WITH HARD WORK, RAW TALENT AND CLEAR VISION, THESE FAIRFIELD TEENS ARE BUILDING BRILLIANT FUTURES
“In the future I would like to accomplish everything I said I would, like becoming a neurosurgeon, having a wonderful family and being an example for others by giving back to people in need.”
What does basketball mean to you?
“The game of basketball means so much to me, and it has truly changed my life. It has given me confidence, it has given me people who will stay for a long time in my life and, most important, it has allowed me to carry on my career in college.”
You’re also the captain of your team. What does that mean to you?
“When you are captain all you have to do is be yourself, show your teammates that you care and, most important, lead by example on and off the court. After winning the State Championship, it was like a burden was lifted off my shoulders and I finally got over the hump because I’ve been there four years and lost three out of the four.”
You’ve faced some tough times. How do you get through them?
“I am still positive through all the bad times because I understand that everything happens for a reason and I simply believed in myself. The way I have risen above the challenges of life is simply due to faith and hope in the man up above. Everything that I have been through has made me the person that I am today. It will have an impact on the final outcome, the person I am going to be, because my story is still being written.”
Do you find time to volunteer?
“Of course! I volunteered at a summer camp in my neighborhood and also help out with a travel basketball team. My experiences with the kids help change the way I do certain things, because where I am from, the kids coming up are our future and they need someone to look up to and say it can be done. Not only that, but I do volunteer work with my school. For example, we helped an organization by folding clothes, blankets and such for people in need. That experience taught me that you don’t help others looking for an award, you help out of the kindness of your heart.”
Is there someone in your life that you look up to as a role model?
“My role model is my wonderful aunt, who I call Mom because she has worked so hard to give me the world. She literally took on the role of both parents and is a huge part of my success.”
What are your plans for college?
“I plan on attending the University of Saint Joseph.”
Is there a challenge that is particular to today’s generation of teens?
“The biggest dilemma most teens face is trying to fit in, and it isn’t their fault. The way society is built, it is the only thing they know. Society makes it look like it is bad to be different, but I say to all the teens: Be yourself—that is the best way to be. At the end of the day, along with others’ well-being, yours also matters.”
Favorite class: Religion or Spanish. “I can’t choose one. I liked English, too.”
Guilty pleasure: Music. “My guilty pleasure would probably be my love for R&B music.”
Dream destination: Europe. “Honestly, I would probably go somewhere in Europe because there is a lot of history over there.”
Recent read: The Pact by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt
Last TV show: Riverdale
“I am so excited to be attending the College of William and Mary this fall, and I plan on being a part of the Pineapple Kids program, which provides underserved youth with mentors and tutors.”
What have you learned from theater and music?
“The people you find in music and theater are so kind, quirky and unafraid to be themselves. Growing up around people like this has caused me to evolve into the person I am and become unapologetically my own unique person.”
What inspired your Girl Scouts Take Action?
“I was pondering the fact that schools only a few miles from my own had shockingly fewer musical activities than mine. This bothered me for two reasons: These activities have been the most impactful and enjoyable parts of my high school experience, and I also knew that music helps students perform better academically. So, I decided to do something about this issue. I approached the director of Horizons at Sacred Heart, a summer-enrichment program for underserved youth, to help in the music department, and I became the assistant musical director. The kids at Horizons were so excited to learn about and perform music. They even got to go to a recording studio and record a song they wrote.”
How did you get involved with the Cardinal Shehan Center?
“I wanted to extend this experience further and work with kids during the school year, so I reached out to the Cardinal Shehan Center, which offers after-school enrichment programs for underserved kids. I proposed the establishment of a choir and they were super excited about it. I wrote lesson plans with the help of my past and present choir directors, Mrs. Verney-Fink and Mrs. Maravich. I also recruited high school music friends to help teach classes. It was fantastic! We played games and did exercises to help the kids learn about notes, rhythms, pitch accuracy and more. They even wrote a song and got to perform it.”
Why are you interested in studying neurology, psychology and education?
“I think it would be fascinating to study why people do what they do. For example, sometimes people work against their own best interests, and I’d love to learn how to help people counteract this inclination. Additionally, I think that combining my interests of psychology and education will help me to further my goal of contributing to help close the achievement gap in the future, possibly as a career.”
Role model: Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass. “She talks about why people sometimes self-sabotage and avoid going after what they want. She provides step-by-step examples of how not to do that. I also love her humor.”
Today’s teen dilemma: Community impact. “Everyone has had the experience of having a great idea but not knowing how to make it go anywhere. I look back sometimes and wonder why I never just went for it! I think it was because I didn’t know where to start. I’ve learned that having a mentor can make all the difference.”
