10 Teens with Bright Futures
Whether they’re developing new green technologies, riding on the range, pursuing an international singing career or angling for a spot on the Senate floor, these ten terrific teens are living proof that it’s never too early to reach for the stars.
AMELIA ARNOLD, King Low Heywood Thomas School; EMILY HATTON, Convent of the Sacred Heart; CLAY GARNER, Greens Farms Academy
Amelia Arnold OF WESTPORT is a senior at King Low Heywood Thomas in Stamford, where she’s spliced together a reel of courses and clubs that further her dreams of becoming a novelist and filmmaker. To date, she’s written more than thirty poems, nine short stories and one novel. She adds, “I have also made five short films, one feature-length documentary and have written three screenplays that I plan to film soon.”
For the past two years, she has been developing the storyline for a sci-fi/fantasy TV series. “Hopefully, I will be able to pitch it and be the executive producer/writer for the show one day.”
Her greatest influence is Julie Taymor, director of The Lion King. “That show forever changed my perspective on how art could take people to paradisial realms,” she says. “She’s truly an artistic genius (despite her Spider Man troubles!). All of her films are amazing, her costume design (for The Lion King and Magic Flute) is magnificent, and her artistic vision is so unique.”
In 2009 Amelia’s plans were sidelined when she suffered a severe concussion during a softball game. “I couldn’t read for six months, and I had to go into NYU every week for vestibular rehabilitation for five months,” she recounts. “Luckily, my injury did not involve any cognitive deficits, but it severely affected my ability to take in stimulation. I couldn’t watch TV, I couldn’t go on the computer, and I couldn’t see any of my friends.” To get through, she relied on her great-grandma’s mantra: “Patience and fortitude.”
Quirk: I never set my alarm clock on typical numbers! My school alarm is 6:56.
Free Time: I like to longboard around the Compo/Longshore area with my friends.
Favorite Film: Dead Poets Society
Emily Hatton of Westport graduated from Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich and is now a freshman at Duke University. Although she was a star lacrosse player for four years, it is her work as a bilingual translator for Nicaraguans with vision problems that truly helped her see the light.
“I have been involved with VOSH [Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity] since I was in eighth grade,” Emily says. “This group consists of optometrists, opticians and other volunteers who travel to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, each January providing eye care for the Nicaraguans in the area. My job during these trips is to act as a Spanish–English translator in order to facilitate communication between doctors and patients. I am bilingual, as my grandmother was from Cuba.”
Her other love is lacrosse, which she has played since sixth grade. “It has been an integral part of my high school experience,” she says. “I really enjoyed competing with my team and winning our first league championship in twenty-eight years.” Emily has been recognized as an All-American Honorable Mention and two-time Academic All-American.
At school, Emily’s favorite subject is science because, she notes, “There is always more to explore.”
She’ll get to test out her aspirations as a biology/premed major at Duke, where she is exploring the opportunities in the field.
Biggest Pet Peeve: Chipped nail polish
Advice: Follow your dreams and do what makes you happy.
Role Model: My grandmother Bela
Clay Garner makes an impression. This seventeen-year-old Westporter at Greens Farms Academy speaks, sings and writes songs in English and Chinese and is intent on captivating audiences with his blend of Eastern and Western styles. And he’s working on his career the old-fashioned way—writing and performing his own music. To date, Clay (Chinese name Gao Shan) has already gained thousands of fans in Asia, with more than 200,000 views on Chinese video websites Youku and Tudou. On home shores, he’s shared stages with the likes of Blondie Chaplin (Beach Boys/Rolling Stones) and Tyler Hilton.
He says his whole perception of music changed after he learned how to play guitar, which allowed him to express himself through singing and playing an instrument simultaneously. He says, “My true passion for music only began about three years ago when I wrote my first song and started to perform around town.”
As for plans, Clay says, “I would love to be involved in the sharing of cultures between China and the West. There is a large gap of misunderstanding to be bridged, and I think music and other entertainment mediums can provide a successful platform for our two cultures to come together. I recently started my own company called Jia You Media, Inc., which will be a bicultural venture looking to bring the artistic communities of China and the U.S. together.”
Proudest Achievement: First place in the Chinese Bridge Mandarin Speaking Competition, which is run by China’s Cultural Ministry.
Advice: I’m going to have a million doors slammed in my face, but eventually someone will say, “Come on in!”
