A Perfect 10
Remarkable teens who are ready to take the world by storm
photographs by william taufic
Grown-ups would be wise to pay more attention to the teens around town. They might be surprised by what young people are doing, what they know, and what they have to say. We speak from experience: Every year Greenwich Magazine rounds up ten of the more impressive teenagers in a community jumping with impressive teenagers and showcases them. And every year, we come away both in awe and heartened for the future.
Our Teens to Watch for 2012 take a backseat to no one. They’ve done everything from breaking athletic records to making musical records. They’re future doctors, lawyers, artists, entrepreneurs and lifelong athletes. They each have a lengthy list of individual achievements but tend to have an eye out for the common good. Most strikingly, they go about their chosen activities with such enjoyment and indefatigable determination that it’s hard to not envision great things from them in their work, in what they give back to their communities, and in their family lives.
So listen up. Here are some people you should know. And they’re just getting started.
1. Queen of the Court
MARIA ELENA UBIÑA
Greenwich Academy Class of 2013
Maria Elena Ubiña is already one of the best young squash players on the planet. Unfortunately for her competition, the Greenwich Academy senior is determined to keep improving. As recently as this summer, Maria Elena was the top-ranked junior woman in the United States and fifth in the world. She trains six days a week, not only playing squash, but also working on her strength and movement. After every match, she dissects her performance then attacks her flaws. “You find a little fault in your game and then you go practice by yourself to work on what’s missing and get better and better,” she says.
Squash has taken Maria Elena to a growing list of countries where she has won a growing collection of laurels. This summer, she won a big tournament in Germany, and then was off to Qatar for the World Junior Squash Championships where she got down to being among the final sixteen competitors before being eliminated. Last year at the Pan American Games in Mexico, she won two bronze medals, one for doubles play and the other as part of the U.S. team. And in Boston last December, she won the U.S. Junior Open Squash Championship, under- 19 division. It should be noted that she was only sixteen at the time of her latest Open victory, toppling opponents who were at least two years her senior. She now holds a trifecta at that event, winning the under-19, under-17 and under-15 titles.
Maria Elena, who has since turned seventeen, has also competed in England and the Netherlands, among other venues. Of all the cities she’s visited, her favorite is Amsterdam. She’s been there four times. “I love the city, the canals, and all the bicycles,” she says. “Adding the beautiful city to playing squash there makes it all the better.”
For a change of pace, Maria Elena likes to surf, shredding the waves on family vacations to Peru, Costa Rica and Mexico. Such travel only feeds her appetite for learning about other countries. She is involved in Greenwich Academy’s Global Scholars Program, which encourages engagement with the wider world. She speaks fluent Spanish and is studying French. When she gets to college, she wants to further those language skills and her knowledge of foreign cultures. She might even find time for some squash. “I’m talking to coaches now, so I don’t know where I’ll be going yet,” she says. “I’m hoping to know soon.”
2. Music Man
Westminster School Class of 2013
One of the rewards that Charlie Januszewski receives from making music is a connection with others. He already has two self-made albums, recorded on his Mac computer and available on iTunes, one of which was completed just last month. “You’re making something right out of your head and your mind,” he says. “And when someone buys it, enjoys it and lets you know their feedback, it’s really a good feeling. It’s surreal when someone tells you, ‘Oh, I listen to your songs all the time.’”
A senior at Westminster School in Simsbury, Charlie is a virtual one-man band. He writes his own songs, sings, and plays guitar and piano, the latter of which he taught himself. And though he uses computer software to create the overall sound, he has a producer who masters his recordings to fine-tune the quality. Recently, he also brought aboard a manager to try to get his songs in front of the record companies. Charlie, who is seventeen, mines his personal life and feelings for his songs. His first album, King of the Night, dedicated to his late grandfather, has an electronic pop sound. His latest collection, Of November, is best described as alternative pop, in which he experiments more, especially on the piano.
And while music is his biggest focus right now, and may even become his career, Charlie stays immersed in schoolwork and other pastimes. History and English are his favorite courses. Come winter, he swims the grueling 100-yard butterfly for the school swim team. He also likes photography; in fact, he shot the art for his albums.
