Full Speed

High school is not what we expected this year—change and stress continues. Yet it is an important part of life, and these local teens are using their creativity, talent and determination to move forward, whether classes are held online or in person. Here, we take a moment to celebrate the unstoppable momentum of these extraordinary teens from area private and public schools. From National Merit Finalists and a 4.73 GPA to a HOBY State Leadership Seminar Student Ambassador and a President of the National Honor Society, they are raising a voice for diversity, establishing clubs, taking leadership positions, helping the most vulnerable in our communities—even learning quantum physics and Ancient Greek—while also taking center stage or center field. They also selflessly commit to volunteer work to help others. Through their eyes, the future is beautifully boundless.

ZACHARY AMENDOLA
St. Luke’s School

Even back as a ninth grader, Zach Amendola was tackling computer programming, computer science and the foundations of engineering at St. Luke’s. Now a senior, this Wilton resident has earned top marks throughout school. Even in his “time off” from rigorous academics, he’s solving problems and strategizing ways to constantly do better: He’s president of the school’s Chess Club (he was chess champ and a semifinalist), is a member of the Math Team and was an architect for the Eye of the Storm Club website. He calmly tackles problems. He even serves as a facilitator for Community Goals for Learning, which takes on complex topics like racism. He is now turning his bright mind to St. Luke’s Senior Scholars year-long, self-study program. It seems, there is always a solution if one puts in the work, asks deep questions, takes risks and has a talent for making sense of any challenging issue. Just ask Zach.

Do you have a favorite subject?
“My favorite subject is math, and it has been for as long as I can remember. Even in elementary school, I would get excited whenever we did “Mad Minutes”—worksheets where you had a minute to answer as many of the sixty problems on the page as you could. Now, as I’m traversing my way through more complicated topics in calculus, I still find that same excitement when I finally find an answer to a seemingly impossible problem or when I see an application of a previously confusing theorem.”

How would you describe yourself?
“Two adjectives that I would use to describe myself are helpful and energetic. Whether someone needs assistance with a small homework assignment or needs a fresh set of eyes to look over an essay, I am always willing to lend a helping hand. I am also a very energetic person. Whether I’m in class, on the tennis court or just hanging out with my friends, I am always excited to tackle a new day with verve and enthusiasm. I think my teachers would say that I am engaged in class and an overall good classroom presence. I always come into the school day excited to learn. I like to participate in discussions, learn new material and spend the time getting to know my classmates and teachers better.”

What did you like about St. Luke’s?
“One of my favorite things about my school is the community. The faculty and students have been able to foster a community that is welcoming, accepting and supportive. The community is one I’m proud to be a part of, and the school is a place that I’m excited to go to every day.”

What are your college plans?
“The main thing that I am looking for in college is to find my passion. I am excited to try different classes that I haven’t yet been able to take in high school and, hopefully, find something that I am passionate about and can build a career around.”

Given everything that’s going on right now, what role can teens take now?
“I think that during these unprecedented times, one of the most important things for teens to do is to follow the national and state guidelines on how to keep themselves and others safe. This includes wearing a mask, socially distancing and washing your hands, among other things. Even though we are not at the highest risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus, our actions can still help to minimize the spread of the virus.”

QUICK TAKES

Tip for succeeding in high school: “Work hard. It doesn’t have to come at the expense of other things, like extracurriculars or social events, but putting in the extra time to review material for a test or proofreading a paper one more time goes a long way towards success.”

Favorite extracurricular: “Tennis. I loved the sport for a long time, so when I started high school, I decided to go all in. I did multiple clinics a week, took private lessons and played in tournaments most weekends. I have loved playing tennis, and I have made great friends through all the time I have spent on the court.”

Currently binge watching:Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but my all-time favorite show is The Office.”

Favorite local place: “Dairy Queen.”

CAROLINE MCCALL
Greens Farms Academy

Greens Farms Academy senior Caroline McCall is a quick study. She has earned Head of School Distinction and High Honors for all six semesters and was inducted into the Cum Laude Society. She’s also fast on her feet—this Westport teen is a three-time MVP, two-time All New England, three-time All FAA and on the New England Championship Team for Varsity Cross Country (and captain)—as well as captain of Varsity Basketball and Varsity Track and Field (for which she won the Coach’s Award). She even picks up languages in a snap: she is in the National French Honor Society, won the French Language Award and is in her school’s French Club. Her involvement in Model UN and taking electives like “Comparative Politics” through Global Online Academy and courses such as “Prisons and the Criminal Law” illustrate why she was elected by her peers to serve as a Student Representative on the Judicial Council, which adjudicates the most serious disciplinary cases. Her career in law and public policy is fast-approaching.

