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The Class of 2012: A dozen grads to inspire you

Post by Debbie Cafazzo / The News Tribune on June 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm with No Comments »
June 15, 2012 2:56 pm

TNT’s 2012 All-Star Graduates


A dozen outstanding young people make up the 2012 News Tribune All-Star Graduates.

As we do every year, we asked a team of community members to choose this year’s standouts. They were selected from among 98 students nominated by 36 public and private high schools in Pierce and South King counties. They represent 12 high schools, as far north as Federal Way, east to Bonney Lake and west to Gig Harbor.

The 12 were chosen based on their records of academic achievement (taken together, their average GPA is 3.91 with many heavy Advanced Placement course loads and other rigorous classes), plus school and community involvement, leadership, special talents and in several cases overcoming adversity.

Their career goals reflect a focus on service to others and an interest in the wider world. Their backgrounds range from a Korean and an African immigrant to several students of mixed race.

Here’s a little more about each graduate. We hope you find their stories and accomplishments as inspiring as we do.

Tony Stedge, Rogers High School

TONY STEDGE

Rogers High School

Parents: Loyd and Kim Stedge

Residence: Puyallup

GPA: 3.99

Tony says he feels fortunate. He even composed a song called “Fortune” for his school’s choir. Its Latin lyrics talk about how people’s connections with one another might fade, but memories and love remain.

Tony wrote the song with his classmates in mind. But he has other life experiences to back it up.

When he was 3, his biological parents died in a car accident in his native Korea. His great aunt and great uncle, Loyd and Kim, adopted him and his older sister, raising them alongside their biological son.

“I would never be where I am without them,” he said.

He’s in a pretty good place. At Rogers, Tony did everything from help form the chamber orchestra to earn four “Most Inspirational” awards. He was a section leader in jazz band and lettered in three sports and in community service.

Outside school, he teaches beginning violin students and performs with a church praise team.

He admits he isn’t one to laze around and said he likes “feeling like I have a purpose.”

To him, being fortunate isn’t as much about circumstance as perspective. Faced with a challenge, “you can choose to make it a learning opportunity, a growing opportunity. A lot of times, it’s not as bad as you think.”

What’s next: Attend the University of Notre Dame to study music performance and mechanical engineering.

sara.schilling@ thenewstribune.com

Savannah Burr, Orting High

SAVANNAH BURR

Orting High School

Parents: Diana and Ernest Burr

Residence: Orting

GPA: 4.0

Savannah grew up in Japan, where her mom and dad were stationed with the U.S. Air Force. Then she lived in California with her grandmother for part of a year while both parents were deployed.

Not until sixth grade did she land in Orting – a hard adjustment at first. Most of her new classmates in the rural community had known each other for years.
“In the military schools, all the students are used to new students” because of the transient military population, she said.

But over time, Savannah established herself at Orting as an athlete, scholar, musician and mentor.

During her sophomore year she volunteered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, preparing information packets for deploying service members and their families. She’s involved in Orting’s WINGS program pairing adult and high school mentors with younger students.

Savannah originally wanted to learn trumpet, but her dad got her a tenor saxophone on Ebay. She started in sixth grade and played in high school concert band.

Savannah is also a high-level athlete. She bounced back from an injury to become a three-time state champion in track and field. She lettered in volleyball and basketball, too, and has counseled younger children at camps for those sports.

After rehabbing from injury, she was inspired to pursue physical therapy as a career.

“Both times I got injured, (my physical therapist) got me healthy,” she said.

What’s next: Attend the University of Washington.

karen.miller@ thenewstribune.com

Anelisse Peterson, Peninsula High

ANELISSE PETERSON

Peninsula High School

Parents: Denise and Glenn Peterson

Residence: Gig Harbor

GPA: 4.0

Leaving a sport midway through high school usually means giving up on dreams of competing at a major university. Not for Anelisse.

She walked away from cheerleading after her sophomore year but kept practicing gymnastics. Her hard work and focus paid off with a spot on Stanford University’s cheerleading team for her freshman year at the Pacific 12 powerhouse.

She aims to keep that edge while juggling school, sports and her commitment to the military on a Navy ROTC scholarship. It’s a tall order, but two other ROTC cheerleaders told her she can handle it.

