Here They Come!

Every September for the past twelve years, GREENWICH magazine has had the pleasure of showcasing ten of our town’s extraordinary teens. As always, this year’s group is an impressive lot. Six are now freshmen in college; the rest are still in high school. They represent a broad spectrum of interests—from astrophysics and the arts to social justice advocacy and biomedicine. They are smart, ambitious and dedicated to making a difference in their schools, our community and the world. None of them have taken their intellectual prowess or athletic abilities for granted. Each has proven to be resilient in the face of disappointment and adversity, turning setbacks into teachable moments.

Certainly, these past five months have been a test of that resiliency as they were forced to navigate life in the face of a global pandemic. With the closure of schools, these teens lost out on many of the defining moments that frame a typical spring semester. For those heading off to college, that meant missing such rites of passage as senior prom, senior skip day and graduation. As of press time, some of them were still uncertain about whether or not they’d be attending classes on campus or online. As for the teens who are still in high school, they missed spring sports and other extracurricular activities. They all transitioned to online learning and made do with social media apps to get their friends fix. Summer internships, specialized academic programs, college visits? All curtailed by COVID-19.

Through it all, they remained optimistic and even-keeled. Consider St. Luke’s graduate, Frank “Tank” Intrieri, who has committed to playing football at his dream school, Johns Hopkins University. “I’m just going trust it will all work out. Even if we don’t get to go on campus this year, I still get to play college football for three years at one of the greatest D3 schools in the country.” Or Brunswick graduate Nicky Winegardner, who is a freshman at University of Southern California. “At first it was heartbreaking. I’m a Brunswick lifer. I signed up for 14 years not 13.75. After watching the news and seeing and feeling the tremendous negative impact the virus had on so many, it made me realize there’s a bigger picture. I see how important it is not to waste time. This pandemic has shown me that the time is now to chase my dreams.”

As for those still coping with the world of high school in the COVID era, Elyse Kim, a senior at St. Luke’s had this take: “It forced my friends and me to see that we take a lot for granted and that we are lucky to live where we do. We’re living through an historic moment, so I asked myself, ‘What am I going to do with this moment?’ It was an existentialist realization, for sure.”

For Arjun Dayal, a rising senior at Hackley School who spent the spring producing PPE for medical personnel, it was an opportunity to try something new. “The day my school let out, I actually went fishing with my friends. That was a first for me.”

Global pandemic or not, 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.

Greens Farms Academy

Photo: Classic Kids Photography

Ayla Shively was born with a song in her heart and a spring to her step. “My family likes to say I was dancing before I could walk,” she says. You name it, she’s danced it—everything from ballet to jazz, modern to lyrical. For Ayla, dancing helped cement her passion for performing. “When I’m on stage is when I know this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she says. “Ironically, I have terrible stage fright and social anxiety, and I have to push myself. When I get into character, it all falls away and I don’t really worry about anything else.”

Ayla was thrilled last fall when she was cast in the leading role of Audrey in the school production of Little Shop of Horrors. “I didn’t do the musical my freshman year, which I really regret, because I was way too scared.” That spurred her to push herself out of her comfort zone. Which is why she jumped at the chance to try out for the Stamford’s Troupers Light Opera’s production of The Gondoliers. Despite not having an opera background, Ayla was cast in the role of Fiametta—the youngest cast member by six years. “We rehearsed three times a week for three hours. It was a lot of work,” she says.

The GFA junior brings the same level of discipline and drive to all areas of her life—from her honors-heavy course load, to her participation in school clubs, including Quest, which raises awareness about the LGBTQ community. Last year, after a scary encounter with a stranger while riding the train to school, she worked with the school administration and her advisor to create a program designed to educate incoming freshmen about train safety. “The plan is to talk to new students and walk them through the process of how to say no to people and that it’s okay to walk away if someone makes you feel uncomfortable,” she says. “I realized a lot of women are taught to be submissive and just say yes and not ask questions and go along and not make anyone upset. And it’s important for the boys to know that they have to be involved, too.”

As for the future, Ayla has her sights set on Broadway but first college. “Education is important to my family, so I’ll probably go to a school for performing arts,” she says. “I want to get in there and audition for everything.”

