EVERY SEPTEMBER FOR THE PAST EIGHT YEARS, GREENWICH MAGAZINE has had the distinct pleasure of showcasing ten of the town’s most extraordinary teens. This year’s group is an accomplished lot. Smart, ambitious, dedicated and focused, these young men and women are making a difference in their schools, our community, and—in many cases—the world. They represent a broad spectrum of interests—from sports and science to entertainment and the arts. Each has proved remarkably resilient in the face of adversity, turned temporary setbacks into teachable moments and learned to put a positive spin on even the most difficult challenges. We always feel a little more confident about the future after we’ve put this issue to bed. After you meet this year’s top teens, we trust you will feel the same.
GREENWICH HIGH SCHOOL
BEN ZABIN WAS NEVER CONFLICTED about what he was going to do with his life. He had figured it out by the age of four. That was the year his parents gave him his first magic set. Ben learned to pull the rabbit out of the hat and he was hooked. “I was shy and introverted,” Ben says. “I didn’t do sports. Magic took me from hiding in the corner of the playground and gave me confidence that I could do something special.”
Indeed. These days the Greenwich High senior has a ton of tricks up his sleeve. He has won numerous awards and performed at resorts, conventions and clubs throughout the country. This summer, Ben apprenticed under Las Vegas headliner magician Mac King. On track to graduate a semester early, Ben has managed to juggle a busy academic schedule with an equally busy performance schedule. “I love English and learning about different worlds,” he says. “I love to read. I can read magic books all day to analyze techniques. We do the same in English class.”
A natural born performer, Ben used to stage plays in his basement as a kid. The venues have gotten bigger over the years, but the feelings are the same: “With magic you can make people smile and give them a one-of-a-kind experience.” Ben performs up to five shows a week, often for local non-profits. What looks easy—coins and cards and disappearing women—requires hard work and discipline. While he spends on average two to three hours a day (more on weekends) practicing tricks, “I have magic on my mind 24/7,” he says. “In class I’m thinking about it; if I’m in the cafeteria and I see something that might be good for a trick, I will pick it up and work with it.”
A longtime member of the local chapter of the Society of Young Magicians, where he instructs aspiring magicians, Ben cites several mentors, including Bill Andrews, past president of the Society of American Magicians, and Bill Herz, a magician in Riverside, for their guidance. “Because of them I’m doing what I’m doing now. Pursuing magic 100 percent.”
ICE HOCKEY PHENOM, ACADEMIC powerhouse. These are two phrases that come to mind to describe Greenwich Academy junior Courtney DeNaut. A nationally ranked goalie for the Mid Fairfield Connecticut Stars, Courtney has also been a member of GA’s varsity ice hockey team since eighth grade (she will cocaptain the team this year)—and has the highest save percentage in the school’s history. “It was really scary at first,” she says. “I wasn’t even in high school. I was worried I would mess up. But all the girls were so nice, I got comfortable really fast.”
Somehow, despite a grueling practice schedule, Courtney manages to find time to play on the school’s varsity lacrosse team and maintain a solid-A average in her course work—a mix of AP and honors classes. “For me, when I know I have certain time to do work, then I focus and get it done,” she says.
During the season at GA, Courtney and her teammates practice five days a week; Saturdays are game days. As a Division 2 school, they face tough competition, but for Courtney that’s all part of the appeal. “It’s fun, because I get so many shots. It helps me get so much better,” she says. On Sundays, Courtney can be found in the net for the Stars, a team she has helped steer to the national championships six years in a row. “I love playing goalie because I can determine the outcome of the game. If I play my best, I’m putting my team in a good position.”
The youngest of four, the sixteen-year-old discovered her calling when she was three. “All my siblings played hockey,” she says. “They needed somebody to shoot on so they had me play goalie.” A year later, she started doing clinics and scrimmages at the Boys and Girls Club. At five, Courtney joined the Greenwich Skating Club, where she was the only girl on the team. At ten, she met the coach of the Mid Fairfield Stars and has been skating with them ever since. At last year’s championships, the team made it to the quarterfinals in the U16 division; this year Courtney will be competing in the U19s.
A junior at GA this year, Courtney recently made a commitment to play ice hockey at Yale. “I want to play in college,” she says. “And if I have the opportunity to go to the Olympics and then play professionally, that would be really cool.”
GREENWICH HIGH SCHOOL
WHEN GREENWICH HIGH SCHOOL junior Kate Piotrowski attended her first Model United Nations conference as a freshman, she had her work cut out for her. “I was a delegate representing North Korea debating on violence against women,” she says. “It wasn’t good. People were surprised I continued. But I liked how smart everyone was. I wanted to be like that.”
