In Belgium last fall, CAROLINE DUNLEAVY, 17, worked on her net play, conditioning, strategy and more with the other tennis players at the Justine Henin Academy. Then, unlike the rest of the group, the Darien teen did her high school homework and studied for her SATs. “In tennis, it’s common for kids not to go to school. But I love it,” says the senior at GREENWICH ACADEMY. “It’s such an amazing place. It’s difficult when I play a tournament and miss a week of school, but they are very understanding.” Caroline has been playing tennis since she was six and has been excelling at it and academics ever since. Caroline swam for the Piranhas as a youngster and played competitive ice hockey until age 12. But when she was accepted into the USTA player development program and had to shuttle back and forth to Queens for practice, Caroline concentrated on tennis alone. She won the Fairchester Athletic Association title as a freshman at GA, then left the high school team to compete at the national and international levels. She is the top junior tennis player in New England and ranks twenty-third in the country. She’s known for her forehand and aggressive play, but it’s Caroline’s ability to stay even that is perhaps her greatest strength. “I try to keep it simple and focus on the present, not on what happened or what didn’t happen. You can’t be perfect, but you can control the way you react to difficult situations.” Compared to the rigors of the court, the rigors of the classroom seem less daunting to Caroline. Her favorite subject is math. Unlike the uncertainty of tennis, “I love that you always get an answer in math.” She scored a perfect 800 in the subject on her SAT. Her secret? “A lot of practice tests,” says the teen, who is a freshman at the University of Notre Dame.
Whether it’s remote-control airplanes or new clubs in school, JONATHAN RICHTER of Darien likes to help things take flight. The senior at KING SCHOOL is putting the finishing touches on an airplane measuring eight feet from wing tip to wing tip that he designed and built himself as an independent study project in school. Though it can’t fly yet, Jonathan, 18, says he is not stymied. “I have faith that I can get it to work.” He’s been flying remote-control airplanes and copters since he was a boy as a member of the New Canaan Remote Control Society, where he is currently a safety officer. To aid him with construction, he built a metal foundry that’s able to reach 1,500 degrees—hot enough to melt aluminum. “My uncle was concerned I would burn the house down so I brought it into school and they let me test it. They’re willing to take on things like this in independent study. The teachers are interested in what you are interested in.” As a freshman, Jonathan successfully lobbied school officials to buy a 3-D printer, then he started the 3-D printing club. The effort was so successful that the school now offers a 3-D printing class. On the wings of that effort, Jonathan started a STEM club and by the time he was a sophomore he was testing rocket fuel at school. Junior year he started working on a vehicle that can drive itself. Despite these forward-thinking efforts, history is his favorite subject. “It’s so important for understanding everything going on today.” He is co-captain of the debate team, where he won No. 1 Varsity Speaker, and participates in Model United Nations. Jonathan and his partner were named Best Delegates at the Harvard Model U.N. in 2016. Jonathan volunteers on the Darien Library’s teen advisory board, is co-captain of the King cross country team and is a skipper for the school’s sailing team.
A senior at ST. LUKE’S SCHOOL is planting seeds of change. Two years ago, MARY ZECH of New Canaan pondered how she might help her community while helping the environment. She thought it would be helpful to grow fresh food right at St. Luke’s rather than having to always truck it in. Mary devised a hydroponic vegetable garden that took up just a six-square-foot footprint but contained twenty square feet of growing space. Her design turned into an independent study project and, in 2015, her project won first place in the annual “eesmarts” contest, presented by Energize Connecticut. Organizers cited the project’s energy efficiency, sustainability and renewable energy efforts. “We had many failures,” says Mary, 17, but she kept working at it. The teen presented her innovative garden design at the MarcUS For Change Day in Stamford and donated fully planted vertical gardens to students at Cloonan Middle School, where they are tended by students with autism. She has built self-contained vertical gardens inside classrooms in Norwalk and Stamford, at the Carver Center in Norwalk, the Boys & Girls Club in Stamford, Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, various homeless shelters and elsewhere. With the social services group Kids Helping Kids, Mary and friends have raised or harvested more than 350 pounds of food for families in need. While her focus is on sustainability and energy efficiency, Mary designs the gardens with an artistic aesthetic. “I’m super into art, painting and drawing,” says the honors student who received the St. Luke’s Distinction in Art Award for drawing and painting. “It’s relaxing and a creative outlet.” Mary writes about art, the environment, gardening and more for St. Luke’s newspaper, The Sentinel.
