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Terrific Teens to Watch

West Hartford Magazine’s Third Annual Assemblage of Noteworthy West Hartford Graduates

As the new school year begins, we take pride in our annual review of outstanding high school graduates. While there are countless others, we have selected eight students from four West Hartford high schools as an example of excellence to their peers, validating their worthiness!

What makes these terrific teens stand out? They are each a role model in their own right. From overcoming incredible challenges from childhood to simply standing out as award winning athletes or scholars, you are sure to agree that these eight teens are to be admired.

They all have an admirable work ethic and understand that you cannot accept opportunities life gives you without paying it forward. Having that unstoppable drive to accomplish what they set out to achieve…all while taking time to give back to their community. It’s their collective compassionate and philanthropic spirit that we all can learn from.

Each of these eight terrific teens gives credit to their family, school and community for helping to pave the way for them, in order to succeed. They are truly our new rising stars in the community. An inspiration to all!

BLAKE RANDALL “the performer”

BradThe world of musical theater is certainly going to be enlightened in the near future when Kingswood Oxford graduate, Blake Randall takes the stage professionally. As a musical theater major, Blake is enrolled at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, a place where  he already feels very much at home.

“I was born in Oklahoma but used to live in Texas so I’m accustomed to the area.” He explains. He is enjoying his time in college honing his skills in musical theater, as he plans on becoming a professional actor for stage or film in the future.

Blake’s years at Kingswood Oxford were especially instrumental in shaping his future goals. He had performed in the school’s winter musical over the last three years, was in the full school choir all four years, the select school choir and even performed as a member of the renowned all-boys acappella group, ‘Crimson 7’. Blake loves to sing and jam on his guitar in his free time, as well.

Not to be out-shadowed by his musical abilities, Blake is also an impressive football player. He not only played on his high school football team, ‘the Wyverns’ (a type of dragon), but he was also senior captain of the team and even had the role of playing the school mascot, for which Kingswood Oxford was ranked 3rd place in USA Today for best mascot, an honor that provided Blake an exclusive appearance, in costume, on NBC’s ‘The Today Show’ last winter!

Favorite memories of high school are already engrained in Blake’s mind.

“Winning the first football home opener as a senior and as team captain is something I will never forget. But also, an unforgettable memory was the opportunity to experience a foreign country with friends from high school.” Blake refers fondly to his two service trips to Paraguay, where he and other KO students donated shoes and clothes, built and refurbished classrooms, bathrooms, and even school buildings for the less fortunate.

Who does Blake attribute for his drive and passion in life? He answers without skipping a beat, “My parents.  They have been a huge influence on me. They have given me inspiration and have been exceptionally supportive in all that I do.” He adds, “I hold a certain standard in which to live by. Growing up in the south has taught me to see things differently. I am grateful for everything I have. My opportunities have come because of the many great people who came before me. If you choose to be an honest and good person, don’t hide any of it. Get out there and take risks.”

Despite his passion for all things musical, Blake’s favorite subjects in high school were history and English, attributing that to the excellent teachers at Kingswood Oxford. His favorite food is grilled cheese sandwiches and his best local hang-out with friends is Moe’s. “Ever since it opened, when I was in 8th grade, it’s offered me a great place to meet friends, hang out, talk and grab a bite to eat!”

Words of advice for up and coming high school students? “My favorite quote comes from a Tim MCGraw song, ‘Live like you were dying’. It’s simple and straight forward. Everyone should live their life that way!”

ALISON CONNORS “the basketball enthusiast”

AlisonHonor student, Alison Connors, a recent graduate of Northwest Catholic High School, truly understands what it means to be a contributor to her community and her school. She has achieved all her accomplishments through focus and hard work but is also aware that is it important to pay it forward through selfless acts of volunteerism.

Alison was the senior captain of her school basketball team. “I also coach two different basketball teams in my community,” She notes, “through the West Hartford travel program and the CT Rebels AAU program.”

