Photographs by William Taufic
Although we are always sorry to bid adieu to summer, every year we look forward to the September issue and our annual presentation of ten outstanding teens. And, although we seem to say it every time, this year’s crop of young men and women is extraordinary.
All but one have graduated from high school and have just embarked on their freshman year at some of the country’s most elite colleges and universities. As in the past, our teens represent a diverse cross section of interests and passions: One is a future global leader whose area of expertise includes green energy solutions; another is a world-class sailor; another combines a love of robotics and drawing; still another envisions a career in public policy. The things they have in common? An insatiable desire to learn and a need to make a difference in the world. In addition to managing challenging academic course loads and extracurricular activities, each has dedicated time to paying it forward—at home and abroad—whether working with Alzheimer’s patients, teaching young kids the basics of computer coding, giving a leg up to the area’s struggling immigrant population or funding a school for impoverished children.
Wise, funny, smart, ambitious and driven, these kids dream big—and why not? They believe in themselves as agents of change. They are poised to do remarkable things. Once you meet them, we think you’ll understand why.
Ava Vanech developed a passion for learning as a little girl growing up in Los Angeles: English, history, science, art, dance, she loved them all. So, when her family moved back to Greenwich in 2014, the Yale freshman was thrilled by the opportunity to attend Sacred Heart, her mother’s alma mater. “It was a childhood dream of mine to go there,” the 2017 class valedictorian recalls. “Starting as a sophomore was a big shift. But it was a challenge I wanted.”
Indeed, Ava made the most of her time at Sacred Heart, exploring her academic interests in everything from STEM to the arts, earning numerous awards along the way. But it was her sophomore AP Biology course that sparked an interest in genetics and led to a two-week summer course on genetics at University of Southern California. That, in turn, led to an independent project on childhood epilepsy through Sacred Heart’s science research program, which culminated in an eight-week internship last summer at Yale School of Medicine’s Blumenfeld Lab. Ava credits that experience with solidifying her decision to pursue a career in medicine. “I had so many misconceptions about going to medical school,” she says. “I didn’t realize one could do research and practice as a doctor.”
When not in school, Ava taught computer programming to youngsters at Zaniac, and volunteered with Alzheimer’s patients at River House in Cos Cob. Working with both ends of the age spectrum was eye-opening: “Being with kids reminds me of when I was their age and the curiosity I had. And working with the elderly reminds me not to take my life for granted.” Three years ago, Ava cofounded the Alzheimer’s Association’s Youth Alliance, spearheading fundraising efforts and bringing in $35,000 to help with research. As a result, the Alzheimer’s Association honored Ava by naming her one of its 2016 Women Champions.
Despite a grueling AP and Honors course load, she found time to pursue her love of dance at the Dance Center of Greenwich. “It’s like my break from everything,” she says. “It’s the best form of expression and art and makes me relaxed.”
Although she competed in track her sophomore year, she realized competitive sports weren’t her thing. “It never made sense to me. You have a winner and a loser. Why not do dance so everyone can have fun together?”
1 WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT? Mrs. Vasu, my AP English and tenth-grade English teacher. She helped me grow tremendously as a reader, writer, speaker and critical thinker. She encouraged creativity and taught me to have confidence in my ideas, no matter how abstract or unexpected
2 WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF? Embrace change and stay optimistic, because everything will work out in the end!
3 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN UNDERCLASSMAN? Always put things in perspective and know what you value. High school can become hectic, but prioritize sleep, family and fun, because those are important, too.
4 HARDEST CLASS? My online Linear Algebra class.
5 MOTTO? Work hard. Be nice.
GREENWICH HIGH SCHOOL
Mateo Leon learned early on that perseverance pays off. Born and raised in Chile, the eighteen-year-old came to Greenwich four years ago to live with his father. “I had never wanted to come to the U.S., to leave my entire family and go live with a stranger,” he recalls. That changed when he was fourteen and “ready for an adventure.”
Mateo loved his new life in the U.S. As part of the Greenwich High School freshman class, he started in the ESL department, made friends, got an after-school job. But as he excelled academically, his home life was deteriorating; by the end of his junior year, he faced a choice: move back to Chile or figure out a way to stay in the U.S. For him the answer was obvious: “Going back to Chile would be a downgrade for all I wanted to do. I’m aiming high in life. So, staying here was my only option.”