Do you have a favorite class?
“I have always enjoyed my English classes, but I definitely turned a corner in Mr. Coll’s sophomore English class. English teachers notoriously say, “Show don’t tell,” and while I always thought I understood the concept, I could never quite execute. Mr. Coll believed that I was capable of manifesting this technique in my writing and through his guidance and mentorship I saw so much progress in my work over the course of the year.”

What is one of your successes at Greens Farms Academy?
“The sweetest moment was winning the New England Cross Country Team Championship sophomore season, because it was such an unexpected victory. The prior year, we had only three girls on the start line, so we weren’t even expecting to place. Plus, it snowed during the race, which made it even more epic.”

Do you have a mentor?
“My mentor and role model is my cross country coach, Chris Barrett. I’ve learned so much about determination, perseverance and mental fortitude from him. He’s one of the most genuine, kind-hearted people I have ever met. He’s made me a better runner and a better person, and I owe so many of my successes to his support.”

Looking into the future, where do you see yourself in a decade?
“I plan on going to law school, so in ten years I’ll be only a couple of years out of law school, probably working as a public defender. I got the chance to study ‘Prisons and Criminal Law’ during the spring semester of my junior year and I learned about the lack of public defenders in the U.S.—a problem that I hope to help remedy. The average public defender is juggling up to 200 cases simultaneously, making it impossible for them to fulfil their ethical and professional responsibility to their clients.”

Looking at the country now, what would you tell other teens?
“Anyone who is eighteen, or will be by Election Day, should register to vote; it’s so important for young people to be civically engaged! We can all make positive changes in our communities just by changing our own behavior and leading by example. Young people have the power to profoundly affect the culture. Educating ourselves and one another and engaging in productive, respectful debates is a great way to affect positive change.”

QUICK TAKES

Tip for succeeding in high school “Nothing is ever more important than sleep.”

My advice to high school freshmen: “None of us know what we’re doing any more than you do. Don’t take it for granted because high school truly does fly by. Oh, and please don’t stand in the middle of the hallway.”

My motto “Control the controllable.”

Dream destination “Heron Island, Australia.”

Favorite local place: “Devils Glen Park in Weston.”

NATASHA JOHNSON
Staples High School

Caring for others and being self-confident isn’t an either/or thing for Natasha Johnson. They go hand in hand. When her big heart and sharp mind align, there’s nothing she won’t take on. She’s committed to getting the most out her academics, especially when applied to her heritage and culture. In tenth grade she started a club to add more diverse books to the English curriculum and used her leadership to transform the club into a safe place to discuss and learn about racial diversity. She shares her knack for just getting things done beyond Staples by mentoring a group of middle school girls from Bridgeport. Natasha does this volunteer work while also managing her many responsibilities and very challenging course load—she’s President of The National Honor Society and President of Rho Kappa (Social Studies Honors Program). If that weren’t enough (and it is), she was also on the cross country and tennis teams. She works hard and has a vision of her responsibility to make a difference—she just makes it look easy.

One success you cherish?
“I, along with students from my grade and above, planted the seedlings of a prominent black community and presence at Staples that we hope will thrive. Growing up, I was one of a handful of black students and it was rare that we would be in the same class—the longing for that community was so acute, I remember asking my mother for a black friend in first grade. I had low self-esteem and always felt out of place. That changed in ninth grade when after racist remarks were made to me, I began to write how it made me feel. My stream of consciousness turned into a powerful open letter, which won the 2016 PTA Reflections contest. From that moment on, I realized maybe I didn’t have the voice to speak up, but I did have words and passion, so I began to center my reading and writing around black culture. Sophomore year, my friend Sahiba Dhindsa and I focused a research paper around educational inequality and the lack of a diverse curriculum. After interviewing Lauren Francese, the head of the Social Studies Department for information, I proposed the idea of a club, which Sahiba and I ran our junior and senior years. Now it’s Team Westport at Staples and it’s still in its beginning, but what I love about it is the vision.”

Why pick The Wharton School?
“I am interested in social entrepreneurship, and they have organizations that get involved with venture capitalism, advising and research to help local and global businesses in philanthropic endeavours. They pitch products and ideas to help with things such as sustainability and education. Another reason I chose Wharton over Yale is because my dream is to start my own company, and I hope to learn about the ins and outs of starting a business through their courses and network. I also hope to meet other students who could help and inspire me.”