For Charlie, it’s important to give his best effort, from the classroom to the keyboard. “I don’t put a song out until I’m 100 percent happy with it,” he says. “Even then, I’ll listen to it and say, ‘Why didn’t I do that?’” or ‘Why didn’t I change this part?’ I do work really hard at it. It can take a lot of time. Sometimes too long. To the point that my friends will ask me, ‘Are you still doing music?’ That’s when I know it’s time to put out another song.”
3. Helping Hand
Greenwich High School Class of 2012
Felix Dostmann doesn’t exactly look for trouble, but if it happens he wants to be there to help. Felix, a freshman at Rollins College, is a patrolman for the volunteer Cos Cob Fire Police Patrol. Already certified as an emergency medical responder, which allows him to provide basic first aid at the scene of an emergency, the eighteen-year-old was busy this summer wrapping up the work needed to become a full-fledged emergency medical technician and to be able to enter burning buildings as a firefighter.
“I definitely like helping people,” Felix says. “I do a lot of volunteer work, so it’s not about getting paid. It’s just the satisfaction you get out of being able to help people that need help and don’t really know what to do.”
Last spring, as part of his Greenwich High internship, he went out on calls with the paramedics from Greenwich Emergency Services. That gave him his first real taste for working with people in distress and confirmed the direction he wants to go in life. He expects to follow a premed track in college and, if all goes well, eventually become a doctor, perhaps an orthopedist. Excited about science in school and comfortable with the basics of emergency and patient care, he’s already on his way. “I have a head start,” he says.
Felix is also well-known around Arch Street, the Greenwich teen center. He has served as president of the teen board, helping to organize and oversee dances and other events. And he’s spent many an hour rowing on the Mianus River, among other places, as a member of the Greenwich Crew Junior Program at the Greenwich Water Club. Four years ago, he was the youngest singles competitor in the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston.
Now that he has graduated, Felix can reveal what is traditionally a closely held secret around the high school: He was the Cardinal mascot at football games and other events for the past few years. “The kid dancing around in the big red bird suit was me.”
And while that get-up could become stuffy at times, Felix says it was liberating as well. “It’s a completely different view once you’re in that costume,” he says. “No one knows who you are, so you kind of become like a new person and just go out and have fun.”
4. Fast Track
Greenwich High School Class of 2012
Amanda Michaud is remarkably levelheaded about the honors she has won and the challenges she takes on. Ask the former Greenwich High School standout to confirm that she was named All-New England as a runner, no small accolade, and she hesitates. “Umm,” she says, trying to remember. Maybe. She’s not sure. But she thinks there’s a certificate for that somewhere in her room. “I’ll have to double-check,” she says, breaking into an embarrassed laugh.
Ask her about running itself, though, and she’s off to the races. “I just love the feeling of going as fast as you can and just giving it your all,” Amanda says. “It’s one of those things that you can’t do at 50 or 80 percent. It’s either 110 percent or nothing.”
For the record, Amanda was indeed named All-New England (as part of a four-girl relay team from Greenwich High last winter). She was also All-State, All- County and one of Greenwich High’s track-and-field captains. “She is a total star,” says her guidance counselor, Shannon Presta.
Amanda’s also got some wheels on her. Her best event is the 400-meter dash, a furious charge around the track, for which she’s been clocked as fast as 59.14 seconds (and even quicker as part of the relay team). She finished second in that event at the state championships in the spring of 2011. Last winter, she was the Fairfield County girls champion in the 300 meters. And she holds school records as part of relay teams in five events.
Amanda, who is eighteen, has scaled other heights as well, some of them literally. Fifteen months ago, she was the second-youngest member of a team that climbed Mount Shasta in Northern California to raise money for the Breast Cancer Fund. And though she reached 13,100 feet, about 1,000 feet shy of the top, she was overcome with altitude sickness. She made the smart choice of retreating before compromising her health or forcing others to have to come to her aid.
