Ten Teens to Watch
photographs by kit noble
Their credentials are impressive, their accomplishments already remarkable. What an incredible group of smart, funny, talented and motivated teens. But what makes them so inspiring is that each one is passionate about something. That passion is what feeds the dreams of some to become doctors, actors, journalists, scientists or professional musicians. It is what influences the direction of their college choices, their volunteer work and how each one chooses to spend what little free time is left after homework. Meet ten of Stamford’s future stars. You’ll be amazed. You’ll love them. Join us in cheering them on as they take on the world.
Stamford High School
Morgan climbed into the saddle at age six, never imagining the meaningful ride her love of horses would give her.
Two years ago the senior became a volunteer for Pegasus Therapeutic Recreation and began sharing her passion for riding with a thirteen-year-old special- needs student. Horseback riding, Morgan explains, can help a physically or mentally challenged child tap into muscles and abilities they’ve never experienced. Morgan and her protégé learned that together with a horse named Dundee at Kelsey Farm in Greenwich.
Her student was named Most Independent Rider last spring, an honor Morgan says was thrilling. “I was so proud of her.”
Morgan, who also loves dogs, has never had a pet because her parents have allergies. “I love animals so much. I see a farm and it hurts.” So she bonds with them through volunteerism. When a friend started a program that brings local teens and dogs into the Richard L. Rosenthal Hospice to visit with patients, Morgan began making the rounds. Some kids might be intimidated working with the terminally ill, but Morgan is inspired. “It never even occurred to me to think of it as sad or difficult,” she says. “Research has shown it’s beneficial for human health to be with pets. And people are just so happy to see us and the dogs.”
Her caring heart is a given, but Morgan is also an A student who excels in math and science. She has played varsity tennis for the Black Knights since freshman year. Because chemistry is Morgan’s favorite subject, it’s easy to imagine her pairing that with her animal instincts and becoming a veterinarian. “It’s possible but I have also thought about following my father into dentistry.” One thing’s for sure: “Animals will always be in my life.” Ride on.
Reuel “Rudy” Camacho
Academy of Information Technology & Engineering
Rudy marches to his own beat, one he’s often playing. “I hear rhythm all the time. There are songs in my head when I’m walking to class,” the talented drummer says. At his photo shoot, Rudy can’t stop twirling the drumsticks he’s brought along. “Even my music teacher tells me to stop,” he smiles.
Rudy, a senior honors student, began playing piano in kindergarten. Then came guitar, trumpet and his true love, percussion. His maternal grandfather, Tito Camacho, who died of Alzheimer’s when Rudy was young, had him listening to Latin music at an early age. Raised by his single mother and grandparents, Rudy says those early musical bonds have always been strong. “For as long as I can remember, music has made me happy. It will always be part of my life.”
This explains his growing list of gigs. There’s his alternative/punk garage band, Something for Nothing, and his commitments with the Seymour-based Connecticut Hurricanes drum and bugle corps and the Stamford High School Marching Band. He’s also played drums for the choir at Stamford’s Union Baptist Church, where his family worships, and given volunteer performances throughout the area, including at the Greenwich Woods Health Care & Rehabilitation Center, where his grandfather lived the last years of his life.
When it comes to what’s on his iPod, Rudy doesn’t discriminate. “To be a great musician, you have to love and appreciate all kinds of music,” says Rudy, who also hits high notes with his studies. “Even though I’m busy, I try very hard to get all A’s.”
Westhill High School
Jackie has the perspective of some veteran newshounds.
As editor-in-chief of The Westword, her school’s acclaimed student newspaper, deadlines mean her busy teenage life comes to a halt. Homework for this honors senior can sometimes begin late, after the paper goes to press. “It’s a long day, but I love it,” she says. “The most satisfying thing about newspapers is, after all that hard work, you have a finished product.”
Words are like friends to Jackie, who has written for or edited almost every section of The Westword since her freshman year. Although she’s not ready to say news is her future, she’s already reported serious stories with curious zeal, and among those she’s interviewed are Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
In her scant spare time, Jackie plays volleyball and has had a long-term volunteer “buddy” relationship with a special-needs child. “It was something that scared me when I started, but it has become a very meaningful relationship.”
Jackie seems to intuitively understand that “almost every story has at least two sides.” It’s an instinct she demonstrates as she describes how The Westword covered the controversy that erupted last year when some fellow students came to school in blackface at Halloween.
“I understood why people were offended, but I also got that the students who did it were naïve and did not mean to hurt anyone. We tried very hard to cover it fairly.”
Jackie’s passion extends beyond the high school beat. She’s active in Write On For Israel, which teaches Jewish teens media advocacy skills. “I’m not afraid to ask questions or speak up, which will serve me well in anything I do in life.”