Where are you in ten years?
“I see myself as the owner of Spice Dolls, a Chicago-based, black-owned business. Our motto: Every child deserves to see their reflection/that’s you in the mirror. It’s still under construction. I got the name from my childhood nickname/alter ego, Tash Spice; she’s a recent Wharton grad, uber woke and fashionable in a Gen Z type of way. Innovative, smart and, most important, committed to promoting diversity and inclusion. Spice Dolls feature a wide variety of Dolls of all different ethnicities and backgrounds with a strong online platform to more effectively bring each Doll to life. We want to educate children on different cultures that they may or may not have access to where they live. On a more personal level, I want to ensure that children are able to see someone that looks like them in the media and in culture because I did not have that growing up.”

How did it affect you?
“Being different often progressed into feeling like an imposter. My family moved six times, so I was always the new kid. I grew up in the suburbs, so I was always the black kid. When we moved to Japan, we were foreigners. I never fit comfortably into the archetype of the places, which made me struggle with my identity and sense of belonging. The moments that really brought me down were when I tried to blend in, but couldn’t. As I grew up, and became more comfortable in my skin, I learned that your home and identity does not have to be defined by a singular place. I realized some people are meant to travel the world and they make up themselves from all the places they visit. I began to see myself as less of a foreigner and more of an explorer, and I realized I had a talent for navigating new situations.”

QUICK TAKES

If could have dinner with anyone: “Maya Angelou.”

My motto: “Periodt.”

Superpower I’d love: “Manifest food on command.”

This I know: “You gain a special sense of confidence when you learn to love yourself even if you don’t always see yourself portrayed in the media and around you.”

MARK BALLESTEROS
Fairfield Prep

When Mark Ballesteros graduated Fairfield Prep last spring, he was a four-year Summa Cum Laude honor student who had taken the hardest course load available. He is a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, and a peer tutor. He also received the Yale Book Award and is a National Merit Finalist. Of the 1.5 million entrants across the country, he was first ranked among the top 16,000 semifinalists and then one of 15,000 finalists. When he wasn’t acing tests and studying, what was he doing all four years? Model UN (Secretary General), Debate Club (co-president), Plato Club (co-founder), Astronomy Club and Historians Club. Despite all of that, he still found time to serve on the board of the Toquet Hall Youth Center in Westport and volunteer at Wakeman Boys & Girls Club in Southport. This fall, this super-star is attending University of Notre Dame.

Do you have a favorite subject in high school?
“My favorite subject is history. I believe that we can best understand our society by looking at its past and by comparing it to other societies. I also love learning about past wars and revolutions. For example, I recently read a biography of Julius Caesar and enjoyed hearing about his military victories in Gaul and against the Senate, and also about his brilliant political maneuvering.”

Do you recall when you first realized that you had such a strong interest in history?
“I’ve loved history since elementary school. I don’t remember exactly when I realized that I liked it, but military history has a natural appeal to me. One of the earliest examples I can think of was in fifth grade, when, after learning about several ancient civilizations, we had to design one of our own. I worked hard on the project, creating several posters to present to the class about it, including one on warfare that I still have today.”

Then you went to Fairfield Prep. What did you like about it?
“I loved the community at Fairfield Prep. Everyone was friendly and supportive. The environment was not competitive or cliquey at all. I also enjoyed the religious focus and emphasis on community service, which added character and a deeper meaning to the school. The big emphasis on service was a great experience for me. For example, one summer I spent a week in Appalachia with other students doing work in a small rural town. I loved helping out the community and working with the other student volunteers. I hope to have similar experiences in college.”

Thinking back over the years, what challenge are you glad you overcame?
“In middle school and early high school, I had a hard time with public speaking. My normally clear thoughts became confused, so I would stutter and stop making sense. It was simply more difficult to think while simultaneously articulating those thoughts. However, I wanted to be able to present my ideas in a clear and persuasive manner. I joined Debate Club and Model UN at my school so that I could practice public speaking regularly. After many months of meetings, I became comfortable with it and, eventually, became president of Model UN and co-president of Debate Club.”

What do you think defines your generation?
“Our society is facing several unusual stresses. For example, a looming national debt, various threats to the natural environment and cultural and political schism. This has only been exacerbated by the virus and the lockdown. In addition, our society is more interconnected than ever, which has many advantages, but also means that the collapse of one part of the system can more easily lead to the collapse of others. Our generation will be defined by how we approach these challenges and the society we create after we have faced them.”