Amanda is a freshman at Boston College, where she was recruited as a mid-distance runner. A top student, she is particularly interested in environmental science. All that should keep her busy, but when the time is right she wants a second shot at Mount Shasta. “I hope to go back in a couple of years and summit,” she says, “just to prove to myself and that I can.”
5. Getting the Small Picture
Greenwich High School Class of 2014
Most people never notice, but there’s a hidden world right before us. The secret to seeing it, according to Noah Fram-Schwartz, is to look closer. Whether it’s an ant or a snowflake or a drop of water, Noah finds beauty in unexpected places. “I love art and I love science,” says the Greenwich High junior. “I’ve always tried to find creative ways to combine them. Macrophotography really enables me to reveal the hidden details of nature. It exposes the beautiful colors and amazing textures that people don’t know are there. I think they deserve to be seen.”
Armed with a Canon DSLR camera that he appropriated from his mother and a powerful macro lens, Noah sallies forth, often no farther than his backyard, to see what nature has to offer. His pictures reveal strange eyes on bugs and stamens of flowers and drops of water splashing down. Among his favorite photographs is one of some water droplets on a blade of grass, with the reflection of a daisy visible in each one.
Noah had a photo exhibition at Greenwich High last spring, spent July in China (he is learning Mandarin) as a photography intern for a magazine there, and was expected to hold an internship later in the summer at the American Museum of Natural History, helping photograph its bee collection.
When he started out in pursuit of all things small and beautiful, Noah used a makeshift setup on his camera, attaching a second lens with tape and boosting the magnification with a reverser. He still devises much of his own equipment, such as a light diffuser that he fashioned from a milk carton. He’s self-taught, and he eschews photography classes in favor of what he can glean from the Internet and his own curiosity. He also designed and built his own website to display his work (nmacro.com).
Noah, seventeen, is looking forward to Advanced Placement physics this year. If his dream job of shooting for National Geographic fails to come through—and don’t bet against him—he might pursue physics or engineering as a career. When
he can get his hands on the necessary tools, he also likes to weld and create metal sculptures. And he plays the piano.
In other words, Noah has the heart of both a scientist and an artist. “There are so many people that aren’t interested in science,” he says. “That’s hard for me to understand, when every day I see it up close and I think, ‘Wow, this is the coolest thing ever.’”
6. On the Forefront of Research
Convent of the Sacred Heart Class of 2012
How many teenagers do you know who have been on the front lines of the war against cancer? Meet Caroline Cunningham, eighteen, who is a freshman at Wake Forest University. As part of the Science Research Program at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Caroline spent a summer investigating how the chemical compound resveratrol, found in red grapes and other plants, suppresses prostate cancer. Working under the auspices of Dr. Bhagavathi Narayanan, an expert on the subject, Caroline conducted a study that could lead to better treatments for the deadly disease.
Two summers ago, she essentially did the same work as a graduate student at the New York University School of Medicine in Tuxedo, New York. “Basically, I would apply resveratrol to human prostate cancer cell lines and monitor their growth,” Caroline says. Resveratrol, her research revealed, interrupts the process within the cell that allows cancer to grow. And though her project still needs some finishing touches, it could be published as soon as next year, says Dr. Narayanan. When it is, expect to find Caroline as the lead author.
“Around the department, everyone kept asking, ‘How come this girl is so hardworking?’” remembers Dr. Narayanan. “She would come from Connecticut every day, be here by 8:45 and leave around 4:30 or 5:00 and never take a break. We all appreciated her work.”
Others took notice as well. Caroline’s study won first place in the Connecticut Invitational Science and Engineering Fair. And she was a semifinalist in the American Museum of Natural History’s Young Naturalist Awards competition.
These days, she is seeing what college has to offer before choosing an academic major. At Sacred Heart she helped with layout for the school newspaper, the King Street Chronicle. She was also stage manager for theatric productions and showed a flair for filmmaking, among other activities.