Here and abroad, New Canaan teen CAROLINE SARDA, 17, takes care of people in need, just as her family has done before her. The LAURALTON HALL grad and freshman at Georgetown University has been helping others since her elementary school days. In the fifth grade, Caroline launched a flip-flop drive to support Project Matthew, a fund started by her grandparents in their native country of the Philippines in 1998. The program has expanded to serve food, toys and clothing to more than 1,500 children. Caroline has worked alongside her family and other volunteers at the Manila-based charity to deliver food and necessities in the slums and help at a shelter for girls. The hands-on experiences triggered her deep interest in human rights. Locally, Caroline serves as an event coordinator and mentor at Breakthrough Options for Families, an advocacy group in Norwalk for single-parent, low-income families. She says she was quiet about this work at first, but being a member and ultimately president of the debate team helped her articulate her efforts verbally and on the page. Caroline, who graduated in the spring as valedictorian of her class, enjoys “writing with a political focus.” An essay she crafted about human rights, education and cultural change won the Carson Scholarship Award, which acknowledges students who demonstrate outstanding academic achievement and humanitarian service. Caroline also won the Connecticut Governor’s Scholarship Award for her essay on civil rights. She was a National Merit Finalist and won the Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony award for service. Caroline volunteers with the St. Aloysius Youth Ministry and helps with the St. Stephen’s food pantry in Bridgeport. She enjoys studying Mandarin Chinese and founded the Chinese Culture Club in high school.
ANGUS FRASER’s ancestry may lie in the Ivy League, but his future will be of his own invention. Angus, who graduated from BRUNSWICK last spring, attends Cornell University, just as his parents did, and like his grandfather, is studying mechanical engineering. He hopes his studies will help him soar, all the way into outer space. Angus has been building and inventing for as long as he can remember. “When I was younger I was obsessed with Legos. In high school there was a two-year science research class that made the connection between science and building with my hands,” says the Darien teen. Angus spends hours in the woodshop of the family’s home alongside his father, who is “always building something.” Angus was an award-winning inventor before he left Brunswick School, yet while he was a student there he crafted a thermoelectric reading chair that uses the reader’s body heat to power a light bulb rigged into the chair. “I wanted to capture waste energy and turn it into something, so I put this pad in the bottom of the chair and connected a bunch of thermoelectric generators to create a circuit,” says Angus, 18. The chair won first place in the alternative/renewable energy category at the Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair, and several more awards at the International Sustainable World Project in Texas. He hopes to help tackle the world’s energy problems with ingenuity as opposed to fossil fuels, and to create options in the developing world where electricity is scarce. Angus shares his love for all things STEM by tutoring little scientists in math, chess, Minecraft and 3-D printing at Zainiac in Greenwich. “I love it. The kids have so much energy, and they look up to me.” He balances exercising his brain and his brawn. Angus rowed competitively through high school, and now enjoys mountain biking, hunting, boating and freestyle skiing. He also boxes several times a week. “It teaches you discipline,” he says. That combination will serve him well as the astronaut he hopes to become.