How did you cope with lockdown?
“Lots of exercise and meditation. I FaceTimed my friends to keep in touch. My family made sure to spend time together every night. Having a schedule also helped. I found that when I planned out my day, I got a lot accomplished.”

What would you tell your freshman self?
“Enjoy it while you can. Try your hardest and do what you love. Take risks and never give up. Always put your best foot forward.”

Who has been your most impactful teacher?
“Mrs. Pembroke, my English teacher. She always encouraged me to dig deeper and really find myself in my writing. She always had a positive attitude, and everyone really respects her.”

What’s the toughest challenge you have faced?
“Staying true to myself throughout high school and not giving into peer pressure, as well as finding myself in quarantine and learning how to adapt to be successful during this time.”

St. Luke’s School

Photo: Contributed

Tank Intrieri learned early on that when it comes to achieving life goals, perseverance and hard work pay off. He is a gifted athlete who discovered his passion for football when he joined the North Mianus Bulldogs in fifth grade. “I was awkward and big, and it took a while to figure it out,” he recalls. Eventually, his skills improved, and he started living up to his nickname, “Tank.” But it wasn’t until he transferred to St. Luke’s as a junior, that his football career took off like a rocket ship. After just one year, he was named cocaptain of the varsity squad. “That was the icing on the cake,” says Tank.

As adept as he is on the field, Tank is equally at home in the classroom. He is a STEM standout who earned academic awards of distinction in every class he took last year. He received the school’s prestigious Pat Thomas award, which encompasses athletic excellence, academic proficiency and sportsmanship. He was also named to the All-Evergreen League, earned an All-New England Honorable Mention and was one of three high school players in Connecticut to earn a $1,000 scholarship from the National Football Foundation on top of being named a National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete.

In between practices, games and schoolwork, Tank managed to find time to play percussion in the school band and volunteer for his local community, doing everything from checking in bikes at the CT Challenge to cleaning up after the Saint Leo’s Fair with his football team. Oh, and did we mention he also played varsity lacrosse and was on the Thirds basketball team?

Tank says he gets his work ethic from his father, Frank Jr., a 1984 alum of Greenwich High, where he was a celebrated football player. “He was captain of the first 12 and 0 team in Greenwich High School history,” says Tank. “He was a really great football player. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be like him.”

Now a freshman at Johns Hopkins University, where he was recruited to play football (another dream box checked), Tank is planning to major in mechanical engineering as a stepping stone toward becoming an astronaut. In fact, he is so intent on getting to Mars, last year he completed an independent study with his physics teacher, Dr. Warner. “I know NASA is eventually planning to send people to Mars in 2030,” he says, “and I wanted to find out how expensive or feasible it would be to do today. I modeled a spaceship journey between Earth and Mars on an Excel spread sheet with 4,000 rows. I learned—surprise—the people at NASA know what they are talking about.”

How did you cope with lockdown and not having a traditional graduation?
“Lots of lifting, playing Mario Kart with my sister and looking on the bright side.”

What would you tell your freshman self?
“It all works out in the end.”

Who has been your most impactful teacher?
“If I had to name just one, it would be Dr. Jason “Dubs” Warner, my eleventh grade physics teacher and advisor for my independent study. He is the smartest man I’ve ever met. He always connected with me, never fully answering my questions because he knew I could find the answers. After a year in honors physics, I didn’t hesitate to accept his proposal to work on a study together. I think we helped each other a lot, considering neither of us was very knowledgeable in the area of rocket physics; and it was a great experience to work with him again as a senior.”

What’s the toughest challenge you have faced?
“Moving to a new school and working to find my confidence alongside new teammates and peers.”

King School

Photo: Marilyn Roos

Whether she’s commanding a debate stage, raising awareness around climate change, peacefully protesting for Black Lives Matter or advocating for gender equality, Samantha Berman leads by example as she strives to make the world a better place.

Last year alone, the rising senior worked in conjunction with the King Environmental Club to organize the school-wide King Climate Strike. As a cocaptain of the Debate Club, she led debate practices and coordinated monthly attendance at the Connecticut Debate Association debates. As a cocaptain of the school’s Feminist Club, Samantha spearheaded the Glass Staircase project, a showcase of feminist and social justice–oriented art, photographs and quotations, which will be unveiled this fall. (It was meant to be finished last spring but was postponed due to COVID-19.) She also led the club’s participation in the Women’s March in New York City and then gave a King talk about the experience in front of the entire school. “We are trying to educate the entire school on what it means to be a feminist,” she says. “If you believe in gender equality, then by definition you are a feminist.”