Favorite Song: “Keep Your Head Up,” by Andy Grammer
Simon Brewer is A politician—principled, dedicated and earnest. an award-winning debater, speaker and class leader at Wilton High School, this senior’s interests all lead toward a bright future in politics. Among his many achievements, he is proudest of his work as a page for the U.S. Senate and as a student member on the Connecticut State Board of Education. He says, “Both have given me an opportunity to give back, through government, to my community. That’s something I appreciate.”
He adds, “Despite the strong disagreements people seem to have over politics, if you dig a little deeper, often they agree on many things. It’s all about finding ways to work together and reach a compromise.”
Simon is eyeing a place in government, maybe as a Supreme Court justice. “I’ve always been fascinated with the judicial branch and the application of law, and I like the idea that I could leave a lasting legacy from my tenure there. I would definitely welcome an opportunity to work in the executive or legislative branches as well.”
As for being class president for the past three years and current student body president, he says, “You only go through high school once, and it’s the class president’s job to make sure that’s the best experience possible.”
Unexpected Quirk: My room is a total disaster.
Pet Peeve: Redundancy. I believe that “brevity is the soul of wit.”
School Pressures: There is a culture of expectations that places pressure on students and kids feel as though they have to live up to those expectations. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; we just have to know our limits.
Even if he didn’t have a name that was ready for prime time, Westporter DJ Sixsmith is destined to become a professional sportscaster. A huge sports fan and the voice of Staples sports for the past four years, DJ modeled his high school broadcasting style after his idol—Gus Johnson, an iconic basketball announcer. “The joy and excitement he has displayed over the years in broadcasting the New York Knicks and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has really inspired me. Like Gus, I have a true passion for calling games and I truly enjoy every moment of the action, whether it is a blowout or a game that goes down to the wire. Like Johnson, I kept the same level of energy going.”
At Fordham University this fall, DJ continues to keep fans entertained and tuned in. He cites college basketball announcer Gus Johnson, CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz, Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully and ESPN’s Mike Greenberg as his role models. He dreams of one day doing play-by-play for the New York Knicks.
Of his many high school achievements, DJ is most proud of winning two John Drury National High School Radio Awards. He says, “My sports talk show and sportscast were named best in the entire country among high school broadcasters.
It was nice to see my hard work over the past four years produce this type of recognition.”
Inspiration: During an interview ESPN’s Bob Ley quoted famous Yankee Joe DiMaggio, saying, “There is always somebody out there who never saw me play.” Ley used these words to relay the idea that you always have to produce the same effort no matter where you are broadcasting and when you are on the air.
Miss Most Back Home: The people. It was unbelievable how the town and the school embraced my work.
westporter Tessa Green, now at M.I.T., has an apt surname. Long interested in how greener energy might mitigate global warming, she is on a campaign to figure out how to store and transport energy more efficiently.
The Staples High School graduate recounts the moment that solidified her interest in green technologies: “I came across an article in Discover magazine about flow batteries and a book about hydrogen fuel cells that briefly referenced a hydrogen pipeline. One morning, I woke up before my alarm went off, and I took those extra few minutes to sort through disconnected ideas in my head. I came up with the idea of transporting the electrolyte associated with flow batteries so that we could simultaneously store and transport our electricity.”
She and her father considered the idea from all angles. “I was all set to use it as my science project, but Dad thought I should get the legal rights first. I ended up spending a lot of that summer doing research on my own and fleshing out the idea into a provisional patent. The next summer, we filed a utility patent, which is still pending.”
Tessa was offered a Thiel Fellowship, which would have provided her with $100,000 and the mentorship needed to get her idea off the ground. She says, “I knew that I hadn’t yet learned enough to take this idea where it needed to go…and I wasn’t at all ready to start closing doors. So, I’m putting my education first.”
Little-known Talent: My high score on Bubble Spinner is 37,996.
Hanging Out: Buying a carton of Moose Tracks at Stop & Shop, piling into the back of a friend’s Volvo, and splitting it eight ways.
Derek Alexander, a senior at Greens Farms Academy, is pure country. When he’s not in school or at home in Fairfield, he’s working on his family’s Tennessee horse farm, preparing for a show and enjoying “the more relaxing and humble lifestyle.”
When he was younger, he used to ride the horses around the farm and on the trails, but in the last couple of years he’s gotten into formal training and showing at regional and national shows across the South.
Derek’s best “friend” is Diego, a “red-roan, heavy-shod, three-year-old stallion,” whom he rides and swims with and shows year-round. “He has a huge personality and drive, and since I have raised him ever since he was a weanling, we have developed a trust and a bond that I am very blessed to have.” He explains that horses have a way of capturing peoples’ spirits by giving us an enjoyment that cannot be had any other way.