A book that TESSA PIONTKOWSKI enjoyed in freshman honors English class at NEW CANAAN HIGH SCHOOL got her thinking. And that got her moving. Now Tessa is a senior and the project she began as a result of reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg is still going strong. Tessa founded and is president of the Women in the Workforce Wednesdays Club, which aims to spread awareness of gender differences at work. Twice a year, the club sponsors a luncheon at the high school featuring female business leaders. Tessa researches the guests and interviews them. Guests have included Microsoft’s Laura Wallace, “Money Queen” Cary Carbonaro and Yale oncologist and professor Dr. Sarah Goldberg. “It’s great having all these points of view to introduce,” says Tessa. The project is underwritten with a grant by The Wilburn Fellowship, which Tessa won in the ninth grade. “I love challenges,” she says. “I don’t go out of my way to find obstacles, but when they come I try to conquer them.” This attitude has served her well in sports and academically. She is a member of the National Honor Society and tri-captain of the golf team. She says she is drawn to the game because of its constant challenges. “You have your good days and your bad days, just like in life.” She started on the golf course as a passenger riding along in the cart with her father “and it just grew from there,” she says. In June, she led the New Canaan Girls Golf team to a fourth-place finish in the CIAC state tournament, shooting an 83, and was named to the All-FCIAC golf team. Tessa plays on the Metropolitan PGA Junior Tour. Off the green, she’s a talented singer who performed the national anthem at a host of Fairfield County events.
BRENDAN HOFFMAN of Darien started playing competitive lacrosse as a very young boy in kindergarten and he has been learning and growing on the field ever since. Last spring, Brendan led FAIRFIELD COLLEGE PREPARATORY SCHOOL to the Southern Connecticut Conference title as a senior, scoring three goals in the championship game. The Jesuits reached the Class L semifinals, where Brendan scored three more goals. Now, he attends Williams College in Massahusetts, where he hopes to be as productive and prolific. “Lacrosse is the fastest game on two feet,” says the six-foot, five-inch freshman, who attributes his success as a midfielder to his “vision and work ethic.” That work ethic also holds true off the field, where Brendan achieved magna cum laude honors and was recognized as a member of the National Honor Society. Brendan was a member of the debate club at Fairfield Prep for four years and served as a peer tutor for his classmates. Today, his favorite subject is sociology. “My family loves to travel and see the world,” says Brendan, who ranks among his favorite trips those taken with his family to Africa, Argentina, Greece, Turkey and Uruguay. “I like learning about different cultures.” It was a desire for variance that led him to Fairfield Prep, he says. “We knew it would be more diverse because kids are coming from fifteen towns.” He says he also appreciated the school’s commitment to service. Brendan spent numerous hours his freshman year at Prep helping out at the Stamford Girls and Boys Club. Come senior year, he was spending many more hours at the nonprofit, leading recreation activities and mentoring youngsters. “The kids are not always thrilled about doing their homework, but we try to help keep them on task,” says Brendan, who hopes to show by his own example that persistence and practice are the keys to success on and off the field.
As a child, MADDY DEVITA used to romp in her grandmother’s New Jersey home until someone called her upstairs for dinner. There, her family ties were strengthened and the seeds of a career planted. “My nonna was over the moon when I told her I wanted to be a doctor,” says Maddy, now a freshman at Georgetown University who hopes to study medicine. Her grandmother, an 87-year-old general practitioner who still sees patients in her home, let Maddy and her cousins have the run of her basement office when they were kids, so long as they handled instruments with care. Maddy stoked her interest in science at CONVENT OF THE SACRED HEART SCHOOL, from which she graduated cum laude in June with a 4.06 GPA. There, the Darien teen researched the underpinnings of infectious diseases and, together with a classmate, unraveled the DNA structure of turtle soup and exotic meats sold on Amazon. As a freshman at CSH, Maddy volunteered at Stamford Hospital and spent subsequent summers at hospitals throughout the region, exploring medical procedures and attending weeklong medical camps. At New York University’s Langone Center she shadowed a cardiologist. “The surgery interests me, but I like interacting with patients.” Maddy has worked hands-on with patients here and abroad. At home, she served as president of the Barat Foundation, which funds organizations serving women and children in need. In addition to her work in medicine, Maddy works on her field hockey skills. She was team captain her senior year.