When the Black Lives Matter movement came to Greenwich in May, Samantha was out there doing her part. “Just to go and be consciously participating in something that is a wider movement is important for me,” she says. “In addition to getting on social media and posting about all these issues, I think it’s important to leave your house and participate in the real world, if possible. It’s the idea of putting your money where your mouth is and getting your boots on the ground, so to speak.”

She also brings this enthusiasm into her academic life, where she maxes out on honors and AP classes, volunteers at the middle school math help center and finds time to pursue a love of yoga and photography. She was one of two students to receive the school’s prestigious Tom Main Fellowship, offered for the first time last year. One partnership is given to two sophomores. Samantha and her partner researched the rise of nationalism in the EU through various case study countries. She conducted several interviews with journalists, professors and EU officials to investigate the issues of hyper-nationalism, xenophobia and migration, and possible solutions to the challenges they impose.

Being an advocate for causes she believes in spurs Samantha to pursue solutions relentlessly. “I think it’s important if you see something in your own school or community that you know is wrong, don’t be quiet about it.” Although she’s still figuring out her next steps when it comes to a career path, Samantha is clear about one thing: “I definitely see myself not doing something very ordinary.”

How have you coped with lockdown?
“I’ve been doing a ton of cooking and catching up on TV. I’ve been focusing on things that I find relaxing, like baking and painting.”

What would you tell your freshman self?
“Embrace creativity and messiness. I would get worked up over small things and try to make everything neat and perfect. Nothing is fun when you obsess over every detail. Trying to be perfect wasn’t making me happy. I would say to myself, ‘Loosen up! Spend more time on what you enjoy: art, poetry, nature. Everything’s going to be OK!’”

Who has been your most impactful teacher?
“Mr. Lear-Nickum, my history teacher, and Mrs. Baker, my elementary school English teacher. Mr. Lear-Nickum compels his students to look at history and politics carefully and analytically. For the past two years, as a teacher and an advisor, he’s taught me how to think critically about the world and how to hold myself under pressure. When I was a kid, Mrs. Baker was the first teacher who taught me to value writing. She fostered a love of learning, and I credit her with so much of my dedication.”

What’s the toughest challenge you have faced?
“Learning how to plan and coordinate large scale projects has been a huge challenge. Planning the King Climate Strike, Women’s March trip, and working on the Tom Main Liberal Arts Fellowship have all been crazy experiences, and I’ve learned so much about communication and preparation. Also, balancing academics and my mental well-being. I’ve learned that it isn’t possible to function at your best if you don’t take care of yourself.”

Brunswick School

Photo: Dan Burns

When your father is a TV producer and filmmaker, it stands to reason you might grow up being comfortable in front of a camera. Now a freshman at Duke, Charlie Burnett is not only comfortable there, he goes one step further: He shines.

“My dad and I used to fool around a lot on weekends, making little videos,” he says. “He was always pushing me to perform.” Not that he needed much prodding. Charlie is a natural-born entertainer, whether playing guitar for his family or doing magic for his friends. During his time at Brunswick, he starred in a variety of roles from Angry Pa in Oklahoma! to the mayor of River City, Iowa, in The Music Man. But it was his standout performance as the iconic Edna Turnblad in Hairspray that brought down the house. “Edna was my favorite role to play, because it’s so hilarious to imagine a sophomore guy playing her,” he says. “I had just started playing football, and I didn’t know the upperclassmen very well; and there I was standing up in front of the entire football team, and they were all just cracking up. It was a really great moment I’ve held with me. All those stereotypes of jocks thinking that musicals are stupid is really false.” A concussion his junior year took him out of the game, which was a blessing in disguise. “It was unfortunate, but it gave me a chance to focus more on my acting,” he says.

A high honors student who carried a rigorous course load that included AP environmental science, English XII: creative writing, AP psychology, AP calculus AB, honors English seminar in literature and honors film production, Charlie managed to carve out time to help freshmen boys and girls transition to the Upper School through his role as a Peer Leader. He also mentored young ice hockey players as captain of the Thirds hockey team, a role and a sport he loves.