Before the start of his senior year, Mateo moved into his own place, a room in a Hamilton Avenue. home. He picked up more hours at his part-time job as a stock boy at Rinfret Home & Garden and learned how to live within a budget. However, when owner Cindy Rinfret found out about his situation, she invited him to live rent-free in her backcountry home. “That was a palace,” says Mateo. “I had my own space, my own bathroom, everything.” The only downside? Living so far out of town meant he no longer had access to public transportation. “I was spending a lot of money on Uber,” he says. Mateo decided to allocate some of his college savings to buy a 1997 Toyota Camry. “All my friends used to laugh at it, but now they love it and I love it.”
Mateo credits the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich with helping him stay centered through a difficult time. It was there he learned to swim and skate, where he could go for a hot meal and sanctuary. He joined the Keystone Club and became a passionate volunteer at club events. “The club was always there for me when I needed someone to lean on,” he says.
A driven student, Mateo focused on subjects he loved throughout high school—primarily science and math; by his senior year he had taken on AP Physics, AP Economics and AP Calculus. As a freshman at NYU’s School of Engineering, he is excited about the future and the opportunity to fulfill his dreams. “I love civil engineering,” he says. “Skyscrapers, bridges, subways and structures in general. I’m a nerd when it comes to that stuff. It’s what I love doing.”
1 WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT? Bar Harland, my mentor at Rinfret Home & Garden. She taught me a lot about life and American culture.
2 WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF? Expect great things and don’t be afraid of uncertainty. That’s what makes life fun.
3 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN UNDERCLASSMAN? Learn to work with what you have, focus on what you want to do, and do as much as you can to go forward with what you have. Don’t be afraid of challenges.
4 HARDEST CLASS? AP Physics C. Even though it was the most fun class, it was also my biggest academic challenge.
5 MOTTO? Labor omnia vincit. Work conquers all.
GREENWICH HIGH SCHOOL
Mariana Grandmont has a gift for languages, a deep spiritual faith and a calling to help those less fortunate than she. As a Youth Group Leader at Building One Community (B1C), a Stamford-based nonprofit that helps immigrants assimilate into the community, Mariana and her two coleaders were responsible for organizing the weekly ESL classes. The task involved finely tuned organizational and communication skills. “We inherited this program that was literally nothing—no structure, no staff—and built it from the bottom up,” she says.
Although she was born and raised in the U.S., Mariana did not speak fluent English when she moved to Riverside eight years ago. “At home I speak Spanish with my mom and Portuguese with my dad,” she explains. She enrolled in the ESL program in second grade and within three years had moved up to the advanced-level program. Her experience gave her a unique perspective at B1C. “I could understand how hard it was for our clients to become comfortable here,” the University of Notre Dame freshman says.
Over the years, Mariana earned numerous accolades for her community service work in Fairfield County. Among the highlights: United Way’s Outstanding Youth Volunteer of the Year, Greenwich High School’s Community Service Award and the State of Connecticut General Assembly Recognition from both Stamford and Greenwich.
A standout scholar and athlete, Mariana immersed herself in AP classes while at Greenwich High. She was named to the Spanish National Honors Society three years in a row and to both the Science and Math National Honors societies two years running. A passionate oarsman, she rowed with the Greenwich Water Club for five years. In 2015 her team placed second in the Northeast Junior District Championships. Sidelined by a back injury her junior year, Mariana seized the opportunity to devote more time to the things she loved. She and a friend started a youth group at their church, and they subsequently were invited to join the Parish Council.
“Every person on this planet has a set of skills, whether they realize it or not,” Mariana says. “Through community service, I get to use the things with which I am naturally gifted to help those who aren’t as fortunate.”
1 WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT? Mr.Conlan, my APES (AP Environmental Science) teacher. He embodies what it means to not conform to society and not be embarrassed to stand up for what you believe in, especially when those around you disagree. He makes his voice heard and encourages others to do the same.
