The 25 Most Impressive Kids Graduating From High School This Year
They’re barely 18 years old, but these high school students are doing more than most adults could ever hope to do in their lifetimes. Their resumes will make your jaw drop: There’s a scientist who built a nuclear reactor in his father’s garage, a swimmer who won four Olympic gold medals, and a self-taught coder who runs his own app development company.
And more importantly, they prove that age really has no bearing on what people are able to accomplish. Listed in alphabetical order, we found the 25 most impressive students graduating from high school this year.
Max Rosenberg contributed to this story.
Sabrina Brady created a drawing that was seen by millions of people on Google’s home page.
High school: Sparta Senior High School, Sparta, Wisc.
What makes her impressive: Last month the Google home page depicted a touching doodle where a young girl embraces a man wearing a military uniform. The doodle was the heartfelt work of Sabrina Brady, recapturing the moment her father returned home from an 18-month deployment in Iraq when she was 10 years old. Brady won the prestigious Doodle 4 Google contest, as well as glory on the Google homepage, a $30,000 college scholarship, a Google Chromebook, and a $50,000 technology grant for her school.
Brady’s drawing, titled “Coming Home,” was chosen in a user vote among over 130,000 entries from students in grades K through 12, who were instructed to draw the “best day ever,” according to Google Technologist Daniel Sieberg in an interview on The TODAY Show.
Plans for next year: Brady will continue studying art at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) this fall.
Donald Chao started a non-profit that teaches people about the ecosystem.
Courtesy of Donald Chao
High school: Newport High School, Bellevue, Wash.
What makes him impressive: Chao founded a non-profit organization in 2011 called the Ocean Acidification Education Project, which teaches people and organizations about their impact on marine ecosystems in the Puget Sound. The goal is that these people can then influence Washington state legislation to implement better, stricter methods of carbon dioxide emission reduction.
Chao also kick-started a program called Teach My Grandma, which “offers personalized, one-on-one, bilingual instruction at locations convenient for the client, whether that be at his or her retirement community or at a local Starbucks,” he tells us. “We specialize in social media (i.e., Facebook and Skype), but can teach everything from computers/internet for beginners to Quickbooks.”
He says he’s also developing several other entrepreneurial projects, including a titanium dioxide-infused exterior paint used to neutralize greenhouse gases released by automobiles.
Chao speaks English, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, and Taiwanese Hokkien. He also taught himself how to pick locks, which is a hobby he enjoys doing as a puzzle, and also to help his friends. To be clear, Chao tells us, he only picks locks with permission from others.
Plans for next year: Chao plans to continue working on OAEP and Teach My Grandma as a freshman at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in the fall.
Conrad Farnsworth is the first person in Wyoming to build a nuclear fusion reactor.
High school: Newcastle High School, Newcastle, Wyo.
What makes him impressive: Conrad Farnsworth has managed to do something that all of 60 people, at most, have done: achieve nuclear fusion.
Farnsworth built a nuclear reactor in his father’s garage in order to enter a science fair. However, he was disqualified for supposedly competing in too many science fairs, and in the wrong order, according to the Star-Tribune.
“It’s frustrating having four years to get to a single point go down the drain… And it’s silly. It’s a science fair. Seriously, aren’t they supposed to be promoting science and not bureaucracy?” Farnsworth told the Star Tribune.
Regardless, Farnsworth can feel good knowing that he is the first person in Wyoming to build a nuclear fusion reactor.
Plans for next year: Farnsworth plans to attend the South Dakota School of Mines in the fall.
Chelesa Fearce became valedictorian and will enter college as a junior, even after living in a homeless shelter.
High school: Charles Drew High School, Atlanta, Ga.
What makes her impressive: Seventeen-year-old Chelesa Fearce was recently named valedictorian of her class with a GPA of 4.5 and an SAT score of 1900—and she did it all while she and her family were homeless.
Fearce, her mother, and four siblings have lived out of a hotel, a car (when they had one), and various shelters. Fearce’s mother pushed her and her siblings to surround themselves with opportunities to learn by studying in the library as much as they could and taking college-level courses in school.
“I would have to just open my book in the dark and use a cellphone light, and do what I had to do,” Fearce told the Examiner.
Now the family is living in an apartment, and Fearce is on her way to college.
Plans for next year: Fearce now has so many credits from taking college-level courses that she will enter Spelman College in the fall as a junior.
Missy Franklin won five Olympic medals and a new American record in the London Olympics for swimming.
High school: Regis Jesuit High School, Aurora, Colo.