Although he dreams of a career in film and TV, he loves the process of producing and directing, too. For one senior project, he and his film class produced a “mind-bending” music video to the Beatles song “Yellow Submarine.” “It was this very confusing and weird collapsing montage of different clips using multiple computer monitors,” he says.

“We ended up showing it to the entire school, and they were like what? It was very gratifying.”

How have you coped with lockdown and not having a traditional graduation?
“It’s been a crazy time. I have taken the time to work out every day, eat healthy and do all things creative. I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky that I’m spending it with my family under one roof. Although it is sad not having a graduation ceremony, I know it isn’t the hardest thing I will face in life. Since I am lucky to not have to worry about losing my job and having enough money to pay rent, it seems to be my duty to follow the same guidelines as everyone else.”

What would you tell your freshman self?
“Keep your head high and pick yourself back up whenever things get hard and you get knocked down, because it will all be alright. Everything ends up working out in the end!”

Who has been your most impactful teacher?
“Mr. Lahey, my film teacher. I would constantly look forward to his class, and the days when it wasn’t on my schedule, I would go into his classroom to talk about film, school and life in general. Mr. Lahey never ceases to inspire me and my classmates. He is truly the best and most impactful teacher I’ve ever had.”

What’s the toughest challenge you have faced?
“I’ve been very lucky, so the challenges I have faced aren’t anywhere near those faced by others less lucky than I. But I would say one of the biggest was not being a sporty kid in a sporty world. I wrote my college essay on the challenge of being 6’3 and 270 pounds but not having the heart to rip the other teams’ heads off in football. Coaches loved me for a couple of weeks, until they began to realize that perhaps I wasn’t the best athlete. But let me tell you, those first couple weeks were the best. Everyone loved me because I was big! I began to feel like a stranger within this group of guys that I had grown to love so much. Still, I stuck with it. Sadly, junior year, I got a concussion that took me out for the season. While it was sad not to play, it allowed me to do the GA fall musical. During that musical I made lasting connections with people who are now very important to me.”

St. Luke’s School

Photo: Contributed

Ambitious, curious, tenacious and compassionate—these are just a few of the traits that set Elyse Kim apart from the crowd. An academic powerhouse, she was one of nine students selected for St. Luke’s prestigious Global Senior Scholar program for 2020. A gifted writer, she was tapped to be editor of the Sentinel, the student-run newspaper, when she was just a junior, a role she will continue this year. A star athlete, she is the cocaptain of the girls’ volleyball team and was invited to the NEPSAC All-Star tournament in 2016, 2018 and 2019. She is also the founder of the Eye of the Storm video club, which chronicles school life in videos and podcasts, a member of the school’s Honor Council and has been an Admissions Ambassador for the past four years.

Elyse says she gravitates to leadership roles, in part, as a result of her time at St. Luke’s. “It’s such a huge part of our mission, and the school does a great job of presenting leadership opportunities from the moment we join the community,” she says. “I was on the student council in middle school, and it was a fun way to learn to lead, which made it easier for me to find my own voice in the Upper School.”

If her drive and ambition is innate, Elyse says she gets her moral compass from her family. Her father is a West Point graduate who cofounded with Elyse’s mother the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, which provides college scholarships to military kids who lost a parent in the line of duty.

“The Foundation has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” she says. “My favorite part is getting to know all the students it helps.”

As a young girl, a trip to the Philippines taught her a valuable lesson about making the best of every situation life throws your way. “We visited a garbage dump in Manila, where a severely underserved community was living, and they were happy and joyful. Coming back to where we lived, with all the opportunities placed in front of me, I realized how important it is to utilize them to the best of my ability.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she signed up for a letter-writing project organized by the school’s Centers for Leadership. “Here we were at home and we didn’t miss a step,” she says. “It was easy for us to forget there were people in those nursing homes who couldn’t have the visitors that are really important to them, and that our notes could make an impact in a small but meaningful way.”

How did you cope with lockdown?
“I stayed connected with friends via FaceTime and Zoom calls, whether talking for hours or just working together in silence. Those relationships are what I missed most about school, so it was important to keep our interactions alive.”

