Aug. 4, 2023 By Ethan Marshall
The Italian American Women’s Center awarded four graduating high school students from Long Island and Queens with $1,000 in scholarships. The scholarships were presented to each student during a luncheon at Uncle Bacala’s in Garden City on July 23.
The students — Angelo Cangero, Sophia Ieraci, Jack Longobucco and Lauren Stea — earned the scholarships for their studies in Italian language and culture and academic achievement.
Ieraci, a Floral Park native, recently graduated from St. Francis Prep in Flushing.
Each student applying for the scholarship was tasked with writing an essay about their Italian heritage. This included experiences related to their heritage, like visiting Italy. In the end, the essays from Cangero, Ieraci, Longobucco and Stea were chosen as the winners.
According to Italian American Women’s Center President Vincenza Russo, this scholarship program was started more than 20 years ago in order to encourage more young people to attend college. She also noted that in recent years, many of the students who were awarded the scholarship already have their eyes set on career goals. Russo also mentioned that a grant from the Robertson Foundation allowed for four students to be awarded the scholarship this year rather than the usual three.
“[This scholarship] is relevant, not just to our organization, but because we want to promote education and the study of the Italian language,” Russo said. “These young people have a chance to really focus on their Italian heritage. One of the parameters of the essay is to make them understand they come from a heritage that’s really artistic and full of very important writers. They get the chance to visit their history.”
During the awards ceremony, each of the winning students read out their essays, both in English and Italian. A key theme that stood out in each of their essays was that each of them had a unique memory of how their Italian grandparents influenced their lives.
Cangero shared his grandparents’ love of family, food, gardening and their work ethic, which they brought to America. Cangero intends to study science and chemistry as he prepares for college at Adelphi University in the fall after graduating from Glen Cove High School. “My grandparents always told stories of the Italian immigrants who worked so hard, and they expected us to do the same,” Cangero said.
Ieraci said she was inspired by her grandmother from Calabria. She plans to visit family there and experience the culture, including a stop at the National Archeological Museum, Museo Nazionale della Magna Greca, to see the ancient Riace bronze, statues of two warriors discovered in Calabria in 1972 which date from the mid-fifth century BC. After graduating from St. Francis Prep last spring, Ieraci will be majoring in medicine at Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute , hoping to eventually attend a research university in Italy.
Longobucco said he realized the importance of holding on to and passing on Italian traditions from his grandparents and parents. He expressed gratitude towards them for sharing traditions, including a love of gardening. In their home garden, he and his family grow vegetables to share with family and friends. He intends to major in exercise science at Adelphi University as he pursues a career as a physical therapist. He graduated last spring from General Douglas MacArthur High School in Levittown.
Stea expressed appreciation toward the legacy of her grandparents, who came to the United States from Italy in 1953. She recalled times with them when she was growing up and learning how to make her grandmother’s Sunday sauce. After graduating from East Meadow High School last spring, she will be attending Sacred Heart University in the fall.
“The Italian legacy she left behind will forever live on in my life and with my future family,” Stea said. “These experiences echo that of many. For centuries, citizens of the world have arrived on American shores with little more than a suitcase and a dream of better life. The promise of freedom and opportunity continues to lure foreigners to the United States. My family’s legacy has continued from that day in 1953 when two people started their families in America.”
Founded in 1997, the Italian American Women’s Center is a not-for-profit organization that offers a wide range of programs. It was created to respond to the needs of women of Italian culture in the New York metropolitan area. They encourage the study of Italian arts and language, including through a monthly book club at the North Hills Queens Public Library at 57-04 Marathon Pkwy.