What makes her impressive: Missy Franklin took home five medals—four of them gold—for the U.S. Olympic swimming team at the London Olympics last year.
When she was 13, Franklin competed at the U.S. Olympic team trials, but failed to qualify for any races. She qualified for the London 2012 Olympics by finishing first in the 100-meter back, setting a new American record in the process.
Franklin plans to swim in the world championships in Barcelona this summer, and has tentative plans to turn pro after the 2015 NCAA championships.
Plans for next year: Franklin will be attending the University of California at Berkeley, and will be swimming for their team as well.
Shea Gouldd opened her award-winning bakery when she was 14 years old.
High school: Spanish River Community High School, Boca Raton, Fla.
What makes her impressive: Without any formal training, Shea Gouldd began making custom-made gourmet cheesecakes and breads and selling them at age 14.
The response was so positive that she opened a shop in Delray Beach, Shea’s Bakery, and since then sales have doubled every year. This year the bakery was named as a 2013 “Best of Weddings” pick by wedding website The Knot.
Now Gouldd bakes and sells more than 60 items out of her shop, from wedding cakes to cupcakes to her Pattycakes—a cupcake sandwich she invented and is patenting.
Earlier this year Gouldd was named National Young Entrepreneur of the Year from the National Federation of Independent Business Young Entrepreneur Foundation.
Outside her business, Gouldd maintains a 4.7 GPA and likes to play the saxophone.
Plans for next year: Gouldd will attend Washington University in St. Louis, where she plans to study business. Her bakery will be run by an employee while she’s in school.
Lane Gunderman’s research on photosynthesis made him an Intel finalist—an especially impressive feat considering that he spent part of his childhood homeless.
Courtesy of Lane Gunderman
High school: University of Chicago Lab High School, Chicago, Ill.
What makes him impressive: Lane Gunderman made it to the final round of the Intel Science Talent Search for his research on energy transportation in photosynthesis. He wanted to create a synthetic material that can mimic a natural scientific process. This feat is impressive in its own right, but Gunderman did it after spending part of his life homeless.
As a child, the Chicago native shuffled from shelter to shelter with his family.
Gunderman was home schooled by his mother until the sixth grade when he entered public school for the first time. His teachers recognized his aptitude for the sciences and persuaded him to apply to the prestigious University of Chicago Lab High School, where he attended on a full ride.
No longer homeless, Gunderman then went on to become the co-captain of his school’s Quiz Bowl and Linguistics Teams, a varsity member of the Science and Math Teams, and a member of the Latin Club.
Plans for next year: Gunderman will be attending MIT in the fall where he plans to study chemistry, materials science, or electrical engineering/computer science.
Aaron Guo founded a non-profit organization to inspire kids to enter STEM fields.
Courtesy of Aaron Guo
High school: Battlefield High School, Haymarket, Va.
What makes him impressive: When Aaron Guo learned that kids in Prince William County, Va., were falling behind in science and math, he co-founded Project AIMESS (Advancing In-Depth Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Skills), a non-profit that provides local elementary school students with opportunities to explore the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through a hands-on after school curriculum led by high school mentors.
Not only does Guo teach some of the lessons, but he runs the business side of the organization, and plans to double the enrollment for the 2013-2014 school year.
Guo is also the international director with the Color My World Project, a non-profit that takes donated crayons from restaurants and brings them to homeless shelters, day cares, orphanages, and other institutions that may not be able to afford art supplies for kids. As the international director, Guo handles the day-to-day operations of the international organization in 17 states and two countries.
A percussionist in his school’s marching band and a member of the robotics team, Guo is interning at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, DC this summer, creating curricula and activities for students in robotics and STEM camps.
Plans for next year: Guo will attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology pursuing degrees in chemical and biomolecular engineering and economics.
Eesha Khare invented a device that can charge a cell phone in under 30 seconds.
High school: Lynbrook High School, San Jose, Calif.
What makes her impressive: Annoyed by the fact that her cell phone battery kept dying, Eesha Khare created a battery-sized supercapacitor which acts as a portable energy storage device that can completely charge a cell phone in under 30 seconds. Her invention won her an Intel Young Scientist Award (and $50,000) at the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz.
“I think the best part of my project was really seeing its practical applications,” Khare tells Intel. “And it’s more affordable actually [than normal batteries], and it’s also a lot more environmentally friendly.”
It holds a surprising amount of energy, given its size, which also makes it conveniently portable. The device also saves potentially wasted electricity, as users won’t need to plug their phones into outlets as often.
Plans for next year: Khare is planning to attend Harvard in the fall.
William LeGate has spent the last five years running a successful iPhone app development company.
