Teens to Watch

Photography: Hetherman by Shades Shutters Photography; Telesz by Kristie Kistner Photography; All others, Contributed

With a world as complicated as Planet Earth 2020, take heart in the emerging generation of doctors, engineers, performers, athletes, writers and community change-makers. For proof, we present six local teens who are making the most of these years, discovering innate talents and developing a taste for taking a chance on new interests. Space does not allow for all of the accomplishments they have achieved throughout their high school years, but we suspect this is not the last you will hear about these Fairfielders. To our eyes, they make the future look very bright, indeed.

CONNOR ROSOW
St. Luke’s School

How is it possible for a student to sail through AP, Honors and high-level STEM classes? Ask Connor Rosow. This Fairfielder’s academic talent became clear when in junior year at St. Luke’s School, he took an independent study on sailboat design and prototyping in conjunction with the school’s designLab. He picks up awards—Math, designLab, Stagecraft, the Dartmouth College Book Award, Thespies Theater Awards, Rookie Award and Master Craftsman Award—as nimbly as he navigates marks on the water. An avid sailor, he found time to serve as Junior Commodore at the Pequot Yacht Club, for which he coordinated several events in the summer sailing program, as well as volunteer for the Special Olympics Sailing Games. A STEM scholar, Rosow won his school’s Hackathon for inventing a GPS-based locking mechanism. Also, he knows how to put on a show, learning lighting design for theater and teaching it to other students as well as serving as student technical director. He now attends Tufts, studying mechanical engineering and theater—and will continue to teach sailing each summer.

Favorite subject? // “I’ve always loved physics. It’s super cool to me how you can model real-world actions through the application of fairly straightforward mathematics. It’s also a significant part of working in engineering—for obvious reasons. I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, so that played a significant part in my love of physics. On top of that, I’ve had strong relationships with all of my teachers in that area, so that also helped to foster my love of the subject.”

What was a high point in high school? // “My greatest success in high school was my work as lighting designer and student technical director for my school’s production of Pippin during my senior year. My design for the show was extremely ambitious and required hundreds of hours of both setup and programming time—a significant portion of which I completed solo—but I succeeded and created a spectacle that was easily the strongest design I have ever completed in theater. It ended up being my last real high school show due to the pandemic, so it holds a special place in my heart for that reason as well.”

Do you have a role model? // “Three come to mind readily. The first is my dad, who has been a massive influence on my life. Beyond getting me into sailing—for which I am forever grateful—he has taught me so much about life from both an emotional side and from a practical side. From teaching me how to cook hamburgers to how to start an LLC, my dad has always been there for me to help in whatever way he can. The second is Mr. Conners, the technical director at St. Luke’s and my former teacher. He was the primary reason I became involved in theater and in lighting design. The final mentor is Mr. Mitchell, head of designLab at St. Luke’s, and my engineering teacher. He encouraged me to do the St. Luke’s Hackathon, which jump-started my love of engineering. He has also been extremely supportive of my various engineering endeavors over the years, from serving as an advisor for my study on yacht design and hydrofoils to helping me navigate the patent process.”

Was it all smooth sailing or did you face challenges along the way? // “At one of the Hackathons, my team and I invented a type of secure-locking mechanism that had actually never been patented. We spent over a year working on the patent process, and it was easily the most painful thing I have ever worked on. The number of convoluted forms and formatting requirements was absolutely ridiculous. We finally submitted it in April 2019.”

What did you like about your high school? // “The community of both students and teachers at St. Luke’s is incredibly kind and supportive. No matter what your interests, people will support you and applaud your efforts, which is something that I have found to be surprisingly rare. It creates such a positive atmosphere and allows students to grow and thrive.”

What defines your generation? // “Our connection with technology and social media specifically. We have both the blessing and the curse of being the most interconnected generation. Whether you like it or not, social media and my generation are completely intertwined, a fact that has led to both extreme positives and dangerous lows. It is going to be up to my generation to use social media as an effective tool for advocacy and change while also avoiding its pitfalls as a platform for bullying and hatred.”


