Once a month on a Saturday, Alison Wheeler, a Darien resident and senior at King, sits in a classroom at Wilton High and works her way through a set of math problems. It’s not a detention—she’s there to compete. “The math at these competitions is a lot harder than the math you learn in school. The teachers word the problems differently—they make them trickier. It’s fun to work on problems that require you to push your way through them.” At King, Alison is double-accelerated in math. That means as a junior, she took AP Calculus BC. This year, she will take Linear Algebra, a special course that isn’t offered at most schools—it’s designed for King’s top math students. There will be only four people in her class. Alison loves to make math more accessible to those who struggle with it. For the past two years, she has been selected for King’s Math Teachers Assistants Club, a small group of students who sit at the math help desk and talk to classmates who have questions. To de-stress from the school day, she turns to volleyball. She’s been on the varsity team at King since she was a sophomore, and on the CP-AC Volleyball National Team at Chelsea Piers for the past three years. King’s varsity team has claimed the FAA and NEPSAC titles both years that Alison has been on it, delivering consecutive 20-0 seasons.
Accolades Alison has been a King scholar all through upper school and was nominated to attend the National Youth Leadership seminar in medicine.
Career Goals She hopes to study biomedical engineering. “I want to be able to create machines that could possibly help people walk. My cousin is unable to walk, yet her bright spirit drives me to want to pursue this goal.”
Advice She’d Give Her Younger Self ”Individuality is good. Continue being your own silly self and don’t be like everyone else.”
A few years ago, Kevin Gallagher ordered two mangrove trees off the Internet. Ever since he had learned just how many people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water, he’d been trying to figure out how he could help. These trees, he thought, might be one solution. “I took knowledge I had from chemistry class and things I’d learned in Boy Scouts. I started thinking about another form of desalination that might mitigate this problem.” Many current methods for cleaning water, Kevin says, don’t effectively filter out all the contaminants. However, trees that grow in salt water, like mangroves, return clean, fresh water to the atmosphere. Kevin’s idea was to collect that water and give it to the people who need it most. After he participated in an incubator at Fairfield University, Kevin, then a senior at Fairfield Prep, turned his idea into Trees of Life, a nonprofit venture. At the incubator’s final showcase in May—a Shark Tank-style competition for all the startups in the program—Kevin and his team presented their idea to about 200 people. They won $18,000 in startup funding. “Right now we’re doing some testing to optimize the systems we designed. We’re looking to implement them in a third-world country and partner with a nonprofit in Haiti or Nicaragua.” Now a freshman at Yale, Kevin fully intends to continue his work with Trees of Life. He plans to double major in economics and either environmental or computer science, subjects that will give him the skills he needs to launch a career as a social entrepreneur.
Bandwidth Kevin graduated in the top 1 percent of his class, yet he found time for things like student government (he was president), Boy Scouts (he made Eagle rank) rugby, ice hockey and community service, including work with A Shirt Off My Back, the nonprofit he founded.
Fun Fact Kevin was one of Prep’s most successful students in the SIFMA Connecticut Stock Market Competition, finishing second out of 800 teams.
Advice He’d Give His Younger Self “Study hard, work hard, play hard. Always understand your potential and grab it. And, when it comes down to it, if you are going to fail, fail big.”
DARIEN HIGH SCHOOL
Last November, Kara O’Rourke decided she was going to write a novel in a month. She gathered 10 of her friends and made a Google doc. Each person, she decided, would be responsible for one character. They would write a section of the novel from that person’s perspective, and then pass the story to the next author in line. At the end, the group of friends self-published the book. “It started as a murder mystery, but then halfway through it turned into some kind of Greek mythology,” Kara says. “The idea was to give everyone freedom, but establish a few rules. My friend and I had veto power when things got too weird.” The editor of Current, Darien High School’s literary magazine, Kara, now a senior, has been writing fiction since she was 12. Last summer, she attended the Young Writer’s Workshop at the University of Virginia, a highly competitive writing program for high school students. But when I asked her if she plans to major in English, she said she wasn’t sure. “I also love statistics and applied mathematics. I don’t think those subjects are that different from writing stories. You’re taking abstract numbers and ideas, and compiling them in a way that makes sense.” Kara was homeschooled until eighth grade. That experience might have something to do with her diverse passions. In class with her mom, Kara didn’t get grades. If she was curious about a topic, she had the time to explore it. If she wanted to devote a month to writing, she could.
