St. Mary’s prodigies bound for Regis HS

Bill San Antonio

Two St. Mary’s Middle School students will be attending the prestigious Regis High School in Manhattan this fall.

TJ Li and Tommy Keating, each 14, were accepted to the esteemed Catholic school after surviving its meticulous admissions process, earning the recognition and intense expectations that come with the Regis name and its tuition-free Jesuit education.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Keating, a Manhasset native whose family belongs to the St. Mary’s parish. “At St. Mary’s, we’re always among the smartest kids in class, but at Regis everyone is really smart, so we’re going to have to work that much harder to continue to do well.”

Though Li and Keating, who resides in Glen Cove, were each accepted to all three Long Island Catholic schools they applied to before taking the Catholic High School Entrance Exam, they each said Regis was their top choice for high school.

Regis treats its admissions process almost the way a college would, taking into account a combination of academic achievement, high standardized test scores, a history of service and extra-curricular activities and a strong character demonstrated by two interviews with alumni and school officials. 

“We’re looking for the total package, as one might say,” said Eric DiMichele, Regis’ director of admissions.

Approximately 2,000-3,000 eighth grade Catholic school boys are nominated for consideration for acceptance at Regis, DiMichele said, and only 1,000 reach the next level of admissions – Regis’ entrance exam.

Only 250 boys who take the exam are selected for two rounds of interviews with Regis faculty and alumni, and from that group, 135 are gleaned for potential acceptance.

“I think the biggest thing is that they’re used to being No. 1 or No. 2 in their school, and by definition that’s not going to happen when they come here because everybody’s talented and we don’t even rank our students,” DiMichele said. “Most of the competitiveness of Regis is getting in, but it’s really not a competitive school once students are in. It’s certainly demanding, but Regis is more about being in an environment that’s going to bring out the best in students.”

Regis certainly tends to have that effect on its alumni, as its graduates have gone on to become Pulitzer Prize winners, Ivy League professors, judges and congressmen.

Li said a Regis education would allow him to eventually follow his father – who has worked as a pathologist but now practices accupuncture – into medicine. 

“I want to use my abilities to help people, mostly in the science and medical fields,” Li said. “I think I’d like to either be a neural surgeon or cardiac surgeon.”

Though he’s aware of Regis’ expectations, as well as its celebrated history, Keating said he’s not too concerned about the expectations of being a Regis student because of the school’s various academic resource centers where students can get help in nearly every subject.

“Because the classes and exams are more difficult, you’re better prepared for college in that you’ve more advanced on many of the subjects than your peers by the time you graduate,” Keating said. 

The boys seem to be well enough ahead of their peers as it is.

Li and Keating each took the SAT as seventh graders, with Li earning a 2100 and Keating scoring a 1700. In addition, both Li and Keating have had success with the school’s competitive science olympiad program.

Li also recently took a three-credit biostatistics class at C.W. Post after earning a scholarship. He’s also attended the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth at Dickinson College in Carslile, Penn., where he studied fast-paced high school physics, and practices the viola at the Julliard School. 

Despite their accomplishments, the boys do not think Regis will be a cakewalk.

Keating said a friend of his cousin’s who attends Regis has offered him time management advice for the school’s demanding coursework. 

“There’s a lot of work, but I’ve heard that if you don’t slack off, you should be able to still have a life and do things outside of school,” Keating said.

Li said he’s spoken with Regis sophomore Robert Borek, who also graduated from St. Mary’s Middle School. 

“He said, ‘I’d better see you in two years at Regis,’” Li recalled Borek once telling him. 

Though Li said his Regis workload and Julliard studies may be difficult to juggle,

“I know there’s going to be a lot of homework, but I’m excited for the opportunity to try and make it work,” Li said.

The biggest concerns for incoming Regis students, DiMichele said, tends not the daunting academic workload or the pressure to perform well in the classroom alongside students just as intelligent or successful – it’s a commute that, for a 14-year-old Long Islander, would involve reading LIRR routes and subway maps.

“We have kids coming from all throughout the five boroughs, Westchester, New Jersey and Long Island,” DiMichele said. “Getting on a train isn’t necessarily something they’re used to at that age.”

The boys’ principal, Celeste Checchia, said even though St. Mary’s typically nominates five or six boys each year to take the Regis qualifying test, the school first learns whether the nominees are even interested in commuting to Manhattan for four years before making its initial nominations. 

“[Regis] strongly encourages you to go [if you are accepted], because you may be denying the opportunity to another student who may not have been accepted,” Li said.

But Keating and Li have already got their transportation covered.

Keating said he plans to take the train in with his father, who works in the city, and eventually meet up with other students from Long Island who take the same train line. Li will utilize the buddy system immediately, following Keating onto the train and into the heart of Manhattan.

“It’s all a bit scary, but I’m excited,” Li said.

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Bill San Antonio

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