Stamford High School
Take a bow, Sean! We see standing ovations coming for this Broadway-bound senior, whose comfort zone is center stage. “I love the spotlight. There’s no better feeling I have than the one when I’m on stage,” says Sean, who favors musical theater. No wonder. We hear the golden-voiced teen brought down the house last year when he played Pippin in a school production.
Sean was only seven when he starred in Big at Stamford’s Curtain Call, but it took him a while to realize the arts were his heart. “As a kid, I played a ton of baseball and that was my passion,” says the former shortstop. After winning successive leads in school and community theater productions, he traded batting practice for stage rehearsals and voice lessons. He’s also on the youth board at Curtain Call, where he’s known to sweep floors or help organize casting calls.
And while Sean may have his eye on the Great White Way, this thespian is no one-act wonder. He’s been elected president of the Black Knights Class of 2011 for four consecutive terms, a political feat he attributes to his diverse assortment of friends (and, we suspect, his abundant charm). “I’m not just hanging out with the drama kids. I like knowing everyone, and I get along with everybody.”
This dual role also gives him a platform to speak out about a personal passion: the diminishing role of arts in education “We struggle to fill seats for great performances, and that’s too bad because a great performance is a gift to the audience.” Spoken like a true leading man.
King Low Heywood Thomas School
As Morgan explains her year-long project of exploring the energy potential of the oil-rich camelina seed, you have to remind yourself she’s just a high school senior—not a seasoned chemical engineer on the cusp of a scientific breakthrough. The seventeen-year-old’s scholarly passion is science, which she pursues with vigor.
Last year Morgan was the only junior (and girl) invited to join King’s select Biomass Research Team. This year she’s its captain and gets a say in what scientific questions her team will explore. “I’m thinking it will have something to do with more effective ways to treat sewage,” says Morgan, who has an interest in environmental issues.
Expect her hallmark tenacity to propel the project forward. “I’m not afraid to fail. Any good scientist knows you have to try things again and again.”
Morgan imagines a future in pharmaceuticals research, a dream she says was inspired as much by personal circumstance as affinity for science. When she was just six, her father was diagnosed with nasal cancer. “He’s a ten-year survivor, and because of that experience I appreciate what science can and can’t do. If I could be part of finding a cure for diseases, that would be amazing!”
Morgan’s interests are not limited to the petri dish. She’s an accomplished equestrian, pianist and scuba diver and a committed volunteer. Last year a mission with her youth group at Shippan’s Our Lady Star of the Sea Church had her assisting the frail and elderly making pilgrimages to the holy shrine at Lourdes, France. “Many of them could not speak English. But what was so amazing was that their appreciation for what we were doing transcended languages.”
Westhill High School
Emma, a sixteen-year-old violinist, will be reaching for more high notes when her first CD is released this fall and she begins studying at Manhattan College’s precollege music program with jazz great Sara Caswell.
This junior, a Suzuki-trained violinist, began lessons at four. She played her first recital by six. “She heard an older cousin play and said, ‘I want to do that.’ I think she was two,’” says her father, musician and composer Dave Hart, who accompanies her on her CD.
Emma’s musical tastes include bluegrass, jazz, Celtic and serious classical stuff. “As a musician, I feel like it would be wrong at this age to pick a style,” she says. “My classical lessons just seem to improve my bluegrass, so I look at all of these niches I explore as making me a better musician.” She’s just started to play the mandolin, but she strummed a few notes at her photo shoot and sounded like a pro.
Curiously, Emma has a hard time listening to her music, even begging us not to play any of the sublime recordings on her website, emmahartmusic.com. “I can’t stand it. All I hear is my imperfections,” she says, sounding a bit like a teen who discovered a blemish on prom night. We listened anyway and heard youthful magic.
Emma’s music studies are often consuming, but she still finds time for other teenage pursuits, including a part-time job as a cashier at Giovanni’s Country Market. She gets terrific grades, is a serious photographer and also plays attack for Westhill’s nascent junior varsity lacrosse team. Don’t count on her trading her bow for a stick though. Music is her one true love. “I can’t imagine my life without it.”
St. Luke’s School
This scholar-athlete arrives for his photo shoot carrying his baseball bat, looking every bit the sandlot slugger. Yet there’s none of the swagger that can come with a guy that boasts his charm, athletic abilities and brains.
Khori, an honors senior, spent the summer playing center field for the Connecticut Tides, an elite regional AAU travel team of top high school ballplayers. Even though he’s thrilled to play the same position as his baseball hero, homerun legend and ten-time Gold Glove winner Ken Griffey Jr., he doesn’t want anyone thinking he’s some kind of ace. “I love the game,” he says. “I’m thrilled to play at this level, but I don’t even know if I’ll play in college.”
