RFA names top scholars


At the academic top of Rome Free Academy’s senior class are Isabella M. Madeira, who is pursuing a career involving graphic design and computer science, and Tristan M. Hunzinger, whose interests are in physical therapy.

Madeira today was named valedictorian of RFA’s Class of 2018 with a weighted average of 101.66, while Hunzinger was named salutatorian with a weighted average of 101.28.

They lead RFA’s top 11 academic students who were announced today, including a tie for the 10th spot.

Madeira, 18, is the daughter of Joseph F. and Rebecca L. Madeira of Jervis Avenue. Her father is a contractor at the Rome Air Force Research Laboratory, while her mother is a pharmacy technician at the Price Chopper store in Oneida. Madeira has been accepted at Rochester Institute of Technology and SUNY Oswego, and is hoping to go to RIT pending financial aid details.

She is looking at majoring in graphic design with a minor in computer science. She also is waiting for a response from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, who have a dual degree program that would include majoring in both graphic design and computer science.

Madeira would like to work in advertising for events, and her “dream job” would be to design album covers. She also would like to work in film, using graphic design such as to “build worlds within films.” In the future she also would like to explore editing for books such as fictional stories: she does “not want to stay in one thing for too long.”

Hunzinger, 17, is the son of Michael T. and Anne Marie Hunzinger of Wood Street. His father is senior account manager at Cathedral Corporation in Rome. His mother is a teacher assistant at King’s Kids Christian Pre-School in Rome, and is director of religious education at St. John the Baptist Church in Rome.

Hunzinger plans to go to Ithaca College, where he has been accepted into a six-year doctor of physical therapy program. He also has been accepted at Utica College for a six-year physical therapy program, and at the University of Rochester, Syracuse University and SUNY Binghamton; the latter three colleges offer biology degree programs, but he would need to go to a graduate school elsewhere for a physical therapy degree.

Among their comments:

• “I’m really happy because I worked really hard for so many years,” said Madeira of being named valedictorian, adding that she wanted her work to pay off. She wants to continue being successful “in my academic career and beyond that.”

Among her RFA activities, Madeira is president and editor-in-chief of Galleries, a school art and literature magazine produced by RFA students, and of the Bureau of Student Information at RFA, which manages and delivers morning and afternoon announcements over the public-address system. She also is a member of the National Honor Society.

In addition, Madeira plays violin and is president of the RFA Strolling Strings after-school musical group, while during the school day she is first chair for the RFA orchestra. She also is an altar server on Sundays at St. Mark’s Parish in Utica.

Madeira expressed thanks to her parents; she appreciates how they have treated her including that her views and opinions matter, adding they have “definitely helped me.” She also thanked English teacher John Smales, who is “just an inspirational person overall” who “definitely knows how to treat his students with so much respect.” In addition, she said RFA art teacher Megan Anderegg has helped her in her artistic interests dating back to elementary school, and has meant a lot to her over the years. She also cited art teacher Susan Colmey from elementary years, and volunteers at her Artistree Studios & Gallery in Rome.

• Hunzinger is “very excited, very relieved” at being salutatorian. He has focused on the importance of academics since elementary school, and has kept “that same goal;” to “finally achieve it” is “just a great feeling.”

At RFA, Hunzinger has been captain and quarterback for the varsity football team; captain and point guard for the varsity basketball team; president of the National Honor Society at RFA; president of the Block R varsity athletic club at the school; treasurer of the national Future Business Leaders of America charter at RFA; a member of the RFA Leo Club which is affiliated with the Lions Club, and of the school’s mathletics team.

Hunzinger said his parents have “been the biggest influence in my life;” they have “always supported me...made me feel confident in myself...made me feel special.” Having that “sense of comfort” has “helped me to excel...push myself to be the best I can in everything I do....” He cited the support of his brother Aidan, age 15, and sister Jace, age 14. He also expressed appreciation for some close friends for being “very supportive.”

His most influential teacher has been math teacher Melissa Richardson, whom he had in both his junior and senior years; she is “very well-organized, always available to give extra help,” and understands students’ positions. World history teacher Dan Dunn also is a “great teacher” and role model, said Hunzinger, noting that Dunn recommended him for the Project Fibonacci student program for which Hunzinger received a scholarship to attend.


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