“The physical aspect (of ROTC) is a nice break from school,” she said.

Anelisse is a natural at managing time. She’s the “family chauffeur” for two younger siblings, and she dedicates several hours a week to tutoring a family friend whose narcolepsy prevents him from going to school. She was especially proud of helping the middle school student raise his GPA from 2.0 to 3.0. Now the boy is talking about going to college one day.

Anelisse has been taking college-level math after exhausting Peninsula’s coursework a year ago. She says her many activities collectively help her excel, giving extra pressure to do her best work in academics and sports.

“I like being stressed out, so I don’t notice it as much,” she said.

What’s next: Attend Stanford University to study science or medicine.

adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com

Thomas Yabroff, Bellarmine Prep

THOMAS YABROFF

Bellarmine Preparatory School

Parents: Martin and Eve Yabroff

Residence: Gig Harbor

GPA: 3.99

Adults describe him as quirky, comfortable in his own skin, resistant to peer pressure. He’s at ease talking about the defenestration of Prague, or playing piano accompaniment for school Mass.

You can call him Thomas but he might declare he prefers Yabroff, as he did during roll call his first day of freshman honors humanities class.

“The rest of the class sat in rather stunned silence,” recalled teacher Leslie Gould. “Breaking the most important rule for any freshman – do nothing to draw attention to thyself – Yabroff simply said, ‘There are too many Thomases.’ ”

But he’s hardly a disagreeable sort. This well-traveled son of an Episcopal priest adapted to the Jesuit school and its principles of learning and service. He’s volunteered at his church food bank, at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, and for anyone who needs an accomplished pianist.

Thomas has studied French in France, played three brass instruments in two school bands, and tapped a dramatic vein in school theater productions. His leadership flourished on ASB and as Knowledge Bowl team captain.

Being the voice on the morning intercom announcements offered an outlet for both sides of his brain. He would close with a fun fact, followed by his signoff: “See, you learn something new every day, Bellarmine. Thanks for listening.”

What’s next: Study at Yale University, in preparation for an overseas career with a nongovernment organization.

matt.misterek@ thenewstribune.com

Laurel Garrett, Tacoma School of the Arts

LAUREL GARRETT

Tacoma School of the Arts

Parents: Steven and Susan Garrett

Residence: Tacoma

GPA: 3.99

There’s music inside Laurel’s home, and gardens and chickens outside. It’s the only place she’s lived – a happy place, full of purpose. She’s a lot like it.

Laurel was 6 when her parents asked which instrument she wanted to play. She chose violin and for seven years has played with Tacoma Youth Symphony. She was a member of her school orchestra, too.

She got a later start dancing, in the ninth grade.

“It filled a different part of me than the violin. The violin is strict and rigorous; you have to practice every day. Dancing is free. Dance will be part of my future.”
Laurel also sees fostering sustainability in her future. It’s already part of her past. At SOTA, staff say her fingerprints are on nearly every effort in the last three years to make the campus more green, such as converting to reusable plates and flatware for lunches. For her senior project, she launched a rainwater collection program.

This summer she heads to Europe to volunteer with Willing Workers on Organic Farms. “I’m a firm believer in global community.”

And don’t forget community built around the arts.

“I have made a lot of friends who play music and dance. We play music together for fun,” Laurel said. “Music and dance are great uniters.”

What’s next: Attend Lewis and Clark College in Portland, to study environmental science.

kathleen.merryman@ thenewstribune.com

Chris Saechao, Thomas Jefferson High

CHRIS SAECHAO

Thomas Jefferson High School

Guardians: Aunt and uncle, Hak and Fahm Ros

Residence: Auburn

GPA: 3.66

When things went wrong at Chris’ house, he announced he was moving out and caught a bus to his grandparents’ house. He said he was tired of being abused by his mother’s boyfriend, tired of the mayhem at home.

He was 8 years old. He bounced between friends and relatives, and for a while lived on the streets of Seattle.

“I moved a lot, but I got good with networking and talking to people,” he said.

Facing poverty, drug use and gangs was enough to convince him that’s not how he wanted to end up.