Despite being so busy on the basketball court, Alison always made time for her school and community service. She served as a student leader for freshman orientation at her school and taught CCD at her church, St. Helena in West Hartford. Through her ACTS class (‘A Chance To Serve’) she set up various charity drives for different causes through the Catholic Worker House. “It was a great opportunity to give back.” She says, adding that her favorite school memory was a camping trip she took through the ACTS class at school. “We were in this very rustic campsite for four days. Nothing was pre-done. We stayed in tents, lit fires to cook food. It was pretty cool.”

A member of the National Honor Society, Alison says her favorite subjects in school were always the sciences…biology, in particular. Her dream is to become a physical therapist with special interest in kids and athletes. She is currently majoring in biology at Springfield College.

But Alison isn’t all work and no play. She knows the value of keeping balance. She loves going to the beach with friends and family and loves babysitting because she adores children.  Laughing at a good comedy, whether in a book or at the movies, is a great time. Her favorite local hang-out? The Coolidge gym in the old field house of Kingswood Oxford. “It’s a fun place to shoot hoops with friends!”

Her favorite food is pasta, her favorite color is blue, and her most favorite possession in the world is a small stuffed kangaroo toy that her best friend gave her.

She points out that her biggest role model has been her dad, Ed Connors. “He has always been there for me and my sisters. Well, so has my mom, but, my dad and I seem to have so much in common, such as all things sports. He has coached me in basketball all the way up to high school.” He always used to tell me, ‘The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel’ which inspires me to always keep going.” After all, she surmises, “the more work you put into something, the better it will be. Nothing easy is really worth it.”

KATIE NEWTON “the athletic scholar”

katieIt has been proven that high academic ability really can go hand in hand with incredible athleticism. Conard High School graduate, Katie Newton is a shining example.  As an All-State athlete for gymnastics and as an All-State academic, Katie was the only female at Conard to receive the prestigious ROTC National Scholar Athlete Award.

“It was quite an honor for me to receive the award,” reflects Katie, “A former soldier actually presented me with a certificate and a medal!”

But it should come as no surprise to those that know her. Katie has always been a high achiever. This AP scholar is a member of the National Honor Society and the Latin Honor Society. In high school, Katie was the captain of both the gymnastics team and track team.  She has been a gymnast for most of her childhood. Now attending UConn, she is majoring in physical therapy with a focus in sports recovery. “My favorite subjects in school were always math and science. And I loved psychology. I find it interesting to see how everything works for me and those around me as far as how people are acting and what is trending in the world.”

Her best role models have been her parents. “They always showed me right and wrong and what to do in order to be successful.” The West Hartford community may know her mother, Ronni, as the former regional editor for Patch.com.

Katie has also been an active part of her community through volunteer work. She is most proud of her mission trips to New Orleans, as part of the St. James Episcopal Church’s youth group. “We built, renovated and cleaned out post-Katrina water damaged structures and helped families get their homes back.” During the summer, Katie worked full time as a camp counselor at ‘Camp Funtastic’, held in various town parks. “I love being part of a team.” She says, “A sports team, a club or as a camp counselor with a team of children.”

In school, she was the co-president of the ‘Kids helping kids club’, whereby she spearheaded fundraising campaigns to teach special needs children in the community how to ride two wheel bikes. “It’s incredible. Very rewarding!”

Katie’s favorite food is blueberry muffins and her favorite color, as she describes it, is “yellow…always a happy color!”

Her favorite fashion accessory these days is a bright turquoise blue purse she treated herself to while on a recent trip to Italy, a cultural trip she took with fellow Latin students at her school. “It was an incredible experience to share the memories with so many of my classmates. So nice. Very cool.”

A lover of romantic comedy books and movies, Katie prefers to keep all things in her life very positive. “My favorite thing to do is visit my grandparents, who live in Nantucket. We spend many summers and holidays there. It makes me happy.”

She lives with purpose and clarity. She reminds everyone of her favorite quote:  “Don’t let your dreams become dreams.”

