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10 Teens with Bright Futures

Hopes for this group are as varied as the teens are, but all share a passion for learning and a committed ambition to achieve their goals. Meet Stamford’s ten teens to watch. It won’t be long before they’re making headlines again.

DIANE YANG, Stamford High School and ALLEN LOUIS, Brunswick School

Rita Newman
Academy of Information Technology & Engineering

Fascinated by eco-friendly structures and sustainable designs, Rita Newman combines an artistic nature with talents in science and math, making the skyscraper the limit for this AITE senior. Rita won the Innovation Award in a 2011 design competition sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Connecticut for her model of a home with an unusual green roof that funneled rainwater. “But architecture’s not the right fit for me,” she explains. “I’m drawn to civil engineering. It connects better to my interest, which is solving problems. I figured out early on that I can catch on to difficult math and science concepts and explain them.”

The National Honor Society member is in the top of her AITE class but also nurtures a creative side. She has spent the past several years teaching crafts to Stamford Hospital patients and started a business making and selling jewelry.  She’s also a talented writer who won a National History Day essay contest.

Rita is big on pushing her comfort zones too. A sixteen-day Outward Bound excursion through the Delaware Water Gap before her junior year was “not the kind of trip anyone who knows me well would expect me to go on. I hate bugs and I’m not big on nature.” She would be much more comfortable in a well-designed house that was considerate of the environment. “If you build it well, it will last for years, so why not make it safe and green?”

Always on Her iPod: Alternative rock and indy artists like Augustana
Fashion Must-Have: Earrings are my favorite thing to make and wear with plaid flannels and jeans.
Favorite Junk Food: Sour Patch Kids

Jayant “Jay” Rao
Stamford High School

Jay Rao has so many interests and talents, it’s hard to put a label on him and make it stick. Which suits the Stamford High senior just fine because he likes having options. “At this age, why say, ‘I’m the science kid or the athlete kid?’ I don’t even have a favorite subject. I just like learning in general.” Which explains why Jay boasts such a diversified portfolio of personal achievements:  He’s a leader in Junior Achievement, a dedicated community volunteer, an accomplished debater; he runs track and earns exceptional grades.

Jay is vice president of Stamford High’s active chapter of buildOn, an international service organization that brings schools to rural areas in developing countries. He was so inspired by his spring buildOn trip to an impoverished Nicaraguan village that teaching just may be his career choice. “I’m from a family where an education is valued. Honestly, my good grades were really expected. When I was in Nicaragua I saw the impact education can have when access to good schools isn’t a given. I saw it opening up lives and realized how it truly is an escape from poverty.” Fitting in regular volunteer work at institutions ranging from Stamford Hospital to the Bruce Museum “is tough, and I get less sleep than my classmates, but I honestly don’t mind. I like to do things that make me feel like I’ve made a difference.” Now that’s top of the class.

Celebrity Crush: Natalie Portman
Quirky Habit: All the stuff on my dresser has to be symmetrically arranged.
Favorite Musicians: I like really out there alternative rap music like Kid Cudi and Chiddy Bang and Lupe Fiasco.


Mackenzie Griffin
Trinity Catholic High School

She shoots. She scores. She aims high on and off the court. Though she insists she’s the ultimate girly girl, Mackenzie Griffin is also tough stuff, arriving for her photo shoot with her wrist in a brace, and regaling us with stories of past sports injuries—herniated discs, torn ligaments and a broken leg. Ouch! Still, the Trinity Catholic basketball star always bounces back, proving she’s one determined hotshot.

An honors student who averages nineteen points and ten rebounds per game, Mackenzie is a tenacious forward who hopes to follow mom Dorothy and big sister Cayleigh into the ranks of collegiate athletes. “I know it’s really hard to play after high school, but I want the college sports experience very badly.”

The demands of her sporting life are constant. She sticks with a healthy training diet, trains four times a week and plays for an elite AAU travel basketball team. The social sacrifices are worth it, she says. “The team becomes like a family. We fly on the same plane, stay at the same hotels. It’s intense, but we’re close.”

In the classroom Mackenzie hits her mark in AP history and English. She has also interned for The Advocate sports desk and coaches little sister Riley’s recreational basketball team. “It’s hard to fit it in with my crazy schedule, but I love the girls. That was me once, looking up to the older girls who coached  and mentored me.” 

Stress Buster: I like watching Jersey Shore. It’s kind of embarrassing.
Lucky Charm: Grandpa Robert Tolan’s plain gray TCHS sweatshirt. I wear it for good luck.
Just for Fun: I love to get my nails done and go shopping. I’m all about the girl stuff. I just leave it behind when I play.