What would you tell your freshman self?
“Don’t waste time comparing yourself to others. Everyone has their own strengths. You have so much to look forward to, so ignore those insecurities and focus on your own path.”

Who was your most impactful teacher?
“Ms. Doran, my sophomore, junior and senior year English teacher. She has a way with words, and her love of literature is contagious. She emphasizes the idea that uncertainty is a catalyst for reflection, growth and artistic beauty. I often place pressure on myself, so I’ve tried to keep this idea in mind and embrace doubt and failure instead of dreading it.”

What’s the toughest challenge you have faced?
“When I was a freshman, my grandmother was placed in hospice care at our house. It was a traumatic and emotional time, but I was grateful to be with her during her last few weeks of life. It turned out to be a truly formative and meaningful experience.”

Brunswick School

Photo: Greg Horowitz

On the face of it, football and Broadway musicals may seem to have little in common. But for Nicky Winegardner, they’re a match made in heaven. The Greenwich native is that rare talent—a gifted athlete and a gifted thespian—who took advantage of every opportunity to shine on the field, and off, during his time at Brunswick.

Like a lot of kids, Nicky first started tossing a football around with his dad. “I always enjoyed it, but once I started playing with the Greenwich Youth Football League in third grade, I really began to love the sport.” As the captain and quarterback of the varsity football squad his senior year, he led the Bruins to a postseason NEPSAC bowl game championship, running in the last touchdown of the game. “That was one of the best feelings of my life. It was the perfect way to cap off my football career.”

Just as he was discovering his passion for football, Nicky was developing his skills as an actor. He remembers his first appearance on stage at a parents’ event in second grade. He sang a Bob Marley song. “I told my parents that I didn’t want to leave the stage,” he says. In high school, he played five different lead roles, beginning in ninth grade as Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden and ending this past March as Harold Hill in The Music Man. “Archibald Craven truly ignited my flame and passion for acting,” he says. “Harold Hill gave me the chance to use the skills I had learned over the years in a more complete way.”

Up until junior year, Nicky imagined he’d play football for an Ivy League school. But he realized his dream was to be an actor. So, like any nimble athlete, he pivoted. Now a freshman in the dramatic arts program at University of Southern California, Nicky says one of the things he’s proud of is the work he did mentoring younger students at Brunswick as a peer leader and Big Brother. Even this past summer, while in lockdown, he ran football clinics for lower school kids in his backyard. He recalls an assembly he gave to middle school kids the afternoon before the big homecoming game last fall. In addition to performing for them, he talked about the importance of the arts and how to balance sports and schoolwork and whatever activities you pursue. “I wanted to show the younger kids that it’s okay to take your own path,” he says. “I had a lot of difficulty transitioning from middle school to high school and accepting that I wasn’t going to be doing what everyone else did. It took a lot of years of working at it and figuring out what I really love, and it paid off big time.”

How did you cope with lockdown and not having a traditional graduation?
At first I was angry, sad and confused. As the weeks went by, I realized that the virus had a far more negative impact on others than on me. Although I looked forward to the senior traditions since I was five years old, my family and friends are healthy and safe, and that is much more important.

What would you tell your freshman self?
Enjoy the little things like the time in the locker room with your teammates, the conversations at the lunch table and the time backstage before the show. Celebrate the big moments, too. Savor the games when you storm the field with your team after a hard fought win, the final bow after a successful run of shows—you can’t get any of that back.

Who has been your most impactful teacher?
Mr. Potter, my English/acting teacher and musical director. He pushed me to think in new ways and taught me how to see the complex layers of the characters I was tasked to play. I’m forever grateful for the insight and knowledge he imparted on me.

What’s the toughest challege you have faced?
For a long time I believed I had to follow a specific path to fit in. After a few years, I realized that doing what made me happy was way more important. Looking back, it seems simple; but at the time, it was extremely difficult for me to understand.

Greenwich Academy

Photo: Dan Burns

As far back as she can remember, Holland Ferguson had an aptitude for science. As a kid she watched Animal Planet and Planet Blue with her family and played with dinosaur figurines instead of dolls and tiaras. “As nerdy as that sounds,” she says.