QUICK TAKES

Advice to high school freshman: “Be prepared to make the most of your high school experience. Don’t just cruise through the easy classes. Try to find classes and activities that are fun and fulfilling.”

If you could have dinner with anyone: “Elon Musk. Although certainly eccentric, the man is absolutely a genius and is on the forefront of propelling humanity forward. I think a conversation with him would be fascinating.”

Superpower pick: “Telekinesis would make life so much easier.”

Summer 2020 in five words: “Atypical but still pretty fun!”


JILLIAN HETHERMAN
Lauralton Hall

Jillian Hetherman is a tough act to follow. Take a look: Drama Club, Musical Theater, Teen Theater Summer Musical, Summer Musical Theater Intensive, and time in the studio practicing ballet, lyrical, tap and jazz. Getting the picture that she’s a star? Whether at school or camp, if there was a theater program, Jillian was in the Playbill. Now a senior, she has a long love of music and theater, including at Lauralton Hall and Notre Dame of West Haven (acting as liaison been the all-girls and all-boys schools to help organize talent and production details). She also racked up hours in directing, choreography and as stage crew, rounding out her experience. Hetherman has even written original songs and musical and was a soloist in the American Celebration of Music Tour in Italy in 2019. She did all of this while also achieving high honors and being inducted into the National Honor Society and French National Honor Society. She’s aiming for college in either Boston or NYC as an interdisciplinary studies major (either creative writing and music or creative writing and theater education and performance, depending on the school) with a minor in comedy.

What is your favorite subject? // “This is hard. I really love English, history and choir, but ultimately find myself always excited to go to English. I really like having discussions and doing literary analysis in class. I can be a little bit overeager at times and I find myself raising my hand continuously to share connections I’ve made in the text or to bounce an idea off of someone else’s point. It’s funny to me that I’ve grown to love literature and writing—so much so that I’ve chosen it as a career path—because I used to get so frustrated and tearful in elementary school when I had to write anything; I didn’t know how to start.”

You’re now a senior at Lauralton Hall. What do you like about your school? // “Initially what caught my eye about Lauralton was the combined history and beauty of the campus. When the sun hits its peak hour in the spring, the light floods through the stained-glass windows of the chapel and drenches the room in a golden glow. The historic mansion houses my favorite study room and the department offices, where I can always find one of my teachers if I need help or have a question. I am continually able to grow and thrive at Lauralton. There are times when it all feels overwhelming—when the list of things to get done exceeds the amount of time I have in a day—but somehow it gets done and I have a new, broader set of limits that I will soon surpass. My absolute favorite thing about Lauralton, though, are the friendships I’ve made that will last a lifetime.”

Imagine yourself ten years from now—what are you doing? // “I will be a dramatist, lyricist and composer. At least one of my original musicals will have opened on Broadway—and is a hit—but, of course, my next one or two or three will be in the works to premiere soon. I’ll live in Manhattan, running around the city to get to rehearsals, performances, cabarets and writing sessions. I’ll get to collaborate with other theater professionals on upcoming work or the Tony Awards opening number. I am undeniably happy, breathing joy and life into the city and everything I do. I’ll have the chance to give back as well by establishing programs for young musical theater creatives and performers. I’ll lend a hand to school musical departments—advertising, directing, costuming. You name it, I’ll do it. Living in a beautiful apartment complete with a fabulous closet would be nice too—albeit expensive, but that’s what hard work is for. Maybe I’ve met Kate Middleton, who knows?”

Who do you admire as a role model? // “Lin Manuel Miranda. As someone who loves performing but recognized early on that I do not have the type of talent that could lead to a professional musical theater career, I saw what Lin had done with Hamilton and decided that I was going to follow suit. He wrote an original musical entirely by himself—book, music, lyrics, everything—and then cast himself as the lead. It’s rather brilliant in my opinion. I may not follow his exact blueprint, but he has inspired me to be limitless in my aspirations, to continue to be self-reliant, and to believe in myself and my work when nobody else does.”

What tough lesson have you learned? // “That you can prepare, do everything right, and still lose.”