Jonathan Berman
Westhill High School

When he was all of ten, Jonathan Berman and his older brother, Daniel, founded Connecticut Kids for Charity, a nonprofit that serves as an umbrella for their ambitious philanthropic endeavors. “From an early age, the message we got from our parents is that there are only two things in life that will make you happy: gratitude and charity,” says the Westhill High senior, who turns seventeen this fall and approaches life with an infectious pay-it-forward spirit.

Jon founded Westhill’s Unicef Club, which has raised $10,000 to bring children of the world clean food and water, medicines and educational supplies. He’s also the webmaster for Westhill’s Interact Club, which takes on charitable projects in school and around town. Jon has been recognized with several prestigious honors for his efforts, including the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, for being a top Connecticut high school volunteer.

His abundant charm and skills honed as a Westhill debater and mock trial champion had us peg him as a future charity fundraiser capable of coaxing the big bucks out of wealthy donors. Jon surprised us by explaining that his dreams involve chemistry. “Honestly, I’m a total science nerd,” confesses the National Honor Society member, who hopes to become a chemical engineer. “I think my passion for it stems from the need to understand why things happen and [chemistry] is the best way to do that.”

Favorite Take-Out: Kam Pei sushi
Favorite TV Show: Lost. And I did not cry at the end.
Dream Job: Chemical Engineer

Allen Louis
Brunswick School

Expect Allen Louis to reach for high notes during his freshman year at Boston’s Suffolk University. The eighteen-year-old tenor was known on campus at Greenwich’s Brunswick for his habit of spontaneously breaking into song—sometimes in class—as well as his infectious grin. “I’ll sing just about anything,” says Allen. “I don’t really discriminate.”

Allen gave constant testimony to his love of music in high school, where he sang in the school’s a capella group and performed in Rapunzel, Les Misérables and Into the Woods. His center stage comfort zone was also blessed in the choir of his family’s congregation, Christ Sanctified Church of the Haitian Ministry in Stamford, where his father, Franck, is pastor.  Allen, a self-taught pianist, says, “if something in music is interesting to me, I just try it.”

His parents, who are Haitian immigrants, “have sacrificed and worked really hard” to give their children the best possible education, says Allen, a leader in Brunswick’s Diversity Club. Allen also excelled in language arts and is a talented writer. “I like things that have a creative side.” While he dreams of a role in a Broadway musical, Allen’s decision to attend Suffolk came from a desire to be well-rounded. “In a city like Boston, I can pursue music, but I also want a good liberal arts education. I don’t want to limit myself.” Bravo.

Favorite Broadway Musical: Wicked   
Heroes: My Parents
Defining Habit: I smile constantly.

Diane Yang
Stamford High School

With her near-perfect SAT scores and abundant creative talents, Diane Yang is a study in the brilliance of versatility. “I like to consider myself wonderfully nerdy,” she says, while detailing her passions for arts and sciences.

The Stamford High senior seems just a few clicks away from her professional ambition: a career in computer science. She’s already attended an elite women’s technology program at MIT and is intrigued by the possibility of being a rare woman in her field. “I know they say women are not supposed to excel in these things, but I never notice the gender gap. I’m too focused on solving problems.”

A top-grade student, Diane also runs varsity track for the Black Knights and is an accomplished pianist who plays guitar to unwind. Already fluent in Mandarin Chinese, this first-generation American recently advanced her conversational Spanish while studying in Spain. And although her flair for art is “just for fun,” she’s turned her hobby into a side business by cofounding Portrait People, an online venture that transforms photographs into pencil drawings. “It’s a creative outlet for me and makes me a better artist, but also a great way to earn pocket money.” In her free time, she leads current events discussions with senior residents of Scofield Manor. “I love going so much, I’m hoping there’s a retirement home near the college campus I end up on.”

Favorite Artist: Norman Rockwell
Favorite Musicians: Alanis Morisette and Sara Bareilles
Pet Peeve: People Who Can’t Spell

Daniel Rosenblum
King Low Heywood Thomas

It’s hard not to flip for Daniel Rosenblum. This affable teen to watch is also a Freestyler to Watch according to the United States Olympic Team. The seventeen-year-old senior at King is the nation’s No. 1 ranked men’s halfpipe competitor, and he finished seventh in the 2011 Men’s U.S. National Freestyle Skiing Championship (a fall in the finals ended his hopes of a win). “I just like to spend time in the air,” he explains of his passion for daredevil aerial aptitude.

To be closer to snow, Daniel splits his time between King and Vermont’s Killington Mountain School, where, between November and April, he trains five hours a day. Still, he manages to stay engaged in King campus life, where he’s been a two-time recipient of its Outstanding Citizen Award. His freestyle agility serves him well on the school’s varsity soccer team.

