From finding a new way to treat breast cancer to raising awareness about mental health issues to earning gold medals at the Olympics, this year’s crop of high school seniors already boast impressive resumes.
Based on reader nominations, news stories, and word of mouth, we found 20 incredibly impressive students graduating from high school this year who are already accomplishing more than most adults.
High school: Towson High School, Baltimore, Maryland
Majeed started a global initiative, The Hijab Project, in order to promote the understanding and empowerment of Muslim women. The project encourages women from all backgrounds to try wearing a hijab the next time they go out in public and share their stories of how they feel they were treated by others. Global News and The Baltimore Sun interviewed Majeed about the project, and she was also featured on MSNBC.
She also recently published “The Foreigners,” a book which chronicles the lives of Muslims around the world. “I wanted to show the world that the majority of Muslims aren’t corrupt leaders of organizations that steal, rape, and sell girls on the market,” Majeed told BI. She also writes for CNN iReport, The Huffington Post, and Bustle.
Plans after graduation: Majeed plans to double major in international relations and philosophy at Brown University in the fall, and conduct research on conflict resolution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
High school: Sewanhaka High School, Elmont, New York
Last summer, Pavlou had the opportunity to research the long-term effects that night-time light exposure has on breast cancer patients, and identified a gene that showed abnormal expression in triple-negative breast cancer, and in patients exposed to light at night. Using new gene therapy concepts in conjunction with a common cancer drug, Pavlou and his lab mates noticed mainly negative growth in cancerous cells, rendering their experiments a success and pointing to new ways gene therapy can be used to treat cancer.
Pavlou is also the editor-in-chief of his high school’s newspaper, the president of the student council, and the co-president of the mock trial program.
After his father died in 2014, Pavlou began helping care for his family, and recently earned the prestigious Questbridge scholarship for low-income students, which grants recipients a full ride to college.
Plans after graduation: Pavlou plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania and study international relations.
High school: The Harker School, San Jose, California
Earlier this year, Jin took home the First Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good from the Intel Science Talent Search, along with a $150,000 prize, for crafting a machine-learning algorithm that analyzes massive data sets of DNA and identifies adaptive mutations in them.
His algorithm discovered over 100 mutations related to metabolism, brain function, and disorders like schizophrenia. Not only do these findings help researchers better understand human evolution, but they can potentially be used to help develop new vaccines and treatments.
Before that, Jin and a friend created a new chemotherapy treatment that increased potency, reduced toxic side effects, and prevented drug resistance, earning him second place at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and third place in the Siemens Competition.
Plans after graduation: In the fall, Jin will start at Harvard University, studying computer science and biology. He’ll also spend the summer interning at Facebook to work on machine learning with the search team.
High school: River Hill High School, Clarksville, Maryland
Kan co-founded CHOICE (Coalition Halting Obesity in Children Everywhere), a health fair that featured over 40 exhibitors — everything from local youth programs to corporations like Walgreens — and offered free screenings for hearing, blood pressure, and dental issues to more than 1,000 attendees. The event raised over $80,000 to help fight childhood obesity.
Kan was inspired to take on this project to improve the health of her community after interning as a research assistant under Dr. Lisa Cooper at Johns Hopkins. During her internship, Kan researched healthcare inequalities for minority groups, presented her findings at the 2014 Minority Health and Health Disparities Grantees’ Conference, and submitted clinical research articles to several medical publications.
She took her interest in public health another step further by serving on the Howard County Board of Education’s “Wellness Policy Committee,” where she helped design and implement policies that supplement the district’s fourth grade nutrition and fitness curriculum.
Plans after graduation: A Coca-Cola scholar, Kan will attend Harvard in the fall, where she plans to study economics and applied math. She hopes to continue working in the public health sector, developing economically viable solutions for public health issues.
High school: BASIS High School, Scottsdale, Arizona
Gupta developed a computer program that autonomously identifies drugs for diseases like cancer, Ebola, and tuberculosis. The system could create a way to significantly decrease the cost of developing and implementing new treatments, which currently takes nearly a decade and costs billions of dollars.
