Lila Wells & Ian Campbell
GREENS FARMS ACADEMY
When most people travel to far-off places, usually they’ve planned a relaxing trip just for themselves. Not Lila Wells. When she travels, it’s to do what she does best: serve others.
Service runs in Lila’s blood. Her mother Anne founded Unite the World With Africa, LLC, in 2008; since then, Lila has been on several trips with the organization in the role of youth group leader and social media intern. During these trips, Lila has worked with the inspiring Sister Crispina Mnate at the Heaven Primary School and St. Joseph’s Orphanage on such projects as mural painting, reading to children and building new classrooms. Through her time in Tanzania and independent study, Lila has become conversational in Swahili and hopes to become fully fluent by her next trip there. “The people definitely keep me coming back—as well as the love of the language, the country itself, which is magnificent, and, of course, the food,” says Lila.
When she’s not on service trips halfway around the world, the Greens Farms Academy junior stays busy by participating in multiple activities. “I take advantage of all of the clubs, sports, theater productions and classes that I possibly can in my school because I am lucky enough to be in a place where I have those opportunities,” Lila says. From sailing and fencing to serving on the Community Service Board and more, she fills every minute with meaning. She also maintains a 4.0 or greater GPA and takes multiple honors and AP classes.
Although it’s too early to decide on her future, Lila expresses interest in biology and chemistry. This is largely due to her younger sister, who has type 1 diabetes. “My little sister inspires not only me, but also my entire family to persevere, laugh off the bad days and relishes the good ones,” says Lila. She is currently working on a research project on autoimmune biosensing.
Lila simply wants to help.“I was born into a world of privilege that I really did nothing to deserve,” she says. “I am lucky enough to be in a place and surrounded by people whohave the resources, time and power to help others, so why wouldn’t I?”
“Grades never seem to be the focus with her and do not come between her and an enthusiasm for learning. She is an intellectual risk taker, dismissive of the quest for ‘the right answer,’ while always seeking to convey her ideas and insights on the topic under consideration. It is her genuine interest in learning, the deep passion she brings to her studies, and the generous spirit she embodies that reallyset her apart.”
Chair of the History Dept.
Kristen Beaumonte & Kate Parker-Burgard
To the audience in the theater, the actors, singers and dancers might seem like the only power players of the show. But, behind the scenes, the stage manager calls all the shots. Kristen Beaumonte knows this well.
Being a stage manager requires Kristen, now a senior at St. Luke’s School, to schedule and run every rehearsal, communicate with everyone involved in the production, call hundreds of light and sound cues, oversee all performances and so much more. “As a stage manager, I often have authority over people of all ages, some of whom are older than me,” she says. “I’ve learned how to work with everyone, creating a dynamic of mutual respect.”
Quite a feat, considering she started the job during the first semester of her freshman year.
Kristen’s meticulous organizational skills come into play in other ways. Last year, as an intern at St. Luke’s Center for Leadership, she planned a daylong service event for which organizations came to the school and spoke about their work and how students can get involved. The Service Symposium—which included keynote speakers, workshops and presentations—was a resounding success.
“It was incredible to see my entire school experiencing what I had worked so hard to put together,” Kristen says. “It was rewarding to know that if a single person had gotten something significant out of the day, it was because I had made the symposium possible.”
Kristen also schedules in time for sports. She played basketball for two years, varsity softball for three years, and is the captain of a gymnastics team outside of school. “I’m not willing to sacrifice any of the things I love to do, so I make it a priority to make time for everything,” she explains. Knowing that her position on the teams is important, and that the younger girls look up to her, she adds, “A leader needs to be driven, organized and confident, but the most important quality is the ability to empathize with others— and understand that a leader sometimes needs to follow.” Whether coordinating events or in a dark tech booth, Kristen is leading the charge.
“I’ve had many occasions to work with Kristen in a variety of settings and, without exception, she demonstrates strong character, incredible responsibility and a can-do spirit. While one of the top students in her class, Kristen is humble and kind, always working to improve herself and help others… Cheerful, honest and hardworking, it has been my pleasure to work with her.”
Director of Character
Ishani Shah & James Lucey
WILTON HIGH SCHOOL
Many people dream of changing the world. But Ishani Shah, a senior at Wilton High School, is different. Isha, as she’s commonly called, is actually doing it—she’s well on her way to impacting the global community. And she started out close to home.
Ten years ago, when Isha was visiting an ailing relative in the hospital over the holidays, she noticed the absence of cheer in the patients. So, she and her younger sister decided to change this by recruiting classmates to write holiday cards for the patients. The next holiday season, Isha hand-delivered over sixty cards to the patients of Norwalk Hospital.