2 WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF? Don’t let a challenge or change frighten you. You don’t know your real potential until you’re in the face of adversity and need to find a solution. You’re not going to change the world by following the crowd. You’ll change the world by being passionate and taking risks. The world deserves to hear your voice, and you deserve to make your voice heard.
3 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN UNDERCLASSMAN? Be fearless in the pursuits that set your soul on fire.
4 HARDEST CLASS? My hardest class would be AP Literature with Ms. Blumenthal. However, it was my most rewarding. I am always up for a challenge, because I’ve learned that if you want to grow, there has to be some sort of struggle.
5 MOTTO? See No. 4
GREENWICH HIGH SCHOOL
Born in Seoul, Derek Woo moved to Hawaii when he was two years old. It was there that his grandmother, a former engineer in the South Korean military, introduced him to the wonders of science. “She taught me things like how a car works, and why the sky is blue,” he says. He was hooked. The family moved once more, this time to Greenwich, when Derek was eight. When he entered Greenwich High School as a freshman, the science research program seemed an obvious fit. “It proved a perfect opportunity to explore my curiosity,” he says.
Derek’s junior year project focused on colony collapse among honeybees. His research showed that pesticides in the soil migrate through plants and become concentrated droplets on the tips of the leaves. He developed a way to mitigate the effects of the pesticides using biochar soil additives. His work earned him a trip to the Regeneron Science Fair this past spring, where he was among forty finalists nationwide. Last summer, Derek interned at Greenwich Audubon, where he did additional research; the Harvard freshman hopes to continue his work on honeybees.
Even before setting foot onto the Cambridge campus, Derek was influenced by Harvard life. An accomplished oarsman who qualified for the youth national championships his sophomore year, he and his twin brother got the rowing bug after watching The Social Network. “I started to row and ever since middle school I would spend two hours a day, six days a week on the water.” The dedication paid off. He placed on the novice rowing team as an eighth grader, and jumped up to varsity the next year.
Ambitious and driven, Derek cofounded the high school’s chess team because he wanted to learn how to play. He is also a talented clarinetist and was selected for the 2016 Connecticut-Western Region Band. From there he earned a spot with the Connecticut All-State Band. “Music is something I do to relax. I play to separate myself from everything else,” he says.
He has served as a program coordinator for Bricks4Kidz, a program that teaches elementary and middle school students robotics and computer programming. He also volunteered at Nathaniel Witherell, where his grandfather was a resident. Calling it an “eye-opening experience,” Derek says it gave him a different perspective on life. “It’s cliché, but it made me realize the importance of spending time with your family, having fun and spending time in nature.”
1 WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT? My Science Research teacher, Mr. Bramante. For the first time in my life, I found something [research] much bigger than getting that “A” in class. He was a catalyst that spurred my insatiable curiosity about the world and changed my approach to school.
2 WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF? I would tell my freshman self to read the expiration date of milk cartons so I could avoid two instances of food poisoning.
3 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN UNDERCLASSMAN? It’s not too late to try something new. Whether it is joining a club, trying out for a sports team or playing a new instrument, exploring new activities will often lead to new passions and communities.
4 HARDEST CLASS? Science Research. Unlike any other class, this class has no guarantee of success for the effort one puts in. Despite all the success stories you may see on Facebook or the local news, I can personally say that research projects often do not come to fruition. For example, sophomore year, I spent hours a day in the lab trying to develop a generator that would recycle the lost rotational energy of a vehicle. In the end, nothing materialized. Even a successful research project takes countless hours of reading and synthesizing journals, drafting papers and running tests.
5 MOTTO? Breathe. Think. Breathe again. Do.
Jack Parkin was an infant when he first set foot on a sailboat—during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where his parents were sailing for Great Britain. Clearly the sport was in his genes. By age ten, Jack had achieved a level of success most young sailors only dream about. He was named one of the top fifty youth sailors in the country. The family moved to Greenwich in 2008, and today with a boatload of wins under his belt, he has his sights set on his own Olympic run.
Early on, the Stanford freshman joined LISOT, a local team in the area. Sailing in the Optimist class, he started to win regional and national regattas. When it came time to move up to the 420 class, he and his partner hit the ground running. “The first year competing, we were the first U.S. boat in every regatta we entered and ninth in the world championships,” he recalls. “We realized, hey, we’re not too bad at this stuff.”
