By the time Andrea Leone graduated from in 2005, she had years of training in Italian from a number of teachers whose efforts made a lasting impression on the young girl.
Now, she will take what she learned and use it during the next academic year, when she will travel to Rome to teach teachers there English on a Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarship.
Leone, 25, graduated with honors from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in anthropology.
"Fulbright awards to Italy are extremely competitive. Only about 3 percent of applicants to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program received an award for the 2012-2013 year," according to a release put out by UMASS.
While at UMASS, Leone spent a summer in Kassel, Germany and studied for 11 months in Verona, Italy. She teaches English as a second language courses at The Boston Language Institute.
"It seems like a lifetime since I was at Hamden High, but the first time I went to Italy with the Hamden High Italian Club in 2003, when I was 16, seems like yesterday," she said.
"I had been studying Italian since seventh grade, and I had always had great Italian teachers, but I wasn't until I was actually in Italy - Rome, in fact - that I uttered my first sentence in Italian to an Italian," she said. "Of course, I immediately fell in love with the Italian way of life (the humor, the passion, the beauty) and have made it my mission ever since to go back to visit as often as possible.
"The late Signora Scaramella at Hamden Middle School, and then Signora Rochniak, Signora Rodriguez, and Signora Rascati at Hamden High School were all hugely influential in my studies of Italian, proving to me that Italian is a language that is valued far beyond its utility and that, if given the devotion that it deserves, opens up a whole new way of understanding and seeing the world," she said.
"It has always been fun to be part of the community of non-native Italian speakers - we are far fewer than speakers of French or Spanish, for example," she said, "and I'm happy that I have been given the opportunity to dig deeper into Italian culture in an attempt to find my place within it.
Leone also singles out Gary Schark as "an immense presence at Hamden High School when I was a student there, and he never failed to push me to think (hard!) about everything I did, said, and believed," she said. "He taught me that there is no absolute Truth, that I should never be afraid to play the devil's advocate, and to think critically and deeply about topics that have no clear answer.
"These are skills that I took with me to college and that continue to push me forward in my academic pursuits," she said.