“After delivering that first card, I realized how much I love seeing the direct positive impact of my actions,” Isha says. “I loved seeing a smile on someone else’s face, and the feeling of knowing that I put it there.” The sisters turned their project into a successful nonprofit organization called “Hearts and Crafts.” They now visit ten hospitals in the tri-state area and work with their local public elementary and middle schools to write the letters. During the 2016 holiday season, they delivered over 1,800 cards.
Thinking even bigger, Isha hopes to use her love of science to impact the world. Fascinated with nature since she was a child, Isha wished to augment her high school science education and applied to Stanford University’s highly selective Online High School (OHS) when she was a freshman. She was accepted and has had the opportunity to take challenging courses in real time with a global-learning community. “I attend class with students who live on the other side of the globe,” she explains. “I have the amazing opportunity to learn from professors educated at some of the best institutions in the world. All in all, I have the best, most unique way to create an education for myself in which I can pursue my passion for science.”
If all goes to plan, Isha will be using her scientific acuity to create real change. “I want to craft a career in which I can combine sciences like chemistry and biology with core skills like entrepreneurship and leadership,” she says of her future. “I aspire to one day become an individual in our society similar to Elon Musk, leading the world to a cleaner, more efficient future.”
“She is always looking for connections and ways to apply past knowledge in new settings. Her active mind, curious nature and engaging personality help shift my class environment from covering to uncovering the intricate chemistry curriculum. Frequently her questioning or explanations organically spark interest from classmates who might have otherwise remained passive in
Neal Soni & David Scrofani
STAPLES HIGH SCHOOL
Self-discipline is not always mastered by the teenage years. Not so for Neal Soni. He has developed it over many years and applies it to every aspect of his life, including academics and Taekwondo.
Neal was only five years old when he was introduced to the Korean martial art. “Ten years of almost daily training sessions have built me up, both physically and mentally,” says Neal, “providing me with a sense of purpose and discipline.” Over those ten or so years, Neal’s skills have grown immensely; he won first place at the 2016 USA National Taekwondo Kyepka Championships. Now a third-degree black belt, the Staples High School senior instructs novice and junior black belt students in order to share the sport he loves.
Outside of the training hall, Neal continues to serve others through his active participation in Builders Beyond Borders. He has gone on three separate trips, helping to build houses and classrooms in Guatemala, Ecuador and Nicaragua. “Volunteer work in Latin America over my spring break vacations with Builders Beyond Borders has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” he says. For these service trips, students must raise roughly 80 percent (about $3,000) of their share of the program expenses through letter writing campaigns, product sales and more.
So how does Neal fund his trips? Thankfully, he’s been tutoring various math subjects since the sixth grade. Neal is not only athletic and giving, but also incredibly bright. He excels in robotics, science and mathematics and puts his talents to good use. This year, he will serve as the president of Top Hat Tutors, a tutoring service run entirely by students. “We hope to not only teach, but also help our clients develop skills necessary to succeed in the future. Knowledge comes not from stress or grade perfection,” he says, “instead, it comes from an intrinsic desire and motivation to learn.” With over $80,000 of yearly revenue, dozens of tutors and hundreds of students to manage, Neal knows he’s up for the challenge. “I love helping these students succeed in their academic endeavors and [encouraging] them to challenge themselves.”
“Neal is a very independent learner. For him, learning isn’t something you do in school because a teacher is going to give you a grade. It’s something that you do when you’re really interested in something or when you have a problem to solve.”
Steffen Refvik & Anna Stein-Obreros
GREENS FARMS ACADEMY
While other teens spend their summers at immersive camps or babysitting, Steffen Refvik is aboard a commercial fishing boat in Alaska, pulling hundreds of thousands of pounds of salmon out of Bristol Bay. The Greens Farms Academy senior has been fishing on his father’s vessel for four years, moving through the ranks from greenhorn to a more seasoned member of the crew.
Steffen says, “Fishing in Alaska is the toughest but most rewarding experience. The hardest part of the job is definitely the lack of sleep. During the peak of the season we sleep roughly three to four hours a day. The job is 24/7.” Steffen’s older brother also works aboard the boat, and although fatigue and long hours can lead to some arguments, Steffen says that spending time with his father and brother is the best part of the job.
That collaboration doesn’t end when they come ashore. The brothers started a direct-to-buyer fish business, shipping to Connecticut and selling to local restaurants and individuals. Steffen relishes the opportunity to learn about running his own business, and he and his brother plan on donating a portion of their profits to charity.
Steffen is equally hard-working in the classroom. He’s taken numerous AP classes in various fields of study and has earned high honors in high school. He’s also been nominated by the school faculty for the Head of School distinction. In addition, he’s a starter on the varsity soccer team and a math advisor for middle school students.
“My summers in Alaska have been the most influential aspect of my life in shaping who I am today,” he says. “I try to apply the same discipline and work ethic I have gained to my everyday life at school.”
