By Nancy Remkus
“Who would ever think that so much went on
in the soul of a young girl?” – Anne Frank
It’s a wonder how you bundle so many dreams and so much wisdom and goodness into 16 years. It has been through a life of challenge and courage that laid a framework and stirred a calling that we all wish our children would hear.
My daughter encouraged me to write about a young person doing good things in our community. It seems to make sense, doesn’t it? It does take a village… of all ages.
Running in after practice, tennis shoes and a ponytail, bright eyed and curious was Cristina Stivala whom I met for the first time in SagTown, and I was bedazzled by a mind so full of direction and passion for the life that lies ahead. “I’m still building character, so I think as a young teen, it’s really important to show your worth,” Cristina says.
A high school junior, Cristina has been busy helping to create a culture of giving in school. She began a club called, “Interact” at Pierson High School that helped students become involved in community service opportunities. “I love doing things for people, and it’s more fun to do things together.” The “Interact Club” has been active helping the Southampton Animal Shelter, doing cleanups for Earth Day, manning water stations for local race benefits and inviting the Peconic Land Trust into the school to talk about conservation. “We didn’t build a school in a third world country; we worked in our community and in our school, and that’s important too,” Cristina says. She has also been a CPR instructor at Pierson and has been an active participant in Southampton Town Youth Court in Hampton Bays where students from local schools work together to hold real trials for juvenile offenders. Cristina was also trained in the teen leadership program at The Retreat.
Raised in upstate New York, Cristina moved to Sag Harbor five years ago. Losing her mother to melanoma when she was only six years old, Cristina has faced many challenges growing up without her mom by her side. “This loss got me involved in science to help find a cure for cancer or a least a way to give people hope, so no one has to suffer like this again,” she says. Her loss also encouraged Cristina and helped to shape her dreams. “I want to go to Georgetown and study biomedical engineering. I am passionate about medicine and would like to start a holistic, organic pharmaceutical company. I believe that we’re neglecting nature’s power, and the cure is in the biodiversity of our ecosystem. It doesn’t always have to be a mixture of harmful chemicals.” And she continued to build on that dream, “I’d like to live in New York City and build a company so big that it’s going to create a movement,” says Cristina. “People need to start stepping up and having a voice and fighting against the principles that we’ve been going by.”
The summer after her freshman year of high school, Cristina was one of 20 students selected to participate in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program at Brookhaven Lab. “This inspired me to have a love of science.” This past summer Cristina attended a structural biology workshop there as well. “The thing that I learned is that when you’re passionate about science you develop an instinct. You imagine everything. Everything opens up. It’s actually very creative and requires a lot of curiosity.” Cristina hopes to continue to conduct research at Brookhaven Lab to help find a cure for cancer.
When asked about what it’s like to grow up in these times, Cristina replied, “it’s an emotional roller coaster, as bad as that sounds, it’s the truth. You have problems with friends, fitting in, finding yourself, trying to be independent. School is stressful; you have to prepare for college; there’s more responsibility; you start thinking more intellectually. This is the time that you really start to think of what you want to do and who you want to become. Teenage years are the threshold between immaturity and maturity. You have to surround yourself with people who are a good influence on you.”
I wondered what Cristina might suggest other teens do in order to become more involved. “Get out of your comfort zone; reach out to organizations; have the desire to be involved,” she says. “Do the research. Call and ask. Being involved in your community is really important. People need to look for what they’re passionate about. Because my generation is the generation that really needs to save the world. I mean actually… save the world.”
I asked Cristina if she has some ideas on how the adults in our community could help our youth on this journey. She suggested, “Be good role models. Encourage teens to be active in their communities. Inform them; guide them. There’s only so much we can do independently.”
This year Cristina has transferred to Ross School where she is playing tennis and is excited about the “M” term each year when students travel to foreign countries for three weeks of community service. “I needed something new. Everyone has a need for something new,” she says.
Cristina has come to love Sag Harbor. “I feel that moving here has been the reward for me and my family after years of hardship, losing my mom and feeling lost after that point. I love it here. Everyone knows everyone. It’s such a great place to be.”
As a retired teacher, I begin to look for part of my oxygen supply to spring from a hopefulness for the future. Watching the news, it’s often easy to lose sight of it. But Cristina radiates that hopefulness- she is filled, not only with dreams and desire, but also the action required to make this world a better place.
“I had a tough life. I could easily say I don’t care about life, but I didn’t because things get better and life goes on,” she says. “The things that hurt you the most, make you stronger.”
So Cristina Stivala, we are proud that you call Sag Harbor ‘HOME,’ and we wish you all the best on your journey ahead!