Prep Elites Ably Navigate the Unpredictable Waters of High School Life

L to R top: Carlos Chavez, Aubrey King, Justine Stellmaker; L to R bottom: Nikolai Charchenko, Jay Michelizzi, Quentin Matsui

Our job isn’t getting any easier—when it comes to choosing this year’s Prep Elites from a strong pool of candidates. These students provide unique perspectives on what it means to rise up to challenges in and out of the classroom and dive into their own versions of success.

Carlos Chavez
•International School of Minnesota•

“Carlos has consistently maintained a high-achieving path at ISM and heads into his Grade 12 year with at least seven AP courses under his belt. He has been an active participant in our school’s music and drama performing arts programs throughout his years at ISM [winning drama awards in grades 8 and 9].”
—Sarah Bianucci, ISM academic quality controller

How did you dive into your high school experience?
Freshman year, I definitely dove in. But I ended up doing more (fall play, spring musical, concert choir, show choir, band and orchestra) than was actually possible.

What rough waters have you met and how did you get through them?
In my freshman year I stumbled a little academically because of all the performing arts I dove into. I learned I need to limit myself sometimes, and that I need a good balance between work and fun.

Personal best?
When I was in 8th grade, I was the understudy for the donkey in Shrek the Musical. The person who played the donkey had to drop out. I took the part, even though it was all high school kids I was performing with. [Carlos’ accomplishments also include awards in music and drama performing arts, cello, show choir, baseball, he is the drummer in his own rock band and attended a program in songwriting, music production and beat-making Yale University.]
 
What are your future plans?
I want to study audio engineering in college. It’s not a common major, so if a school offers it, I’ll consider that school.

Aubrey King
•Chaska High School•

“Our reason for nominating Aubrey is because of her grit. She is a cancer survivor. She gives nothing less than 100 percent and always with a great smile and attitude.”
—Kathy Fontes, assistant principal, academics

How did you dive into your high school experience?
I had a recurrence of my brain cancer the summer before my freshman year. Even so, I was very prepared, ready and confident to enter high school. The hardest part was coordinating my own activities and not having my parents do that.

What rough waters have you met and how did you get through them?
I had three brain surgeries in my sophomore year. I missed a lot of school, and when I went to school, I often felt terrible. But I bounced back. I worked very hard my junior year and raised my GPA.

Personal best?
My junior year has been great. I made the dean’s list first semester, joined the musical in the fall, was nominated for homecoming court and then there’s prom. [Her accomplishments also include theater, choir, softball and Relay for Life.]

What are your future plans?
I’d like to attend college to become a veterinary technician. After college, I’ll start my career, but I hope to continue to raise money for brain tumor research. I love public speaking. I love to share my story.

Justine Stellmaker
•Chanhassen High School•

“[Justine] is a model student, as she excels in all aspects of her life, especially improving the lives of everyone around her.” —Brienne Nelson, personalized learning coach

How did you dive into your high school experience?
I jumped from the small diving board; in other words, I used what I already knew and was comfortable with, to make the plunge slightly less daunting.

What rough waters have you met and how did you get through them?
The fall of 2017 was filled with rough waters, one after another. I really stopped believing in myself for a while there. My dad and I began going to open swim together to work on speed work and turns, reteaching my mind and my body what it felt like to go fast.

Personal best?
I believe that my personal best is my ability to manage time and having an optimistic outlook and sharing that positivity with others. [Justine’s accomplishments also include swimming, National Honor Society, varsity band, student council and dean’s list.]
 
What are your future plans?
I plan on continuing my swim career at the college level, and I look forward to a college experience that includes both athletics and a great academic experience. I am considering going into marketing or advertising, so that I keep using my creativity.

Nikolai Charchenko
•Holy Family Catholic High School•

“Like so many of his Holy Family peers, [Nikolai] participates in athletics plus a co-curricular club, in his case, robotics, all while maintaining his grades and finding time to volunteer.”
—John Dols, assistant principal

How did you dive into your high school experience?
My high school experience started off with entering the shallow end and easing myself into the water. Coming from a public middle school to a private high school was a big change for me, both academically and socially.

What rough waters have you met and how did you get through them?
It has been difficult balancing all my activities at once. Although my stress level has been high at times, I have learned how to work through it. I learned how to prioritize and find ways to relieve my stress.

Personal best?
My overall hockey experience, not necessarily my achievements but the relationships I have built along the way. The players I meet and the coaches that coach me have taught me many important life lessons that will help me in the future. [Nikolai’s accomplishments also include robotics team captain, National Honor Society, student volunteer coach, lacrosse, hockey and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.]

What are your future plans?
I hope I am lucky enough to play Division I collegiate hockey and pursue a degree in engineering.

Jay Michelizzi
•Integrated Arts Academy•

“[Jay is] a hard worker with a won’t-quit attitude who goes the extra mile to understand and overcome!”
—Lesley A. Wyman, community specialist

How did you dive into your high school experience?
I have struggled with a lot of mental health issues. I was assessed for an IEP [Individualized Education Program] in the first month [of my freshman year at Eden Prairie High School]. I was given it, and this made me feel hesitantly hopeful for high school.

What rough waters have you met and how did you get through them?
On my worst days just getting to school can be a challenge. I had to work with my school to adjust expectations depending on the day. I work extra hard on my good days, so I don’t get behind when mental illness hits.

Personal best?
My personal best is having a finished product that I’m proud of. I always want to hand in my best work. I am all about quality over quantity. [Jay’s accomplishments also include IAA Coffee Shop, Competitive Pro Start—a cooking competition team, student mentor, Leadership Committee and student of the month November 2017.]

What are your future plans?
 I’m looking at going to a private liberal arts school, such as [St. Catherine University]. I want to study a social science, such as psychology or sociology. In the future, I want to work somewhere where I make a difference in other people’s lives. I don’t know what the world has in store for me, but I’m excited and a little scared.

Quentin Matsui
• Eden Prairie High School •

“Quentin Matsui embodies leadership in the classroom, as well as in the athletic arena … He articulates his position very well while allowing others room to express theirs as well … I have witnessed students look to Quentin during group activities for guidance and advice. Mr. Matsui is a lead-by-example young man, and it will guide him to success in his future.” —Brian Sibley, political science teacher

How did you dive into your high school experience?
In 8th grade, I was on the EPHS varsity wrestling team, so that helped me get a little taste of what high school was like. Going into my freshman year, I dove headfirst into high school and what it had to offer with three sports and academically challenging classes.

What rough waters have you met and how did you get through them?
I have had my fair share of rough waters in the form of injuries, the worst coming in my junior year during football season. After I intercepted a ball, I got tackled awkwardly, tore my anterior labrum and popped my shoulder out of the socket. I made it through that shoulder injury because of the support I received from people around me.

Personal best?
I love being active and competing, so my personal best has been sports. By the end of my junior year, I will have received seven varsity letters, with three in lacrosse, two in football and two in wrestling. [Quentin’s accomplishments also include a varsity letter in volunteering and coaching youth lacrosse.]

What are your future plans?
After high school, I am going to continue my studies and my lacrosse career at the University of Virginia. I could not be more excited, as it is a great fit for me.