“I’d like to continue working with and helping people. For now, I’d like to go to school, continue to discover my passions and spend my life doing them.”
You’ve volunteered in the U.S. and Nicaragua, Ecuador and Guatemala. What did you learn?
“My experience with the organization Builders Beyond Borders has changed my life completely. I have become a better leader and more compassionate person. I have been able to be a part of many of the leadership programs, which has helped me to become well spoken. I also have had eye-opening experiences in these countries of what real poverty is, but also true happiness. The people I have met are welcoming, loving and never fail to make you laugh. It is amazing to make a true impact on a person’s life.”
What interests you about politics?
“I have always been around politics. My dad was always interested in it and the news was always on. As I got older, I became more aware of the issues that were going on. I always tell the story of when I was watching Glee with my dad in fifth grade and he had to explain to me why the kids didn’t accept Kurt. I knew then that it wasn’t OK to watch this happen. I kept following issues and growing stronger and stronger opinions until freshman year, when I officially joined the Fairfield Young Democrats Club.”
What have you learned about leadership from serving as the club’s president and serving on the founding board of the Eastern Fairfield County Young Democrats?
“It is hard to lead these groups because in politics everyone has a different issue or way of getting involved. For example, a lot of what we can do is very local, yet many kids are interested in advocacy for federal issues. The most important thing is to give young people the connections to one another and adults to have a platform for their passions.”
Would you change a current policy?
“One policy to make a stronger democracy would be to make it easier to vote. Everyone deserves their voice to be heard.”
Role model: My mom. “She does a lot for the people around her and never expects anything in return. She is a strong woman who goes to work every day in a male-dominated field while my dad stays home. It’s just badass and has allowed me to grow up in an environment where gender roles aren’t black and white.”
Today’s teens dilemma: Pressure. “The pressure that is put on kids by parents, educators and peers to be perfect, especially in Fairfield, is causing issues that adults don’t even understand. The overwhelming expectation to go to the perfect school and get good grades isn’t healthy. Stress is increasing more and more, and its leading to things that are even worse, like mental-wellness issues and substance use.”
Guilty pleasure: None. “I am not guilty about what makes me happy. I proudly love to indulge in Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Klondike bars.”
Recent read: Make Trouble by Cecile Richards
Greens Farms Academy
“The number one thing on my bucket list is to visit every country for at least twenty-four hours.”
You’ve excelled in wrestling and baseball. What does it take to be an outstanding athlete and leader?
“Being an outstanding athlete and leader boils down to commitment and patience. You cannot be truly great at anything if you don’t commit yourself to practicing and working hard. Just showing up demonstrates commitment, and your coaches and peers will notice and value that. Patience is also key because greatness does not come overnight. My wrestling coach told our team years ago an anecdote about a stonecutter who hammered at a rock ninety-nine times without a crack forming. On the hundredth time, however, the rock split in two. The stonecutter knew that it was each of the 100 total hits that caused the stone to break. Sports have really impacted my life in positive ways. They’ve taught me about grit, teamwork and humility.”
What draws you to global studies?
“A few years ago I became fascinated with the world and its different cultures, people, governments and landmarks. When I found out that all I needed to graduate with a concentration in Global Studies was to take the class Global Thesis, I jumped on the opportunity. I spent the year studying education on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and how one of the schools on the reservation, Red Cloud Indian School, acts as a network within the reservation, not just a school, to better the circumstances of Pine Ridge. I presented my research in GFA’s World Perspectives Symposium along with my classmates and turned in my twenty-five-page thesis paper at the end of the year.”
You’ve volunteered on the reservation for the past four years. Why?
“I go out to South Dakota with the Youth Group run through Southport Congregational Church to run a summer camp for Native kids in and around the Red Shirt Table area of the reservation. As soon as you get to the reservation, you notice it’s extremely different from Fairfield County. We get to work and play with some of the cutest kids I have ever met, and they have so much potential to do great things. Their current situation, however, makes it difficult. The work has taught me to appreciate cultures different than mine and to appreciate the privilege I was born with.”
Why did you attend the School of the New York Times and Brandeis University’s mock trial boot camp?
“Programs like those are not really ‘work.’ I enjoy meeting new people and learning about something new. Also, the people running the programs know that we are all on summer break, so they make sure that we have at least a little bit of fun. The School of the New York Times especially had a big impact on me because it showed me the excitement of being a journalist in New York City, something I want to pursue professionally.”
Role model: Yes Theory. “They inspire me to get out of my comfort zone.”
Today’s teen dilemma: Snapchat streaks and Instagram likes. “We miss out on genuine social interactions that make life great.”