In Her Spare Time Kara is a member of math modeling club, track and field, cross country and the Stamford Young Artist Philharmonic.
A Big Heart When volunteering at Atria Senior Living Center in Darien, she teaches residents how to use technology to connect to their families and friends.
She’s All In “When you first meet Kara, you instantly sense her maturity, intellect and kindness,” says Peter Trombley, counselor at DHS. “She emits an infectious optimism, and she does nothing half-heartedly.”
Childhood Trait That Serves Her Well “Nonconformity,” she says. “Being homeschooled, I wasn’t confronted with peer pressure as a kid, and learned to turn a critical eye to modern trends and pop culture. It’s helped me determine my own tastes.”
GREENS FARMS ACADEMY
“People are dying, people are dying! What are you doing?” The senior firefighters screamed at Drew Durkin as he struggled to feed the fire hose through the front door and up the stairs. Thick, black smoke was everywhere. Filled with charging water, and extremely difficult to lift, the hose got stuck coming around the corner. If this weren’t just a drill—if he were in someone’s home instead of the firehouse tower—Drew knew the mistake could have cost lives. A senior at Greens Farms Academy and Darien resident, he spends 15 hours a week volunteering at the Noroton Heights Fire Department in Darien. He says it’s the most meaningful work he’s ever done. “When a call comes in, you just have to stop what you’re doing immediately,” Drew says. “I’ll be out at dinner on a Friday night with friends, and I just have to drop a twenty dollar bill and go.” While Drew sometimes struggles to maintain a social life around school, he has forged strong friendships with the firemen and his fellow volunteers. “There are people from all walks of life at the firehouse; mechanics and guys who work on Wall Street. It’s a big brotherhood.” After high school, Drew hopes to attend one of the United States service academies, on his way to becoming a commissioned officer in the U.S. military. This summer, he participated in a highly selective leadership program at West Point, where he adopted the schedule of a cadet. “I started researching the service academies after watching a movie about the Navy,” Drew says. “I was inspired by the leadership of the officers. Eventually I realized this was the life I wanted to live.”
Too Modest to Tell You Drew was junior class president, earned the Head of School Award sophomore year, and is a member of the World Languages National Honor Society.
Best Big Brother One of his younger twin siblings is blind and nonverbal. Drew has helped his brother navigate his world, and in the process, developed a unique understanding of those who face challenges. This has contributed to his goal of serving and protecting.
What trait did you have as a child that still serves you well? I’ve always had a childlike love for first responders; even today, I’ll drop what I’m doing to chase down the big red fire truck on the street. However, as of late, this love has translated to a strong commitment to my time as a volunteer firefighter, which pushes me to be the best I can in actually being one of the guys riding that truck.
CONVENT OF THE SACRED HEART
As the captain of the Sacred Heart Model UN team, Anna-Luisa Brakman of Darien has one mission: Give young women the courage to speak their minds. “As a freshman, I hated Model UN conferences,” she says. “Every voting bloc was led by these super-tall senior boys. The freshman girls didn’t feel like we could talk.” Anna-Luisa and her friends loved to debate—they did it every day in class at their all-girls school. But at Model UN conferences, when boys were thrown into the mix, they froze up. As soon as she became captain, Anna-Luisa decided that had to change. “I taught the girls on my team to go up and talk at the conferences, no matter what—and to never, ever be intimidated by a boy.” Last year, five girls on her team won top awards. When she isn’t training the next generation of female leaders, Anna-Luisa is propelling herself through mountain biking trips. This past summer, she and her friends decided to bike the famous Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile route through the mountains of France, Spain, and Portugal. “On the second day it started raining and we got lost. I was so close to quitting. I thought to myself, Oh my God, why am I doing this?” While two of her friends gave up and turned around, Anna-Luisa kept going. As a competitive sailor representing the U.S. in the 420 World Championships in Karatsu, Japan, and at the European Championships in Burgas, Bulgaria, Anna-Luisa has learned a thing or two about perseverance. Whether she’s at a Model UN conference, on a bike path, or on the water, she has little tolerance for being told there is something she can’t do.
Her New Digs Anna-Luisa is now a California resident, attending Stanford University.
TGIF When the weekend comes and some of her peers are relishing extra sleep, she’s up early to trailer and rig her boat for eight-hour training sessions and regattas. This world-class sailor competes on national and international circuits.