Kate’s perseverance and commitment paid off. This year at the Ivy League Model United Nations Conference (ILMUNC) at University of Pennsylvania, where she was representing an NGO called Project Hope, she was named outstanding delegate; earlier in the season she won an honorable merit award at the Princeton conference. “I like learning about diplomacy and international relations,” she says.
She certainly knows how to craft a winning argument. As a member (and now captain) of the high school’s debate team, she has not only learned to think on her feet, but also had the chance to fine-tune her public speaking skills. “I think that’s something my generation lacks,” she says. “They are not comfortable in front of an audience formulating their own thoughts and experiences.” The team meets once a week at the high school and once a month at Connecticut Debating Association events. “My first debate, I lost all of them. I was very nervous,” she says. “I’ve improved so much.”
These days the young activist is busy seeking ways to advocate on behalf of women in the community. As copresident of the Former Attire Club, she organized a clothing drive in collaboration with the national organization, Dress for Success, for women in need of business clothes for job interviews. “In our community we can see the results right away. It gives women major confidence.” The club also hosted a prom dress drive, where it collected about 200 dresses, and then set up a mock store for girls to get a free dress.
Kate says she got the bug for community service when she began volunteering at Greenwich Hospital and Greenwich Library several years ago. “I signed kids up for the summer reading program,” she says. “With the little kids, I see my work pay off right away. It’s instant gratification.”
WHEN A SERIES OF KNEE SURGERIES interrupted a promising high school athletic career, Jamie Macfarlane didn’t spend much time thinking about what might have been. Instead, he focused on what might come next. “The injuries are in the past,” says the Stanford University freshman. “But the experience did let me have an opportunity to do some other things. I had time to fill.”
With a passion for the environment, he started an online company that recycles electronics. (He has since closed the site due to time constraints). He dove into science, taking an honors science research class that catapulted him all the way to the 2014 and 2015 Connecticut Science and Engineering fair. (Last year and he and his teammates took home first prize in the Pfizer Life Science Award.) He got involved in student government, serving as a class senator in freshman, sophomore and senior years, and as vice president of Student Council his junior year. Finally, he joined the Brunswick Broadcasting Club—and was named president last year. “That’s how I stayed involved with sports,” he says. “I’m still an avid fan. There’s something about the camaraderie and teamwork I really enjoy.”
Jamie says he got his drive to succeed from a young age. “I figured out if you’re going to do something, you might as well try to do it well. If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. I’m just trying to have fun and do my best.”
He applies that philosophy to everything he does, from schoolwork—he was named to the high honor roll throughout senior year while tackling a total of five AP classes—to community service. In 2015, he visited Tanzania with a group from Brunswick to volunteer at an orphanage for girls. In 2013, as a freshman he traveled with a group from Brunswick’s Science Research Class to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Peru. “I was hesitant to apply at first. Everybody was older. But my dad encouraged, me and I’m glad I did. It was a fascinating experience.” Closer to home, as a member of the Conservation Club, he helped create a new outdoor learning environment for the Lower School campus. “It’s to help teach kids about the beauty of the world around them and what they can do to take care of it,” he says.
As he looks ahead to his first year at college, Jamie says, “I’m just excited. Stanford expects you to get out there with an open mind. We’ll see what catches my eye.”
CONVENT OF THE SACRED HEART
IF KELLY MCLAUGHLIN HAD HER WAY, every kid from Greenwich would spend a week at Sprout Creek Farm, a nonprofit environmental education center in Poughkeepsie, where she volunteered for four summers. “You’re up at five to milk the cows, and you don’t go to bed until they are taken care of. You are living not for yourself but for a different species,” she says. “It’s something so totally different from what those of us who live here are doing every day.”
This ability to take in the world around her, to appreciate new experiences, is just one of the qualities that set Kelly apart from the pack. She is a gifted artist, whose work hangs in galleries and private collections around town. She is a superb athlete who captained both the varsity field hockey and golf teams. Kelly first started playing field hockey when she was six. “My parents believed every kid should do a sport. Turns out I was good at it.” Golf came later. “My dad needed some way to spend more time with me. I took one lesson and ended up liking it, which is not something you think of for a teenage girl.” (This past spring she was named Most Improved Player.) And she is a keen scientist. In fact, her senior AP art project explored the workings of the human body, from a macro to a micro level. The last painting was of a kidney cell—which she had photographed during a monthlong program for high school students at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “It was one of the most concise and eye-opening experiences,” she says. “They don’t sugarcoat anything about what it takes to become a doctor.”
Now a freshman at Duke, Kelly says she is excited to narrow her focus and try new things. “I’m hoping to get into a visual media course,” she says. “I think people are starting to appreciate the creative mind more than we did in the past. If I can, I want to take what I love doing with art and incorporate that into a business or scientific field. That would be really cool.”