GLYNN BARON III  “the rebounder”

GlynnGlynn Baron III is a proud Conard High School graduate, as well as a graduate of the Greater Hartford Math and Science Academy…completing both schools simultaneously, with honors. To really appreciate this accomplishment, it is especially important is to understand the challenges Glynn had to endure as a young child.

“When I was just seven years old, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor,” Glynn explains. “I had to move to Tennessee for treatment at St. Jude’s Hospital. I missed a year of school.” His fighting spirit was always a part of who he was. “I’m ten years out of remission now. Thankfully my MRI’s are clean. On a personal level, I don’t see myself different than others but I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore!”

Attending Stetson University in Deland, Florida, Glynn is hoping to go into the pre-med program with aspirations of one day becoming a sports medicine doctor.

At Conard High, Glynn always leaned toward math and science, which is why he also enrolled at the Greater Hartford Math & Science Academy, a regional school for kids with an excelled interest in math and science. “Going to both schools made for a very long school day,” he reflects, “but being a part of two such great schools made it all worth it!”

Glynn was an honor student and member of the Bio-diesel club, where he worked on projects such as turning algae into oil to convert into usable diesel fuel. “It was a completely student run club. It was a great experience. We got to manage grants and a slice of the real world. We had total control!”

The people he is most thankful for in life is his grandfather, Henry and his grandmother, Maria, who never left his side at the hospital when he was hundreds of miles away from the rest of his family, living in Memphis. “They were literally always there for me. They gave me full support. They always assured me that I was going to be okay.”

Glynn is every bit a typical teen now. A lover of baseball, Glynn enjoys life to the fullest. He was on the baseball team, played basketball rec league and hockey for fun. He loves to get out and play sports with friends and doing volunteer work as a tutor at Webster Hill Elementary school.

His favorite local hang-out? “Since I live nearby, I like playing basketball on the courts at Webster Hill Elementary.” Glynn’s favorite food is mashed potatoes and his favorite color is blue. He loves suspense and fantasy movies.

“One place I’d like to visit in the near future is Italy, because of its rich culture, history and food.” He says, “I would like to meet some of my cousins living there. My grandmother was also born there.”

Getting a second chance at life has changed Glynn’s outlook forever. He appreciates all of life’s moments, big and small. He took time this summer to go fishing with his dad in Canada. He vacationed in Hawaii with his family before leaving for school.

He reminds us of Michael Jordan’s quote, which is a favorite saying of his: “I can accept failure but I can’t accept not trying.”

GRACE KAUFMAN “future photo journalist”

GraceCreativity simply abounds in Kingswood Oxford graduate, Grace Kaufman. As an aspiring artist, photographer and journalist, Grace wrote and illustrated her first book manuscript in the 5th grade! She has her eye on someday working professionally for a magazine.

Now attending Boston University, Grace is wrapping her major around art, communication and design. Her love of the arts is an integral part of who she is.

“When I’m not studying, you can find me painting landscapes at the beach or traveling to take interesting photos.” She says.

While at Kingswood Oxford High School, Grace was the photographer for the school newspaper and on the yearbook committee. She also loves swimming and playing lacrosse.

Her favorite subject in school was French. “I liked French class a lot. The way it was structured was like you were actually in a different country for that class period!”

One of her favorite role models was her Kingswood Oxford swim coach, Mr. Kraus. “He just had a way to calm me down when I was anxious before a swim meet. He always knew what to say and was always there for me if I needed to talk.”

As a future journalist, Grace knows how to step in and get involved. She participated in The Team Tobati community service trip to Paraguay with her school, and was part of The Shield and Dragon Program, touring perspective families around the school. She volunteers year after year at the Hartford Marathon, doing whatever was needed, collecting runners’ backpacks, organizing them in the trucks, or handing out waters. Over the summer, Grace helped children as a swim instructor at Renbrook Day Camp.

