It's time for our annual Prep Elite, featuring some of the area’s standout high school seniors. We received a host of worthy nominations from their schools, which, frankly, could ably fill the pages of Southwest Metro Magazine for months to come.
Devoted. Talented. Disciplined. Athletic. Scholarly. Clearly, these students represent themselves, their families and schools in a way in which they can take great pride.
As the dawn of senior year breaks, hearts and minds tend to keep a keen eye on the horizon, awaiting what the future will reveal under the light of a new day. While that’s a natural inclination, prior to their graduations, it might serve seniors well to take a moment to look back to the beginning—freshman year, when uncertainty and excitement created curious companions. Life is full of freshman years, so we asked the Prep Elites: Knowing what they now know, what would they tell their freshman selves? Their responses just might serve the rest of us well, too!
Convent of the Visitation School
“If given the opportunity to, I would tell my awkward ninth-grade self to embrace all of the ups and downs of freshman year and of high school in general,” Samantha says. “I would tell myself not to sweat the little things in life, focus on the big picture and not to worry too much about what the future holds.”
Samantha, daughter of Paul and Laurel Burke, enjoyed playing hockey and soccer. “Through these sports, I have learned the importance of teamwork, dedication and passion,” she says, adding being a good teammate requires work and sacrifice.
Samantha credits her older brothers, who she says have taught her to be strong and resilient. She says, "My older brothers set an example for me in school and athletics that I always strove to reach and continue to reach for. They not only set the bar high in school and in athletics, but also in their character as they both are compassionate, spontaneous people, who would do anything for me in a heartbeat.”
Samantha is on yearbook and part of a women activists club, examining the role of women, and has been on the high honor roll all semesters from freshman–junior years.
“Socially, high school has given me a better understanding of how seemingly different people can have so much in common,” Samantha says, adding it also took her out of her comfort zone in some areas and built on strengths in other cases.
What’s next for Samantha? She verbally committed to Cornell University for hockey. Her dream job includes being an orthopedic surgeon. “I understand that this particular job has a very challenging path, but by continuing to work hard in school, I think that I can achieve this dream,” she says.
Holy Family Catholic High School
“Don’t worry so much—it won’t get you anywhere,” Walter says to his younger self. “It’s okay to be aware of where you are lacking in skills—as long as you also stay aware of your strengths. Don’t expect to be perfect in everything.”
Walter, son of Tyler and Elizabeth Treat, utilized that philosophy through participating in team activities. “My favorite extracurricular activity is Knowledge Bowl,” he says. “It has taught me how to effectively use knowledge within a team in order to reach toward a goal.”
A scouting experience also made a difference in Walter’s life. “When I hiked at Philmont for a Boy Scout trip, I tested myself to the maximum both physically and spiritually,” he explains. “I learned what a team really is, much about who I was and much about how I fit into the world.”
In addition to Knowledge Bowl and working toward being an Eagle Scout, Walter finds himself in a host of activities, including cross country, fencing, HFCHS men’s Bible study (a founding member), trap shooting and Youth in Government. He’s a regular on HFCHS’s President’s List honor roll, a legislative page at the Minnesota House of Representatives and is a member of National Honor Society.
Walter’s life in and out of the classroom has provided valuable lessons. “High school has taught me about the value of hard work and about how important it is to set goals in order to gain success,” he says.
What’s next for Walter? Plans include college and law school, and he hopes to carve out a career in politics. “My dream job would to be a congressman or senator, drafting bills and enacting law,” he says.
Eden Prairie High School
“I would tell my ninth grade self to try to find every possible way to challenge yourself,” Grace says. “It is important to take advantage of the academic opportunities that high school has to offer.” She also notes that the size of the high school does not define the experience. “I would also tell my ninth grade self to value your mental and emotional wellness during your high school career because life can become busy and overwhelming,” she says.