With a deep appreciation of the sea, Steffen hopes to take to the sky soon; he and his father are in flight training. When they are licensed, they hope to fly from Florida to Cuba.
But for now, he’s focused on finishing his high school career and starting college. “I don’t have a life plan yet,” he says, but not surprisingly, “I’m probably leaning towards marine engineering.”
“What sets Steffen apart is his work ethic. He’s not afraid to work hard and get his hands dirty. He’s pragmatic, down to earth and always very engaged and on task. His presence in the classroom ensures a high level of discourse. Although he has a guarded exterior, once you crack it, he is a charming young man.”
Spanish teacher/academic advisor
Amelia Hunt & Nicholas DeFelice
When she first started playing volleyball, Amelia Hunt admits that she was “pretty terrible.” She was only a freshman, after all, and had no prior experience. But as her skills on the court improved, so did her confidence and leadership ability.
Her continued growth led her to become the captain of King School’s volleyball team during her senior year. Under her leadership, the team remained undefeated in their division for the second year in a row.
“This sport has taught me so much about not giving up, but also about being a leader,” she says. “It taught me how to pull a team together and help push people when they are feeling down. …I had to keep my head high all the time, even if I wasn’t having a good game.”
When she wasn’t on the court or studying (she was a member of the Cum Laude Society and a King Scholar), Amelia volunteered with her mom at Caroline House in Bridgeport through the National Charity League, a mother–daughter organization. “There, I was able to tutor underprivileged kids over the summer for multiple years. I love math, and I tutored a bunch of kids in the subject. The smiles on their faces when they were finally able to understand a concept were infectious.”
Back at school, Amelia wanted to share her love of math and science with others. “I felt that not a lot of other girls were also interested in these areas or wanted to show interest in these areas,” she says. So, when she couldn’t find a club for girls that focused on STEM, she created one. Word spread, and by the time Amelia graduated, membership in her club had grown to more than twenty members.
She also paved the way for girls in the school’s investing club— Amelia was one of only three girls and became its first female portfolio manager. Although intimidated at first, she says the fact that the club was “male dominated ended up pushing me even further to continue with the club and my interest in economics, because there truly should be more women in the field.”
As she starts her first year at Duke University, Amelia is hoping to major in computer science or biology, but she says, “The opportunities are endless, I want to be able to try everything.”
“One of Amelia’s strongest attributes is her willingness to seek feedback and advice on how to accomplish her goals, and this coachable characteristic supports her success as an athlete as well. Amelia’s decision to explore the sophisticated topic of CRISPR/Cas9 in genetic engineering for her final presentation is indicative of her level of ambition and interest. Amelia inspires young women at King School to immerse in STEM.”
Earnest Chen & Gary Meunier
Most kids are told not to play with swords. Not Earnest Chen. And, in truth, he’s not “playing” with swords; he’s actually a champion fencer.
It all started with piano lessons gone awry. The student who had his lesson just before Earnest told him about fencing; after giving it a shot, Earnest was hooked. Now, twelve years later, the dedication of the Weston High School senior has paid off. He is currently the North American champion for his age group and division. Of course, getting to the top wasn’t easy.
“It takes years of practice and dedication to get to where I am now. I spend two hours going in one direction to my fencing club four to five times a week and don’t arrive back home until ten o’clock at night,” says Earnest.
Despite an exhausting commute, and practicing a physically demanding sport for hours a day, Earnest manages to keep on top of his schoolwork and maintain a sky-high GPA. He uses every spare moment to do his work, and when he must travel for national or international competitions, he asks for assignments in advance so he can complete them on time.
Additionally, he is co-president of his school’s Chinese Club. Once ridiculed for the traditional Chinese lunches he knew and loved, Earnest says, “I became co-president with the sole purpose of educating others about the fascinating traditions, lifestyles and foods in China.”
True to his name, Earnest is firm in his beliefs and remarkably driven and committed. “It feels really good [to be the national champion] for about three days,” he says, “then I get right back to work. But I do enjoy the fact that all of my hard work, and the work from those around me, has paid off.” He knows he couldn’t have gotten to where he is without his coaches or his parents. “My family supported me even through the hardest parts of my life,” he says. “I can’t thank them enough for what they have done.”
“Earnest is driven to succeed, disciplined in his approach and modest in reflection. Within him is a genuine and sincere sense of appreciation of those who have assisted him along the way. After thirty-plus years in the business, it is rare when I am so impressed with such a complete student. Earnest is kind, compassionate and has set a standard in the classroom and on the piste that will be difficult to duplicate.”
Brandon Zheng & Jean Brey
WILTON HIGH SCHOOL
The future face of Wall Street could be Brandon Zheng. The recent Wilton High School graduate grew up in a finance-centric family (his father works in the field) and discovered his own love for economics as a freshman. He recalls experimenting with stocks on a virtual platform. “No matter how much research I did,” he says, “there was never a guarantee of what was going to happen. But this challenge was exactly what fascinated me.”