QUICK TAKES

Tip for succeeding in high school: “Success is to be happy when you have no reason to be; to excel when you’ve put the effort in; to have found yourself and to keep being yourself.”

Favorite extracurricular: “School musical. After a show closes, I am a better version of myself.”

If you could have dinner with anyone: “It would be amazing to have a conversation with Cleo Wade about self-love and confidence—two things I champion and practice.”

Dream destination: “New York City or Paris. While I am a Francophile and would absolutely love to have a stint in Paris as a mysterious expatriate author (living off of du café et des croissants), New York City tugs at my heartstrings. It’s the only place that I find beautiful and captivating throughout all four seasons. There’s something magical about the city that I can’t quite explain, but I know it’s where I’m supposed to be; I can feel the pull.”


KEVIN MILLER
Fairfield Prep

When Kevin Miller graduated from Fairfield Prep, he could boast Summa Cum Laude honors. His GPA and place with the National Honor Society and French Honor Society reveal his talent for academics, but there’s even more to his character: service. When he began attending Prep as a sophomore, he became fully involved in Campus Ministry and in Christian Service, engaging in three immersions: in Bridgeport, Jamaica and Ecuador. He’s also an Eagle Scout. Using head and heart, he’s attending Florida State University Honors College as a Presidential Scholar and majoring in cellular and molecular neuroscience and aiming for a career in medicine—and it’s personal.

How would you describe yourself—and what would your teachers say? // “I am a very ambitious and resilient individual who values others. My teachers would say driven and determined despite adversity.”

What’s one thing you did in high school that helped you succeed? // “Before transferring to Prep as a sophomore, I spent my freshman year in Dubai and Florida. Moving frequently could have defined my high school experience; instead, I chose to immerse myself in service trips, spiritual retreats and my academic studies. I refuse to let challenges hinder my aspirations.”

What challenge did you overcome while at Fairfield Prep? // “During winter break of my junior year, I suddenly lost hearing in my right ear, resulting in permanent deafness in that ear and irritating tinnitus. Extensive testing revealed a growing brain tumor. Standardized testing and grades became trivial. I underwent brain surgery at Yale in May 2019. While I continue to adjust to this new normal, I have learned that we are all in need of each other.”

Aside from family, who helped you get through that traumatic experience? // “I am very fortunate to have surrounded myself with numerous role models, but Dr. Kristopher Kahle is the most influential. As my neurosurgeon at Yale New Haven Hospital, his encouragement and compassion have been both unexpected and extraordinarily motivating.”

Looking forward, where do you see yourself in ten years? // “Ultimately, there are three things I want to accomplish in my life: become a doctor, travel the world and serve those in need. Volunteering for Doctors Without Borders completely encompasses these pillars. Boy Scouts ingrained the value of service in me from a young age, and a visit to Damien House—a center for Hansens’ Disease, or ‘leprosy,’ patients in Guayaquil, Ecuador—in April 2018 further inspired these aspirations.”

What did you like about your school? // “Fairfield Prep helped me grow academically, but more important, as a human being. Through service opportunities and immersion trips, my eyes have become open to social injustices. I wish I could eliminate prejudices entirely but by encountering them I continue to learn.”

Did you have a favorite extracurricular activity? // “Leading the Chess Program at McKinley Elementary through Wakeman Boys and Girls Club. I’ve always been passionate about chess since competing in tournaments myself in elementary school, but teaching the game to elementary-age students in Fairfield was extremely rewarding.”

What do you think defines your generation? // “Our world is more polarized than ever. Problems like coronavirus, climate change, an increasing wealth gap, and social injustices continue to shape the world we live in. Our generation is going to be tasked with solving these issues and more, and the defining moment for us will be how we choose to respond. Personally, I believe that the Jesuit motto of ‘Men for Others’ will help us navigate the future.”

On the lighter side, where’s your favorite place in Fairfield? // “The Country Cow. Best bacon, egg, and cheese ever.”


QUICK TAKES

Tip for succeeding in high school “Be proactive. You can never plan enough, and you will be ready for whatever challenges lie ahead. Simultaneously, be willing to discard your plan and make a new one. Adaptability is key when life can throw so many unexpected challenges in your direction.”