Chris, whom a school counselor calls “the poster child for resiliency,” eventually found some stability with his aunt and uncle. This was his first and last year at Thomas Jefferson, one of four schools he’s attended since ninth grade. He took rigorous International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement classes, and was on the school’s nationally ranked math team. He taught himself to play piano and cello, and excels in science classes.

“I was driven not to be a failure because I saw so much failure in my life,” he said. “The only thing I’m interested in are things that can help me build a foundation for my future.”

What’s next: Chris is headed to the University of Washington. He wants to become an emergency medicine physician and possibly work for an international aid organization.

debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com

Jennifer Anderson, Emerald Ridge High

JENNIFER ANDERSON

Emerald Ridge High School

Parents: Toby and Teresa Anderson

Residence: Puyallup

GPA: 3.8

Jennifer’s friend was so sure she’d qualify for the state wrestling championships her first year of high school that he offered to pay her $100 if he was wrong.

He kept his money. Jennifer made it to the state tournament that year and every year since.

When it comes to meeting challenges, she’s a safe bet. She is the youngest of eight siblings, and she’ll be the first of them to graduate high school.

Her family has faced financial hardships; at one point she lived temporarily with a friend after her dad lost his job.

Despite the sometimes-rocky road, she’s racked up numerous accomplishments, holding leadership roles and logging more than 170 hours of community service. She was an Honor Society officer at Emerald Ridge and captain of two sports teams her senior year. She led Young Life sessions for three years.

A school counselor described her as “a leader among her peers.”

Jennifer says she’s had great teachers and coaches. Her dad has offered inspiration, too.

“He always kind of taught me to (go after) whatever I want. That I can do anything,” she said.

She’s proud of what she’s achieved. She had to put in the time and sweat.

“I worked really hard to get here.”

What’s next: Attend Simon Fraser University in British Columbia on a scholarship to wrestle and study math.

sara.schilling@ thenewstribune.com

Andrew Cunningham, Bonney Lake High

ANDREW CUNNINGHAM

Bonney Lake High School

Parents: James and Kimberly Cunningham

Residence: Lake Tapps

GPA: 4.0

It wasn’t an easy road to Andrew’s second state wrestling title. After his first match, he fell to the bottom of the bracket. After his second, he needed six stitches over his eye.

In his last match, he won it all.

“Everything just came together there in the end and I just never gave up on myself,” said Andrew, Bonney Lake’s first high school All-American. “It was just a really cool way to end.”

Beginnings are important, too, and Andrew helped make sure incoming freshmen had smooth ones. The first day of school this year, he arrived early to play games with them as part of Panther Crue, a mentorship program run by upperclassmen.

He sees the program as a way to create “a new cycle of a comfortable community at school.”

He knows what it’s like to be the new kid. The son of a Marine Corps officer, he’s lived in six states and came to Bonney Lake as a sophomore. That didn’t stop him from showing leadership as an Eagle Scout, wrestling team captain and first in his class academically.

“I have never had a student who is as exceptional in academics, athletics and in the community as him,” said Anthony Clarke, Andrew’s teacher and coach.

What’s next: Attend Brigham Young University with a full Air Force ROTC scholarship. He plans to become a fighter pilot.

karen.miller@thenewstribune.com

Danielle Burch, Washington High

DANIELLE BURCH

Washington High School

Parent: Deeona Burch

Residence: Tacoma

GPA: 4.0

When Danielle’s dad, Darrin Burch, died last year, she channeled her grief into action.

“I’m not the type of person who can just put things down,” she said.

Instead, she picked herself up, organizing her school’s Culture Night, a celebration of students’ ethnic heritage that raised money for youth suicide prevention. She contacted performers and restaurants, worked on decorations and completed “the biggest endeavor of my life.”

She took on the project because “I love my school, and I love diversity.”

She began studying Chinese, and when the teacher moved away, Danielle kept up her studies online. She teaches the language at a local child development center.

Danielle calls herself an activist and feminist, and her list of causes is long. She founded a school group called Real Beauty Revolution. She calls it a safe place for students to talk about image issues, the media’s portrayal of women and its impact on young people.

She’s a blogger and is active in her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and president of its Key Club.

