Career and Technical Education, a category added by the U.S. Department of Education in 2015. This honor comes in addition to his being named salutatorian for the class of 2020, while finishing out an unprecedented year as senior class president.
Dan’s mother, Michelle, along with father, Dan, and sister Sofia, an incoming West freshman, are extremely proud of Dan’s recent successes.
“Dan’s always been that type of kid where he’s self-made,” Michelle Marella explained. “He does everything 110 percent, and he really doesn't let things bother him. He is so determined at everything he does. We are really proud of him.”
Cranston West Assistant Principal Kaitlin Hitchings said: “Dan is not just a smart kid – he is truly a gift. He is compassionate and courageous and full of the kind of maturity and wisdom that makes it very easy to forget he is only a teenager. He is the kind of student that makes me proud to be an educator. Even with all his academic success, Danny still strives for depth of knowledge, connection and serving the greater good.”
Michelle Marella added: “We’re excited for him to start college and see what the future holds for him. I know it’s going to be big and bright.”
Since 1983, each U.S. Presidential Scholar has been offered the opportunity to name his or her most influential teacher. Marella chose the person who nominated him for the Presidential Scholarship, his Cranston West guidance counselor, Deana Golini.
Golini, Cranston Public Schools educator since 1997, became a guidance counselor at West in 2010 and quickly took to cultivating the success of her students. Accustomed to working behind the scenes, Golini admitted being quite surprised to receive such an honor, especially since she had never been Dan’s classroom teacher.
“Just because we’re not in the classroom,” Golini said, “doesn’t mean we don’t have a direct impact. The reality is we are advocating constantly behind the scenes for the students with college admission reps and for scholarships, and for recognition like this, and it is a lot of work. It was really nice to be recognized, and it speaks volumes to who Dan is.”
She added: “I’ve never, ever been recognized like this before, and knowing how selective the United States Presidential Scholar program is, it means so much to me.”
Golini is a champion for her students, as noted by Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse.
“Ms. Golini works tirelessly to ensure all of her students have a steady and caring hand to guide them through their high school journey,” the superintendent said. “Parents and students alike realize she is dedicated and devoted to her students.”
One of Golini’s strengths is finding growth opportunities for her students. With Marella specifically, Golini helped him to find a 2019 summer program at MIT that helped him determine and focus more specifically on his areas of interest.
“It really helped me to fine tune what I wanted to do in the future, and it gave me a great opportunity to work with like-minded individuals – and do it through engineering and science and math,” he said.
In order to nominate Golini, Marella was required to write a 250-word explanation of his choice.
Marella, in his essay, expressed that Golini “is very nourishing. She is always there as a support, and she always ensured that everything would go my way. She would help me out if I needed anything and would always be that support system if I ever needed it. It always encouraged me to do my best. She’s a big factor in my success, and she definitely deserved to be recognized as my teacher.”
Classmate Nikolas Montaquila shared similar feelings about his guidance counselor.
“She has been instrumental in my success in high school, always several steps ahead of me, giving me guidance I did not know I needed until I received it,” he said. “This expert advice has extended far beyond academics in the classroom, as Ms. Golini has been invaluable in encouraging me to pursue activities that may seem outside my comfort zone. These activities have provided me with amazing experiences in the fields I wish to pursue in life. Ms. Golini has continuously demonstrated how she cares about all of her students, as we are more than just grades and college applications – we are, first and foremost, people.”
Golini, who remains humble about her recognition, continues to shine a light on her school and students.
“We work behind the scenes, and our whole goal is to be an advocate for kids, and get them across the stage, and make sure they leave with all the skills, whether it’s going into the workforce or college,” she said. “I don’t think anyone in this profession does it for the recognition. I think we do it for the kids. So, the recognition is a little strange. I’m definitely humbled by it.”
Marella and Golini share a personal thread as well. Golini is the founder of The Mark Marella Memorial Scholarship Fund, created in honor of her friend, Mark, a 1993 Cranston West graduate and Dan’s uncle, who passed unexpectedly at age 37. Dan serves as a student ambassador, helping to run fundraising, and is part of the committee that helps choose award recipients, and hopes to continue his involvement throughout his academic career at Brown University.
“We are unbelievably proud of Dan and Deana,” Hitchings said. “I cannot think of two more deserving people for any recognition or award, especially one with this high level of prestige.”
Nota-Masse added: “Both Dan and Deana have shown how students and staff from a public school in a very diverse community can be exemplars of academic excellence. Their hard work and teamwork reinforce the pride we have in our schools, our teachers, and, most importantly, our students. The Presidential honors have rightfully been bestowed upon two deserving individuals.”