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Southold junior earns prestigious honor for outstanding French language skills

There are some teenagers who dream big only to lose sight of their vision and there are those who stay committed and are rewarded with scholarships to study abroad. Juliet Rand of Southold falls into the latter category.

The 16-year-old Southold High School junior was recently selected as a runner-up for the World Language Student of the Year Award in New York, offered by the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers and the nonprofit Council on International Educational Exchange. The organizations partnered to “recognize student achievement in language learning,” according to the CIEE website. Among 170 nominees from across the state, Juliet ranked in the top three, winning a $2,500 scholarship for her outstanding French language skills. 

Virginia Gilmore, Juliet’s French teacher, is a member of NYSAFLT and nominated her for the scholarship because, as she put it, “How could I not?”

“The way that I came to know her, she had the lead in one of the [musicals],” said Ms. Gilmore. “I’ve been teaching a long time. Periodically, when you see someone that’s an incredible talent, it’s like a miracle. I walked out of the auditorium that night thinking, ‘This girl is going to be famous.’ ”

Juliet also earned a Global Navigator Merit Scholarship from CIEE, which will enable her to spend this summer studying language and culture in France. Of the various cities offered, Juliet chose Renn, where the four-week, full immersion language program is most intense. There, she will live with a non-English-speaking host family, attend three hours of morning French language classes each day and participate in guided afternoon excursions to cultural and historical sites. In addition to her language skills, she is a dedicated student who performs well academically. Her interest in French first sprouted from her interest in opera.

“When I was little, I just always loved music, so my grandparents took me to an opera concert at a vineyard and I saw these singers and I was like, ‘That is what I want to do,’ ” Juliet said. “My grandma had me talk to one of the performers afterward and said, ‘What can my granddaughter do to start focusing her career in music?’ He said, ‘Have her take piano lessons,’ so I started piano lessons and that was in fifth grade. And then I started taking opera lessons in seventh grade. From there, I was just experiencing all of the different languages from opera music because most pieces aren’t in English. Typically [they are in] Italian, French, German, and I just found a new love and appreciation for language.”

She said that she found, through opera, just how beautiful the French language was.

Juliet and French teacher Victoria Gilmore. (Credit: Courtesy of Dan Gosnell)

Juliet’s mother, Heather Rand, an elementary school teacher in the Comsewogue School District, explained her daughter’s musical upbringing and resolve to become a professional opera singer. 

“She just kind of fell in love with the French language,” Ms. Rand said, “but she had been taking Spanish since the seventh grade.”

From in-school practice to private tutoring, Juliet managed to get placed in French IV on an accelerated track, well before most of her peers. She also completed Spanish IV.

“It was [Ms. Gilmore] who had let us know about this organization,” said Ms. Rand. “[Juliet] is really excited to do it. She’s very much an extrovert. She loves people, loves learning about culture, loves learning about language.”

In 10th grade, on a high school trip to Europe, Juliet saw some of what France had to offer, even spontaneously singing in front of the Paris Opera House. 

“I sang ‘Think of Me’ from ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ ” she said. “Oh, it was amazing. I hope to one day sing at the opera house, inside of it.”

Her mother said the trip was a whirlwind two and a half weeks, during which Juliet seized every opportunity to talk to people and immerse herself in the culture.

Juliet’s language skills go hand in hand with her musical passion and prowess. She has been singing, her mother and grandmother say, since she was born. She is also a proficient pianist and organist who has, since age 9, been playing and singing at Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Southold. Her younger sister, Violet, 14, also participates. A keyboardist at the church invited Juliet to sing with him one day and from there she would come in every week, inspired to take organ lessons. She volunteers, too, at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead, singing and performing for the congregation.

Juliet, who is also involved in dance and drama performances, additionally studies voice with Martha Tibbetts in Huntington. Ms. Tibbetts is helping Juliet prep for college auditions. She hopes to study classical voice, and eventually opera. Her top college choices include Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and The Juilliard School in New York City.

“She is so passionate about it,” Ms. Rand said. “I don’t have to fight with her to practice or go. She loves doing it.”

Juliet said that ultimately, her goal is to spread her love and appreciation of music to others.