Still, science seems to speak to her. She’s curious about infectious diseases and is thinking about becoming a doctor: “I’m interested in finding ways to improve the health of people and the lives of those who are afflicted with any sort of malady or anything that hinders them from living the life they want to live.”
7. The Next Steve Jobs
MICHAEL VAN HOESEN
Stanwich School Class of 2015
When Michael Van Hoesen was eight years old, he decided to inspect the innards of an old Dell computer that his father had given him. He tinkered with it a bit, applying a screwdriver to try to get it uncased, then opted for a faster method. “I threw it on the concrete floor, got a hammer and just started hammering it until things came out,” Michael remembers. “That was kind of my first endeavor in working on computers.”
That was many pieces and parts ago. Michael, who is now sixteen, is a technological wunderkind. A sophomore at Stanwich School, he has built several computers and fixed countless others for family, friends and teachers, not to mention solving problems with everything from iPhones, to touchpads, to home entertainment systems. “When I take a computer apart, I go through and say, ‘This connects to that,’ and ‘that goes to that,’ and ‘this cable goes there,’” he explains. “It just creates a mental image of exactly what’s going on. I can almost take it apart in my brain.”
Michael also knows how to program; he spent three summers at computer camp. But he’s no hacker. “I just find staring at a screen and doing codes so boring,” he says. “I love taking things apart, pushing them to their max, and seeing what they can do.”
Hardly a day passes that someone at school or home doesn’t ask for his help. During the summer he works for Stanwich’s technology department, preparing equipment for the school year, and lends a hand if the staff gets overwhelmed when school is in session. He’s created a wireless network at home, set up advanced lighting systems and wireless cameras in houses that his father, a builder, has worked on, and lots more.
Michael is hardly a one-trick pony. He likes science, especially biology. He’s active in school theater, playing Kenickie in Grease and the lion in The Wiz, and sings in the vocal ensemble. Sailing is a favorite activity, too.
Yet he’s hard-wired for technology. Michael thinks he’d like to be around Silicon Valley for college and work, maybe starting at a place like Google or Apple, then launch his own high-tech company. “I want to do something that will change the world.”
8. Making Movie Magic
Convent of the Sacred Heart Class of 2013
When Caroline Kelly tells people that she made a film about pole dancing, for a class at the Convent of the Sacred Heart no less, mouths drop open. Then she pops in a DVD of her award-winning film, Live to Pole, and they quickly understand: Her documentary is about women who use the ceiling-to-floor silver pole to perform feats of athleticism as opposed to something more risqué.
Caroline, a senior, got involved with filmmaking through the broadcast-journalism program at her school. Assigned to create a documentary, she didn’t have to look far to find an intriguing subject: Her older sister, Jeni Janover, teaches pole dancing in Norwalk. For her project, Caroline, seventeen, interviewed four women, including Jeni, about their passion for the fitness regimen. But it’s the footage of them performing on the pole—controlling, contorting and moving their bodies—that leaves viewers mesmerized. “Usually they say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe she did that; I didn’t know anybody had the physical strength to do that,’” says Caroline.
The six-minute film took first place in the documentary category at the inaugural Greenwich Youth Film Festival last April. The competition, put on by the Junior League of Greenwich, drew 120 entries from high school students throughout Fairfield and Westchester counties. More than 300 people attended the event at Greenwich Library. “Caroline’s film depicted pole dancing in a very positive light, a very empowering-women kind of light,” says Ginger Stickel of the Junior League.
Caroline is fascinated with the creative process. “At my age you can have a fantastic idea for a film but a dearth of resources. You have to really work to get the production on its feet,” she says.
As one of the student creative directors for Sacred Heart’s broadcast-journalism program this year, she is helping to shape the still-evolving course of study. She’s also an intern for Darien Government Access Television, manning the camera at town meetings. In her free time she’s been watching a lot of old movies, building a foundation in classics like The Godfather, Vertigo and Raging Bull. Her plans for college have yet to come into focus. For now, she’s looking forward to the year ahead. She’s senior class president, after all. To help win that job, she plastered posters all over her school, touting herself, tongue in cheek, as the heir apparent in a line of great presidents: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt …and Caroline Kelly. Unlike her counterparts in Washington, D.C., Caroline understands what her constituents truly want: “I’m going to try to make this year as fun as possible,” she promises.
