When George Tsoukalas was called out of class to meet with Port Chester High School Principal Dr. Mitchell Combs in April and discovered he was named the Class of 2019 salutatorian, he wasn’t surprised.
Through the loop of his friends, many also being top ranking scholars, he had realized weeks prior that it was an accomplishment in the bag. However, achieving salutatorian status wasn’t a goal he necessarily had in the back of his mind during his high school career.
“It’s exciting. I take school seriously, but I guess it depends on what you count as ‘seriously,’” Tsoukalas admitted. “I’m not the type of person who would skip out on an assignment or anything, but I also won’t sit down and study every day. I guess it just comes naturally.”
Spending his entire educational career thus far in Port Chester, starting as a kindergartener at King Street Elementary School, Tsoukalas actively pursued means to enjoy his experience and find ways to make it better. Now that he has a diploma in hand, he’s excited to embark on a completely different journey to Rutgers University in New Jersey in the fall, where he will be enrolled in the honors college.
Tsoukalas is drawn to the STEM fields and plans to study mathematics in college.
“There’s this expression I like: ‘I like it because I’m good at it and I’m good at it because I like it,’” he smiled. “That basically sums it up.”
Beyond that base preliminary interest, at this point he’s unsure what kind of lifelong career will manifest from his studies. He’s open and eager to see where the wind takes him.
Aside from math, the 18-year-old is also fascinated with physics and computer science and is grateful that the district truly listened to his voice when his academic needs weren’t being met. Before Tsoukalas, there was no AP Physics course at Port Chester High School. However, that changed by the time he left thanks to his urging for a class.
“Whenever they didn’t have something, I’d try to get something done to make the school a little better,” Tsoukalas explained. “We also only had the lower AP Calculus course, Calculus AB. So I and a few others petitioned to get the higher level Calculus BC, too. Even when the best courses weren’t available, the school worked with us to make it work. So, there’s really nothing to complain about.”
Along with the AP courses Tsoukalas drove to establish at the high school, he also prevailed in AP World History, Computer Science Principles and, of course, Calculus AB. On top of that, he challenged himself in IB English, History, French and Chemistry, and clearly did well as he estimates his GPA to be around 100.3.
Tsoukalas spoke affectionately about the non-academic organizations that he’s come to value greatly over the years, largely because of the community it provided.
Outside of the classroom, he was well-known as a track and field star.
“I liked track a lot,” Tsoukalas said. “It was competitive, it was fun, and you get to meet different people from different schools. But it was mostly also getting to know different people on your own team. We had a good bond.”
This year, Tsoukalas took home countless medals as the Rams’ fastest sprinter and one of the best triple and long jumpers in the school’s history. In May, he received the Richard Tewey Most Outstanding Male Scholar Athlete award for his success on and off the field during the annual senior athlete awards dinner.
Tsoukalas didn’t have much time for clubs—aside from the ping-pong club which he thoroughly enjoyed just for fun during his senior year—largely because his time and attention was dedicated to Boy Scout Troop 400. On June 18, he officially earned his Eagle Scout ranking, the highest achievement possible with the organization, after leading a cohort of volunteers in cleaning up the neglected Brown Cemetery on Indian Road.
“There’s a lot of things that I’m going to miss—the people, the teachers,” Tsoukalas reflected. “I don’t think education will be as one-on-one, and I probably won’t be doing sports anymore. There’s a lot to miss, but there’s more to look forward to.”
During the college decision process, Tsoukalas was contemplating between Rutgers University and Boston University. Ultimately, he said Rutgers was an easy choice because it had everything he wanted. It checked all the boxes.
After attending an open house, he immediately felt like it would be a tough school to beat. Not only would his tuition there of $25,000 a year be comparatively good, but he felt more enthusiasm from the faculty.
“Boston University is a research school, and I got the sense that the professors there weren’t really interested in undergraduates,” Tsoukalas explained. “When I went to Rutgers and talked to their physics and math professors, it seemed like they were really enthusiastic. They were way more interested in what students were actually doing.”
Boston University is located in the heart of the city, and Tsoukalas was far more attracted to a campus like Rutgers—where there’s space to roam and open grass and fields between buildings.
In the fall, Tsoukalas will be joining more than 8,000 incoming freshmen to experience significant rites of passage into adulthood together, which he is pleased about. Attending a large school was another priority for him.
“I feel like if I went to a school the size of Port Chester, or something similar to that, it’s going to feel kind of like Port Chester. But it should feel different,” Tsoukalas said. “Rutgers has like 30,000 (undergraduates), so there should be more people I can get to know. As opposed to a school of 2,000 people, where there might be five people who are interested in the same things I am, there should be hundreds.”
With a mother from Bulgaria and a father from Greece, Tsoukalas is the oldest first-generation child and therefore the first to leave the house. As he eagerly prepares to embark on his next life chapter, there’s a comfort in knowing that he’ll be less than three hours in travel time away.