QUICK TAKES

Tip for succeeding in high school: “Keep your chin up. If you maintain your self-confidence, or even act like you’re confident, everything will come more easily.”

Favorite extracurricular: “Model UN. I learned to clearly and persuasively express my ideas and to work with others to bring them about.”

If could have dinner with anyone: “Jesus Christ.”

Superpower pick: “Super-speed.”

Dream destination: “Antarctica. No other place is as serene as Antarctica.”

ISAAC MOSKOWITZ
Greens Farms Academy

Isaac Moskowitz is in it to win it. He is co-founder and co-head, with Charles Kolin, of the Greens Farms Academy Sports Programing Network. This student-run club broadcasts Varsity Basketball games—learning about cameras, microphones, headsets, etc., and prepping player names, stats, records, etc.—provides analysis over live-streamed programs. They even produced the GESPYs (GFA Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly), recapping best plays of the year. He also hit the field as the baseball manager at his school and the water as a sailor through Longshore Sailing Club. With one eye on the game, he never loses sight of his academics. He is particularly keen on the big view (make that, really big view, as in astrophysics)as well as close up (particle physics). His grades are also stellar, as he’s earned both Head of School Distinction and High Honors three times. Isaac is now in his senior year and destined for a other-worldly success in his future career in astrophysics.

What is it about physics that intrigues you?
“I’m fascinated by it because it describes how everything behaves and can accurately predict how something is going to behave. I’m also fascinated by how the extremes of our universe—the quantum world and the classical universe—interact to create the universe around us and the laws of physics that govern how we interact with it. Studying physics can tell us the creation of everything around us, how it all behaves, and what will happen to it eons down the road, all through neat and tidy mathematical principles.”

You were in the Yale Summer Program for Astrophysics. What did you do?
“It’s a six-week research program for rising high school seniors interested in astronomy, physics, mathematics and computer science. I am currently cataloging the brightness of a distant supernova so I can make a ‘light curve,’ which measures the supernova’s brightness over time. This data gives astronomers a window into the evolution of the supernova and the events leading up to it. I am also taking measurements of a star cluster to understand the correlation between the color and brightness of different stars in the star cluster. I am loving every minute of this work. Even when I am doing tasks that are tedious or aren’t the most exciting aspect of astronomy, I am thrilled by it. I like the saying, ‘If you love what you do, then you’ll never work a day in your life.’ I realized this summer that astrophysics is the work I love to do.”

Name one of your biggest accomplishments?
“Winning the Class Prize in my sophomore year. It’s given to the ninth, tenth and eleventh grader for the greatest interest and most consistent effort in academic studies at GFA. This prize was the culmination of the hard work I had done in all of my subjects that year. However, it wasn’t simply regarding academic performance. The award also signified that I was a leader and major contributor in the educational environment. This is what makes me the most proud—my teachers voted for me because of my contributions to the learning environment through my participation and willingness to help people.”

How do you describe yourself?
“I am a hard worker, and I am passionate about my studies. I’m self-motivated, and I’ll work hard to finish an assignment or go the extra mile on a project to enhance the scope of my knowledge and understanding of it. I am becoming a well-rounded person. I’ve struck a balance between my schoolwork, social, and family life that allows me to spend a sufficient amount of time with each. Lastly, I believe in lifelong learning. In order to fully live in this world, you have to continuously be trying to understand it and to learn from it.”

Do you have a mentor?
“I learned the value of studying and academia from my father, who is a finance professor at Yale. As I grew, I learned to cherish the peaceful and cerebral life of a professor or academic that my father led, and this love is a great influence on how I want to structure my life. From my mother who is a pediatrician, I obtained my passion for science and my drive to help others. I lived in Chicago for most of my childhood, and I fondly remember trips to Museum Campus with my mom. I especially enjoyed visiting the Field Museum. Every visit I would snake through the exhibit, stopping to read the descriptions of each and every artifact, while my mom patiently followed me. Through these visits I came to love the scientific method and the art of data collection. She also greatly influenced my moral compass. I learned the value of helping others, how important it is to treat everyone as equals and to help those who are down.”