Passionate about finance and economics, he founded the stock-trading club at his school so that he could share his knowledge and enthusiasm with other students. He created presentations, games and competitions for the weekly meetings and grew the club to some thirty members. “Although it took a lot of time to build up the club from scratch, it was well worth it, knowing that I’ve left my lasting legacy at Wilton High School.”
Giving back is also important to him. Motivated by times when he felt he had nobody to turn to, Brandon became a student leader for the middle school youth group at his church. “The most vital part of my role was to connect with the middle schoolers and give them a positive role model to look up to,” he says, “as well someone they can go to for advice when faced with an issue.”
A well-rounded teen, Brandon has played baseball since kindergarten, participated in the top choir at school, served in student government and was captain of the math team for both his junior and senior years.
He is studying economics and finance at the Honors College at University of Oklahoma thisfall and says he is “pursuing what I love and trying to share that passion with those around me.”
“In addition to being one of the most brilliant math students at Wilton High School, he is incredibly well-balanced. Although Brandon is a phenomenal math student, he especially impressed me when I taught him in an AP English course entitled Modern European Authors. Brandon ‘gets’ literature and is drawn toward the philosophical themes presented in great books.”
Michael Wallace & Max Gabrielson
WILTON HIGH SCHOOL
In the future, expect to see ads and election signs declaring: “Vote for Michael Wallace!” With a passion for diplomacy and history, and well-honed leadership skills, the Wilton High School senior already seems to be planning for his election to public office.
Michael took his first steps toward that inevitability years ago as an award-winning member of Model Congress, role-playing simulations which at times requires him to take on the role and opinions of U.S. congressmen with whom he does not necessarily agree. Involved with student government for years, he was most recently elected vice president of the student body. He is also captain of the debate team, which he leads in local and national competitions. “I’ve realized that being a leader isn’t just about having the best ideas and being able to act on them,” he says. “It’s really all about communicating with the people you lead.”
Despite a demanding academic and extracurricular schedule, Michael finds the time to give back to his community. He volunteers at the Wilton History Room and is involved in the Wilton Library’s “Poetry in Motion” arts program.
Additionally, Michael founded the middle school debate team at Middlebrook, which he hopes will help shape young minds. “Current events can help to inform their decisions, public speaking will give them the confidence to stand up for their ideas and the critical-thinking skills fostered by debate will encourage them to be more active and involved citizens.”
Not surprisingly, he was immediately intrigued by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Relations’ International Student Essay Contest. The topic—nationalism’s role in a modern society—drew on Michael’s strengths. He took third prize in the high school division and first out of all entries from the United States. He argued that “no nation is independent of another, and the sooner we accept that fact, the sooner we will be able to thrive as an international community.”
“Michael Wallace has a deep and very natural love of learning. His classmates admire him for his work ethic and expertise in so many areas, including debate, a field in which he has excelled. A quick study with superb people skills, he will be highly successful on whatever path he chooses to follow.”
Lauren Stack & Chris Lemone
STAPLES HIGH SCHOOL
Lauren Stack naturally makes meaningful connections with others.
As a member of the Westport Mentor Program, she befriended and served as a role model to middle school students.
And when she learned of the Girlfriends Club, an organization pairing a teen with a senior citizen “girlfriend,” she knew she had to join. Lauren and another teen member of the club would visit their girlfriend several times a month and discuss happenings in the community, play Scrabble or do Zumba. Sometimes they’d just talk about life. “The conversations were never dull,” she says.”There was always something new to talk about.” Sadly, Lauren’s girlfriend passed away. “I would not trade this experience for anything. It was such a unique and rewarding way to get involved with the community.”
Now a graduate, Lauren spent all four years at Staples High School helping her peers as a member of the Teen Awareness Group (TAG). The group, for which she served as copresident, takes on tough topics, such as body image, substance abuse and mental health. For example, its “Grim Reaper Day” was a day-long event held during prom season to highlight the dangers of driving while under the influence.
The TAG functions and fundraisers took weekly meetings (that often ran late), determination, attention to detail and late nights. The team became like a family. That’s why the death of TAG Advisor Chris Lemone hurt so much. “After our beloved mentor, advisor and friend, Chris Lemone, passed away two years ago, we became a close-knit group. We had to be there for one another when things got tough,” she says. “When we just couldn’t see how the group could continue to do what we do without him, we would come together and realize that’s not what he would have wanted. I think part of everyone’s determination and drive for this group is in attempt to carry out the legacy that Chris left.”
Now a freshman at Penn State, she reflects on TAG, saying, “It has taught me so many lifelong lessons that I plan to continue to apply in my day-to-day activities for the rest of my life. I couldn’t be more thankful for that.”