9. Polo to Politics
FREDERICK “J” WHELAN
Greenwich High School Class of 2012
Frederick Whelan, who goes by the nickname J, from his middle initial, likes to test his skills against others, whether it’s playing water polo, swimming or taking part in an academic competition. By all indications, he’s done pretty well, too. He’s been part of championship teams. He’s been a stellar student. And he’s collected his share of kudos, including being named All-America for water polo. And while he welcomes the recognition as much as anyone, what really fires his engine is the one-on-one challenge of his favorite sport. “Water polo is an aggressive, competitive sport and that fits in with my nature,” he says.
A freshman at Middlebury College, J played the middle position for the Cardinals, finishing last season as the second-leading scorer, despite an injured shoulder. His was a demanding job in a physical game. “It’s pretty rough above the water,” J says, “but below the water it’s extremely rough.”
J was part of the school’s undefeated, Mid-Atlantic Coast championship team during his junior year, and he was a captain his senior year. He also swam three years for Greenwich High’s juggernaut swim team (100-yard backstroke and 200-yard medley), scoring points in the state championship both sophomore and junior years. (He was hurt senior year.)
On dry land, one of his passions is political science. J worked for State Representative Fred Camillo’s re-election in 2010. That same year he was a key contributor to Greenwich High’s winning the state title in the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution competition. In that event, school teams participate in a mock Congressional hearing, fielding questions from a panel of experts. Greenwich High finished fifteenth in the national finals in Washington, D.C.
The eighteen-year-old plans to study economics at Middlebury. The Vermont college has no varsity water polo team, so he will have to be content with club competition and swimming. His main focus is to prepare for a career on Wall Street, which in certain respects could be likened to water polo. “For me, playing a game requires preparation and execution,” says J. “In business, there’s a ton of preparation, lots of research and analysis. And that all feeds into how you’re going to execute your plan. That competitive game strategy is something that’s really enticing to me.”
10. Winning the Argument
ANNIE DEL GENIO
King Low Heywood Thomas Class of 2014
It can’t be a very good feeling to face off against Annie Del Genio in a debate. She has a friendly, unassuming nature, but give her an opening and she’ll slice and dice your argument so methodically that you’ll wonder what just happened. “Debate is mentally challenging, but it’s a rewarding experience,” she says. “I like that it helps me learn about a broad range of issues. In each debate you have to prepare both sides of an argument, so it helps me to look at every aspect of an issue.”
Given that the Cos Cob resident is only a junior at King Low Heywood Thomas in Stamford, the next two years look bleak for her opposition. Annie and her partner, Caroline Ryan, have qualified for the state finals for the past two years. And though varsity debate is generally the province of seniors and juniors, the pair moved up to the team when they were still underclassmen.
Annie, sixteen, is always on the lookout for different approaches, new tactics and more knowledge. This summer, she took part in a weeklong program about American law at Georgetown University. Because her school debates incorporate the U.S. Constitution into the mix, that experience will only make her a more formidable opponent. She also has a passion for history. She’s already taken AP European history and is enrolled in AP U.S. history this year. “It’s the base for society today,” she says.
For some people, of any age, it’s uncomfortable standing front and center before an audience, but Annie feels at home there. Besides debate, she’s sung in the choir, both the fifty-student edition and the chamber ensemble, for two years now. She likes the variety, singing in different languages and styles. An alto, she also enjoys the teamwork and coming together of many voices. “When everyone knows their piece, and we’re performing, it’s a really fun experience,” she says. “And it creates a powerful sound.”
Annie is captain of the math team, plays varsity golf and takes ballet classes outside of school. Last spring, she won King’s Outstanding Citizen award. “She’s brilliant,” says head of the Upper School, Marnie Sadlowsky. “She’s a top-notch intellect with a kind, caring spirit.”