What defines your generation?
“Persistence and adaptability. The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to adapt to different and unprecedented circumstances and situations, but I’ve seen my peers take on these challenges in stride. My generation is marked by innovators and creators who found ingenious and creative ways to stay connected even when social distancing and create substitutes for treasured events and traditions.  In the face of overwhelming odds or opposition, many in my generation rise to the occasion and band together to advocate for change and defend those who cannot defend themselves. One perfect example of this is the Gen Z representation at the Black Lives Matter protests across the country. They return time and time again, even when faced with fierce opposition from the police and politicians, to defend the black and brown community and address systemic issues of racism and police brutality. My generation isn’t afraid to make waves, and we won’t stop until we make tangible change in the world.

QUICK TAKES

Tip for succeeding in high school: “Figure out what you are passionate about in every subject. Getting the most out of each class elevates your work in your favorite field and you can find creative ways to solve problems in one discipline by using skills learned in another.”

Favorite extracurricular: “Definitely GSPN—Greens Farms Academy Sports Programming Network. It’s GFA’s sports channel, which I co-founded with my friend Charles and currently co-run. I’ve had a blast calling playoff games, analyzing the best course of action during the final minutes in a tight game, and going berserk during game-winning buzzer-beaters.”

If I could have dinner with anyone: “Neil DeGrasse Tyson.”

Dream destination: “Vancouver.”

SOPHIA RAMIREZ
Wilton High School

Now a senior at Wilton High School, Sophia Ramirez has the Midas touch. She has received the Congressional Award Gold Medal (Congress’s highest honor for youth); was one of the only two chosen to represent her school as a 2019 HOBY State Leadership Seminar Student Ambassador; and earned a Scholastic Awards Gold Medal, Silver Medal and a National Latin Exam Gold Medal. She’s also the president of her school’s Spanish Honor Society chapter and co-captain of Debate Club. Plus, she’s Vice President of Mock Trial Club and President of Philosophy Club, for which she leads weekly discussions on thought experiments and philosophies. One of her biggest achievements so far is founding the nonprofit SynYouth, a youth-led 501c3 that provides weekly online English classes to kids in Latin America, taught one-on-one by English-speaking high school and college students. SynYouth now has over 400 tutors and students worldwide.

What is your favorite subject to study in school?
“I love English! The specific literature we study changes year to year, of course, but it’s all fundamentally about the discussion of ideas and exploration of unique points of view, which really interests me.”

And favorite extracurricular?
“Debate. It’s helped me become a more confident public speaker, as well as given me opportunities to engage with and understand opposing perspectives on a given topic, which I think is important in the context of real-world discourse. Our club meetings also make the time for silly resolutions to mess around with, which helps prevent the activity from becoming too stressful.”

Have you had to face a significant challenge?
“I’m fortunate enough to need to scrape the bottom of the barrel for an answer to this question. I suppose that moving from England to America was a very difficult transition for me; however, my family was so supportive of me, and, also, I started getting into writing to help me reflect on and articulate how I was feeling during that time, which definitely led to creative writing being as important as it is to me today.”

Looking forward, what do you hope to achieve when you go to college?
“I’m excited about meeting and learning from people from completely different backgrounds and life experiences than my own.”

Much farther forward, where do you think you’ll be in 2030?
“2030? That’s not a real year! To quote comedian John Mulaney, by 2030, I’ll be drinking moon juice with President Jonathan Taylor Thomas.”

What role can teens take now?
“If you’re passionate about a cause, I don’t think being too young should hold you back from contributing. I’m sure there’s some with the opinion that teens lack the maturity and experience needed to create meaningful change in their communities, but I’ve found that most people nowadays are more than willing to acknowledge and support you in whatever role you decide to take. I guess more specifically, there are several websites—like allforgood.org and volunteermatch.org—where you can find volunteer opportunities in causes that interest you. They even give you the option to look at online opportunities only, which is particularly useful in 2020.”

QUICK TAKES

Advice to high school freshman “I remember stressing out as a freshman because I thought I needed to know exactly what I wanted to do after college and to have everything all planned out, but honestly I think that high school is a time when you’re just beginning to discover what you’re interested in, so as long as you’re putting the effort into exploring different subjects and areas, I think you’ll be more than fine.”

If could have dinner with anyone, it’d be: “Charles Dickens, who was way cooler than we give him credit for.”

Superpower I’d love: “Flying: not the most practical superpower, but pretty darn awesome.”

If I could do one thing better, it would be: “Bending notes on the harmonica.”