DEREK LUE attacks the net on the lacrosse field for BRIEN MCMAHON HIGH SCHOOL and defends his territory on the ice as captain of the hockey team. That combination serves him well in school and in his community, where Derek is apt to defend the rights of the underserved. This member of the National Honor Society and Rowayton resident is on the executive committee of the Center for Youth Leadership at McMahon, and is one of just three males in the 100-member social justice group. “A lot of my friends in sports see being on CYL as more of a feminine thing, but I like to think it’s my moral compass. I care about the issues we tackle.” Those issues have ranged from the rights of immigrants to date violence. “I have friends who have experienced some of these things,” says Derek, who has lobbied on their behalf at the state capitol and discussed their plight around the Lue family dinner table. “My family prides itself on being open-minded. It’s not uncommon for us to have these conversations.” Derek is particularly interested in cultural matters. He attends the Center for Global Studies, a magnet school within McMahon, where he studies Chinese and world literature. “I’m interested in global culture and they emphasize being a global citizen.” Locally, Derek has administered flu vaccines to day laborers in partnership with Norwalk Hospital, run ice skating parties for children in foster homes and has worked to protect children in abusive families. He also volunteers with Filling in the Blanks, which provides food to local children.
SAMANTHA WIND is a math whiz who hopes to study engineering in the future. She spends lots of time now building and connecting; the connections she’s making, though, are anything but mechanical. Samantha is the president of the Global Connect club at DARIEN HIGH SCHOOL, where she’s a senior. Her motto—think globally, act locally—led her to establish the club as a freshman and to incorporate giving into her daily activities. She organized Track Gives Back—a fundraiser in which she and her teammates on the track team raised money to buy racing spikes for the Bridgeport Central High School track team— and has led toiletries drives for Liberation Programs in Norwalk and winter-clothing collections for children. Her efforts also benefit people abroad. A mission trip in 2014 to the Dominican Republic with Noroton Presbyterian Church gave her the chance to wield a shovel and pickaxe to build a cinder-block wall around a school in Zumbon, where the average annual income is $4,391. She vowed to return to work on a water filtration facility in that village. “The filtration building had been completed, but they didn’t have money for the equipment, so the kids in the community would have to walk miles and across a highway to get clean water. Some of the kids died while crossing that street. I wanted to help.” That triggered Samantha’s lemonade stands around town. The effort, supported by a social media campaign, raised $1,000, which church members doubled. Today, it’s not unusual to find Samantha volunteerting around town, and singing while she works, as she is a talented coloratura soprano.
WILL WAPPLER of Rowayton was on the fast track to the top. He juggled honors classes, student government, music groups and ten hours a week training for tennis. He played USTA tournaments inside and out of the state. He worked summer jobs and drank lots of strong coffee to start his days. But a series of unfortunate events rearranged his priorities, and now Will has discovered that if he really seeks to attain excellence, maybe it’s better to slow down and be mindful. The senior is president of the student council at GREENS FARMS ACADEMY. During his campaign as a junior, he revealed to classmates that his father died just four days before school began. “Everyone is struggling with something. We’re insecure, overworked and sleep-deprived,” he shared. “We struggle with our grades, our clothes, our friends, our families and more. In addition to everything else we talk about in student council, I’d like to talk about that, too.” Apparently, his classmates could relate, as they elected him to lead the council. Will says he hopes to nudge council conversation away from age-old items such as changing school lunch and toward issues he feels are more substantive. “School is a social and emotional environment. It’s kind of myopic to not be talking about this as much. I think the high school environment can be a lot more humane.” In and out of school, Will works to improve the lives of others. Each spring break he donates his time constructing projects for Builders Beyond Borders and serves on its advisory board. He has built small-scale, utilitarian projects such as latrines and sections of schools for communities in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Ecuador. “It’s really nice because you’re away from your phone and the Internet. You wake up and you eat breakfast and you work all day. It’s really community-oriented.” As Will has matured at GFA he has come to several realizations. “That my phone is the enemy of my productivity,” and that between academics and tennis, academics “was the more dependable of the two in terms of life goals.”