The duo’s road to dominance on the world scene was not without its disappointments and setbacks. For two years in a row, Jack and his skipper came in second in the world youth championships. They turned that around this past year in New Zealand, when they bested their rivals by a wide margin. “When we crossed the finish line and realized we had won, we were ecstatic. Our coach was out there on the water, my parents were watching from shore. It was fantastic.”
When he wasn’t traveling the world, Jack switched hats and sailed for Brunswick’s varsity team. He was named captain his senior year, a role he relished. The team won the New England Championship when Jack was a sophomore, and he won the individual New England Championship this past year. He also ran cross-country for years, and last fall placed sixth in the FAA championships, one day after taking sixth in the ISA high school single-handed sailing championship in Texas.
Even with the rigors of his sailing schedule, Jack excelled academically. Last year he was one of four Brunswick students taking Stanford Advanced Math, a multivariable calculus course administered by the university. He was also one of a small group of students taking a custom- designed thermodynamics course. And while he is focused on his studies at Stanford, the U.S. Sailing Team member is looking ahead to the Summer Games. “We moved up to the 470 Olympic class boat, which requires a whole new set of skills. So probably not 2020,” he says. “More like 2024. We have stiff competition. Sailing is a bit of a long game.”
1 WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT? My math teacher, Mrs. Allwood, who taught me in my three years of Calculus and pre-Calculus. She is a wealth of knowledge and knows exactly how to teach advanced material so that her students absorb all of it. Along with teaching me academically, her demeanor and pure love for the things she teaches increased my own love for learning.
2 WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF? No matter how tough or stressed you are, think in the present and look on the bright side of any situation. That way, you will always be happy with how or what you are doing.
3 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN UNDERCLASSMAN? Hard work now pays off in many more magnitudes later.
4 HARDEST CLASS? Since I am more of a STEM student, I found AP U.S. History particularly difficult, as I never truly loved the material and thought the massive amount of memorization rather than application was useless.
5 MOTTO? “Long you live and high you fly. And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry. And all you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be.” —Pink Floyd
Susana Vik was just ten years old when she played her first golf tournament. “I shot a 132,” she says. “I was determined to get better.” Indeed. In less than two years she had lowered her handicap from fifty to five. In May of 2012—when she was twelve—she won the IJGT Tournament of Champions; by the time summer rolled around she had become a scratch golfer. Over the next four years, Susana garnered success after success, playing the International Amateur and Junior circuit both as an individual and as a member of the Norwegian Junior National Team (her father is Norwegian and she is a dual citizen). She was tapped by Norway to play the Evian Junior Masters right after her thirteenth birthday.
During the summer, she hones her skills at a club in Monaco, where her family has a home. When in Greenwich, she plays at Stanwich. Although she has experienced many of Europe’s most famous courses, her favorite is Queenwood in Surrey, outside London. “The clubhouse is cozy and the course is challenging, but not super-challenging, off the tee,” she explains. “I can relax a little at the start and then relax into it as I go.”
A student at Greenwich Academy for fourteen years, Susana made the school’s varsity golf team as an eighth grader. “At the clubs around town, there are not that many junior players,” she says. “GA has been a great way to play with other kids and have fun.” She led the team to two New England Independent School championships and earned an individual championship in 2014.
An injury her junior year meant she had to sit out most of the season. Instead of dwelling on the disappointment, she focused on her academics. Her interests are wide-ranging, from history and comparative government to science and math. Her efforts paid off: Senior year she was inducted into the Cum Laude Society and received the Williamson Award for History and Social Sciences. “Even when I was traveling extensively to golf tournaments, I was able to maintain my academics by learning how to manage my time and commitments and communicating with my teachers,” she says.
The Harvard freshman is the third Vik to join the Crimson golf program, following in the footsteps of her father and older sister, Caroline. But the driving force behind her decision was a practical one. “I love school and athletics are very important to me,” she says. “I’m always searching for that balance. Harvard will allow me to pursue a rigorous academic career and still be able to play golf.”