But it wasn’t until she took a course at Cambridge University the summer before sophomore year that she discovered her real passion: aerospace engineering. The discovery was one of those weird meant-to-be moments. “Originally I wanted to take astrophysics,” she says. “But the course was full. So, I took a leap of faith and went for aerospace engineering. I absolutely loved it.” In hindsight, her affinity for engineering made sense. “I see it as a way of taking a problem and coming up with a tangible solution, which enables me as an individual to improve the lives of those around me.”

Now a freshman at Stanford, she plans to study aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering, as well as immerse herself in the multitude of academic offerings available.

While at GA, Holland launched the school’s first rocketry team to compete in The American Rocketry Challenge, the world’s largest student rocket contest, sponsored in part by NASA. They were on track to get a good enough score for the finals, but “the back of our rocket blew up,” she explains, chalking it up to a great learning experience. “No matter how many disappointments or setbacks I’ve encountered, I will get up and be okay.” Case in point: Despite the fact that she was in high school, with no specific training, she managed to get hired for two internships at tech startups, both with ties to the aerospace industry.

She also took a star turn on stage in every musical production from the time she was a freshman, and as a member of the Madrigals, the school’s elite honors choir. In recognition of her talent, Holland won a creative achievement award from the Greenwich Arts Council in 2019 based on the breadth of her theatrical and vocal work.

As for her engineering skills, one of her best moments last year came about after the first meeting of an engineering club she organized for middle school students. “I remember after the first rocketry meeting, and one of the girl’s moms sent me an email that said, ‘I wanted to let you know my daughter came home and taught us basic aerodynamic principles at the dinner table.’ That was the best email I’ve ever received.”

How did you cope with lockdown and not having a traditional graduation?
“I tried to focus on what’s really important. My family and I are so fortunate, and any sadness I felt toward missing something like a graduation ceremony is supplemented a hundred times over by my gratitude and joy that all of my loved ones are healthy and safe.”

What would you tell your freshman self?
“I’d tell her to put herself out there and try new things; you never know where they will lead.”

Who has been your most impactful teacher?
“This is a really hard decision, because GA and Brunswick have such amazing teachers, but the person who has been the most influential is my advisor Ms. Powers. She has always been so supportive of me, and I am so blessed to have had her as a mentor and friend for the past three years.”

What’s the toughest challenge you have faced?
“Probably my grandmother’s death. Despite her difficult upbringing and the many challenges she faced, she was one of the kindest, most generous and inspiring people I know. What was hardest, I think, was how suddenly we lost her and learning to deal with the sadness of losing a close family member for the first time.”

Greenwich High School

Photo: Contributed

Max Pisacreta barely remembers a time when he wasn’t playing soccer—first as a toddler in the backyard with his dad, then with the town’s youth league, and finally with the town travel league, when in one of his first games he scored three goals. So, no one was more surprised than Max, when during his freshman year at GHS, he was one of the last players to come off the bench. “That was a bad experience for me,” he says. “It pushed me to work harder.”

His efforts paid off. He made the JV team as a sophomore, and during tryouts his junior year, with twenty-five kids returning, he bested them all, earning a spot on the varsity squad. Last year, as a senior, he received the ultimate affirmation of his skills when he was named captain. Under his leadership, the team reached the state finals for the first time in forty-one years. “No one expected us to do that,” he says. “It was pretty crazy. Even though we didn’t get the result we wanted, it was such an amazing experience and such an insane journey to get there.”

When Max wasn’t playing for the High School, he competed in club soccer with FC Westchester (they were New York State Champions in 2017) and internationally with Denali FC; during the summer of 2018 and 2019 he traveled to Sweden and Denmark to play in two of the largest youth soccer tournaments in the world.

Now a freshman at UCONN Storrs, where he is a business major, the Greenwich native says he applied a lot of the skills that he developed in soccer to his academics. “Soccer has definitely made me a harder worker and a tougher person, too. I worked hard to play at the highest level and that carried over to my academics and schoolwork,” he says. He was a member of the National Honor Society and the Italian Honor Society, as well as percussionist in the Honors Band Program for the 2019 school year.

Despite the many calls on his time, Max remained committed to giving back to the Boys and Girls Club, which played a huge role in his life from a young age. He worked his way up from being a club kid to eventually joining the Keystone Club. He also spent time as a counselor in training at Camp Simmons.