JAKE MCGILLION-MOORE
Staples High School

Photo: January Stewart

At Staples High School Jake McGillion-Moore took eleven AP classes. An AP Scholar with Distinction, he graduated in the top ten percent of his class. He would have upped this already rigorous courseload, but he needed time for competitive fencing. When not in school, he’s competing on the international circuit. During his junior year, he missed thirty school days and had to coordinate with his teachers to study while across the country and abroad. Showing remarkable discipline, he kept up with his courses by supplementing class notes with independent study. With a mind that’s a sponge for knowledge and a stubborn tenacity to hit every goal, he is on his way to becoming a neurosurgeon. A first-generation Irish-American, he represented Ireland in fencing championships. He now competes on the Division 1 team at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Whatever follows, he’s sure to hit his mark.

What’s one of your biggest successes?
“Fencing competitively during high school and being a two-time State High School fencing champion, four-time All-American and All-Academic 1st Team as well as being selected to compete on the Irish National Fencing team and represent them at European and World Cadet and Junior Championships for the last three years. At its most intense, I was training almost twenty hours per week, alongside schoolwork and while traveling for fly-away tournaments almost every month.”

How did you balance academics and the competitions?
“Balancing competitive fencing with my school and extracurricular activities was the biggest challenge. A big part of competing for Ireland is competing on the European circuit. I was traveling domestically and internationally every other weekend, so I had to get good at working schoolwork and assignments around the competition schedule.”

What did you like to study?
“Chemistry was my favorite because it brought everything together, and the teacher, Mr. Jones, spent a lot of time telling stories that really made a connection to applications in the real world.”

When did know you enjoyed it?
“In the summer before freshman year, I did an intro to neuroscience course at Johns Hopkins University and one of the areas we studied was on neurons, synapses and the almost limitless pathways they can form in the nervous system. Understanding the fundamental chemistry that underpins how a human functions was fascinating and it gave me valuable context that helped through the health sciences in high school. This passion was reinforced before junior year when I did an internship at the Eastern Maine Medical Center, helping to test a new methodology for determining whether Alzheimer’s patients were still fit to drive. Seeing the effects of dementia first-hand and relating it back to my understanding of how the brain functions gave me a sample of what a career in the neurological field would be like.”

What does winning the Congressional Gold Award mean to you?
“I could write pages on what I did for this: 400 hours of community service, 200 hours of personal development and 200 hours of personal fitness as well as a two-day (kayaking and river camping on the Connecticut River), three-day (hike thirty-plus miles on the Appalachian Trail) and five-day (food, music and architecture in Vienna, Austria) exploration. The two years culminated with a presentation of my medal by Senator Chris Murphy in the U.S. Capitol.”

What’s the ten-year plan?
“I hope to continue fencing for Ireland at the Senior level and maybe take a shot at qualifying for the Olympics in 2024 and beyond.”

QUICK TAKES

Currently binge-watching:Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Superpower pick: “To slow down time.”

Favorite local place: “Sakura—the lunch special is student-friendly and sets the bar high for local hibachi. For fun, Toquet Hall Teen Center—there’s a huge variety of activity nights and the Oreo milkshakes are worth the trip on their own.”

JILLIAN BELLUCK
Weston High School

With head-spinning GPA, Jillian Belluck is an outstanding student at Weston High School. She won two Mathematics Scholar Awards; is in the National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society, and National Music Honor Society; took the Premio de Oro National Spanish Exam; won the Connecticut Secretary of State Award and the Elite International Music Competition. With all that, she still has a year of high school to go. With those academic wins, it’s surprising that she is also a competitive athlete: She is a National Synchronized Skating Champion—a six-time National Gold Medalist with her team, Skyliners, and a U.S. Figure Skating Gold Medalist. Plus, she is one of only ten skaters in the country to win the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Scholastic Honors Team Award; she donated the prize money to a music organization for which she volunteers. Plus, Jillian plays piano, flute and oboe. The abundance of talent in one person is truly a wonder.

How do you balance skating, music and academics?
“I’ve competed for eleven seasons on a synchronized ice-skating team, and over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to travel both nationally and internationally, and to represent U.S. Figure Skating as part of Team USA. This comes with a lot of honor and excitement, but also some disappointments. This season my team qualified for the World Junior Synchronized Skating Championships in Nottingham, England; we traveled there before being sent home due to concerns over travel restrictions and the pandemic. My team was prepared to compete and had even practiced in the competition arena, but we had to withdraw.