This research earned Gupta a third place medal of distinction for global good at the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search and a gold medal in the 2015 Siemens Competition at the national level. She even presented her research to President Obama at the 2015 White House Science Fair.
Gupta wants to encourage other girls to take more of an interest in STEM subjects as well. “After seeing three-fourths of the girls drop out of my AP Comp Sci class, I founded LITAS, a computer science club for middle school girls,” she told BI. The club, which teaches programming and app development, enrolled 40 girls its first year and has been sponsored by Google, Bloomberg, and the National Center for Women and IT.
Plans after graduation: Gupta will join Stanford’s incoming freshman class in the fall, and plans to continue working in computer science and biology.
High school: DeMatha Catholic High School, Olney, Maryland
Lilley’s resume looks like that of a professional musician, because he is a professional musician — but unlike many of his peers, Lilley is only 18 years old. He’s been playing the saxophone for nine years in both live and broadcast performances around the country, including “From the Top!” on NPR, the World Youth Symphony Orchestra, and the Carnegie Hall National Youth Orchestra — where he was the first-ever saxophonist to join the group.
Lilley is also a participant in the National YoungArts Foundation, through which he auditioned for, and won, a US Presidential Scholarship in the Arts. The prestigious award is given to only one in 20,000 graduating seniors, or less than .005% of the 2015 graduating class.
Plans after graduation: Lilley received a full scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he will start in the fall.
High school: The Harker School, San Jose, California
Lee’s system for predicting results for triple-negative breast cancer patients using non-invasive imaging earned her a spot as a finalist in the 2014 Google Science Fair in the 17- to 18-year-old age group.
Along with partner Sadhika Malladi, Lee created a model that can predict a patient’s response to chemotherapy using an MRI scan in place of surgically removing physical pieces of the tumor, making the process much less invasive.
After this project, Lee realized how useful non-invasive imaging could be and began a solo project that analyzed images to figure out when tissue is fully ablated — or “cooked” — during focused ultrasound treatment. This research can help shorten treatment time and increase patient comfort. Lee presented her work at the 2014 Focused Ultrasound Symposium, where she was recognized by Vice President Biden as the only high school student to present.
Plans after graduation: Eventually, Lee hopes to go into medicine and work to continually improve patient experiences. She’ll start this process this fall as she begins a pre-med track at Yale.
High school: Brentwood School, Los Angeles, California
Last summer, Stern wrote, directed, edited, and starred in the the short film “8.3,” which has now been shown at more than five international film festivals. It was named an official selection at the Moondance International Film Festival, the Gotham Film Festival, the New York Festival of New Cinema, and the US International Film and Video Awards. It won an audience choice award at Gotham, and has earned recognition from the National YoungArts Foundation. French company Gonella Productions also offered Stern a worldwide distribution deal.
In addition to his creative accomplishments, Stern also excels athletically as a four-year varsity football starter and a three-year varsity lacrosse starter. He was part of the All-CIF (all city/section) football team, and named all-league twice for football and once for lacrosse.
Plans after graduation: This fall, Stern will continue his football career at Princeton, where he intends to major in economics or public policy. Stern also plans to continue writing and directing, and already has a few projects in the works for this summer.
High school: Towson High School, Baltimore, Maryland
Though she’d loved reading teen magazines for years, Atieno found she couldn’t really relate to them anymore when she entered high school — so she created her own. In 2013, when she was in 10th grade, Atieno began publishing Affinity, a lifestyle magazine that covers real issues, such as immigration and sexual assault. Atieno writes, designs, and photographs everything herself, learning as she goes.
She didn’t stop at a magazine, though; Atieno will self-publish a children’s book later this year. The book, “Where Did Daddy Go,” explores how deportation and immigration laws affect immigrant children.
As a teen journalist for ABC 2, which is broadcast all over Maryland, Atieno also writes, produces, and shoots her own news stories, including everything from one about a Miss Maryland contestant who struggled with body image issues to a story about a new mural for Freddie Gray.