MACKENZIE MARY LLEWELLYN
“I’m headed to Washington University in St. Louis. My goal is to be an entrepreneur, designing and launching my own signature bridal wear.”
Why did you start sewing?
“My grandmother first sparked my love for sewing when she taught me, at the age of eight, how to quilt. After producing approximately twenty quilts, I decided to branch out by designing and sewing my own clothes.
I absolutely fell in love with designing garments and drafting patterns. I took on the ultimate feat junior year when I made my prom dress.”
What are the highlights of your academic successes?
“I have spent two summers taking advanced biology courses and labs through Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and have completed a Human Anatomy and Physiology course at Fairfield University. I love learning and teaching others what I have learned. Through Chinmaya Saraswati Fairfield Enrichment Club, I have volunteered approximately 180 hours to teaching chemistry and science to elementary and middle school students every Sunday, preparing them for national science competitions, like You Be The Chemist (YBTC).”
Why do you love quilting?
“It starts with the inception of an idea and ends with the completed masterpiece. The thrill is planning out the project—laying out the design, selecting the texture and colors of the fabrics, orchestrating the placement of the fabrics and then integrating the fabrics together to create one piece of artwork. With each quilt, I learn a new strategy or technique that can be applied to the construction of my next project.”
As a freshman, you started the Starfish Club. What is that?
“Our club supports Starfish International, an all-girls school in The Gambia. We collected computers and electronics to facilitate Skype sessions between the schools and to provide them with online access to academic-learning sites. For other campaigns, we collected school and small-business supplies, providing them with the tools for an education and financial independence.”
Do you have a mentor?
“I admire my grandmother. Her complex and breathtaking quilts inspired me to hone my sewing skills so I could one day be as good at quilting. I also admire Ruthe Ploskunyak, who I met when I was in sixth grade. Despite her apprehension, Ruthe invited me for a ‘trial’ sewing lesson. Once she realized I was serious and passionate about sewing, our friendship took off. We meet frequently to quilt or take on new sewing projects. Her dedication and talent inspire me to take on new challenges and to explore my artistic flair for sewing.”
Favorite class: Latin. “My teacher, Dr. Clem, was dedicated to creating a productive and interesting learning environment for his students.”
Dream destination: Milan. “It’s where many of the major Italian fashion brands are headquartered.”
Recent read: Beloved by Toni Morrison
JOHN (JACK) S. LLEWELLYN IV
“I plan to attend the University of Notre Dame and major in pre-med and business. My long-term goal is to enter the field of robotic surgery.”
Was high school what you expected it to be?
“Fairfield Prep is much more than an academic institution. It has acted as my home for the past four years and the student body as my family, transforming me into a young man of both academics and faith. My involvement in the school’s community has also played a major role in sculpting my character and passions. Upon entering Prep, I was overwhelmed by the sense of acceptance and support from both students and teachers. This compassion inspired me to step outside my comfort zone and immerse myself in clubs and sports. I realized that differences should not be feared, but celebrated.”
You were captain of the Robotics Team since sophomore year. What hooked you?
“My passion for technology and engineering led to my involvement. I led our team to two FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) state competitions and state semi-finals. I have met lifelong friends as well as discovered a joy for robotics, which I shared with elementary students as a tutor for the Cardinal Shehan Center and the McGivney Community Center. Also, my passion for learning has inspired me to enroll in mathematics and engineering courses through Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and a computer science course at Fairfield University. I have always been inquisitive about how things work, and I’m relentless until I figure out the answer. Even today, I enjoy solving a difficult multistep math problem or learning all the tricks and shortcuts of AutoCAD.”
Do you have a mentor?
“I admire my parents. They taught me to recognize my individuality and strengths and to be the master of my own knowledge and ambitions. They instilled in me, and my sisters, the importance and value of an education and taught us to use our talents and gifts to improve circumstances for the betterment of school and community.”
How are you involved with the Chinmaya Saraswati Fairfield Enrichment Club?
“When I was in fourth grade, I joined the math and science club and participated in the club through eighth grade. As a former club member, I realized the importance of helping other enthusiastic young learners accelerate in STEM and unearth the same passion that I discovered at their age. Consequently, I became a student teacher of the club in high school and volunteered over 500 hours, preparing elementary and middle school students for nationally acclaimed math and science competitions, and I have loved it! Whether reviewing practice sheets or conducting hands-on experiments, I strived to challenge and excite my students.”
Favorite class: Latin. “Mrs. Mumma made learning fun.”
Heading to college this fall: “I’ll miss my twin, Mackenzie Mary.”