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Queens students ring in 2010 with mayor

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For Townsend Harris High School senior Jeannette Raymond, being chosen to help lower the Times Square ball to usher in the new decade was especially good news for the Astoria resident who had just lost her father to cancer and is helping to care for her mother with Alzheimer’s.

“To me, it’s a lot more than I’ll be seen by a lot of people on TV,” Raymond said. “It’s more that this year ended on an awful note, and I literally now get to bring in the new year. It represents life does go on.”

Raymond’s father, George Zachary Raymond, died of lung cancer just days before she found out she had been selected as one of 12 seniors from throughout the city to join Mayor Michael Bloomberg in lowering the Times Square ball in a celebration attended by about a million people and broadcast around the world.

George Zachary Raymond was a chief master sergeant in the 143rd Air Tactical Division of the U.S. Air Force.

The Townsend Harris High School senior had been helping to care for both her father and mother, who has stage five Alzheimer’s.

Raymond was one of four students from Queens’ top high schools to help lower the ball decked out with 2,688 Waterford crystals. The borough pupils were chosen because they attend institutions ranked among the U.S. News & World Report’s 100 best high schools in the country.

“New York City is the most exciting and important place on earth 24/7, but there’s something particularly special about the last and first few seconds of the year, when more than a billion people around the planet have their eyes on us at the exact same time,” Bloomberg said. “In that brief window, we get to showcase to the world what’s best about New York. I couldn’t be more proud that these students, who represent everything we’ve done together to turn one of the nation’s worst public school systems into its most promising, will be there with us.”

Queens students Miguel Alejandro Peneranda, Christine Gomes and Fiona Porkka, 17 joined Raymond in bringing down the ball, an annual tradition in Times Square since 1907.

The students were primarily chosen by their school administrators or student body and all boast accomplished résumés.

Raymond is the senior council president at Flushing’s Townsend Harris, where she co-founded the “Malcontents,” a music, art and literature club, and the Students Against Animal Cruelty Club. She plans to study English, journalism or communications in college.

Peneranda is a senior at Newcomers High School in Long Island City, where he is president of the student government and a member of the fitness and tennis teams. He immigrated to the United States from Ecuador in July 2007 and has quickly picked up English while studying at the high school that educates immigrants from throughout the world.

Peneranda, a Jackson Heights resident, has been involved in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, City Harvest and the New York City Marathon.

“I was excited,” Peneranda said of the New Year’s Eve event. “I’m honored to be with the mayor to drop the ball.”

Gomes, a Woodside resident and senior at the Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Astoria, previously served as the president of the student government and co-founded her school’s Women’s Empowerment Group. She tutors students in math, donates time to support the Salvation Army and the Humane Society and has volunteered at parks across the country.

“It’s exciting,” Gomes said. “I was never at Times Square for New Year’s before.”

Porkka, a senior at the Queens High School for the Sciences at York College in Jamaica and a Whitestone resident, is a science and English buff who hopes to attend Yale University and take courses in nuclear engineering. In her spare time, Porkka writes science fiction.

“I was very surprised,” Porkka said about learning she would be heading to Times Square with the mayor for New Year’s Eve. “They pulled me out of class, and I thought they were going to tell me something was wrong.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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