School is more important, says Khori, who aspires to be a lawyer and excels in English and the humanities at St. Luke’s. There, he has taken to heart the school’s credo of community service. He long ago exceeded the requisite eighty hours of volunteer service students must perform to graduate.
As a leader of St. Luke’s Black Student Alliance, he has been a “buddy” to a minority student in the lower school and initiated a fundraising project to build wells in African villages. But most of his 140-plus hours have been served as a volunteer summer camp counselor at the Waterside School, where Khori’s work tutoring inner-city Stamford campers in reading and math and “just playing games” has “been one of my greatest experiences.” What a catch.
Academy of Information Technology & Engineering
It’s intimidating to quiz a teen who received a perfect score on two SAT sections, corrects Wikipedia entries “for fun” and taught himself German and Dutch. When we tell Christopher, a senior, we’re going to call him “the linguist,” he has a better idea. “Try grammarian. I think that actually sounds pretty cool.”
Like just about everything we touched on with Christopher, the seventeen-year-old had already given the subject considerable thought. “It’s fun to be pedantic,” the self-described perfectionist says. We wanted the scoop on how he got those 800 SAT scores in critical reading and writing. “Actually, at first, my writing score wasn’t perfect, but close, so I went back and took the test again because it was kind of driving me crazy that it wasn’t perfect.”
Besides being a whiz kid, Christopher is also on the school debate team, competes for AITE on the News12 quiz show The Challenge and was one of three local high school students chosen to sit with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for a 2009 roundtable discussion on early childhood education.
His volunteer work includes leading a group of AITE students spearheading efforts to help the Stamford Senior Center raise funds in the wake of city budget cuts. His enterprising plan? Selling snacks from the popular Garden Catering to fellow students. His facility for languages has relatives predicting he’ll be a CIA code breaker someday. Christopher, however, has no interest in civil service. “I want to do something that involves making a ton of money,” he says. “And then I would take that money and start some kind of global philanthropy initiative.” Look out Bill Gates.
King Low Heywood Thomas School
Michael isn’t old enough to vote yet, but he already has the makings of a diplomat. He founded the King chapter of Project Vote Smart, a nonprofit, bipartisan group that encourages the electorate to scrutinize the records of candidates and elected officials. “I’m very interested in the idea of holding people responsible for positions they take and promises they make,” he says.
So logic would suggest that the title Senator might appeal to a teen who loves the debate podium and has charm to spare. Don’t assume. For Michael is that rare academic talent who is passionate about multiple subjects. The seventeen-year-old senior had Hobbes and Locke down pat by seventh grade, and this month he’ll prove he’s equally adept at science when he begins studies in King’s elite Biomass Research class. “I consider myself more of a philosopher than a politician, and that manifests itself in all sorts of ways. What I get excited about is ideas, all kinds of ideas. Science is brimming with ideas, and questions too!”
No surprise, Michael enjoys exchanging ideas with intensity as cocaptain of King’s debate team. For fun he often takes part in school theater productions, explaining that the stage is a comfortable place.
Michael has already come up with a creative idea to merge his passions for science, politics and philosophy. Intrigued that the global scientific community has become increasingly polarized, he envisions becoming a scientific diplomat. “In a perfect world, I’m working for some kind of big scientific research group and I am their voice.” We’re already listening.
Shilpa Kolli Trinity
Catholic High School
Paging Shilpa! She may not have an MD after her name yet, but a white coat and stethoscope are accessories in this senior’s not-so-distant future. Shilpa was part of a select group of tristate area high school students who interned at Yale University’s School of Medicine this summer. The honor meant a daily train commute from Stamford to New Haven, but Shilpa was more than up for it. “I think it’s safe to say medicine is probably the only career I’ve ever considered, so to do this at my age is a huge opportunity,” she says.
The elite internship gave Shilpa, the daughter of a pharmacist and a nurse, a chance to conduct her own medical research. “I’m thinking something involving the reproductive system,” is her ambitious plan. That’s intense stuff for a seventeen-year-old, but this National Honor Society president likes a challenge in and out of the classroom.
Eager to make friends when she entered Trinity from Scofieldtown Magnet Middle School, Shilpa tried out for the girl’s soccer. She made the team even though she had never played. Because academics come naturally to her, she also tried studying mixed martial arts. “I am not someone that finds sports easy. I have to work really, really hard at them,” she says. “The martial arts takes me completely out of my comfort zone and I like that.” She earned her black belt last year.
Shilpa also loves languages. She is fluent in Spanish as well as Teluga, the language of the Andhra Pradesh state in India, where she spent part of her childhood. A future goal is a medical mission to her family’s homeland. “If I could give something back with all of the opportunities I’ve had, that would be amazing.”