Every September we have the distinct pleasure of identifying ten young people in our community who are remarkable in every way. Like those from years past, this year’s teenagers are smart, engaged, dedicated and focused. They represent a diverse mix—a philanthropist who is helping educate girls in Africa, an award-winning photographer, an engineer researching green technology, and a fencer with Olympic aspirations. The fact that they are high achievers is a given—their accomplishments in academics, the arts and sports are multifold. They are also passionate about their interests and tireless in their efforts to have a positive impact on the world in which they live. Read on to meet this year’s group.
Class of 2015
Thomas Catenacci has always loved watching movies—as a fifth- grader he used to beg his mother to take him to Blockbuster, a place he called “magical”—and by his sophomore year, he discovered he loved making movies, too. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Greg Ivan Smith are just some of the filmmakers he admires.
For his inaugural production, Thomas collaborated with a friend, J. P. Lewis, on a twenty-four-minute documentary about the King Low Heywood Thomas hockey team and its journey to the league championships. He wrote the script, staged the shots and edited hours of film. Not only was it his first film, it was also his first time handling a camera. “Every single aspect of movie-making really appealed to me,” he says. “You work so hard to create five minutes, and I love that.”
The film was a success, garnering praise from students and teachers. A short-lived association with MSG sports network inspired Thomas to start his own film club called King TV. “We don’t have many members yet, but I think it was successful,” he says. Sure enough, the club produced two videos in quick succession, one about homecoming and another about King’s seven-member girl’s basketball team. Thomas has several more projects in the pipeline: a documentary about the football team—“They’ve never won the league championships; they think we will be good luck”—and a weekly scripted talk show, with a Jimmy Fallon-type host. Each seven-minute segment will feature a short monologue, a comedy sketch or two, and timely info on school events.
Largely self-taught, Thomas says he thinks about filmmaking every day. “People think I’m crazy. I walk the halls with eight bags of equipment and three tripods on my back.”
Last summer he attended a five-day intensive at Fairfield University, which he calls “the craziest five days of my life.” His black and white short Connection was a powerful take on the dangers of being too close to a social network.
The summer passed in a flash for this busy filmmaker, who did several videos for a New York City-based start-up, Moonlyt; created his own website; and shot a music video for a King classmate. As he considers his plans post-graduation, Thomas is considering a variety of options. “I’m interested in making films,” he says. “But I’m also interested in the business of film and producing.”
Class of 2016
When she was ten, Isabella Chung wanted to take up skiing, but her father suggested she try fencing instead. Good call. Today, the Greenwich Academy junior is one of the top-ranked junior fencers in the United States. She trains five days a week at the Fencers Club in New York City. During the school year, that means catching the 3:40 train into Grand Central, walking to the club on 28th Street and practicing up to five hours a day. “Fencing has really changed my life,” she says. “It has taught me determination and diligence, and opened me up to other cultures and experiences. I think fencing brings out the best in me.”
It has certainly taken Isabella to a growing list of countries where she has won a growing collection of laurels. Among her career highlights: First place in the 2012 Singapore World Cup and the 2012 Hong Kong Fencing Championships. This year, she ranked in the top 16 in the Junior Olympic Championships and placed 22nd in the 2014 Division 1 National Championships, earning her the chance to represent team USA in the Cadet World Cup. (Before each match, she listens to underground rap to get her adrenaline flowing.) She and six teammates traveled to matches in Italy, Hungary, Germany and France. “I love the feeling of representing my country and bringing everything to my opponents,” she says.
Isabella practices the art of foil, one of three disciplines, which she says is best suited to her small frame. “I do a lot of leg and foot work,” she says. “A lot of squats, back and forth, and drilling one on one.” Her style has evolved over the years, and she takes advantage of every opportunity to learn from more experienced fencers. “I have a lot to learn physically and mentally. Many of the older people who come into the club aren’t as fast, but they have good timing.” One of her biggest role models is Miles Chamley-Watson, who won the men’s individual foil in the 2013 World Championships and is a member of the Fencers Club. “He’s very compassionate about helping other fencers,” she says.