1 WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT? There are two teachers who impacted my high school life a lot. Ms. Rachel Powers, who was my advisor and taught AP U.S. History. was incredibly supportive of me throughout high school, personally and academically. She is a great teacher who really ignited my interest in the humanities through her passion for history. The other is Mr. Robert Taylor who taught my Economics and Entrepreneurship classes. He bridged the gap between math, science and the humanities so well, teaching by relating real world topics with the subject matter and making the classes so much more interesting and applicable to the real world.
2 WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF? Advocate for yourself and find friends who support you in your goals.
3 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN UNDERCLASSMAN? Focus on what you get out of your classes and not only on your grades.
4 HARDEST CLASS? That’s difficult to pinpoint as most were challenging. At the beginning of each year, it was important for me to overcome the reputation of a class, find confidence in myself and just get down to work. Once I did that, I did well.
5 MOTTO? “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” — Henry David Thoreau
Matt Roer believes in thinking big. Three years ago, as a rising freshman, he switched from public to private school. “I thought King offered a certain personalization,” he recalls. “I’ve been able to work with amazing teachers and to grow as a student.” Embracing every opportunity, he pursued his passion for global studies, finance and sports in a variety of ways.
A Model U.N. delegate since freshman year and now the club’s copresident, the King senior has attended conferences at Brown and Harvard. As an advocate for clean energy, Matt recently conducted an independent project on fuel cells. He attended the 2016 Global Student Leaders Summit in Iceland, which focused on issues of energy and climate change. This summer, at the 2017 summit in Italy, where the topic was food security and safety, Matt was one of sixteen interns out of 2,000 attendees who served in a leadership role. He introduced keynote speaker Raj Patel, a leading authority on food justice.
To hone his negotiating and public speaking skills, he joined King’s debate team and currently serves as its copresident. “It focuses on issues that pertain to everyday life,” he says. “These are issues that I’m going to try to help solve.” Win or lose, he views every debate as a teachable moment. “Even if I lose, I know more about the subject and can talk about it, so that makes it a valuable experience.”
Last year, Matt cofounded the school’s Students Righting History Club. He is also active in the Math Teacher’s Assistant Club and is vice president of the King Investment Club (founded by 2016 Teen to Watch Richard Jove).
Not surprisingly, he brings the same level of commitment and passion to his studies, where he excels in STEM-based subjects. At King Prize Day in June, Matt received the Future Global Leaders Award and the Cornell Book Award, in recognition of scholastic excellence, innovative thinking and an awareness of cultural diversity. He is equally passionate about sports and his community service projects, including a grassroots tennis program for underprivileged children. Matt is the captain of the varsity tennis team and a member of the varsity cross-country team, which he joined as a junior. “I’d never done cross-country before,” he said. “I always like to work on my weaknesses and turn them into strengths.” It is yet one more example of his drive to be the best he can be. “I want to make myself as well-rounded as possible, to go the extra mile and ultimately to change the world.”
1 WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT?
Mr. Galanopoulos, my AP U.S. History teacher. In Mr. G’s class, I became a passionate student of history. Because of his guidance and the way he taught, I’ve learned there’s a great deal of truth to the quote “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Mr. G is also the advisor for Model U.N. [Matt is copresident]. He has taught me how to be successful at Model U.N. conferences and has helped foster my passion for global studies.
2 WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF? Be confident and take every opportunity given to you. Get involved early in activities that seem interesting because they may become your favorite part of school. Keep things in perspective and don’t let disappointments linger because when one door closes, another opens.
3 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN UNDERCLASSMAN? Get to know your teachers and advisors as early as possible. They can be your greatest resources and become some of the most influential people in your life.
4 HARDEST CLASS? AP BC Calculus. My teacher and mentor, Dr. Khiznichenko, has been an inspiration in my love for math and my drive to continue to excel.
5 MOTTO? “The main thing is to care. Care very hard, even if it is only a game you are playing.” —Billie Jean King
Class valedictorian, national merit finalist, robotics expert and accomplished artist—it’s hard to believe Greenwich Academy graduate Renee Ong felt like a fish out of water when she landed in Greenwich seven years ago. Born and raised in Singapore, Renee had lived in Hong Kong and Beijing by the time she was eleven. “No one knew where Singapore was, much less Malaysia, where my dad was born,” she said.