Grace won the Hemmingway Parody Award through her English class in her junior year, after submitting a paper she wrote. She was also senior swim captain of her team and placed second in New England.

But her best school memory was seeing first hand, how the smallest of gifts can help people in need. While on her mission trip to Paraguay, she went into a classroom and gave the kids toothbrushes and taught them how to brush their teeth.

“Things we take for granted here are a luxury in other places. These children never knew basic hygiene. We really made a difference.”

Grace admits her favorite foods are ice cream and chocolate muffins. She loves the color turquoise and her favorite hang-out place in town with friends is Elizabeth Park. “You have to go toward the top of the park so you can see the Hartford skyline. I love looking at cities.”

Her dream is to someday visit Israel, a culture she says she has learned about for many years.

So many things set this creative soul apart from her peers, but Grace attributes her unique vision to her family. “My dad’s side of the family is especially artistic. Like my dad, I see things differently. I don’t really follow trends. I like to step back and really look at the beauty in everything!”

RYAN COURSEY “future business executive”

RyanFor Northwest Catholic graduate, Ryan Coursey, the business world is very intriguing to him after working several years as a community volunteer and being able to land a birds eye view of the needs of organizing a non-profit business structure.

Currently attending Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, Ryan is a business major with hopes of working at his father’s company as a financial planner.

Ryan integrated his love of sports into much of his community volunteerism. “I was a part of Catholic Worker House, which helps under-privileged kids have a place to go after hardship. I would play basketball with them, help them with their school work and more.” Ryan was also the West Hartford representative for the CT Boys State for the American Legion held at Eastern CT State University. “It was a great experience. In five days, we set up a mock government system, electing senators, judges and mayors. I was a part of this program for both my junior and senior years of high school.”

A member of the National Honor Society, Ryan is proud that he made honor roll every quarter for all 4 years at Northwest Catholic. His favorite subjects were AP U.S. History and AP U.S. Government. “Mr. Fitzpatrick was my Government teacher. He was great. Always the most interactive with students during class, making it fun.”

Probably as a result, he became an active part of the ‘model UN Club’ whereby each club member researched topics in particular countries. “I focused on environmental issues in Cuba. We got to go on a field trip to the United Nations and even got to meet with a Cuban diplomat.”

Although his favorite sport is baseball (he was on his high school baseball team all four years) he enjoys all sports, especially golf and town league basketball. His favorite local hang-out is Rockledge Golf course. His favorite team is the Red Sox, favorite color is purple and his favorite food is mussels.

Best memory of high school? “The day I turned a triple play in baseball during my junior year. I ended the game with bases loaded! That will stick in my mind forever!”

To relax, Ryan says he enjoys going to the movies with friends. “I go to movies a lot. I love all types of movies, especially comedies.”

“My biggest role models in life are my parents.” He says, “especially my dad. To see how hard he worked in his life and in college and to open up his own practice in the financial world, I have learned what hard work can do. I admire my dad’s work ethic.”

While settling in as a freshman at college, Ryan sees good things in his future. “I know if I work hard, I can accomplish anything I want. I enjoy spending time with my family in Cape Cod, but want to someday travel the world. I would love to go to Sweden. Most people don’t realize much of that country is just wilderness. I’ve always been intrigued.”

PIERCE HIGGINS “king of determination”

PiercePierce Higgins, a graduate of William H. Hall High School, exemplifies the true meaning of an achiever. Aside from being very involved in his school, his church and the West Hartford community, this honor student had a personal challenge that kept his determination always in focus.

Already a success story at age 18, Pierce is happy to share his challenge to help inspire others to succeed. “I have a speech impairment but I have dedicated the last fourteen years of my life to improving my speech.” In his early school years, he admits that his speech impairment started affecting his academic goals and even his social interactions with classmates. “I received a lot of support and guidance from my teachers, speech therapist and my parents. I studied very hard and really applied myself to obtain good grades. My hard work paid off.” Pierce was an honor roll student at Hall and was able to graduate on time with his peers. He is now a student at Manchester Community College majoring in Health & Exercise Science.