Plans after graduation: Atieno will attend the University of Baltimore in the fall where she’ll study international relations. Eventually, she hopes to become an immigration attorney.
High school: Greens Farms Academy, Westport, Connecticut
Even without a journalism degree, or even a high school diploma, Barrett has become an accredited member of the press thanks to the two sites the founded: Broadway Master Chat and Hollywood Master Chat. At 16, just a year after launching the sites, Barrett began receiving invites to press screenings, where she’s often the youngest person in the room.
Her sites have given her the opportunity to interview award-winning actors like Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney, and Adrien Brody, and directors like Wes Anderson. On the side, Barrett also writes for the site Hello Giggles.
Plans after graduation: Barrett plans to study English at Wesleyan University in the fall, and later possibly explore a career in writing and the arts.
High school: Peachtree Ridge High School, Duluth, Georgia
In May 2014, Griffin started FoodFinderGA.org, a geolocating native-mobile website that helps food-insecure kids find the closest free food resources to them. He used an Indiegogo campaign to fund the site, which has received more than 6,000 unique visitors.
Griffin told BI that 40,000 or more kids in Gwinnett County, Georgia, leave school every day not knowing where they will get their next meal; these “food-insecure” kids can jump on FoodFinderGA, which uses geolocation-based technology to point out the closest free meal. In 2014, the site won the Technology Association of Georgia’s Excalibur Award for the most creative use of technology to solve a complex problem.
By the end of the school year, FoodFinderGA will span the entire state of Georgia, including more than 2,300 public schools, 1.7 million students, and 1,700 free providers across the state.
Plans after graduation: Griffin will attend the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s in business administration, and plans to learn how to grow and create value through business.
High school: Fairview High School, Boulder, Colorado
Shootings in both Columbine and Aurora, Colorado — each no more than an hour from where Kloepfer grew up — inspired him to engineer a gun with a lock that can read fingerprints of “authorized” users, and only unlocks when the fingerprint of the person it scans matches its index of authorized users. Kloepfer’s Biometric Electromechanical Firearm Safety system, as he’s calling it, is also 99.99% accurate, even with partial fingerprints.
Kloepfer’s invention earned him the grand prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2013, and his design became the basis for his smarter firearms manufacturing company Ægen Technologies.
Plans after graduation: Kloepfer matriculated into MIT and will be a member of the class of 2020.
High school: Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, Bethesda, Maryland
The youngest member of the US Olympic team in 2012, Ledecky won her first gold medal in the 800 freestyle at the age of 15. At the time, it was also the second-fastest time ever swum in that distance.
She went on to earn three gold medals and break two world records at the 2013 FINA World Championships, and was named 2013 FINA World Swimmer of the Year. USA Swimming and the US Olympic Committee also named her athlete of the year.
She’s also tied Michael Phelps’ time in the 400-meter freestyle at the Arena Pro Swim Series in April.
High school: Cabell Midland High School, Milton, West Virginia
At the age of 15, Lemley started a Twitter account called @TheHelpHotline in order to raise awareness of issues like depression, self-harm, and eating disorders, as well as prevent suicide. Lemley uses the account to tweet inspiring words and pictures and interact with users who struggle.
Lemley, who has personally struggled with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts growing up says creating the account has changed her as a person, and hopes to one day turn the campaign into more than just a Twitter handle so she can reach more people.
She’s currently reaching quite a few though — more than 22,000 — and her work has earned her recognition as a finalist in the 2014 Shorty Awards in Teen Activism. Lemley is now in the final stages of her recovery and looks forward to continuing to see the project grow and help more people every day.
Plans after graduation: Lemley will be attending Marshall University in the fall. She’s still undecided as far as majors go, but currently has her heart set on going into education.
High school: Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring, Maryland
Winer earned the first place medal of distinction for innovation at this year’s Intel Science Talent Search, taking home $150,000 in the process.