THE STANWICH SCHOOL
“I LOVE BUILDING THINGS,” SAYS HENRY HITTLE, a junior at the Stanwich School, where he founded the robotics team last year. As captain, Henry led the team to a seventh-place finish in the regional Botball competition—no small feat for the group’s inaugural outing. Born and raised in Greenwich, Henry was laid up for months after a car accident when he was just six. It was during his convalescence that he developed his passion for engineering. “I spent a lot of time using a flight simulator and building with Legos. I’m fascinated with mechanics,” he says. “I love taking things apart with my hands.”
A summer engineering program at the U.S. Naval Academy two years ago cemented his interest. “That was really special to me,” he recalls. “I saw all the work they do there, and I felt like I wanted to be part of that.”
An accomplished PADI-certified rescue diver, Henry helps with the underwater photography for the school’s marine program. He is working toward his master scuba diver rating, which requires fifty-plus hours of logged dives and five specialty ratings, such as coral reef conservation. He is also working toward his pilot’s license. “I find the process fascinating,” he says. Locally, he volunteers for Kids in Crisis and Adopt a Dog; last year he and his classmates traveled to Costa Rica to help improve a school for an indigenous tribe.
A standout student, Henry’s interests range from science and math to history and government; he credits his passion for biology for sparking his interest in diving. Although his injuries have limited him from participating in team sports, he has pursued his love of acting through the school’s musical arts program. Last year, Henry played the Tinman in the school production of The Wiz.
While he plans to major in engineering in college, he is not ruling out a run for political office some day. “I study politics a lot and I have developed a lot of opinions.” For now he is putting his energy on his Moral Leadership Project, which seeks to repurpose computers and other technology to low-income families for educational purposes. “I believe having access to a computer at home is essential to achieving one’s full potential at school,” he says.
AN ACCOMPLISHED SAILOR WHO HAS EARNED top finishes at the national and international levels, Ashton Borcherding, a junior at Greenwich Academy, developed her passion for the sport through the summer sailing program at Belle Haven. “I did it every day with friends,” she recalls. “It was very casual.” That changed in eighth grade, when Ashton started sailing 420s in LISOT division races—first as a skipper and
then as crew, a rigorous role that requires strength, agility, athleticism and height. “I love it,” she says. Ashton, who sails for Team USA at the International Regattas, has earned a boatload of top finishes since her LISOT junior development program days. Among her career highlights: top female boat at Nationals 2014 and 2015; twelfth female boat at Worlds 2015; top female boat at North Americans and fourth overall.
During the busy summer racing season, Ashton is constantly on the go. When we spoke with Ashton she and her skipper were about to compete in Kiel, Germany; San Remo, Italy; and San Diego, where they hoped to qualify for the upcoming World Junior Championships in New Zealand. “It’s definitely a challenge because of the long hours,” she says of her schedule. “We are on flights all the time. It sounds glamorous, but it gets pretty rough at times.”
When she’s not traveling or practicing for LISOT, Ashton sails for GA. She was in eighth grade when she was pulled up to the varsity team and was quickly promoted to a starting skipper. The team has numerous top finishes under its belt, including fourth overall in the 2016 Fairfield County Sailing League Championship. This year Ashton received the school’s Captain Harbor Trophy, awarded annually to the sailor whose performance has contributed most to the team’s success.
Although sailing is her first love, Ashton plays varsity squash and went to Nationals in 2015 and 2016. A straight-A student and member of the school’s Honor Board, she juggles the demands of sailing, academic work and her social life with aplomb. “Most people don’t even know sailing is a sport at my school,” she says. “My closest friends know I go away. We Skype a lot.”
Richard Jove has an ear for languages, a gift for music, a talent for leadership and a passion for making the most of opportunity that comes his way. Three years ago, as a rising freshman he decided to switch from public to private school. “I wanted more of an intimate environment,” he says. “I wanted more one-on-one attention.” Now a junior at King, he has gotten all that and more. “I just thought it was such a positive environment, pushing for you to be your best self.” Admittedly, his enthusiasm for trying new things and stepping outside his comfort zone can be time-consuming. “It’s hard for me to say no,” he says.
In addition to carrying a challenging academic course load (he has maintained an above 4.0 GPA since freshman year), Jove cocaptains the varsity cross-country team, plays varsity tennis, and is the lead trumpet player of the jazz band, UpBeat. He is copresident of the Debate Team, which he joined as a freshman, a head delegate with King’s Model UN Club (and now the club’s copresident), earning an award for Best Delegate at the Harvard conference last year, and is the cofounder of the school’s Leadership Distinction Program. In 2013, Richard founded an Investment Club—Viking Investment Partners, which currently manages more than $1 million in virtual portfolio funds. The club’s popular speaker series has featured such financial luminaries as Joe Gold and Danny Moses. He comes by his interest in finance from his father, who presented him with a share of Apple stock when he was six. “I got my first bankruptcy report from Borders when I was in eighth grade,” he says. “That was pretty shocking.”
