History's a hit with volleyball teen

| zbraziller@queenscourier.com |

Cynthia Leal's life changed the day she walked through the doors of the Academy of American Studies. From that point on, she hungered for American History and developed a thirst for the sport of volleyball. Neither subject nor sport interested her much prior to the fall of 2001.
Leal was recently awarded the Gilder Lehrman Institute/Clemente Foundation Prize - a check for $1,000 - for her outstanding performance in American History and participation in school activities for the second straight year. As a sophomore, she took home second place honors in a citywide Civil War essay contest writing about how the election of 1860 caused the war.
Leal can go on for hours about American History, from Abraham Lincoln - her personal hero, she says, because &#8220he wasn't afraid to do things that people didn't like” - to the various World Wars and the argued hypocrisy of former President Thomas Jefferson.
The year before Leal came to American Studies was a rough year; her family was moving to Brooklyn, so she had less time to study. But early in her freshmen year, her American History class was engaging in a debate concerning Jefferson. The teacher was videotaping the session with several prospective eighth grade students in attendance. The two sides argued back and forth whether Jefferson was two-faced; at the same time he was against slavery, he owned many, even having liaisons with a few.
&#8220That day made me really take a long look at history,” she said. &#8220After that, it was like history is fun, it's not just boring old guys in wigs. I felt like I could relate to it more personally. I felt I could really see into the past.
&#8220It lets you see the mistakes of the past or the efforts of the past and really understand how we got to the technology and politics of today,” Leal continued. &#8220A big part of it is actually learning about specific details of [various] presidencies and governments. It makes you realize they are not all these idealized men.”
Leal also became quite an accomplished athlete at American Studies, starring on the volleyball team all four years as an outside hitter. Her senior campaign, she was named the captain, leading the Lady Eagles to the playoffs with 116 service points, seventh best in the city. In the off-season, she gave up most of her time to manage the boys' team. Leal attended most practices, kept stats during games and assisted Coach Stefanie Labarbera to organize the team's permission slips, medical records and general records during her free periods.
Nevertheless, she managed a cumulative 93.5 average, excelling in AP American History and French. Leal maintained that level of excellence, she says, because of her parents' guidance; although her mother didn't go to college and her father did for just two years, they remain the most intelligent people she knows.
&#8220I never missed a homework assignment, not because I didn't want my teachers to find out, she said, &#8220but because I would have to tell my parents. I didn't want to disappoint them.”
&#8220I am proud of my daughter,” Leal's father Francisco said. &#8220We always made sure she had time to study so she could be somebody in life. She was always a good, diligent student. [She'd] never leave anything for tomorrow, what's for today is [done] today.”