From shy to stellar: St. Viator student racks up accomplishments
I first met Thomas Stanila nearly four years ago, when I covered a unique summer camp at St. Viator High School. The "Service & Song Camp" offered incoming students either the chance to complete service projects or learn liturgical music.
I can still picture Thomas standing in the middle of a crowded cafeteria, violin tucked under his arm, looking slightly unsure of himself. He lives in Elgin and knew no one coming into high school.
"Once we started breaking into small groups, talking about music, I opened up," he says. "And after we played (with the choir), everybody called me the 'violin boy,' and I started meeting people. Then I was fine."
He told me at the time that he played with the Elgin Youth Symphony and was hoping to fit in at his new school by joining one of its musical ensembles.
Fast forward in time. It is now Thomas' senior year and he has settled in just fine. In fact, he's made a name for himself outside of his musicianship: scholar.
Just last week, Thomas was named valedictorian of the Class of 2018, while Jeremy Yoder of Buffalo Grove was named salutatorian. The announcement came the same week they were among five St. Viator students named National Merit finalists.
But wait, there's more. Earlier this month, Thomas admitted to one of his teachers that he earned a perfect ACT score, for the second time. He explained that one of the colleges he applied to needed his score from the writing test in order to consider his application, which he hadn't taken.
"You can't just take the writing portion, so I had to take it all over again, this time with the writing," Thomas said.
No sweat. He not only got a perfect 12 in the writing test, but he bettered his perfect score from the first time. In 2017, he earned a 35 out of 36 in reading, but his overall composite score was a 36. This time, he was perfect in every subject.
Thomas hopes that the college who asked for his writing test score -- Harvard University -- finds him worthy of admission.
He continues to play with the Elgin Youth Symphony. Its artistic director was not surprised to hear of his academic honors.
"Most people think Thomas' achievements are just because of some rare and special talent, but his real talent is hard work and dedication," said Randal Swiggum. "He shows it in everything he does, including in his work ethic as a musician. We are so proud to have him as a leader in the violin section of our top youth symphony."
Thomas has little time to dwell on his latest honors. He competes with St. Viator's academic and math teams, and hopes to advance both groups to their respective state competitions later this spring.
The Rev. Arnold Perham works with Thomas and junior Marcus Lannie on the oral competition, one of the most difficult sections of the competition sponsored by the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Last month, they placed second in their regional.
"Thomas is one of the brightest students I've worked with -- and I've worked with a lot," said Perham, a master teacher who continues to work with the math team even in retirement.
This summer will be the first one that Thomas and his violin will not be at St. Viator's Service & Song Camp. He has returned in previous years to serve as a leader, inspiring incoming students to become involved in their new school.
"It's such a rigorous academic environment, and all my teachers have encouraged me to cultivate my skills," he says, "but through service, I've learned that it is equally as important to apply those skills to the world."