Before Thursday, Fonda-Fultonville senior Nicholas Demitraszek had never heard of the Presidential Scholars Program.
By the end of the day, he was one of 25 students statewide nominated for one of the most distinguished honors for high school seniors in the United States.
“I had no idea,” he said after he was surprised by his principal with the news. “I was completely shocked and astonished.”
The 18-year-old Demitraszek, of Tribes Hill, serves as president of the student government, leads numerous student clubs, works alongside administrators as part of the school’s leadership team and mans the sound and lighting board at nearly every major school event. Over the summer, he interned in Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara’s Schenectady office.
When Superintendent Tom Ciaccio heard about Demitraszek’s nomination, he rushed back to the district from a conference in Saratoga Springs to congratulate him. Ciaccio applauded Demitraszek not just for his involvement in school activities but also his efforts to connect school programs to the broader community.
“Every time you turn around, Nick is there and is a very important part of what is going on,” Ciaccio said. “He’s like an ambassador for all the things you would want in your community schools.”
While Demitraszek said just being nominated was an honor -- “I was more and more speechless,” the more he learned about the award – he still has a chance to be just one of two Presidential Scholars from New York. The final winners score a trip to Washington in June and are honored at a ceremony hosted by the White House.
Demitraszek’s mother is a state employee, and his younger sister, Natalie, is a Fonda-Fultonville junior. His father died unexpectedly four years ago, pushing Demitraszek even deeper into school clubs and organizations as he sought the support of a community.
“It gave me that sense of, I can help out other people, and I can assist our school people and the outside community,” he said.
He said he was considering engineering programs at Clarkson, Union and RPI. But he is also interested in teaching and education administration. In the long run, but not too soon, Demitraszek said he wants to pursue a political career, though he demurred Thursday when asked about politics.
“I don’t want to get into that,” he said.
Laura Sullivan, who taught Demitraszek during his freshman and sophomore years and has worked with him as an adviser to student government, said she has expected big things from Demitraszek since she first met him.
“Of any student I’ve ever had, Nick has the potential to be president of the United States,” Sullivan said. “Nick understands people; he just has his thumb on the pulse of humanity.”
She pointed to Demitraszek’s work this fall to organize a community bonfire ahead of the school’s fall pep assembly. He came up with the idea, contacted local fire departments, organized with the town and advertised the event.
She said he works seamlessly between the interests and demands of his classmates and the adult administrators who lead the school and the district. He has helped teachers get the most out of new technology and pushed student groups to use social media to communicate about events and programs.
As a student, she said, he was never afraid to speak his mind and carried the skills to express his position in any form.
“He is driven,” Sullivan said. “No one will argue with that.”