With interests that range from 3-D printing to energy sustainability to improving people’s lives, Richard aspires to tie his passion for technology, finance and international business into some kind of a start-up. “I have always admired Steve Jobs, the company he created and the values he imbued. I would like to be changing the world, pushing the boundaries of technology. My belief is to aim high.”
GREENWICH HIGH SCHOOL
ASK A TYPICAL TEENAGE GIRL HER OPINION on global pandemics, and she is likely to think you’re talking about a rock band. Ask Olivia Hallisey, and she is likely to respond with examples of how viruses such as SARS, Ebola and Zika threaten the health of the global community. Last year, the Greenwich High School senior gained international recognition as the grand prize winner of the 2015 Google Science Fair, an international STEM competition. As part of her science research elective, she developed a novel diagnostic test for Ebola, the “Ebola Assay Card.” It is temperature-independent, rapid, inexpensive and visual, with results indicated through a color change, which eliminates language barriers.
It was a big year for Olivia: TIME magazine named her one of its 30 Most Influential Teens of 2015. The World Economic Forum called her “one of four girls who are changing the world.” And she was named to the Rodale 100, “a list of People, Products, Companies and Organizations that positively affect the world.” Oh, and she also appeared as a guest on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
Poised and self-assured, Olivia has taken the accolades in stride. She is used to being recognized for her academic and athletic achievements. And though the Google Award has changed her life in many ways, she says she has particularly enjoyed the many opportunities to speak with schoolchildren about science and STEM. “I’ve been able to hear about the stuff they are working on and thinking about,” she says. “It will be up to them to solve the problems of the world we live in today.”
Olivia attended Greenwich Academy through eighth grade before transferring to the high school her freshman year. “It was attractive to me because there was the chance to specialize at a younger age.” One class in particular caught her eye: The Science Research elective. That was in the fall of 2013. “I was inspired to look at Ebola because it was so huge in the news at the time. I realized nothing exists in isolation anymore, and we need to find global solutions.”
Despite her hectic schedule, Olivia swims competitively for the Chelsea Piers Aquatic Club, where she practices two hours a day. “I take my commitment to swimming seriously,” she says. “Without it I wouldn’t be as structured in my time management. My research wouldn’t have happened.”
While her college plans are still in progress, she has her sights set on becoming a doctor. For now, she’s focused on her senior year. “I’m taking five AP classes this year. I love science. I love history. I love AP Government. I love English.” She pauses. “I kind of like school.”
A NATURAL BORN LEADER, ALEX GIBBONS is an accomplished musician, academic and community activist. His passions and interests are wide-ranging; he has a deep love for the environment, sparked in part by annual trips to visit family in Alaska. In 2015, he participated in an environmental leadership program through Brown to study the impact of the oil industry on local communities and ecosystems, and how to address these complex issues going forward. “I’ve been going to Alaska since I was a kid, so it was interesting to see it from a new lens,” the Harvard freshman says.
“We looked at how the fish populations of a certain river are being affected. When you look at the numbers, it’s pretty shocking.”
As the president of the Teen Board at the Arch Street Teen Center, Alex helped launch last year’s Winter Wonderland Festival. An early member of the First Selectman’s Teen Commission, he helped revive the town’s Safe Rides program. For Alex, stepping into a leadership role comes naturally. “I’ve always had this innate desire to help things along. Being a leader doesn’t always mean having the biggest voice. It’s also about being a really good thinker,” he says.
In addition to his community service, Alex juggled a demanding academic schedule during his time at Brunswick. Senior year he did two post-AP courses (advanced Latin and a computer science seminar), two APs (BC calculus and biology), and a course in Russian literature. “People say how can you study Latin, it’s a dead language. But I find it fascinating. As you get into more difficult text, you really learn something about Roman life and, if you are reading philosophy, your own life.”
Music gives him a creative outlet; he was in kindergarten when he started taking piano lessons. “At first it was kind of a chore, but over the past few years it has transformed into this thing I can’t live without,” he says. In fourth grade he added saxophone to his repertoire. When he started at Brunswick as a sophomore, he tried out for the school’s premier jazz ensemble, the Blue Notes. Last year, he was named president, a role he relishes. “It’s great to show freshmen and sophomores that not only is jazz fun, but playing music can be cool.”