Advice to freshmen: “Stretch yourself, but remain focused on the activities that you are truly passionate about.”

Currently binge-watching: “Person of Interest.”


CLAIRE CHERNISKE
Warde High School

Graduating Warde High School with near perfect ACT score and a sky-high GPA (making Headmaster’s list each year while taking AP and Honors classes and being a member of the National Honor Society, Math Honor Society and Business Honor Society), Claire Cherniske is also an athlete. She was captain of the soccer team and a four-year varsity lacrosse player. She was one of thirty-four FCIAC athletes honored in the 2020 CAS-CIAC Scholar-Athlete Banquet and one of three from Warde to receive the 2020 Superintendent’s Student Recognition Award for academics, school leadership and community service—yes, she volunteers. She’s planning a future in analytics.

What is your favorite subject? // “My favorite subject has been, and probably always will be, math. To me, it was always about the process of figuring out how to get an answer that made the satisfying feeling of finding the right one even that much sweeter. It’s tangible and real, and often the comprehensive skill set used to solve a math problem is far more applicable to day-to-day problems than we may realize. It offers a logical and concrete explanation to the world around us, and I’ve always found comfort in the lack of a ‘gray area’ that many other school subjects seemed to have.”

When did you know it was important to you? // “During elementary school. I would voluntarily practice my times tables and Mad Minutes at home—for fun, I may add—to try to speed up my time and complete them without any errors. Math helped me gain more confidence in school when I was younger because I put so much effort into it that I could see noticeable improvement. It taught me the power of putting dedicated time and practice into all that I did.”

Do you have a mentor? // “Ms. MacIntosh—Ms. Mac, as she is known to students—was my senior year AP U.S. Gov teacher and sophomore year Global Studies teacher. Having her twice was a blessing because she knew me better than anyone else in the building and helped show me my potential by making sure I never settled for ‘good enough’ in or out of the classroom. She taught me not only how to read more carefully and write more articulately, but also the most important skill: how to think more critically. It was with her gentle encouragement that I chose to stray from what I know and take a step outside of my comfort zone next year.”

What do you hope to achieve in college? // “In addition to getting a degree, I am looking to expand my horizons in college. Having lived in Fairfield since I was born, I chose to attend USC in order to experience an entirely new city and lifestyle. USC affords me the educational flexibility to experiment with classes in all of their undergraduate schools, which I plan to take full advantage of. While currently in the business school, I am looking to double major or minor in mathematics with an end goal of working in data analytics.”

What role can teens take now? // “I recently saw a post that claimed, ‘We are responsible for becoming more ethical than the society we grew up in.’ This generation of teenagers is already making waves and demonstrating that we will stand up for what is right, especially in regards to the current Black Lives Matter movement. It is critical that we continue to challenge outdated ideas and normalize changing our opinions and beliefs when presented with new information in order to move forward in the right direction.”


QUICK TAKES

Advice to high school freshman: “Trust me, your junior- and senior- year self will thank you when you started high school strong instead of having to dig yourself out of a hole.”

Favorite extracurricular: “Mentoring at a local elementary school.”

Summer 2020 in five words: “A time for self-reflection.”

Local go-to: “Walking or running at St. Mary’s by the Sea.”


ALLISON TELESZ
Greens Farms Academy

Clearly, Allison Telesz has the goods: Jefferson Book Award, Cum Laude Society, Roger B. True Research Award, Silver Key Scholarship Art and Writing Award as well as high honors and Head of School Distinction. Moreover, while attending Greens Farms Academy, she brought it to everything she did: athletic field, performing arts stage, scientific coursework, language arts, and more. She was president of the School Community Service Board, Head Editor of Penumbra literary magazine and co-captain of the tennis team; she played viola for the Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestra for four years and sang with the Harbor Blues a cappella female troupe; she even did an internship at Yale Cancer Research Center. This fall she is applying her many talents to liberal arts at Duke.