It took her a year to acclimate to her new home in the U.S., and then in seventh grade, on a whim, she joined the robotics team. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” she says. As cocaptain and focused primarily on mechanical design, she was responsible for all aspects of the team, including overseeing the budget and finances. Competition in Fairfield County’s FTC (First Tech Challenge) League is fierce, she says. Among the team’s achievements: 2016 FTC Dean’s List finalist, second place in 2015 New York Hudson Valley State Championships, second place in 2014, 2015 and 2016 Connecticut State Championships.
Some of the toughest fights took place off the field: Renee recalled a disheartening moment at a regional tournament during the interview phase. “We were doing really well, talking about our project and the head judge said, ‘Do you guys have catfights a lot?’ It was so awkward and demoralizing,” she says.
Even as she pursued a STEM-heavy honors course load (including two AP science classes a year), Renee still found time to serve on the editorial board of the school magazine, Daedalus, write science-related articles for the Greenwich Sentinel and serve as a head delegate for Model U.N. She is also a gifted artist whose work has earned numerous awards, including a 2017 Scholastic Gold Key in Mixed Media. She was invited to exhibit at the Greenwich Art Society’s 100th Annual Juried Show and the Bruce Museum’s 2016 iCreate exhibition, among others.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’m more open to combining my interests and pursuing them more heavily,” says the Yale freshman. “People think of the liberal arts and STEM fields as being separate and not compatible. I don’t feel that way.”
Indeed, one of her favorite classes last year was an English elective called New York State of Mind. “The teacher made it fun for a kid who wasn’t an English major kind of kid,” she says. “I think it’s really important to develop critical thinking skills and be able to discuss and debate topics. Even if you’re going into STEM, you need to be able to defend your arguments.”
1 WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT? They’re not “teachers” in the traditional sense, but it would have to be my parents. They taught me that it’s more important to be someone worth knowing rather than someone well-known, and that approach has really informed everything I do.
2 WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF? Don’t stress too much. As long as you follow your passions wholeheartedly, and with 100 percent effort, it’ll turn out all right. Also, get more sleep.
3 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN UNDERCLASSMAN? It’s a cliché, but don’t be afraid to try new things. Have a goal in mind even if it changes, so you have something to work toward.
4 HARDEST CLASS? AP Physics C. It was very intense toward the material and required fast comprehension and understanding to move onto the next subject. Even though the materials and pace were intense, the class was manageable (and enjoyable!) with the right people.
5 MOTTO? “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…let’s go exploring!” From the final strip of Calvin and Hobbes, one of my favorite comics.
Most kids get in trouble for texting during class. Tate Huffman got in trouble for sneaking in some reading. “I was in fourth grade and I had my book taken away from me,” recalls this year’s class valedictorian. Luckily, it didn’t deter him from an insatiable desire to learn. “I always had a drive to be curious,” he adds.
When he entered Brunswick as a freshman, Tate jumped in with both feet. “The highest number of courses you can have a semester is seven,” he says. “I definitely wanted to do that.” Still, his advisor and others cautioned against it. “They said you probably shouldn’t take that many classes your freshman year, but see how it feels. You can always drop one.”
Instead, Tate added an eighth. “I wanted to take two languages and an art,” he says. In addition to studying Chinese and Latin, he joined Men of Brunswick, the school’s a capella group, which met every morning before school. “The group was one of my favorite parts of high school.”
This past year, Tate replaced Chinese with AP Computer Science A. “I resisted it, but finally relented my senior year,” he says. He liked it so much, in fact, he plans to continue comp sci at Harvard, where he may focus on applied mathematics. “I’m keeping my options open, as there’s so much the school has to offer,” he says. Ultimately, he wants to combine his passion for STEM, especially statistics, and sports. “I’m a big sports fan,” he says. “All that Moneyball kind of thing. I’ve memorized every World Series winner since 1903. It’s my fun fact I’ll pull out at parties.”