In school Derek favors science and hands-on learning, “especially when you can get a little dirty,” he jokes. Not surprisingly, he aspires to be a large animal veterinarian after college. He adds, displaying a strong independent streak, “I reckon the fact that I pretty well know what I want to do with my life is very important.”
Pet Peeve: Bad drivers…especially the ones who pull out in front of a big ol’ horse trailer.
Motto: Build your fences horse-high, pig-tight, and bull-strong.
When Kimmy Guerin was six, she attended a local camp that had a tennis program. That was when she discovered her wicked backhand. From that point on, she continued to hone her skills and discovered her competitive spirit. Little did she know back then that she would eventually be ranked No. 2 in New England and No. 41 nationally in the girls’ 16s—and win the State Open two years in a row.
Kimmy, now a sophomore at Weston High School, spends between twelve and thirteen hours per week practicing on the hard courts. She keeps seven tennis rackets at the ready. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of strings I break,” she jokes.
This summer she traveled to different parts of the country, including Missouri, Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia and California, for tennis tournaments. While she enjoys the competitions, she says her biggest pet peeve on the court is when the parents or people watching the match clap or cheer on unforced errors. “It annoys me and distracts me from the match.”
For now, Kimmy is too busy shuttling between tournaments to give serious consideration to her career, though the lessons she learns on the tennis circuit are bound to help her succeed in any field. She reminds herself to “stay calm and relaxed even in the toughest situations. This is always helpful to me, on and off the court.”
Role Model: Maria Sharapova, because she portrays the player I would want to be and is always ready to compete.
Celebrity Lookalike: When I was younger, I was always told I looked exactly like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.
Matth Fornshell of Westport graduated with summa cum laude honors as one of Fairfield Prep’s top ten students for 2011. In addition to keeping up impossibly excellent grades, Matt kept busy as a peer tutor, as an English tutor to kids at Caroline House in Bridgeport, and as a writer and sailing enthusiast. He says, “Some of my greatest achievements are graduating from my high school with top honors, getting accepted to Boston College and seeing a child I tutored in Bridgeport through Prep’s community-service program be rewarded for improved reading skills.”
He adds, “There is so much pressure on kids today to do well in school, to take as many AP classes as possible, to get into the best college possible, to overachieve. Pursuit of knowledge out of a love of learning is lost. You get the sense it is all about having the most prestigious bumper sticker on the family car. I cope by trying to save as much downtime for me as I can.” Kicking back for Matt means reading a Tom Wolfe novel. He says, “I enjoy sailing and skiing. I love to travel—Cape Cod is a favorite destination. I also enjoy just hanging out with my friends.”
Encouraged by his parents to follow his own interests, Matt says his ideal job would be something that allows him to combine his love of sailing with his interest in business and finance. His mantra: “Keep your eye on the prize, but make sure you enjoy the journey.”
Favorite Local Spots: Wendy’s, Garden Catering, Senor Salsa, S & S Dugout in Southport and my tool shed hangout.
Biggest Pet Peeve: When people say “lol” in text messages.
Carolyn Sohmer, a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, is a master juggler—of extracurricular activities, that is. She can be found running all over the building, handling behind-the-scene aspects of school plays, managing the girls’ soccer team and organizing charity events. “When I start projects, I get very invested in them, and I think it shows,” she explains.
She is also editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, where she loves “knowing that a caption or headline my friends and I spend an hour perfecting might trigger a conversation somewhere within our community.”
Managing all of her activities isn’t easy. “Sometimes when I’m right up against a newspaper deadline or I am at a late soccer game, my math homework just isn’t going to get done, but I get so much work experience and pleasure from the interaction and demanding schedules of my extracurricular activities that I know they are worth it.”
Carolyn finds inspiration in the musical Man of La Mancha. She says, “There is perhaps nothing that inspires me more than the musical’s principal song, ‘The Impossible Dream,’ in which Don Quixote explains his dedication to virtue, honesty and bravery as fighting to ‘reach the unreachable star.’ ”
As for her goals, Carolyn says, “Right now, I am just enjoying the freedom and excitement of being clueless about where my future will take me.”
Quirk: I don’t like ice cubes in my drinks.
Hobby: Rock climbing. Reaching a handhold that once seemed unattainable…reminds me that anything is possible.
Idol: Ellen DeGeneres. “She knows exactly who she is. I believe she is one of the few celebrities today who is genuine and compassionate.”