Despite her grueling schedule, the seventeen-year-old manages to find time for schoolwork—English is a favorite subject—and “snacking, napping and hanging out with my friends.” She has her sights set on college—as long as there is fencing—and the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Success Down To A Science
Class of 2014
“Science is about testing, building, creating and applying,” says the recent Brunswick graduate Spencer McDonough. “I’m interested in the way things work and how they can be made better.” Case in point: the project that earned him First Honors in the 2013 Connecticut Science Fair, and the attention of the folks at United Technologies. Spencer and a friend set out to create a version of the super-conductor graphene, a single-atom-thick sheet of carbon that they could use to make a flexible solar panel. “We succeeded in making a crude and fragile sheet out of the product we extracted from the reaction, though given our limited resources we had no way of proving that parts of it were true graphene,” he says. “What mattered was that we were able to create this crude carbon sheet with so little cost.”
That wasn’t the first time Spencer garnered accolades for his scientific endeavors. In 2012, he conducted an engineering experiment testing the efficiency of air multiplication propulsion (using airplane wing technology) instead of normal bladed propulsion. The project earned him the Office of Naval Research Institute Award from the U.S. Navy and U.S Marine Corps, and the Barnes Aerospace Applied Technology Award. He says his biggest inspiration is Nicola Tesla, “the smartest man who ever lived.”
A lifelong sailor whose passion and commitment to the sport led him to a berth on the Olympic Development Team in 2012, Spencer competed internationally for years. At Brunswick he was captain of the sailing and cross-country teams and a member of the wrestling team. “I enjoy sports,” he says. “Being outside and getting exercise.” In addition to handling an honors-course-heavy academic load, he served as the president of the Arabic Club, and was a peer leader, writing advisor, admissions tour guide and editor of The Oracle, the school’s literary magazine. How did he manage such a grueling schedule? “I got things done by not getting overwhelmed by the big picture but by just focusing on what was in front of me,” he says.
Before heading to Los Angeles to begin his freshman year at USC School of Engineering, Spencer spent the summer coaching at the American Yacht Club, where his specialty was 420s, the same class of boat he sailed competitively. He has also become an avid practitioner of yoga. “It’s one of my favorite things on Earth,” he says. “I get into a state and flow through it.”
A New Focus
Class of 2014
Aria Eastwood knows a thing or two about persistence. The Sacred Heart graduate was well on her way to a promising career as a dancer, when a knee injury in the fall of 2012 derailed her dreams. Within a year, she had picked herself up, dusted herself off, and found a new calling: photography. Within two years she had built such an impressive portfolio, she was accepted into the freshman class at Savannah College of Art and Design before the start of her senior year.
Initially, Aria’s new career path got off to a rocky start. At the time of her injury, she was already enrolled at the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SOCAPA) in Manhattan for a two-week dance program the following summer. “Luckily SOCAPA offered other fields beside dance,” she recalls. “I decided to go anyway and give photography a try. To be honest, I didn’t like it at first.” It wasn’t until she got back home and looked at the images—her Coney Island series—that she started to appreciate her work. Her friends and teachers encouraged her to take a photography course at school. “It was definitely not an overnight process,” she says. “My junior year I really learned a lot and I started to love it. I discovered the same way I could create a mood through dance, I could create the mood of expression through photography.”
Since then, Aria’s pictures (check out ariaeastwood.com) have appeared in several group shows and galleries. She has earned accolades and awards and scholarships, attended advanced photography courses, and served as the layout editor for Sacred Heart’s literary magazine, Perspectives. This summer, she interned at Ramscale Studio in the West Village, where she handled social media and produced the monthly newsletter. “It’s been amazing to be working within a community of artists,” she says.
One of her most gratifying moments was orchestrating a photography session for the children of the Mercy Center in the South Bronx, during her senior year. Besides volunteering her services, she held a bake sale at school to raise money for frames and prints. “I wanted to work with people who had so little,” she says.