These days Max devotes several hours a week to volunteering in the club’s learning center after school. “It’s nice to give back to the next generation of students,” he says, “especially since it’s where I would go when I was younger. It makes you feel like a better person, doing good for people around you.”

How did you cope with lockdown and not having a traditional graduation?
“I coped through communicating with friends through video games and family through FaceTime. I wish we’d had a [traditional] graduation. You can’t change it and can’t look back on it. You need to just look forward.”

What would you tell your freshman self?
“To keep working hard. To be more respectful to my teachers. I was always a good student and good kid. I’d always do things to make my peers laugh. My goal was to make my peers around me happier. But that could be a bad thing, because I would be disrespectful to my teachers who wanted the best for me.”

Who has been your most impactful teacher?
“My AP psychology teacher, Mr. Galatioto. We appreciated each other’s sense of humor. I looked forward to going to his class every day. I learned new aspects of psychology every single day. He understood me and my sense of humor, and we would coexist and work together to make a better environment.”

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced?
“The freshman soccer team. I knew I was better than a lot of the kids, but I wasn’t working hard in practice. I was one of the last kids off the bench that year. It was a hard time for me. I hated not playing but it inspired me to work even harder. I began training almost every day and would soon prove I was one of the best players in the program.”

Greenwich High School

Photo: Lance Sanchez

Daniella Jones is both compassionate and driven; when she sees a problem or a challenge, she takes the initiative to fix it. She was just ten years old when she organized Carnival for a Cause in her backyard. The goal was to raise money for Abilis, which had provided much-needed support and resources to her family.

“I have an older brother who is autistic and a younger brother who has cerebral palsy,” she explains. “As a kid, I always had a love of carnivals. That sparked my own idea of doing my own homemade carnival and raise money for something that’s close to our family’s heart.” Daniella raised $500 for Abilis that year. Since then, her efforts have increased tenfold. In 2019, Carnival for a Cause raised $20,000, bringing the grand total up to $50,000 over the past eight years.

Daniella gives back to the community in a multitude of ways. As a freshman at Greenwich High School, she was invited to join the Abilis Youth Board; within two years she had been named president. “Our mission is to be really involved with the special needs community in each of the different towns we live in. And we try to get the special needs community involved with everyone.” She has volunteered for the Special Olympics golf program and the Arch Street Teen Center. Two years ago, Daniella organized a MistleTok meet and greet event featuring local TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D’Amelio and Mark Anastasio that raised more than $20,000 for the center. A member of the National Honor Society and two-time recipient of the Peter Bloomer Citizenship Award, Daniella also participated in Generation Impact an organization for girls to learn about charitable giving and philanthropy.

Despite her busy schedule, the seventeen-year-old found time to channel her energy into athletics, where she was captain of the varsity softball team as well as a member of the Varsity Dance Team for three years in a row. “I’ve been dancing my entire life; as soon as I could walk there was a rhythm in my steps,” the Penn State University freshman says. “It’s how I express myself.” Still, Daniella was surprised when at the year-end sports banquet her sophomore year she received the Hip Hop MVP award. “I didn’t even know it was a thing,” she says. “I was just being myself and putting in the hard work.”

How did you cope with lockdown? Not having a traditional graduation?
“The first month was tough trying to figure out a schedule for myself to follow every day. However, once I found it, there were no problems. Missing out on the best part of senior year was upsetting and made me angry at first, but after a while I realized there were thousands of seniors out there going through the same emotions I was and for that, each senior across the world has a connection. We were given a sense of a community, even when it felt like we’d lost everything. We had a social distance graduation, and although it only lasted five minutes, which is better than hours in the hot sun, I would’ve liked to see the people I’ve spent the last four years with graduate.”

What would you tell your freshman self?
“High school seems like it lasts a lifetime; however, it is over before you are ready to say goodbye. Live in each moment every day because that’s all there is. Moments. The good times and the bad will eventually all just be a memory, so choose what you want to remember.”

Who has been your most impactful teacher?
“My sophomore history teacher, Mr. Galatioto, because he was not just a teacher but someone I could talk to about anything. Even as the years went by, he was always a friendly face in the hallways. When I was having a rough day, he would take notice and pull me aside after class to see if I was okay, and he always gave me great advice. For that, I thank him very much.”