Grace’s extra-curricular activities include playing on the girls varsity soccer team, where she’s been a member since her sophomore year and is a senior leader for the team. “Soccer has been the activity that I have put the most time into and has made the biggest impact in my life,” she says. “I have gained many skills from soccer, but the most important skill that I have learned from soccer is how to be a leader and communicate with others.”
Participating in the State High School Soccer Tournament and playing in the championship in 2015 was significant for Grace, teaching her to value the present and to surround herself with people who make her happy. “The championship game also made me realize to always appreciate where you came from and the people who have helped you get there,” she says.
Grace, daughter of Charles and Tara Maxwell and a triplet with brothers Cole and Bennett, has been named the Eden Prairie Athlete of the Week, received the Eagle Award and played with the Olympic Development State Soccer Team from 2014–2016. She is the president of the Student Council, Tree Huggers Club and DECA. With the National Charity League, Grace serves as vice president of programs and has been the communications chairman and class president. “The organization has taught me the values of volunteerism,” she says.
Grace has learned some solid lessons outside the classroom. “First, I have learned to resist peer pressure,” she says. “Second, I have learned there may be multiple solutions to any one problem. These two changes have allowed me to become the person I am today and have molded me to be confident in my truest self.”
What’s next for Grace? “My post-high school plans are to attend college and to play college soccer,” she says. “My dream job would to become a soccer coach,” she says, noting an interest in creating a small business.
Waconia High School
“There will be highs and lows whether you like it or not,” Caden would tell his younger self. “Nothing you do can change that, so stay positive and learn from your experiences.”
Those experiences have included being a member of the track team, which Caden notes is “by far my favorite extracurricular activity. Not only have I made many friends from it, I have learned to battle against adversity and the value of going above and beyond to become better,” he says. “It has also helped me become more confident in my abilities.”
Caden, son of Tim and Holly Turner, notes that his family has also had “an immense impact on me. They are always pushing me to be my best and are always there to support me,” he explains.
While working as a youth hockey referee, Caden balances his academics and extracurricular activities. He is an ExCEL representative (and recipient of an ExCEL award) and member of the National Honor Society. Outside the classroom, Caden is a decorated member of the track and cross country teams; he was a WHS Track MVP, qualified for the Hamline Elite Meet and was a state qualifier in 110M hurdles. He’s volunteered with America Reads (“During the time I spent helping students read, I saw their skills improve and their confidence grow. It made me feel amazing,” he says.), Relay for Life and Feed My Starving Children.
Caden’s years at WHS have left a mark on him. “I think it has made me a better person,” he says. “I have been taking challenging courses that push me. Even if I don't always get the grade I want, I enjoy the challenge and respect the hard work they require.”
What’s next for Caden? He says he wants to major in aerospace engineering. “My dream job is to be an aerospace engineer at Blue Origin or SpaceX,” he says.
Southwest Christian High School
“I would tell my ninth grade self—‘Be prepared for drama and outside distractions, and don't always try to fit someone else's mold. It is really important to find your unique ability and develop it,’” David says.
David, son of Mark and Sara Solfelt, honed some of those abilities in the athletic arena. “My favorite extracurricular activities have been basketball and baseball,” he says. “On top of my genuine love for both of the games, they have taught me lessons of teamwork and giving my best in everything I do. Some of my closest friendships are with my teammates.”
His father, David says, has “had a huge influence in my life. He has continually taught me to be the best version of myself that I can achieve, and he has helped me grow in my relationship with God.”
In addition to baseball and basketball, David participates in his school’s Chamber Singers and the Southwest Leadership Academy. He’s participated in mission work, including traveling on four occasions to Guatemala.
“High school changed my work ethic,” David says. “Prior to high school, I knew academics were important, but I have been challenged by great teachers and other students to become a much more serious student.”
What’s next for David? “My dream job would be something that combines my passions and abilities in a way that helps other people,” David says. “To achieve it, I plan on studying history and law and surrounding myself with people who are motivated to do their best.”
(Left: Caden Turner, right: David Solfelt)