President and founder of the Film Club; captain of the math team; yearbook editor; president of the Blue Notes, the school’s honors jazz band, Tate is also a disciplined athlete who captained two varsity teams his senior year—crew and squash, a sport he has played since fourth grade. During his time at Brunswick, the squash team earned six New England championships in a row and last year won the national championships.
Although baseball is his favorite spectator sport, he took up crew at the suggestion of his mother. “She thought I’d be a natural,” he said. “I was 6’1” when I started as a freshman, and I’ve grown two inches since then.” Tate traveled to London with the team last year as an alternate for the races at Henley. “We got to train on a section of the Thames that has been rowed on for 100 years,” he said. “It was amazing to be in touch with such a prestigious location.”
1 WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT? Mr. Fischetti, my U.S. History teacher and eighth grade advisor. He was one of the first teachers who I really connected with beyond just schoolwork. He is a big sports fan, and he really cared about us as students.
2 WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF? Do well in school but don’t be afraid to go and have fun when the time presents itself. You don’t want to look back and regret not spending time with your friends.
3 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO AN UNDERCLASSMAN? Reach out to your teachers. Not only will it help you for school, but also because they are the people who are there to make you a better person, and that can really make a difference down the line in later years.
4 HARDEST CLASS? Honors Chemistry sophomore year. I just did not get chemistry at all. Also, AP Physics C, my senior year. The first semester was fine. Second semester was one of the most brutal experiences of my life. It was so different from everything I’d had before.
5 MOTTO? I’m a fan of Ferris Bueller. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” And Vanilla Ice. I say anytime you can get in a Vanilla Ice quote, go for it: “Anything less than the best is a felony.”
She’s only eighteen, but Courtney Smith is well on her way to changing the world, one kid at a time. The Georgetown freshman was fifteen when she read Adam Braun’s The Promise of a Pencil, which describes his efforts to improve the lives of children in third world countries. Braun’s nonprofit, Pencils of Promise, seeks to address the global education crisis in part by building schools in underserved regions. “I was captivated by the idea that ordinary people can create extraordinary change,” she recalls. Courtney set out to raise $25,000 in one year (the amount necessary to build a school) and used her sixteenth birthday to launch her fundraising campaign. She met her goal in less than a year. “In my family, I’m labeled the unrealistic dreamer,” she says. “I set these really big goals for myself. People who want to make changes have to do that.”
Courtney came by her passion for social activism and education through her parents—her mother is a teacher and her father is a retired police officer. “My mom set a great example of someone who has impacted lives through education. My dad taught me the importance of community service,” she says. “Both of my parents, in their own ways, just wanted to make the world a better place. Seeing that shaped who I am today.”
In addition to her stellar academic record (“I really love learning,” she says. “I’m that kind of nerdy girl.”), Courtney is a talented dancer and was a member of the Greenwich Dance Studio. “I love it all,” she says, “jazz, ballet, contemporary.” She was invited to participate in a summer intensive with the Joffrey Ballet and STEPS on Broadway in Manhattan. She was also a co-facilitator for the Junior League’s Positively More program and a member of the First Selectman’s Youth Commission.
At Georgetown, Courtney is perfectly positioned to launch a career in public policy and social justices—either at the government or grassroots level. “Compassion is a nonpartisan issue, so if I can change the way charity and social-justice work are perceived politically, I think more effective and meaningful work can be done.”
1 WHAT TEACHER HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT? Ms. Larson, my Senior Seminar teacher. The class combines English, theology and philosophy. She encouraged me to analyze my values, opinions and faith in a way I’d never experienced. Because of her, I want to study philosophy in college so that one day I can create policies that are both effective and ethical.
2 WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR FRESHMAN SELF? Don’t worry so much about what other people think about you. At the end of the day, they are probably worried more about what people are thinking of themselves.
3 WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE AN UNDERCLASSMAN? Make sure you work hard and try your best, but know that who you are as a person is more important than a grade on a test. We sometimes forget to enjoy learning.
4 HARDEST CLASS? AP Biology junior year. I don’t consider myself a science person; it’s not something I’m naturally good at.
5 MOTTO? “For those to whom much is given, much is required.” —John F. Kennedy