BY CAROLYN JOHNSON
The school gave a special award this graduation to one family that had three brothers named Valedictorian over the past few years. James A. Leonard of Congers is the third of three brothers from the same family to have been announced as Valedictorian.
James earned the title of Valedictorian this year by having the highest cumulative average of 101.5 in the class. In addition, James earned a 2390 out of 2400 on the SAT, is a National Merit Finalist, a 2012 Presidential Scholar Nominee, a member of the National Honor Society, French Honor Society, Tri-M Music Honor Society and an Eagle Scout.
James’ brothers, Christopher Leonard, Class of 2007 and Joseph Leonard, Class of 2011 were also Valedictorian’s at St. Joseph Regional High School. In addition, all three are: National Merit Finalists, Scholar of the Year and AP Scholars. Christopher graduated last year from The Honors College at the University of Pittsburgh. Joseph attends Brown University while James is enrolled at Vanderbilt University.
Principal Donnelly, himself an alumni from the school’s class of 1971, presented a special award to the Leonard family, saying, “It’s one thing for three brothers to come to our school. But three Scholars of the Year? Three Valedictorians? Three AP Scholars? Three National Merit Scholars?” Donnelly continued, “Given the rarity of all those things individually, the odds of them being accomplished by three sons within a single family is nothing short of amazing. In fact, unless genetic engineering becomes commonplace rather than the subject of science fiction, I am willing to bet that Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak is a record that will fall before we see another family produce three young men who have enjoyed such exceptional academic success.”
“We are proud and honored to have had these three brothers attend our school, and would like to present them with this special award today which reads, “Chris, Joseph and James Leonard – three shining stars of Saint Joseph Regional High School – Each a valedictorian, National Merit Final, Scholar of the Year, AP Scholar and Faithful Man.” The boys enjoyed a standing ovation at graduation.
Thomas and Joyce Ann Leonard couldn’t be prouder. Both parents have Master’s Degrees, (mom has two). Joyce Ann teaches at St. Gregory’s Catholic School in Garnerville. The boys’ grandfathers had not gone to college: they were a postal worker and a Pan Am manager, wise of course, but not academically oriented. Thomas’ grandmother had only an eighth grade diploma, but clearly offered sage advice when she insisted that all of her grandchildren go to college.
When I asked what their secret is to raising such brilliant, well-rounded sons, Thomas explained that neither he nor his wife ever pushed their children academically or otherwise. “We read to them every day since they were born. And we told them that the most important thing for a young person is to get a good education. We never checked their homework, or hovered over them.” Two of the three boys are Eagle Scouts. When James, aka Jimmy, was a cub scout, he told his parents, “I want to be a boy scout.” When the troop asked Thomas to help out, he did. He and Joyce Ann were always supportive of what the boys’ interests were, without forcing their own interests upon the boys.
Surprisingly, these young men are not spending the summer in the library. Joseph is a lifeguard at Rockland Lake. Jimmy teaches archery in the Catskills all summer, while Christopher is working as a civil engineer at Parsons Brinkerhoff.
Awards and great achievement are commonplace to the Leonard children. Because the Leonards do not own a piano, their parents were surprised when they attended the school concert and saw Jimmy on stage playing jazz piano. Jimmy didn’t run into the house waving his near perfect (2390) SAT score. His father asked him at dinner if he got his scores, since the principal had called Thomas beaming that morning.
Twelve-year-old Erica Leonard seems to be gifted as well. Like her brothers, if she watches a movie, she recites most of the dialogue verbatim afterwards. Thomas finds his children’s brilliance fascinating, “I don’t know how this happened, but to say that I am beaming with pride is an understatement.”