High school: The Walker School, Marietta, Ga.
What makes him impressive: William LeGate started iPhone application development company Imagination Research Labs when he was just 13, and has been running it ever since. He taught himself how to code through online Stanford University lectures and practice.
LeGate’s goal is to change the way people discover apps and use apps for the things around us. LeGate himself has created more than a dozen apps, including Quick News, Fake-A-Text, and Game Giveaway. His apps have been downloaded more than five million times and are now used by one in 12 American teens.
Plans for next year: LeGate was awarded the prestigious Thiel Fellowship, and will be joining the other 2013 class of Thiel Fellows in the fall.
Izer Martinez battled dyslexia to become a competitive slam poet.
Photo courtesy of Izer Martinez
High school: The Gow School, South Wales, N.Y.
What makes him impressive: Martinez is a competitive slam poet—despite being dyslexic. Hoping to improve his writing and ability to put his thoughts on paper, Martinez learned to perform on stage, earning multiple awards for his poetry in school and at various open mic nights.
Since then, he won first place in the Slam Competition against the BAM Youth Slam Team and performed at the Canadian National Youth Poetry Slam Competition—the first American to do so.
Martinez hopes to help other dyslexic students by studying the cognitive science of dyslexia. For his senior thesis he researched the correlation between dyslexia and self-esteem to try to understand why dyslexics often feel less motivated than other students. He’ll present his thesis on a panel at the Multicultural Dyslexic Awareness Initiative Conference, a new two-day symposium on dyslexia, at Yale University in August.
On top of his poetry and interest in research on dyslexia, Martinez was the president of the student council and captain of his school’s varsity lacrosse, basketball, and soccer teams.
Plans for next year: Martinez will be attending the University of Pennsylvania in the fall on the Gates Millennium Scholarship, and plans to study cognitive science.
Miguel Medrano is one of the fastest problem-solving mathematicians in Texas.
Photo courtesy of Miguel Medrano
High school: Fabens High School, Fabens, Tex.
What makes him impressive: Miguel Medrano has been called a “human calculator” for the way his mind processes complex calculations. Medrano told the El Paso Times that he sees “the mathematical equations as challenges to investigate and solve,” and can solve geometric, algebraic, and calculus problems in a matter of seconds. He is a Texas State Champion in calculator applications.
In 2012 Medrano won first place at the University Interscholastic League State Academic Meet competition for calculator applications, and took home second place in mathematics. This year, he won first place in both events.
Medrano says he enjoys math because it’s a universal language. (He grew up only speaking Spanish at home, which made communicating in elementary school difficult.)
Plans for next year: He will be attending MIT in the fall, and plans to double-major in electrical engineering and computer science.
Harrison Miller is an orchestral bassoon player who has performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
High school: New Canaan High School, New Canaan, Conn.
What makes him impressive: Miller is a concert bassoonist who performs with the prestigious New York Symphony Orchestra. He has also performed solo in New York City’s Lincoln Center, and has played in three concerts at Carnegie Hall.
Surprisingly, Miller hasn’t been playing the bassoon since he was a child. Though he dabbled between the piano, flute, and viola when he was younger, he only picked up the bassoon four years ago. Now Miller has won a concerto competition at Juilliard, and volunteers as his the high school’s assistant band director.
When he’s not performing, Miller tutors students in Spanish. He also carves and whittles his own bassoon reeds.
Plans for next year: Miller will begin studying the bassoon as a freshman at the Julliard School in September, and hopes to pursue a career as an orchestral bassoonist or a soloist.
Jacob Rice started an organization that outfits underprivileged kids with new shoes.
High school: Berkeley Preparatory School, Tampa, Fla.
What makes him impressive: Rice is a 17-year-old who goes by an unusual nickname: the Shoe Giver of Tampa. Rice began his non-profit, Shoe Giver of Tampa (SGOT) at the age of 10 when he learned about an overwhelming number of children in his own community who couldn’t afford new shoes that fit correctly.
Rice started collecting new shoes from individual and corporate donors and giving them out at distribution events. At his first event, 72 kids signed up to receive a pair. To date, Rice tells us he has distributed over 2,500 shoes both nationally and internationally.
Plans for next year: Rice is planning to attend the University of Southern California in the fall. He plans to continue working with SGOT.
Andy Richardson is starring in a Broadway show.
Photo by Manny Carabel/Getty Images
High school: K12 International Academy, Online
What makes him impressive: Andy Richardson is currently starring in the Broadway musical Newsies as the character Crutchie.
