Becoming a great leader is not an easy task. It can take years of practice balancing the dissemination of knowledge and honing people skills. But with a built-in leadership class at John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, NY, Christopher Luisi has become a NatStuCo Distinguished Leader. We caught up with him to ask him about what being a leader means to him.

Advise: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your home life.

My name is Christopher Luisi. I am a senior at John F. Kennedy High School. I’m a student in the Leadership 3 class. It’s a novel course that was offered when I was a sophomore. I was among the first kids to take that class, and it opened a bunch of new doors with the leadership portfolio I had to create. I’m originally from Rome. I came to the United States when I was 10 years old in sixth grade. I barely spoke English, so it was really hard for me to get assimilated. Now, I speak more English than Italian since I’ve been here for so long. But I still speak Italian. Currently, I live with my grandpa, my dad, my stepmother, and sometimes my stepbrother. It’s nice.

I get home from school around 4:30 p.m. because I run track. Usually, I run 200 meters in the 800-meter relay. In the fall for cross country, I run the 1.5 mile. Once I get home from school, I finish my homework, and then I just relax, talk to friends, or watch movies.

Advise: What do you think makes a good leader?

How approachable you are, like my way of talking to friends. I’m an open person. I can take jokes. If someone tells me a joke, I don’t get offended. I’m told by other people that they like to be around me because I’m a fun person. I try to be nice to everyone I meet. That reflects upon my leadership qualities because a good leader needs to know not only how to be a good speaker but also how to be a good listener. I think that’s one of my [best] traits in being a leader.

Advise: Why do you think civic engagement is so important as a leader?

Because it’s a great way to market yourself, to put yourself out there, especially in the first steps. For example, in my school whenever a big holiday is coming up, like Thanksgiving or Halloween, we have a food drive. We collect all the food from all of the schools in our district. Then, families who are financially strapped around the holidays can go in and collect those donated items. It’s a great way to help the people in the Bellmore-Merrick School District. It’s also a great way to get to meet the faculty and the staff of the school.

Advise: Tell me about your online petition for immigrant rights. Why did you feel driven to do that project?

That project, through, started as a school passion project for my leadership class. My leadership teacher, Mr. Seidman, asked us to make an online petition about something that we felt connected to. I just started thinking about my first year as a student here in the United States, fresh off the plane—I barely knew any English. I could only speak Italian. I was scared, but I had such great teachers and friends who helped me. I just started thinking about all of the other people who are less fortunate, who can’t come to the U.S. through legal means, and who have to cross the border illegally. I read online how they were treated, being put in cages, very inhumane conditions. I did not want to see that. Everyone is a person, and everyone deserves a fair shot at coming into the United States. That’s why I wanted to share my view and share what was happening at the border.

Advise: What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned being a member of the National Honor Society?

I learned a big lesson when I was trying to become a member. There’s a strict set of requirements, and I had to write an essay. It was a difficult process for me, but I like to think that no challenge is too great. You can overcome any challenge you want if you put your mind to it. I had no idea I would be in the National Honor Society when I first started sixth grade. I barely knew any English. Being among an elite group of students who excel in school makes me and my family really happy to see how far I’ve come. Honestly, what I’ve learned is that if you want something to happen, you’ll find a way. If you don’t want it to happen, you’ll find an excuse.

Advise: Who were your mentors in school?

I had many mentors in school, mostly my two leadership teachers, Mrs. Faulkner and Mr. Seidman, who helped me a lot through the portfolio process. Whenever I had any problems or concerns, I would ask them, and they would help me edit my portfolio. Mrs. Frank, my Advanced Science Research teacher, has also been a great mentor for me. She’s helped me find my passion for oncology and scientific research. And my AP chemistry teacher, Mr. Schleith, is a mentor. He helped me a lot last year by staying after hours to teach me anything I didn’t understand.

Advise: What are your plans for the future?

I am planning to go to college, but I’m undecided where I’ll go. I’m not one of those kids who wants to go here or there. I moved here from Italy; I don’t really mind where I go. Staying close to home is more ideal, but I wouldn’t want to commute. I just want to stay close to home so I can visit every now and then. Right now, my interest lies with oncology. I want to become an oncologist. I watched my grandma suffer from cancer. She had breast cancer for over 20 years. Sadly, she passed away back in 2018. When she passed, that sparked my passion for wanting to become an oncologist. But I’m also very interested in political science. I am currently taking an AP Government class, which teaches us about how the U.S. government works. I really like that class. Since I’m in a leadership class, I need to know what’s happening around the world and in our country.

Advise: What is your favorite activity while in school and outside school? What do you like to do?

While I’m in school, I guess what I like to do is just be with friends. I’m a very friends-oriented guy. Whenever I have an off period, I try to find friends. If they’re doing homework, I’ll do homework. If they’re playing a game, I’ll play with them. Or if they just want to go on a car ride, I’ll go on a car ride with them. But when I have work, I work. I make sure to finish my homework. Outside of school, I just like relaxing. It’s my time. Sometimes I watch movies, play video games, or hang out with my family. I always try to stay with my friends, especially this year, because it may be the last year I ever see them. I try to make every moment count.

Advise: What advice would you give to current seniors?

To get involved. Some might think, “It’s too late for me to do anything.” It’s really not. If you want to join that club, join that club. Do that sport, play it. And if you don’t want to, that’s fine, too. If you’re going to [college], get involved in college life. It’ll benefit you greatly. Honestly, personally—because my school starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 2:15 p.m.—if I were a student that would leave at 2:15 p.m. every day and just go home, I would not be here right now. I would not be in honor society; I would not be a leadership student. I would not have the experiences that I’m having right now. Trying out new activities and getting involved is the best advice I could offer. —