Technically, Benjamin Brissette went to Maine West High School for six years before graduating last weekend. He first came to the Des Plaines school in seventh grade, taking Algebra 2 Accelerated. He took Accelerated Geometry and Trigonometry in eighth grade. "We have run out of math classes for him here at our high school," writes Principal Audrey Haugan in Brissette's nomination for the Daily Herald Academic Team. "He has already earned four semesters of college math credit."
Justin Doong, of Lincolnshire's Stevenson High School, is another student who went outside the curriculum to satisfy his curiosity. "As I entered junior high, unsatisfied with the monotony of textbook math problems, I discovered Math Club ..." he writes in his student essay. Doong seems less interested in his scores than in the journey of education. "I am fascinated by building and design," he writes. "In fifth grade, I started my own project to purchase and assemble a weather station for my school." In high school, he and teammates built "a Rube Goldberg-device that shuttled a ping-pong ball along pulley systems and upon levers to raise a flag."
These are the students we all swear we'd be if we got the chance to do high school again. They are bursting with curiosity, self-confident and bubbling over with purpose. They are the straight-A students, AP Scholars and State Scholars, but also the singers and instrumentalists, the actors and athletes, the Scouts and the volunteers.
They are the 2012-2013 Daily Herald Academic Team, and you can read all about them in today's Neighbor section and at www.dailyherald.com. There are four teams -- Northwest Suburban, DuPage County, Lake County and Fox Valley, highlighting 40 winners and 91 honorable mentions.
To be named to the Academic Team requires more than good grades and ambition. It requires purpose. The 131 students nominated from 78 schools this year all have that in common. "I hope to ... open a clinic one day and provide services and care to those who can't afford it," writes Anuj Chokshi of Elgin High School, who already volunteers for several community organizations.
These students consider every experience to be a learning one. Cassandra Crifase of Addison Trail High School in Addison says it was gymnastics that taught her how sweet the rewards can be from never giving up. A back injury freshman year put her in a plastic brace from her collarbone to her hipbone; she had torn ligaments and fractured ankles. "I have overcome many obstacles for the glory of doing what I love most," she writes.
The Daily Herald began the Academic and Leadership teams in 2001-2002 to spotlight students whose accomplishments are not primarily athletic, but academic or compassionate. The Leadership Team, in particular, was a new concept -- to celebrate students who make good grades, yes, but who also devote themselves to leading others in accomplishing wonderful things.
Between the Academic and Leadership teams are hundreds of young people who can be counted on to use their gifts and their work ethic to improve their neighborhoods, their countries and the world.
They are fortunate. They attend some of the best schools. They have families who support and encourage them. And they all seem to understand that to whom much is given, much is expected. What a relief to know they will be here when we're gone.