Tonight, Bayside public school teacher Frank Auriemma is being recognized alongside 38 other “Heroes of 2020” during the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square.
The chorus and music teacher will head to Times Square to watch the ball drop — socially distanced — along with fellow teachers, first responders and other frontline workers.
According to the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment, which co-produces the annual event, the chosen “heroes” are people “whose courage, creativity and spirit — expressed in many ways, day in and day out — helped the city and the surrounding area get through an unprecedented year.”
Although Auriemma is among those 2020 heroes being recognized this year, he said that the real hero is his partner and registered nurse, Antonio Pimentel.
“The application was actually done on [Antonio’s] behalf,” Auriemma said. “I had to submit a form [to nominate] your hero of 2020 for this cool event in Times Square, basically explaining how he’s been in and out of COVID units since March.”
The Bayside teacher recalled his partner’s face after working 12-hour shifts with COVID patients at Southshore University Hospital.
“I would hear the horror stories that he would share when he got out and came home, especially at the very beginning of this all,” Auriemma said.
Because Pimentel did not want to appear on camera and receive public recognition as a “hero,” Auriemma took his place as one of the honorees.
“Basically, his motto has always been, ‘If that was your loved one in the hospital, what would you want your registered nurse to do?'” said Auriemma, adding that Pimentel has always gone above and beyond for his patients regardless of the toll it took on his own physical and mental well-being.
For his own part during the pandemic, Auriemma has been virtually teaching middle school students at M.S. 74 in Bayside since March. He shared that the experience has been new and challenging for him and his students, calling it “a wild ride, to say the least.”
Despite the difficulties, he recognized that there are silver linings to every dark cloud.
“I’m grateful that I’m still employed at my place of work. When you hear these horror stories about people losing their jobs left and right, I’m very fortunate to have that,” Auriemma said. “The silver lining is that we’re still here.”
In addition to teaching, Auriemma started putting on nightly Facebook concerts as a morale booster for family and friends. He said that he would take song requests and even perform some original pieces.
“While I was seeing the ugly side of things, [I was] just trying to see whatever glimmer of light that there is at the end of the tunnel [and] trying to reach out to people like that,” he said.
Although there will be no crowd in Times Square this year, Auriemma and Pimentel are watching the ball drop in a separate and physically distanced viewing area. But the teacher said that he has hopes that 2021 will present some semblance of normalcy.
“It’s amazing how much you miss social interaction of any kind, especially being from the music perspective of things,” he said. My hope is that, eventually, things get as close to normal as they were. I know that this is a historic moment and nothing will ever be the same with certain protocols and things like that — which is understood. I want to be able to travel again. I want to be able to go to a concert. I want to be able to go out to dinner and not feel threatened by anything.”
He added that he hopes to follow in his partner’s footsteps and get the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine soon.
Going into 2021, Auriemma hopes that everyone can “stay positive.”
“Now is the time to find yourself and find what interests you. Let that light shine,” he said.
Visit timessquarenyc.org to learn how to watch the New Year’s Eve ball drop at home.