The San Antonio, Tex., native was in his high school English class when he found out he got a part in the show, he told Playbill.com. At first he was a member of the ensemble, but in March he moved into the principal role.
“This is my first principal role,” he told My San Antonio. “It’s so fun getting to do it.”
But it’s not Richardson’s first Broadway appearance; he has also appeared in How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 2007 and Gypsy in 2008.
Richardson says that if he doesn’t have a career as an actor, he would love to be an American Sign Language interpreter.
Plans for next year: Richardson will attend New York University’s Gallatin School of Individual Studies in the fall where he plans to study theater and American Sign Language.
Meghan Shea invented a new, cheaper water filter using a common tree seed.
High school: Unionville High School, West Chester, Penn.
What makes her impressive: After learning about the seeds from the Moringa oleifera tree, Meghan Shea built the simple water filter, which can reduce bacteria like E. coli and other contaminants up to 99 percent. When immersed in water, the seeds release a protein that causes pollutants to clump together, making it easier for other filtering materials to actually catch the pollutants.
Shea’s prototype gained her recognition as one of 40 finalists at the Intel Science Talent Search. She hopes that her filter can be used in areas where clean water is scarce, as the existing filters that use the same tree seeds are too difficult to use.
Shea is also the co-editor in chief of her school’s newspaper and captain of the drumline.
Plans for next year: In the fall, Shea will be attending Stanford University.
Kensen Shi developed a mathematical formula that helps robots move around obstacles.
Courtesy of Kensen Shi
High school: A&M Consolidated High School, College Station, Tex.
What makes him impressive: Kensen Shi won first place (and a $100,000 scholarship) in the Siemens Competition for Math, Science, and Technology for developing an algorithm that helps robots move around obstacles.
By combining two algorithms to make a more efficient, and faster, single algorithm, Shi was able to develop something like a scientific loophole that could one day be used to get robots to operate driverless cars.
Shi is also the president of his high school’s math club, captain of the science bowl team, school recycling director, and an accomplished pianist. In his spare time, he enjoys solving Rubik’s cubes, and has a personal record of 13 seconds, he tells us.
This summer Shi will continue working at the Parasol Laboratory on his next project, attempting to solve the same problem (obstacle avoidance by robots), only with a different strategy.
Plans for next year: Shi will be attending Stanford University in the fall, and plans to major in computer science.
Claressa Shields is first American woman to win a gold medal in boxing in the Olympics.
Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images
High school: Flint Northwestern High School, Flint, Mich.
What makes her impressive: A middleweight boxer, Claressa Shields defeated Russian boxer Nadezda Torlopova at the London games last summer, becoming the first U.S. woman to win gold in boxing.
Shields’ father is a former fighter himself, and he introduced her to the sport of boxing when she was 11. Since then she’s trained with the same coach, Jason Crutchfield, who put his faith in her to qualify, and win, at the Olympics.
Shields overcame many obstacles before receiving her high school diploma earlier this month. She admitted in an interview with Essence magazine that she was sexually abused by a family acquaintance as a child, and her father was in prison for a large part of her childhood. But it hasn’t stopped her from getting to where she wants to be.
Plans for next year: Shields isn’t sure whether or not she’ll compete in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, but she plans to remain active in sports when she begins studying sports broadcasting and business at Olivet College in the fall.
Jamie Stein collects, donates, and delivers books to U.S. troops stationed all around the world.
High school: Ardsley High School, Ardsley, N.Y.
What makes her impressive: As a high school freshman, Jamie Stein founded Books to Soldiers, which takes donates books and ships them to soldiers around the U.S. and the world. Through the program, Stein has already donated over 20,000 books.
Stein was inspired to create Books to Soldiers after she met her physical therapist, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who told her how reading helped him by distracting him from the fighting and violence of war.
Stein is also the captain of the varsity tennis and ski teams, and plays soccer and baseball with special needs students in a “Buddies Program,” according to the Rivertowns Enterprise.
Plans for next year: Stein will be attending the University of Colorado at Boulder next year and plans to study advertising.
Shaun Verma started a program that connects doctors and students and brings health care to underserved communities.
Courtesy of Shaun Verma
High school: Milton High School, Milton, Ga.
What makes him impressive: Shaun Verma founded a non-profit organization, MD Junior, when he was just 13 years old. MD Junior connects health care professionals—doctors, nurses, and administrators—with middle and high school students to build mentoring relationships and focus on bringing health care to underserved communities.
The organization has sprouted local chapters in more than seven states, all committed to bringing expert care to hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes in low-income neighborhoods in the U.S. and abroad.