Every Friday after school, Luke Koppenheffer and his friends retreat to the school band room. They flip through a big book of famous jazz songs, choose a few to sight-read and tune their instruments. Then they play.
Luke has been playing the trumpet since the fourth grade, but he didn’t decide to fully commit to music until high school. As a freshman, he started taking weekly lessons, joined an orchestra and enrolled in a summer jazz camp. This past year, he was chosen to participate in the highly selective Regional Jazz Ensemble for the Connecticut Educators Association Western Region Music Festival. He also received the Judge’s Choice Award at a high school jazz competition at the Berklee College of Music. But as much as he loves music, Luke says he probably won’t study it in college. “I’m not sure if it’s a feasible option for me,” Luke says. “I would have liked to study music in college if I’d started taking it seriously sooner. I really regret that.”
Because of his personal regrets, Luke, who live in New Canaan, has devoted himself to Project Music, an after-school program in Stamford that offers free music lessons to local kids. He has been teaching there every week for the past three years, eager to get kids excited about music at a young age. Luke has had one of his regular students—Junior, now age 13—since he started at the organization. “It’s been incredible to see Junior’s interest grow. He used to not care that much about music. But as he got over that initial learning curve, he’s found that passion.” Recently, Junior has been wanting to learn jazz improvisation—the same kind of music Luke plays with his friends every Friday night. Luke can’t wait to try it with him.
Creative Spirit “The process of creating something original from scratch, such as jazz improvisation, is one I’ve fallen in love with,” says Luke. “I plan to pursue a career that will allow me to utilize that creative process daily.”
Mulititasking Luke juggles an honors course load, sports, music and volunteer work, yet maintains straight A’s. His teachers say he possesses the ability to manage his work with focus, maturity and dedication.
Advice He’d Give His Younger Self “Dedicate yourself to something. My biggest regret now is that I didn’t start practicing trumpet every day.”
ST. LUKE’S SCHOOL
As soon as Chloe Kekedjian heard that her school’s drama program would be performing All My Sons by Arthur Miller, she started researching 1940s clothing, hair and makeup. The New Canaan resident has been designing and managing costumes for St. Luke’s since she was in the seventh grade. Along with a group of parents—whom she affectionately calls “the drama moms”—Chloe finds the fabric that brings the story to life.
“It takes a lot of creativity, but it’s also somewhat academic,” Kekedjian says. “I have to learn a lot about the time period that the play is set in.” Chloe assembles an outfit using pieces she accumulates from different places: a friend’s dad’s closet; the St. Luke’s costume room; a nonprofit costume studio in Queens. When the school’s drama program had the opportunity to perform Avenue Q at the prestigious Edinburgh Film Festival, Chloe went along, receiving a Halo Award nomination for her costume design from the Seven Angels Theater in Connecticut. While Chloe spends a lot of her time backstage, there is one activity that puts her squarely in the limelight. As co-captain of the St. Luke’s debate team, she attends debate competitions every month. She has reached the Connecticut State finals for the past four years, and recently qualified to compete against the top high school debate team in China at the Asia Society in New York. “You use everything in your brain that relates to that topic, and create a series of logical frameworks,” Chloe says. “Sometimes you have an hour to prepare, sometimes you have 10 minutes.” While a tight time crunch fazes many of the competitors, it doesn’t worry Chloe. She likes the challenge.
Full Plate In addition to her work with the theater program and debate team, she’s captain of the math team and a STEM scholar.
Higher Ground Her teachers say Chloe’s integrity infuses everything she does, from history papers to lunchtime conversations. She raises the intellectual and ethical bar in her classes and in the school community.
NEW CANAAN HIGH SCHOOL
The summer after his freshman year, Luke Stewart participated in the internship program at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). When the other interns went home, however, Luke stuck around. Instead of joining his family on Bermuda’s beaches for the next two weeks, he asked his supervisors if he could continue working in the lab. That was when he met his current mentor, Dr. Amy Maas. The next summer, Luke went back to BIOS. The summer after that, he went again. “Of everything I’ve done in high school, my independent research in Bermuda is what I’m most proud of,” Luke says. “I was looking at the impact of CO2 induced ocean acidification on marine calcifiers.” Ask Luke to break his research down for those of us less scientifically inclined, and he’ll offer helpful context. Luke and his team are investigating what will happen if the ocean continues to become more acidic: Among other significant consequences, Bermuda’s beaches could lose their pink tint. Luke also pursues his passion for environmental science a little closer to home. During school breaks, he volunteers at Harbor Watch, an organization dedicated to water quality research in Westport. There, he collects samples from the local watershed, analyzing bacteria to track water quality over time. When Luke isn’t studying water, he’s swimming in it. A competitive swimmer since he was 6 years old, Luke swims six days—and over 40,000 yards—a week. This year, he won the Connecticut State Class L Championship in the 200 Individual Medley. “My love of swimming and passion for water-related research go hand in hand.”
