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Meet John Jay Salutatorian Michael Mitchell

The John Jay senior talks about literature, what he'll miss most about John Jay, and what he hopes for at Harvard.

Michael Mitchell, one of John Jay's top students, will be graduating on Thursday. His accomplishments fill a three-page resume: he's served as president and member of both the Model United Nations and the Debate Team, and won several awards and competitions related to those student organizations. He's also served as vice-speaker of the school Executive Council as well as produced politically-themed episodes for the John Jay Political Commentary Show. Mitchell served as the student board member on the Katonah-Lewisboro board of education this year. We caught up with him during the last few days of school to ask about leaving John Jay.

Bedford-Katonah Patch: How does it feel to be at the top of your class?

Mitchell: After four years of hard work—sometimes drowning in work—I'm finding out at the end it doesn't change what you've done over the years. I'm happy about it. When you're a freshman, you worry about everything, getting involved, receiving awards, getting into college. And now I just want to get something worthwhile out of my experience here and enjoy it.

Bedford-Katonah Patch: What's your favorite subject and why? 

Mitchell: English. I've always had a passion for literature and ideas. I grew up with a Catholic Mom and a Dad who's Jewish; I spent my life celebrating both holidays but with no real position on religion. I think literature can help you explore world views and capture real life and represent the human quest for a purpose.

Bedford-Katonah Patch: Are there any teachers who especially influenced you?

Mitchell: If I can only name one, Gil Kass has been there for me. He used to be the Director of Humanities and is now the Assistant Principal. He's brilliant and so well read, and in 10th grade, when my English experience wasn't really what I wanted it to be, I went to him for help. We worked on a whole host of texts including "Crime and Punishment" and "Madame Bovary." I've met with him for the last three years; he gave me the tools to appreciate the power of literature and its purpose beyond the enjoyment of reading. He taught me that you should also learn something to share and use it in your life.

Bedford-Katonah Patch: How do you balance school and a social life with everything else you're involved in?

Mitchell: I stuck with a few core activities for my whole high school career, ones I was passionate about: Model UN, Campus Congress and debate. This year I was the student board member on the board of education. I dabbled in a few other things, like cross country, but I picked what I cared about and focused on it. I found that too much weakened my ability to serve causes well. While serving on the board of education was grueling, it was a great experience—it brought out both the best and worst in people.

Bedford-Katonah Patch: What do you like about Katonah Lewisboro schools?

Mitchell: I like that it's an active and engaged community. Having a one-year term on the board was a good way to learn about the interests of the student body and the community at large. It gave me a perspective of how the community can be unaware of what actually goes on in schools, but how they just want it to be the best. The downside of an active community is that some meetings were belabored.

Bedford-Katonah Patch: What's one thing you'd change?

Mitchell: I would try to figure out how to improve the trust between the general public and the administration and board of education. Ms. Doherty is a fantastic principal and the administration is engaged—there's much more trust at the high school than ever before. The gap between what the public thinks and how the schools are actually run—that's what I'd like to see closed. The people here are actually good.

Bedford-Katonah Patch: What do you want to do at Harvard?

Mitchell: I want to study government. I'm well aware that I may be disillusioned with the process. I also want to study philosophy, religion and literature. There's so much opportunity for one-on-one interaction with professors there and I want take advantage of that.

Bedford-Katonah Patch: Where will you be in ten years?

Mitchell: I hope I can be working in international diplomacy and peacemaking or some sort of humanitarian work. I think the biggest problems are not here but abroad.

Bedford-Katonah Patch: Five quick questions you don't have to think about. Ready?

Most played song or band on your iPod?

5:15 by The Who.

Favorite snack for late night studying?

Lifesaver gummies.

Favorite book?

Victor Hugo's Les Miserable.

Comfort item you'll bring from home to college?

My first copy of Les Miserables; I have four copies. I read it when I no longer have hope in people.

 What you'll miss most about John Jay?

The people. I am worried about being in new community. The people made my experience here.

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