She is a Washington State Scholar and an AP Scholar.

A school counselor calls her “a strong advocate for the dignity and human rights of all people, especially teenagers.”

What’s next: Danielle plans to major in psychology or social work and minor in gender and women’s studies at the University of Washington Tacoma.

debbie.cafazzo@thenewstribune.com

Sarah Sadlier, Charles Wright Academy

SARAH SADLIER

Charles Wright Academy

Parents: Scott and Jenifer Sadlier

Residence: Gig Harbor

GPA: 4.0

Sarah leaves an impressive mark on the historical ledger of her school: one of fewer than 10 perfect GPAs in its five decades of operation.

And while she’s honored to make Charles Wright history, she’s downright effusive about the early American history she loves to read, research and write about.

Sarah is the rare teen with an exhibit on permanent display at a museum. She spent 800 hours working on a six-foot-tall chronometer, the kind early explorers used to determine their longitude at sea. It won a national marine history award in 2010 and resides at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

“I got to show it at the Smithsonian, too, which was amazing,” she said.

This year she took first place in state for a National History Day paper and was a state champion in History Bowl and History Bee. She’s been published in the Concord Review.

Her interests don’t stop at the history class door. She’s competed in Knowledge Bowl, plays clarinet, piano and soccer, and was a leader in Science Bowl and Model United Nations.

Sarah also leaves a legacy of service: She and a classmate helped raise more than $14,000 for African children relief organizations.

“She has exceptional balance and maturity, and a buoyant personality,” said Noel Blyler of the school’s college counseling office.

What’s next: Has enrolled at Stanford University.

matt.misterek@thenewstribune.com

Annmarie Foltz, Wilson High

ANNMARIE RUTH FOLTZ

Wilson High School

Parents: Greg and Tamara Foltz

Residence: Tacoma

GPA: 3.5

Annmarie was tossed from one household to another in her native Sierra Leone. Her father had two wives but no home for Annmarie or her sister, Marvel.

“They sent me to an aunt, and the aunt sent me to a random lady in Guinea,” Annmarie said. “I was pretty much a slave. I cooked and cleaned and did everything in her house. If I did something wrong, she would beat me and put me in a cage. I was 9.”

At 10, she made her way to an orphanage. For three years she lived there, attending school for the first time.

She was just shy of 14 when she came to the Foltz home in Tacoma, where her sister already had been adopted. Within days she joined church members feeding homeless people. Today she has more than 400 service hours logged.

Children’s ministry, she said, will be part of her future.

After the move she struggled to learn English and understand the schoolwork. By high school, she was an honor roll regular.

Though she speaks English, Creole, Mende and Fullah, she is studying Spanish, aiming for a career as a translator.

She would like to earn enough to return to Africa and find her birth family – what she calls “just a goal in my heart.”

What’s next: Study at University of Washington Tacoma, then transfer to Pacific Lutheran University.

kathleen.merryman@thenewstribune.com

Austin Rodgers, Curtis High School

AUSTIN JAMES RODGERS

Curtis High School

Parents: Sharon and Jim Rodgers

Residence: University Place

GPA: 4.0

Austin is blessed with an abundance of grandmothers. They claimed him as their own after his years of volunteer work at Bridgeport Place Assisted Living Center.

He’s there on Saturdays, helping where he can and soaking up “the wisdom of the ages.” He’s given more than 550 hours to the senior center, a commitment returned to him in affection and stories of the past.

“Ten or 12 grandmothers have adopted me since I was there,” he said.

Austin began his life in community service in second grade when he leveraged a $6 gift into more than $300 worth of contributions to a homeless shelter. He’d explain to a business owner that he wanted to help the homeless. His earnest pleas persuaded adults to join him.

Since then, he has mentored autistic children, tutored fellow students and helped a local business develop recycling plans. He lettered in tennis and track, plays piano at a high level, and still found time and creative energy to write a novel.

He’s aiming for a career as an educator so he continue exploring interests ranging from physics and aerospace, from faith to science fiction.

“I’ve known since second grade that I wanted to be an everythingologist so I can study everything,” he said.

What’s next:
Attend the University of Notre Dame to focus on science courses.

adam.ashton@thenewstribune.com

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