Do you have a favorite subject? // “I would say I have two favorite subjects: creative writing and Spanish. I haven’t always had a love of writing, but over the course of my high school career, my teachers really helped me hone my skills. By senior year it was those assignments and that class that I looked forward to most. On the other hand, I have always loved Spanish, probably because languages come more easily to me.”

What does success at Greens Farms mean to you? // “I think I find the greatest satisfaction at the end of each school year when the culmination of an entire year’s worth of hard work finally comes to fruition. I see this most evidently at the end of the year concert that my all female a capella group, The Harbor Blues, in which I have been a member of since freshman year, puts on along with the all-male a capella group. After hours of rehearsals every week since September, whether I’m singing background or a solo, it’s always super fun and rewarding to be on stage and be a part of a group.

I also see this when my fellow editors and I release the final publication of our school’s literary magazine, Penumbra, every spring after months of mulling over art and writing submissions, experimenting with new ways to format, and striving in general to make each edition better than the year prior. This was especially significant for me this year as a senior editor during quarantine in which I had to learn the editing software using a short online tutorial and lots of trial and error as well as attend meetings over Zoom with the other editors to go over our lengthy to do lists after a day of online school.”

How do you think your GFA teachers would describe you? // “I think my teachers would say that I’m pretty diplomatic and creative and that I’m very engaged both inside and outside of the classroom.”

What did you like about Greens Farms Academy? // “It truly gave me the opportunity to engage in all sorts of activities. I never felt confined to pursuing just academics or just sports or just the arts. I think GFA encourages students to pursue their specific passions but also be well rounded individuals. I also appreciated how tight knit the community was, how attentive the teachers were and how supportive my classmates were.”

Who helped? // “ My senior year English teacher, Ms. Greiner, was one of my mentors. She was also my advisor for three years and the head of the literary magazine, of which I was a part for four years. I could always count on her to sit down with me outside of class and help me to revise any of my writing, whether it was an assignment or something I had just written for fun. She was such a supportive presence and definitely was my sounding board throughout high school.”

What’s the big goal now? // “I am attending Duke University this fall and I am really excited to expand on both the interests that I have developed in high school as well as explore new subjects that I haven’t been exposed to yet. I am looking forward to taking advantage of my liberal arts education these first couple of years as I know I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into one particular career or field just yet.”


QUICK TAKES

Tip for succeeding in high school “Get involved early. I started participating in most of my clubs freshman year.”

My motto: “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”

Superpower pick: “Telekinesis.”

Favorite local place: “Southport Beach.”


JAMES FLINK
Ludlowe High School

You have so many interests. Did you have a favorite subject at Warde? // “English. I like the freedom to write about the things I find meaningful. There’s not a formula; it’s open. I took an amazing English class senior year: Call of the Wild. I find myself identifying with the characters in the stories we read. I loved that.”

What would you consider one of your biggest successes during high school? // “My greatest success in high school was finding a strong balance between all the different facets of my life: sports, school, socially. By being flexible and staying organized, I was able to find this balance.”

What challenge did you face? // “Finding balance in my lifestyle. Early on, I’d get too entrenched in things that weren’t of the greatest importance. Breaking this pattern was hard, but it’s been incredibly gratifying.”

How would you describe yourself versus what your teachers would say about you? // “I’d say I’m focused, but I have a good sense of humor. My teachers would say I invested in my learning.”

What do you hope to get from college? // “I hope I make lifelong friendships and become a leader of character.”

And in ten years? // “Hopefully, I’m flying Apache helicopters for the Army. I want to serve my country and be part of the greatest team in the world.”

What defines your generation? // “I think my generation is passionate and eager to leave its mark on the world.”

What role can teens take now? // “Find things they love and invest time in those things: sports, academics, volunteering, clubs, etc.”

Do you have a role model? // “Role model = Michael Jordan.”

Any parting thought? // “I couldn’t ask for a better place to grow up.”


QUICK TAKES

Favorite extra-curricular: “Volunteering at Bridgeport Hospital because I loved interacting with the patients and my coworkers.”

If could have dinner with anyone: “Mike Trout.”

Superpower pick: “Super-speed.”

Favorite local place: “Gaetano’s Deli.”

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