Captivated by the Chinese language, which was his favorite class in high school, Pierce would someday love to speak Mandarin fluently and work in the health care industry in China, because he advocates a healthy lifestyle. He now knows all things are possible.

At Hall, Pierce played soccer, tennis and wrestling. He notes that his favorite school memory was when he achieved his goal of making varsity tennis. He achieved the Central Connecticut Conference All Academic Team Award Varsity Letter/Two sport award. He was active in the Anime club, chess club, video game club and social club.

For his community, he volunteered with the Salvation Army at the annual block party in Hartford. He volunteered at the St. Joseph Church annual tag sale to help raise money for people who suffered from drug and alcohol abuse.

“My mom always said to me, ‘Pierce, the opponent does not exist!’ She inspired me to believe in myself and I will be the best in whatever I aspire to be.”

It should come as no surprise that Pierce’s favorite food is Asian Cuisine. His favorite color is green and his best hang-out for meeting friends in town is at Blue Back Square.

In his free time, when he is not studying, he enjoys guitar playing, rapping, exercising and dabbling on Chinese Facebook.

He says he will most remember his high school trip to China last spring. He dreams of one day expanding his Asian experience by discovering other countries, such as South Korea.

“I am equipped with the knowledge of how to advocate for myself. I have learned in my very young life that hard work pays. My motto in life is ‘Failure is not an option’!” His advice for kids in school, “No matter what the obstacles are, always keep working towards your goal!”

CLAIRE O’BRIEN “the soccer stand-out”

ClaireWilliam H. Hall High School graduate, Claire O’Brien is more than just your typical soccer enthusiast.  Her passion for the sport and her natural athletic ability for soccer secured her a place on her college soccer team, recruited by Stone Hill College in Massachusetts as an outstanding soccer player. This summer, Claire was in Kansas for a National Soccer competition.

There’s no stopping what this honor student can do. She gives everything her all and possesses an admirable winning spirit. Claire is a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. She was captain of the Hall soccer team and also played basketball and indoor/outdoor track during her high school years.

Claire received the 3-sport athlete award for all four years of high school. She also received the ‘Spirit of Hall’ award, for her work in supporting athletics. She received an academic award, as well, for receiving a 4.0 GPA all four years of high school and the Board of Education Award for leadership.

She invested much of her time to the Top Soccer team, serving as a mentor to teach and play soccer with special needs kids in the community.

She was also a member of the Empty Bowls club, raising money to feed the hungry through area soup kitchens, and a part of the school’s Link Crew, whereby upper classmen would help freshman get to know each other during orientation.

Claire spends much of her free time playing soccer, but also enjoys writing, reading and traveling. In college, she is leaning toward English and communications and would like to one-day write for a newspaper or magazine, especially if she could incorporate her love for travel into her job.

As a celebrity role model, Claire looks up to world-renowned soccer player, Alex Morgan. “She’s so inspiring. She is the youngest person ever to be on the women’s national team and a great role model for all young kids!”

“One of my fondest high school memories will always be our soccer team’s bonding weekend. Getting to know, trust and respect each other is so important.”

Despite being primarily a seafood lover, Claire mentions that her mom makes an amazing pulled pork, her favorite meal. Claire’s favorite color is blue and her best hangout in West Hartford is the movie theater at Blue Back Square. “I also love hanging out on Hall turf, playing soccer and working out with my sister and friends.”

“One of my favorite vacations was a family reunion in Ireland with my entire extended family. We rented a tour bus and drove all over the country. It was totally awesome! Closer to home, we have a home in Narragansett, RI, a place I love to visit. My dream destinations, however, are Paris, Brazil and Portugal.”

To understand Claire’s active life, so full of accomplishment, even at the age of 18, she gives a nod to her parents. “My parents always did sports. It became a natural part of me. They were always active. You become what you live.”

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