Saying goodbye to her dream was hard, Aria admits. “I loved dance so much. But there is so much more I can do as a photographer. I’m so thankful I found something I’m equally talented at, something that became an achievable goal.”
Class of 2015
Grace Linnan loves music, singing and LEGOS. Her YouTube video “The Haul,” which features reviews of LEGO sets, has received more than 500,000 views. She speaks fluent Spanish and a smattering of Chinese. But field hockey is where her heart lies.
As the goalkeeper for both King Low Heywood’s varsity team and the Fairfield United travel team, Grace has garnered a slew of awards and accolades over the past three years. This summer, she was part of the Level 1 team that placed fifth in the National Futures Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Last year, she played on the under-eighteen gold medal-winning team in the Nutmeg State Games.
Grace had never heard of field hockey when she moved to Cos Cob from Zurich and started playing in fifth grade. “I was good at it because I was more of an aggressive kid,” she says. “I was always willing to get muddy.” Two years later, her coach suggested she might like to give goalie a try. “I loved it,” she says. “I knew right away that it was going to be my thing.”
And it was. Grace was named her school’s MVP at the end-of-the-year awards banquet, after a stellar season that included an impressive 80 percent save rate. In one pivotal game against FAA league powerhouse Greenwich Academy, in which King lost 0-1, Grace saved twenty-eight of twenty-nine shots on goal. “I was never more focused than I was that day,” she says. “Some days I’m on my A game and nothing can mess with me.”
Such drive, determination and dexterity don’t just happen: Grace devotes a lot of time and energy to improving her skill set. During the off-season, she keeps her reactions sharp by playing in an indoor league; during the summer she attends field hockey camps—like the Princeton Elite Camp, where she was named an All-Star in 2013—and works one-on-one with a goalie coach. To be an effective goalie, one needs to have a short memory. “You can’t remember past mistakes,” she explains. “In a high-pressure game, I try to focus on something else. I look at every player, and narrate what is going on.”
Despite her many individual successes, Grace understands the importance of being a team player. “I’m positive and I crack a lot of jokes, even when we are losing,” she says. “I want the lower classman to feel as important as the upperclassman. I remember what it was like to sit on the bench.”
Taking Center Stage
Class of 2015
Like a lot of actors, Malcolm Joung can be shy around people he doesn’t know. But when the St. Luke’s senior steps into the footlights, watch out: The young thespian commands center stage. “I can’t see the audience, and I can pretend no one is there,” he says. “I direct my attention completely to the other people on the stage; everything else just falls away.”
Since discovering his passion for acting, the seventeen-year-old senior at St. Luke’s School has enjoyed a diversity of roles—from the constable in Fiddler on the Roof to Van Helsing in Dracula. For a recent turn as Nick Bottom, the weaver in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Malcolm had to learn how to navigate the aerial silks that were meant to evoke a sense of magic and whimsy. He and his cast mate, Liza, twirled and cavorted above the stage, as if they were running through the treetops. “I really had to build up my stamina for that,” he says. But it was his first speaking role as a freshman—he played Selsdon Mowbray in Noises Off—that had the biggest impact. “I discovered I more than liked theater I really loved it,” he says.
This summer, Malcolm attended a six-week intensive at Carnegie Mellon, which enabled him to focus on specific aspects of his craft: movement, voice and audio technique. He then spent a month in Nantucket, where he volunteered at the renowned White Heron Theatre.
Part of what he enjoys about acting is the camaraderie that develops among cast members. “It can be spontaneous and fun,” he says. For two years in a row, Malcolm has won the school’s annual Thespian Award (Best Actor in a Play, Best Actor in a Musical). In 2013, he reprised his role as Judas in a St. Luke’s production of Godspell at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Music is a big part of his life, too; he sings in the school choir and is a member of an all-male a cappella group, the Accafellas. He enjoys schoolwork and sports, including squash and tennis. As a senior, Malcolm will have his hands full helping a new class of aspiring actors find their way. “I guess I’m looking forward to that and also dreading it because I have to set an example.”