With the long practices every weekend and days of school I have to miss for competitions, I’ve had to contact my teachers throughout the school year for missed work and make up tests and assignments when I return. This year I even called into my chemistry class from France in between skating practices so I could write down the day’s notes and help with a lab assignment. Sometimes my other activities conflict with my skating schedule. Last year I had an orchestra concert in Wilton the day after the skating National Championships in Michigan, and after my team competed and won the gold, I hopped on a plane so I could arrive in time for the dress rehearsal. These types of conflicts remind me of why I’m so lucky to have supportive coaches and parents.”

What are you glad you did in your studies?
“I am proud that I challenged myself to take more advanced classes in my areas of interest. As an eighth grader I took Algebra 2 at the high school, and with that basis I was able to explore more difficult courses that grew my passion for science and math. In order to keep up with the demanding workloads, especially as I took multiple high-level math and science classes in the same year, I had to make sure I actively participated in class, reached out to my teachers if I needed help, and maintained a high standard when completing each assignment. Through the hard work, I developed a deep understanding of the foundations of math and science that have allowed me to explore more complex areas of study.”

What do you love about math and science?
“Their intersecting applications. I’m interested in genetics, which combines the intricacies of cellular biology with complex mathematical models. It also allows for creativity, especially when exploring the role that one’s environment has in shaping traits. I also love the endless opportunities in genetic research, and studying it has exposed me to interesting discussions about epigenetics, synthetic biology and the ethics of gene editing. Math and science can be explained in very simple terms, yet there’s no limit to their complexities. My chemistry and calculus classes, in particular, allowed me to bring creativity to the STEM field, writing stories using mathematical concepts and guiding my own research project. Math and science can be used to explain every aspect of the world around us, but the more solutions we find, the more questions arise.”

QUICK TAKES

Tip for succeeding in high school: “Challenge yourself academically, athletically and creatively. The combination of these three areas creates a balance that allows you to push your limits and form meaningful relationships.”

Currently watching: “The filmed version Hamilton on Broadway; 13th, a documentary about racial injustice; and the television show The 100.”

My motto: “Use your light and pour it into the world.”

Favorite way to relax: “Dancing in the pouring rain while I listen to my favorite songs.”

CHRISTINE JANSEN
King School

Wilton resident Christine Jansen is a bright star at King School. Now a senior, she grew up loving to sing and perform in musical theater from the age of seven. Since arriving at King as a freshman, she has participated in six productions. In 2019, she travelled with King to Edinburgh, Scotland, to participate in the Fringe Festival, which was one of the highlights of her musical theater experiences. She is also a co-leader of the Drama Club at school and interned for Wilton Children’s Theater and Wiremill Academy. When you don’t find her at center stage or backstage, she’s on the run—she’s a four-year athlete on the Varsity Cross Country team (captain for three years). Christine represented King at the New England Cross Country Championships freshman through junior years and in 2019 received the King award of Most Valuable Runner, Varsity Cross Country. That year she placed first female runner in every race of the season. Now she’s racing toward college, possibly to study communication and psychology. Certainly, she will shine.

Do you have a favorite subject?
“I am working towards a certificate of Distinction in Leadership at King. I have learned so much from the leadership classes that I have taken. They have given me a lot of insight about myself as a leader and how to improve my skills. At the end of the year, each student gave a leadership presentation. I chose to focus on lessons in leadership from theater. I took away many skills from this class that help me to succeed on the stage.”

When did you start them?
“I began taking leadership classes during sophomore year and I knew then that I wanted to get a Distinction in Leadership. I wanted to learn more about how to be an effective leader because I know this is a very important life skill to learn. I have become a better leader because of the class, and I know I will use these skills for the rest of my life. I learned that there is not just one definition of a leader, and there are many aspects to becoming a successful leader. These classes have inspired me to want to study psychology in college.”

What was a highlight of high school years?
“I had the pleasure of playing Sophie in Mamma Mia! This was one of the most fun shows I have ever done, and it was also a big growth opportunity for me. I put in a lot of hard work so that I could give my best performance. I met some of my best friends while doing this show, and so I think it was a success in both my singing career and friendships.”

How do you describe yourself and what would your teachers say about you?
“I would describe myself as hardworking, motivated and dedicated. I am a caring person and a good friend. My teachers would describe me as a student who perseveres and knows how to challenge herself. They would say I am hardworking, both inside and outside of the classroom. They would also say I am well-organized, curious and engaged.”

Who’s your mentor?
“My voice and acting instructor Mary Jo Duffy. I have known her for twelve years, and she not only has taught me how to prepare for auditions, but also has been a life coach for me. From Mary Jo, I have learned how to face challenges and to always do my best. I see her passion and love for what she does and I aspire to find a career someday where I feel the same way.”