Secret to Success There are many good students at New Canaan High School, say Luke’s teachers, but he’s unique for his interest in understanding the world around him.
Big Goals Luke believes that through scientific study, we can be prepared for the future, especially to address issues like climate change.
Side Job With Harbor Watch, Luke’s involved in the study and protection of Spartina alterniflora, a cordgrass found in local salt marshes.
Advice He’d Give to His Younger Self “In a swim race, you often turn your head to see where your competitors are. But this just slows you down. Swim your own race to reach your goal faster, in the pool and in life.”
BRIEN MCMAHON HIGH SCHOOL
In the second game of the season, Bella Bean’s lacrosse team at Brien McMahon lost 20 to 1 to Darien High. “We knew all along that we were going to lose, and by a lot. We were out there in the burning heat, our coach was yelling at us, and halfway through everyone just seemed to give up,” Bella said. After the game was over, Bella, as captain, had to go into the locker room and face her team. Instead of letting their coach take over, she asked all the adults to leave. Standing in front of 21 heartbroken players, she announced that each member of the team would, one by one, explain why she played lacrosse. “It really bonded us as a team—things got a little emotional. The next couple of games, we used that experience to rally everyone. I’d say, ‘Just think about why you play. Think about your reason.’” Bella, a Rowayton resident who graduated last spring, doesn’t mind that her team isn’t the best in the league. For her, lacrosse is all about the people. After spending two years as captain, she became expert in bringing 21 distinct personalities together. After her players spent all day thinking about their own lives—their test scores, homework and college applications—Bella helped them put all those thoughts away, and instead see themselves as one part of the whole. “When you’re on a team, it’s not all on you. You know your teammates have your back and you have theirs. It’s a family.”
Words to Live By “I play multiple sports and maintain a rigorous academic schedule, but I find time to give back and work outside of school because I know the value of hard work.
Future Plans Now attending University of Virginia, she’d “love to become a film producer.”
Giving Back Bella has donated her time and talent to the Junior Rowayton Civic Association, and Horizons Enrichment Program.
Advice for Her Younger Self “Make decisions for yourself, stop caring about what other people think, and do what makes you happy.”
For the past two years, John Fox has spent one evening in spring walking up and down a catwalk. “Last year I wore designer sweatpant cutoff shorts, a zip-up hoodie and T-shirt,” Fox says. “They did my makeup to make me look super tan, and my hair to make me look like I’d just come out of the water.” This year, John wore an outfit inspired by Ryan Gosling in La La Land. While most teenage boys would balk at the idea of modeling for a large crowd of peers and their parents, John laughs it off. He does it to support something—and someone—he cares about. At Brunswick, he is the president of a club that promotes breast cancer awareness, a cause he’s been dedicated to ever since his mother was diagnosed with the disease. Yet John is perhaps best-known at school—and across the state—as a lacrosse player. As captain, he led his team to victory at the New England Championship last spring. The team is now ranked fourth nationally. John recently headed to the University of Virginia to play for one of the top lacrosse programs in the country. The New Canaan resident is an enormously gifted player, but skill isn’t the only thing he brings to the game. In everything he does, John tries to support those around him. On the lacrosse field, that means coaching teammates, making time for private lessons with younger Brunswick athletes and running a summer lacrosse camp for kids. As a Senior Prefect, a Peer Leader, and a Big Brother for the Brunswick middle school, John also devotes time to mentoring.
Working It “John’s breed is rare,” says David Bruce, Brunswick’s lacrosse coach. “He’s on the short list of the hardest-working players we’ve ever had.”
Fierce with Fight John made the varsity lacrosse team as a freshman despite a broken foot and was feared by upperclassmen for his intensity.
Advice He’d Give to His Younger Self “Nothing is given to you. If you want anything in life, you have to earn it through hard work and perseverance.”