Winer’s project developed a theory for studying how electrons (charged particles) and phonons (indivisible particles of sound) would interact, using an approach known as semiclassical approximation. The result is a quantum theory that treats electrons and phonons as parts of a field. Impressively, his knowledge of quantum field theory — a branch of physics typically covered in graduate-level classes — is completely self-taught, an accomplishment Winer considers the most impressive of his high school career.
When he’s not immersed in hard physics, Winer flexes his creative side through writing, and is currently in the middle of his fourth science-fiction novel.
Plans after graduation: In the fall, Winer will attend MIT as a physics major, where he looks forward to challenging himself even further through science.
High school: Benjamin Banneker Academy, Brooklyn, New York
A poet since the age of seven, Royal is already quite accomplished, with a resume that includes performances at Lincoln Center and the UN. When she was just 12, her poems were set to music by the American Opera Project and performed at Carnegie Hall. Her poems have also been published in 11 anthologies, and she was named a Peter Jay Sharp Arts Fellow by the Brooklyn Community Foundation.
Royal is a participant in Girls Write Now, a mentorship program that pairs high school-aged writers with professional writers who coach and mentor the girls, and is a student coordinator of the New York Writers Coalition after-school program at her high school.
Plans after graduation: Royal will be a freshman at the University of New Haven in the fall, where she plans to set herself on the path to a career in the music industry.
High school: Lexington High School, Lexington, Massachusetts
At this year’s Intel Science Talent Search competition, Golowich took home the esteemedfirst place medal of distinction for basic researchand a $150,000 prize.
Golowich’s research focuses primarily on the Ramsey Theory, which analyzes the conditions of order in mathematics. Using this theory as a basis, Golowich “proved a nearly decade-old conjecture on finding solutions of a class of linear equations belonging to certain sets of integers.” Advancements within this theory can help improve a variety of tasks, from scheduling to cryptography.
“The general goal is to show that in large and complicated systems, there’s always some sort of pattern,” Golowich explained at the competition.
When Golowich isn’t studying or performing research, he can be found practicing jazz piano or playing tennis with his high school team.
Plans after graduation: In the fall he’ll start at Harvard, where he plans to study math and computer science.
High school: Stevens Point Area Senior High, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
In elementary school, it always bothered Ley to see other students struggling to read, a subject she invariably enjoyed. As she began researching the issue, Ley learned that when parents start reading to infants from day one, it significantly strengthens their literacy skills later on.
This discovery inspired Ley to create Literacy For Little Ones, an organization that delivers bundles of books to hospitals for new mothers, along with a letter explaining the importance of early literacy. Today, the organization is active in 11 hospitals in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nicaragua, and has raised over $23,000.
Ley was elected to the GeneratiOn National Youth Advisory Council and named president of the Wisconsin Association of School Councils. Ley is also a Coca-Cola Scholar, AXA Achievement Scholar, and recipient of the Wisconsin Jefferson Award and Gloria Barron National Prize.
Plans after graduation: Ley will start at the University of Wisconsin’s school of business on a full scholarship this fall. She hopes to eventually work as UN economic affairs officer, and continue to improve the global community.
High school: The Harker School, San Jose, California
Kuditipudi worked with researchers at UCSD to examine the progression of fatty liver disease, and helped uncover valuable data showing what causes the disease to progress into more serious afflictions, such as liver cancer. This research made him a finalist at the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search.
In addition to his strong interest in science, Kuditipudi also excels in math and economics. Last year, he earned top 10 spots at both Harvard’s Pre-Collegiate Economics Challenge and Stanford’s international math tournament, where he competed in calculus.
Kuditipudi also works to give back to both his local and global communities. He co-founded the India Literacy Project youth group, which supports children in remote villages in India. At home, he tutors underprivileged students in math through Breakthrough Silicon Valley.
Plans after graduation: This fall, Kuditipudi will join an elite group of students as one of 15 students earning full rides to Duke University through the prestigious Angier B. Duke scholarship. He plans to study a combination of math, economics, and computer science, and eventually hopes to be a professor.