Ahead Of The Class
Mary Grace Henry
Class of 2015
Mary Grace Henry is a philanthropist and businesswoman whose foundation, Reverse the Course, started with a simple idea: raise enough money to help one young girl in Africa stay in school long enough to finish her education. To do that, Mary Grace started designing and sewing reversible headbands, which she sold at the Convent of the Sacred Heart’s bookstore. Within two weeks, the owner had sold all fifty and came back to Mary Grace looking for more.
That was five years ago, when Mary Grace was twelve years old. Since its 2009 launch, Reverse the Course (reversethecourse.org) has raised enough money to sponsor forty-five girls in Uganda, Kenya, Haiti and Paraguay. “My new goal is 100 girls,” she says.
This past spring the Sacred Heart senior launched a kick-starter campaign and raised enough money to revamp her website and increase her social media presence. “As I transition into college life, I want more of an online platform,” she says. “Now the foundation and the business seem like one piece.”
Like a lot of good ideas, this one evolved slowly. As the youngest of three children, Mary Grace says she was brought up to think globally—“dinner conversations tended to be more grown-up.” As a student at Sacred Heart, where volunteerism is de rigueur, she was encouraged to participate in community service. One event in particular, Jump Rope for Uganda, struck a chord. “We would raise money and get a popsicle at the end. I did that every year and loved it, but never understood why.”
In middle school, she started volunteering at Blythedale Children’s Hospital, which fueled her desire to do even more. “I wanted to impact one girl’s life in a sustainable way,” she recalls. “I knew the way to do that was through education.” She got the idea for the headband—“as a little girl I loved bows”—and after a few false starts got proficient enough to sew a straight line.
She has developed relationships with vendors, can hold her own in the garment district, and hires interns during the summer to help her around the office. Somehow she manages to keep up with her schoolwork and play two varsity sports—squash and golf. “I enjoy science, love English and don’t hate math,” she says. She has been to Uganda twice and Kenya once. “I remember meeting the first girl, Irene, in Uganda,” she says. “We were so similar with the same likes and dislikes, even though we lived in different countries. It was a very insightful moment.”
A Giver & Go-Getter
Class of 2015
Matheus Chaves is sociable and outgoing, with a wide network of friends, but it wasn’t always that way. He was just nine years old when he moved to Greenwich from a small village in Brazil. “At first I was a curiosity,” he says. “By the second day, I could tell the kids were making fun of me. It was quite difficult.” Fortunately for Matheus, his parents had the foresight to sign him up for the after-school program at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich. He credits the club with helping him channel his feelings of isolation, anger and frustration in a constructive way. “The club was always there for me,” the Greenwich High School senior recalls. “The volunteers were all dedicated to helping me with my English, my homework and making things run smoothly.”
Among his biggest inspirations was Mike Gerald, the athletic director. “He really helped me come out of my shell to be a well-rounded athlete and not just obsessed with soccer,” says Matheus, who has since devoted his free time to giving back to the community that was there for him. He has done everything from coaching to academic tutoring to being a summer camp counselor. This spring, he was named 2014 Youth of the Year, the club’s highest honor. “When I first got to the Boys & Girls Club, I saw [that] the Youth of the Year was the role model for all the kids. For me it was a dream come true.”
Now eighteen and a senior at Greenwich High, where he plays a variety of sports and is a high honors student, Matheus has a part-time job in the club’s computer room. His commitment to community service is far-reaching: He is president of the Cardinal Keystone Club, works with such organizations as Adopt-a-Dog and Neighbor to Neighbor, is a Greenwich Alliance representative and helps organize the high school’s annual Names Day anti-bullying initiative, a subject that is close to his heart.