While he dreams of standing on an Olympic podium, Daniel seems completely down-to-earth. He excels in biology and English and hopes to work as a physical therapist someday. “I can’t ski forever and I realize I have to take school seriously. And I do.”  For now, though, Daniel is completely dedicated to his sport; just a day after our photo shoot he jetted off to train with U.S. Olympic coaches at Mammoth Mountain, California. Keep soaring, Daniel!

Favorite Athlete: Simon Dumont, halfpipe pro
Pet Peeve: The sound of people chewing drives me crazy.
Favorite Junk Food: French Fries

Erica Nicokiris
King Low Heywood Thomas

Erica Nicokiris thinks globally but acts locally. Born in Paraguay, she was a frail, malnourished infant when her adoptive parents brought her home to Stamford. Her Greek and Jewish upbringing has given the senior a multicultural perspective and tolerance beyond her seventeen years. “People ask me, how can you be from Paraguay and be Greek and Jewish? And my response is that I am a reflection of the world we live in, which is very diverse.” Erica brings her enlightened worldview to her role as copresident of King’s Model United Nations. The vivacious King Scholar also hits plenty of high notes in school musicals and the King choir, where she’s the lead alto. She’s also a varsity golfer and volleyball player.

Despite a crammed schedule, Erica found time to mentor a minority student in King’s lower school. “It’s one of those things where you think, ‘How do I possibly fit this in?’ But when you do it, it’s totally worth it.” She hopes to parlay her academic talents in science into a medical career, possibly as a psychiatrist. “Being born in Paraguay and adopted was only a small part of my life, but those first few months have influenced me in so many ways. Ultimately, I think it can’t help but influence the work I do.”

Favorite Movie: Love and Other Drugs
Quirky Habit: Biting my cuticles. It drives my mother crazy.
Favorite Food: lomo salteado at Fiesta
Motto: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Ghandi said that.
Pet Peeve: narrow-mindedness

Jane Lin
Academy of Information Technology & Engineering

The blue streak in Jane Lin’s hair hints at a rebellious side, but she’s all business when it comes to school. Jane’s a top honors student who excels in math and science at AITE. She’s also got some healthy ambitions—the seventeen-year-old senior is eyeing top-notch nursing schools. “People say, ‘You could be a doctor,’ but I think doctors tend to be more matter-of-fact about things. I want to connect with people with more warmth, and I see nursing as a caring, admirable profession.”

Expect Jane to take flight with her Nightingale goal with the same boundless energy that has marked her diverse high school career. She excels in piano competitions, shares her “completely opinionated” views on the AITE debate team and volunteers as a Ferguson Library children’s reader. She accomplished all that while working regular shifts as a waitress and cashier at Blue Ginger, her parents’ recently shuttered Elm Street restaurant. Meanwhile, she’s studied at a Brown University summer program and takes classes at Norwalk Community College just to “dabble and see what’s out there.”

Her schedule is intense, but Jane insists on regular doses of fun. “I see kids who are so academically focused that they miss what’s out there. Once in a while, you’ve just got to go to the mall.”

Favorite Haunts: Sephora. I don’t pile makeup on myself but love to experiment on other people. To me it’s a form of creative expression.
Stress Buster: I love reading to the kids at the library. They are so cute. And they get me out of my own head.
Dream Job: nurse practitioner, possibly in pediatrics

Kevin Epp
Trinity Catholic High School

To achieve his status as one of the very best students in Trinity Catholic’s senior class, Kevin Epp had to juggle a lot of balls. He also caught a few. The seventeen-year-old is a varsity starter in three sports—football, basketball and his unabashed favorite, baseball. He also finished his junior year ranked second in his class.

How does he hit academic home runs when one sports season morphs into the next? “I’m very focused about everything I do. I find if I really listen to the teacher and take great notes, it’s easier for me when I have to study, but I’ve got to admit there are a lot of late nights involved,” he explains. Even his approach to sports is hyperfocused. “I love all the sports I play, but honestly, I play the others to stay in shape for baseball.”

Kevin’s strong arm puts him at third base for Trinity Catholic, the same position as his idol, the New York Mets’ David Wright. “What I like about [Wright] is that he’s an all-for-the-team player. He loves his job, but he’s steady and quiet.” Off the field Kevin excels in math and science and is considering top engineering schools. “If I have a chance to play in college, that would be amazing, but if it’s not an option, I want to focus on getting the best engineering education possible.”        

Favorite Food: grilled bacon cheeseburger
Pet Peeve: drivers who don’t use turn signals
Sports Superstition: When we have a winning streak during baseball season, I don’t wash my pants.
Celebrity Crush: Megan Fox
Favorite Movie: Miracle
Favorite Musicians: Dave Matthews Band

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