What’s the toughest challenge you have faced?
“I never really had a stable group of friends to lean on in high school. Nonetheless, it made me a stronger person and gave me time to find out what makes me happy instead of what makes others happy.”

Hackley School

Photo: Classic Kids Photography

Inventor, innovator, entrepreneur—at just seventeen, Arjun Dayal has already improved the lives of hundreds—if not thousands—of people in the U.S. and abroad, the majority of whom he’s never met.

In ninth grade, he joined a private robotics club and learned to use a 3-D printer. Among the projects of which he is proud is a prosthetic arm he made and donated to a young girl he met at the Stamford Library. “When we finally gave it to her and I saw the joy on her face, it showed me that I can do what I enjoy and be rewarded for it at the same time,” he says. Sophomore year, a passion for teaching and STEM inspired him to launch KidsCode Corporation, through which he developed an intro to programming class that he brought to orphans and refugees at a school in Greece at the beginning of his junior year. Arjun started a similar program this summer with Union Settlement, a community service organization in Harlem. “I am excited to spread my love for STEM in my community,” the Hackley senior says.

Arjun most recently used his scientific and engineering skills to help nurses and doctors at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As he recalls, “I could see the problem, but I wasn’t sure as a student what I could do. I felt so helpless.” He read an article by a doctor at Mass General, urging people to use their 3-D printing skills to create PPE. For Arjun, that was a breakthrough moment. “Having the engineering skills is one thing, but being able to be creative, find a design, change it, test it and make sure healthcare professionals would be able to use it, that’s something else. That really pushed me.”

Using his own 3-D printer, and with the help of his mother and his advisor at Hackley, Arjun launched Pegasus for COVID-19 and began producing face shields and masks at home; he donated his second batch, a large order, to White Plains Hospital in March (his first went to doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan). In total, he has made and donated more than 2,100 face shields, with the remaining 250 to be sent to several hospitals in Connecticut, as well as to a Navajo reservation hospital in New Mexico.

For as long as he can remember, Arjun has dreamed of becoming a doctor. In pursuit of that goal, while at Hackley he has already exhausted the STEM curriculum—taking every honors and AP class in math and science (except for one, AP physics, due to a scheduling conflict), as well as Spanish, a culture he admires. An avid Ping Pong player, app developer, and a varsity athlete in track and field and swimming, Arjun spent the past two summers conducting research at Columbia University’s Department of Bio-Medical Engineering. He cites Elon Musk as a huge role model. “He was way before his time,” says Arjun. “His innovation pushed my motivation as well. When I grow up, I want to do robotic surgery. Bio or genetic engineering is the future. And I want to be at the forefront of that.”

How did you cope with lockdown?
“I feel I coped pretty well. I kept myself busy with my PPE initiative and school, but I miss the face-to-face interactions with my friends and teachers. Not being able to interact on a daily basis with them left a void.”

What would you tell your freshman self?
“Keep your love for STEM and pursue it with passion. Be creative and innovative to find solutions. Use your skills to enrich other people’s lives. Push yourself to learn about new cultures and understand different perspectives. There will be rough patches, but you will have to persevere and push through.”

Who has been your most impactful teacher?
“It’s very tough to choose one particular teacher because of all their impacts, but because of recent events, I would have to choose my advisor, Mr. Dioguardi. He took the initiative and reached out to me to see if he could help me in any way with manufacturing face shields. This selfless act he did has had a long lasting impact on me, and I hope I can be as selfless as him.”

What’s the toughest challenge you have faced?
“I always push myself to do the best work I can, and I feel that only comes through taking the most difficult classes at school. In ninth grade and early tenth grade, I was surprised to not be achieving as high grades as I had hoped. I was convinced that I could do better without giving up the vigor in the classes I took. I did not want to be left behind by my peer group. So, I started spending many more hours outside of school, working on difficult problems, and then regularly meeting my teachers outside of class to get their guidance. This year, I took calculus AB/BC [the highest math course you can get into in eleventh grade], along with AP chemistry and cell bio, and saw the improvement. I learned that success can only come with preparation and taking the initiative outside of class.”

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