As he looks to the future, Matheus isconsidering a variety of career options, including physical therapy, athletic training, software development and the U.S. Air Force. Whatever path he chooses, he knows none of it would be possible without the guiding influence of the Boys & Girls Club. “It’s really been there for me through all my ups and downs in life,” he says. “Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
Hitting The Perfect Note
Class of 2015
When Madeleine Jansson was a little girl, she wanted a piano so badly her parents drew a keyboard on a piece of paper. That paper keyboard led to a mini electric keyboard, which eventually led to a baby Grand Kawai. By the time she was nine, Madeleine was taking lessons with Mitsuko Ichimura and playing in recitals. “I made it more of a commitment,” she says.
The Greenwich Academy senior’s hard work and diligence has paid off: This year alone, she won the Gold Cup and earned the highest score for her performance of Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 at Fairfield University Young Musicians Festival. She was the second- place winner at the Fairfield County Schubert Club Annual Piano Senior Competition in Chopin, and placed third at the Musical Club of Hartford Scholarship Competition. She loves performing and has played at some amazing venues, including Carnegie Hall and the Penthouse at Lincoln Center, as part of the Foulger International Music Festival. “I can still visualize being at Carnegie Hall,” she says. “My best memory of that day is the piano on that amazing stage.”
Since 2012, Madeleine has studied with Steinway Artist Yoshie Akimoto. This summer she pursued an interest in chamber music, and she had an opportunity to perform Beethoven Piano Trio Op. 1 No. 1 with acclaimed concert cellist Allison Eldredge. She is a perfectionist, practicing at night after she has finished her homework. “Other people do sports for several hours a day. I do music,” she says. “It’s definitely about finding a balance. If I’m feeling stressed about school, I can go and practice. If I’ve been away on vacation, it’s the first thing I do when I get home.”
Speaking of school, Madeleine loves an academic challenge, too. A member of the cum laude society, the math team, the Upper School Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) group, and the Girl Code computer science club, she received the 2014 Yale Book Award, presented to a junior class member with outstanding personal character and intellectual promise.
To be a successful pianist requires an intense amount of focus and concentration, Madeleine says. “It’s not like going into a math test where you have a set number of equations and a final solution. There will always be something else to work on. I find that very inspiring and motivating. I always have a goal in mind.”
At The Top Of His Game
Class of 2014
Tommy Heidt has had a lot of great moments since he first picked up a lacrosse stick. Last year alone, Inside Lacrosse magazine named him a Top 50 high school senior (as well as the country’s top-ranked goalie), and he was selected to play in the Under Armour Senior All-American Classic in July. But during his four-year varsity career at Brunswick, one of the most memorable moments was the team’s 9-7 upset over Deerfield Academy in 2013. “It was the first time we beat Deerfield in our history,” he says. The Bruins went on to finish the season 11-3, and earned second place in the league championships. (This year they were cochampions.)
The nineteen-year-old University of Michigan freshman says he was lucky to grow up in a town he calls “a hotbed of lacrosse.” He began playing with the Greenwich Youth League in first grade, originally as a midfielder, eventually switching to goalie. His GYL career ended on a high note when his eighth grade team won the Division 1 CONNY State Title. “The GYL made me who I am as a lacrosse player,” Tommy says, singling out the positive influence of director Pat Coleman.
While at Brunswick, he racked up an impressive number of accolades: All League (Western New England Prep Division 1) both junior and senior years, U.S. Lacrosse All-American both junior and senior year, team tri-captain and MVP senior year. In addition to school and sports—in the winter he played ice hockey—Tommy was a Big Brother mentor and taught lacrosse to youth players.
The sport runs in his family. His father played in high school (his mom was a field hockey star); his older brother, Billy, plays a midfield position at Dartmouth; and his younger brother, Jimmy, a freshman at Brunswick, is an attacker. “When we were kids, my brothers were always shooting on me in the backyard,” he says. He signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Michigan when he was a sophomore, in part because of the strength of the program—UM is a Division 1 team—and in part because his family has a vacation home in northern Michigan, where he has summered every year.
Over the years he learned to cope with the pressure of his high-profile position. “At Brunswick the lacrosse is high caliber,” he says. “It taught me to be confident and a team player. That came from our coach, David Bruce. We had an unselfish level of play. If someone made a mistake we didn’t point fingers.”