A look back at some of our most amazing Suburban Standouts
One of the most rewarding things we get to do is tell the stories of accomplished and hardworking young people who are an inspiration for us all.
The Suburban Standouts column has profiled many wonderful young people in the last year. Here's a look at what some of our favorites have been up to since we last talked to them.
Kevin Bickner, 17
In the last six months, ski jumper Kevin Bickner's life has been all about, well, ski jumping.
Named to the USA Ski Jumping development team, the Wauconda resident moved to Park City, Utah, in June, to live and train with teammates and alongside the national ski jumping teams.
"It's a cool place, to be out there and living with all my ski buddies," he said.
In the midst of his busy training schedule, he earned his GED and took the ACT. He has completed his first semester of online classes in computer science at DeVry University.
Kevin's had a good year, said Alan Johnson, athletic director for the U.S. ski jumping team.
"Kevin has made substantial gains since being named to the development team," Johnson said. "He has established himself as the number 2 junior in the country at present time and just returned from a successful FIS (International Ski Federation) World Cup competition in Norway."
Kevin said his 19th place at the FIS competition was good but could have been better. "I wasn't too psyched with that," he said.
This weekend, he will participate in the World Junior Championship tryouts in Park City. He hopes to make the U.S. team for the first time.
"I'm going into the winter season pretty strong, which is good," he said. "I'll be competing a lot more. I'll have more chances to place high results."
Breanna Bogucki, 16
This year has been nothing short of wonderful for Cary singer Breanna Bogucki.
In January, Brenna, whose stage name is Breanna Alyssa, recorded "I Was Born Yesterday," which was released on iTunes in the spring. A music video for the song is expected to be released in January.
She's also performed live before crowds big and small, and she feels more and more comfortable onstage. That's quite the feat, given that Breanna has autism.
"I've had a lot of opportunities come my way. I didn't see any of this happening. I think that all this is just amazing," she said. "All this happened in just one year. It's like, 'Whoa.'"
Breanna, a sophomore at Cary-Grove High School, won the Special Talents America competition last year. The contest is open to youngsters with special needs from the Midwest.
Her prize was a recording session with Jim Peterik of the Ides of March and Survivor ("Eye of the Tiger"), who cowrote "I Was Born Yesterday" for her.
The song was played at the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games attended by 10,000 people in June. Breanna then sang live on the Games' last day.
In August, Greg Bizzaro, a videographer and co-founder of Special Talents America, worked on the music video, shot at Breanna's house and at Cary-Grove High School.
"It's just so cool. I never thought any of this would happen," she said. "I like to show people that people with disabilities and autism can still do good things, and people shouldn't judge them."
Megan Bozek, 22
Buffalo Grove native Megan Bozek will find out next week if she'll compete as part of the U.S. women's hockey team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
But no matter what happens, the defenseman will look back fondly on 2013.
"It's been an incredible year, from winning national and world championships, being able to train and try out for the Olympic Games," Bozek said. "It has been a dream come true."
Megan was named to the U.S. team's roster in June. She will learn New Year's Day whether she's made the Olympic team.
Bozek won a second straight NCAA title at the University of Minnesota this past season, scoring 57 points -- 20 goals and 37 assists -- in 41 games. She was a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, the women's hockey version of the Heisman Trophy, and graduated in May with a degree in sports management.
She moved in with a host family in Concord, Mass., in early August, in order to train with the U.S. team at The Edge Sports Center in Bedford, Mass.
For the last few months, she's been traveling with the team all over the U.S. and Canada.
"It's been very enjoyable, but it's very stressful, because it's a tryout for your ultimate goal of making the Olympic team and ultimately win the gold medal," she said.
"It's a lot of about what you think about because you've been training your whole life for this."
Wilbur You, 22
Wilbur You's business, the creative ad agency Youtech & Associates in Naperville, has been expanding at a fast rate this year.
The agency used be housed in a two-room office totaling just a few hundred square feet. This summer, it moved to a 1,300-square-foot office just outside downtown Naperville.
Its client roster has expanded from about 40 to 120, including U.S. Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, whose new website will be debuting soon, Wilbur said.
Wilbur, who graduated from Northern Illinois University in May with a degree in computer science, also hired three more employees, bringing his total staff to six. He's now looking to hire a vice president of sales and vice president of business development.
"We've been working a lot. We've been staying busy," he said. "The whole year was crazy. We really got going during the summer. We moved and it really took off there."
Youtech is the third startup business Wilbur has launched since he was a teenager and by far the most successful.
"Yes, we're busy. We're working long hours, but it's better busy than not busy," he said.
His next goal is to move into an even bigger office in a corporate business park off Diehl Road in Naperville.
"A lot of it is overwhelming, but I take it as a gift, and I don't take anything for granted."
Cassidy Williams, 22
Most people are happy if they get one job offer out of college. Computer whiz Cassidy Williams of Downers Grove received 10 of them this year as she gets ready to graduate in May with a degree in computer science from Iowa State University.
After considering offers from tech giants Google, Apple, SendGrid, Intel, LinkedIn, AT&T and Intuit, Cassidy picked the digital wallet company Venmo. She'll begin work in mid-June as a front end UI/UX engineer and developer evangelist, which means she'll be in charge of explaining technology in ways that are understandable to different audiences.
"I picked Venmo because I wanted something different. They're a small company, and they're in New York, and I thought I'd learn the most from a new experience," she said.
She also participated in Startup Weekend in November in Des Moines, where her team won third place, and gave a talk at TEDxDesMoines, which she called "a super fun event."
"My TED Talk was about how I got to where I am today, and how you can be successful with your own passions," she said.
Overall, 2013 has been an amazing year, she said.
"Between the White House (for the Tech Inclusion Summit in January), the National Center for Women & Information Technology Summit, my internship in Silicon Valley, winning the British Airways' UnGrounded Hackathon, presenting our winning idea to the United Nations, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, getting an awesome job, giving a TED Talk, and, just recently, being featured with my sister on the Iowa State homepage, it's so hard to come up with my proudest moment," she said.
"This has been an amazing year, I can't express it enough in words."