What did you like about King?
“I came to King freshman year and at first I was nervous because I did not know anyone. One of my first memories was when I walked in and was lost. I remember looking very confused and someone asked me if I needed help. I said I did, and they showed me to my first class. This act of kindness stuck with me and shows that King has a very helpful and accepting environment. It also has very strong academic programs and I love that it permits a good balance of sports and theater, as you do not have to participate in just one extracurricular activity. Also, being the captain of the cross country team for three years and being involved in the theater program have been some of my favorite memories. I love the school spirit, and one of my favorite times is in the fall during Homecoming Weekend. It’s a time for all the teams to support one another and to celebrate our community.”

QUICK TAKES

Advice to high school freshmen: “Get involved in things you are passionate about. Find things that make you happy, both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Currently binge watching” Schitt’s Creek

If could have dinner with anyone: “Michelle Obama.”

Superpower pick: “Reading minds.”

OLIVER SHARPE
Wilton High School

Oliver Sharpe hasn’t tried a humanities class he didn’t like. As a freshman he took a class that blended English and history to address perspectives and bias in texts. As a sophomore, he signed up for Select World Literature and AP European History. As a junior, he selected AP U.S. History and AP English as well as Spanish, Latin and (as an independent study) Ancient Greek—the maximum amount available at the high school—so he could read ancient texts. And while he can run circles around the competition on the soccer field, Oliver also volunteers his time to service clubs: Key Club, Best Buddies, Peervention, Buon Amico, and LET’S Club. There are many ways to live a life—and Oliver Sharpe is enriching his own by developing a rich understanding of the evolution of humanity and the complexities of how we express our understanding of life, civilization and humanity and how we communicate with one another. In short, he’s making the world a better place.

You’ve moved quite a bit. What has that been like for you?
“I think having moved around so many times at a young age, from Virginia to England to Scotland to Massachusetts to Wilton, has given me a unique perspective on how to treat people properly, and the importance of just being kind to those around you. I’ve been the new kid seven times, and have been in every type of social circle at one point or another it seems, and the one thing that transcends every different place, culture and type of person is the ability to be kind even when you do not have to be. Moving around so much as a kid showed me the importance of that, and I would like to think that I try to apply that to every part of my life.”

Do you have a favorite subject?
“I would say English is my favorite subject, and for a lot of reasons. For one, I have been fortunate enough to have fantastic English teachers all throughout high school; they not only taught me the finer aspects of English, but also inspired me to make myself a better writer as a tool to express myself as well as my views and ideas. My sophomore year English teacher, Dr. Harvey, is most responsible for my relatively new passion for English, by teaching me how rewarding it is to use the written word to express ideas that I could never fully articulate by talking. I’ve been able to find my own little niche of self-expression that, for me, goes far beyond the meaningfulness of solving equations or finding the gravitational force of a rolling apple. Writing has given me the opportunity to analyze myself and the world around me because it makes you think from that unique, removed perspective only a writer can attain. Writing tends to give shelter against the fast pace of everyday life and gives the opportunity to see that the world really isn’t moving that fast, but rather that you just aren’t looking around enough along the way.”

What challenge have you faced?
“My aunt Tracy, my mom’s sister, was in a care home for all of my life after a brain procedure, and I would go with my mom close to every weekend to visit her. At first I would go only because I knew it made it easier for my mom, as my aunt was largely nonverbal and the silence between questions was often hard, but as I went more, my mom instilled in me that we went, not for each other, but for her, because it made her happy in an otherwise unhappy situation. As we continued to go, we realized that we were not even going just for her, but everyone around her who just needed someone to be kind and lively. From my mom I learned that helping others over being selfish can change lives, and from my aunt I learned how strong people with disabilities or issues in general can be as long as they are supported.”

Do you have a role model?
“My number one role model would be my dad. He was diagnosed with MS when I was little, and I have been fortunate enough to grow up with him as my father, and as one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. Everyday is that much harder for him, but he constantly pushes through. Most heroes don’t have the easiest lives, or do what is easy, just like my dad.”

How did this affect you?
“I signed up for every volunteer club and every club that helps others. I also have made the effort to do more than just be there, but to form relationships and bonds and genuinely improve the lives that I have the power to affect.”

QUICK TAKES

Long-term goal: “College for business, preferably in the South.”

Tip for succeeding in high school: “Develop good relationships with your teachers.”

My motto: “You never regret hard work.”

Dream destination: “Australia.”

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