Verma himself will be accompanying an MD Junior team to Honduras for the fourth time this summer, before entering college in the fall.
Plans for next year: Verma is planning to attend Johns Hopkins University in the fall.
Sara Volz’s research on alternative fuels earned her the top prize—and $100,000—in the Intel Science Talent Search.
High school: Cheyenne Mountain High School, Colorado Springs, Colo.
What makes her impressive: Sara Volz has been doing research on alternatives to petroleum-based fuels since the seventh grade, and this year her research on algae biofuels won her first place—and $100,000—at the Intel Science Talent Search.
Volz researched algae that produces an oil that can be converted into a sustainable fuel. Sounds great, but the downside is that the fuel can be expensive. So, using artificial selection she created a way to separate out the algae that produces the highest amount of oil, which can then be converted into a more affordable alternative fuel.
Volz shows an incredible amount of devotion to her research: she built a home lab under her lofted bed and sleeps on the same light cycle as her algae.
Plans for next year: Volz will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall, and has said that she hopes to pursue a career in academia.
Brittany Wenger built an artificial ‘brain’ that can accurately diagnose breast cancer.
High school: The Out-of-Door Academy, Sarasota, Fla.
What makes her impressive: Brittany Wenger has created several groundbreaking programs that can detect and diagnose cancer.
Her first breakthrough was the creation of Cloud4Cancer, a computer program that serves almost like an “artificial brain” that can assess tissue samples for breast cancer. The computer is 99.1 percent sensitive to malignancy, and won her first place in last year’s Google Science Fair and a $50,000 scholarship.
This year Wenger created a similar cloud-based program that enables computers to diagnose an aggressive form of leukemia by creating a diagnostic tool doctors can use, according to Mashable.
Wenger learned how to code in seventh grade, and in tenth grade, when her cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer, she applied her skills toward the medical field.
“I became really interested in applying my passion for artificial intelligence to my newfound interest in breast cancer diagnostics,” Wenger told Mashable.
Wenger is a top student and plays on her school’s varsity soccer team. Outside of school, Wenger has given four TED Talks on her work and how to use “global neural network cloud services” to transform the way doctors can more quickly and accurately diagnose potentially fatal cancers.
Plans for next year: Wenger is planning to attend Duke University in the fall. She wants to become a pediatric oncologist in the future.
Jordyn Wieber took home a gold medal for the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team in London last year.
Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images
High school: DeWitt High School, DeWitt, Mich.
What makes her impressive: At the London Olympic Games last year, Jordyn Wieber competed on the vault, the uneven bars, and the floor, earning scores that won the U.S. Gymnastics Team an Olympic gold medal.
While Wieber had been competing since she was four years old, she first gained serious attention in 2011, when she competed at the American Cup. The 17-year-old has traveled all over the world to compete, culminating in last summer’s Olympics in London.
Plans for next year: Wieber plans to attend the University of California Los Angeles in the fall. Being a professional gymnast, she’s not allowed to compete on the college team, but has been invited to be the team’s assistant coach.
Maxim Zaslavsky is developing a device that will help patients with ALS communicate better.
High school: The Bishop’s School, San Diego, Calif.
What makes him impressive: Maxim Zaslavsky is working on a device designed to help patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, communicate better.
The device could potentially enable people like theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who suffers from the degenerative disease, to communicate through a direct pathway between the brain and an external device via a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI).
Zaslavsky also plays classical and jazz piano, saxophone, and clarinet, and is the founder of Legato Network, an online community that connects musicians and instruments through a 2D or 3D map that shows musicians where instruments are publicly located anywhere in the world.
Zaslavsky, who is only 15 years old, speaks Russian and French fluently, and is proficient in multiple computer programming languages.
Plans for next year: He will be attending Princeton University in the fall.
Danielle Ziaja is a talented writer who founded a non-profit that donates basic household necessities to families in need.
Courtesy of Danielle Ziaja
High school: Detroit Country Day School, Beverly Hills, Mich.
What makes her impressive: Danielle Ziaja is the founder of the Clean Start Service Project, which collects items like toothpaste, soap, and other necessities for families in need.
Ziaja has personally collected over 85,000 items for charity, making it the largest donation by an individual in the history of four different charities.
Ziaja is also a talented poet and writer—she won the prestigious Scholastic Silver Key for her writing and is also the editor-in-chief of Spectrum, which won national first place for a student literary magazine from the American Scholastic Press Association. She’s also a varsity bowler and a Red Cross-certified lifeguard.
Plans for next year: Ziaja will be attending the University of Michigan in the fall and plans to study physics or engineering while continuing her art and involvement in community service.