Bright Stars

Area seniors demonstrate achievement, service

By Nan Bauroth | Photos by Ray Sepesy

Young people are the hope for the future, and this year’s crop of seniors at Ballantyne-area high schools fulfills that expectation with a talented class soon to make its mark in the world. Although every school produces a roster of outstanding students, some seniors merit attention not only for their achievements but for their commitment to serving. In this article, we feature two seniors each from Ardrey Kell, Charlotte Catholic, Charlotte Latin, Providence and South Mecklenburg, chosen by their principal or headmaster as worthy of note.

Ardrey Kell High School

Georgios “George” Kostantinis

An immigrant from Greece who arrived at Ardrey Kell his sophomore year, George Kostantinis belongs to multiple honor societies, speaks four languages and serves on the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Board. He also teaches Greek dance to children as a volunteer. “The reason driving me to attend college is that I will be the first in my family,” he says. Son of Styliani Kostantini and Zisis Kostantinis, George hopes to attend UNC-Chapel Hill and become a surgeon.

Jayda “Jay” Burghardt

Two weeks after Jay Burghardt moved here from San Francisco she was elected junior class president. Daughter of Paul and Tanzania Burghardt, Jay won a scholarship to a Columbia University program last summer in international politics and economics. A member of the school’s honor society, she mentors African-American girls from other Charlotte schools in study skills. Her only college pick is UCLA, where most of her family graduated, and her goal is to become a lawyer.

Charlotte Catholic High School

Connor Ruff

Connor Ruff is a National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist, Advanced Placement Scholar, debate champion and school nominee for the Morehead-Cain Scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill. His academic strong suits are chemistry and physics. “The frontiers of science have to do with them,” he says. Son of Jenifer and Mike Ruff, Connor won The President’s Volunteer Service Award (bronze) for volunteering at the Pineville Volunteer Fire Department. At present, he is considering a career in chemical engineering.

Lizzy Fiepke

Daughter of Julie and Thomas Fiepke, Lizzy Fiepke is an Advanced Placement Scholar hoping to pursue a career in medicine at Northwestern University or UNC-Chapel Hill. Her athletic excellence is centered on tennis. Although her favorite subject is English, she has tutored science at various Ballantyne elementary schools. She credits her academic success to self-discipline, noting “you have to manage your time well and not get distracted when doing homework.”

Charlotte Latin School

Lily Zheng

A member of the Cum Laude Society, Lily Zheng, daughter of Cindy Dong and David Zheng, excels in classical languages and the violin. She was accepted as a rising junior to a Cornell University summer college credit program, attended Governor’s School focusing on social science and has received two book awards for achievement in classical languages. Her dream college choice is Columbia University, with the hope of studying law. “I also plan to minor in violin performance,” she says.

Wyatt Nabatoff

Student body president, Eagle Scout and varsity golfer, Wyatt Nabatoff wants to pursue a degree in engineering. Last summer he helped a civil engineering professor at UNC Charlotte test a gravity-based water filtration device. For his Eagle Scout project, Wyatt re-landscaped the nature trail at Myers Park Baptist Church. Son of Kelly Katterhagen and Larry Nabatoff, Wyatt scored an average 4.8 out of 5 on five subjects on the Advanced Placement exam. “Hard work works,” he says.

Providence High School

Sara Gaiser

Daughter of Donna and Jim Gaiser, Sara Gaiser will complete 17 Advanced Placement courses by graduation. President of the school’s math honor society, she attended Governor’s School last summer, studying ring theory, knot theory and real number analysis. She also won The President’s Volunteer Service Award (gold) based on helping Providence Spring Elementary School with STEM programs. “I would love to become a nuclear engineer,” she says, noting her senior project was volunteering at McGuire Nuclear Station to study safety measures.

Patrick O’Connor

Son of Katrina and Joseph O’Connor, Patrick O’Connor has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the junior ROTC program since his freshman year. Now commanding officer, he also captains the junior ROTC marksmanship team, and his high GPA helped his unit’s academic team win third place against 13 of the top 66 junior ROTC units in the Piedmont. “Initially I dreamed of going to the Naval Academy or a career in the Navy, but I am also exploring Clemson and Virginia Tech.” Patrick also plays for the Charlotte Rush Travel Hockey 18U team at Extreme Ice in Indian Trail.

South Mecklenburg High School

Kyle Rojas

Last summer Kyle Rojas won a Rufus M. Dalton Leadership Scholarship for the North Carolina Outward Bound School. He is a peer mentor for AFS-USA (formerly the American Field Service) and works part-time at Autobell car wash. Kyle belongs to the Marine Corps’ poolee program, which enables him to go directly into the Marines upon graduation. “I’ve grown up seeing the military as heroes,” he says, “and this country has given me and my family everything, so I want to give back.” His parents, Graciela Gonzalez and Irineo Rojas, moved here from Mexico.

Claudia Barnett

Claudia Barnett attended elementary school in Belgium, and today is fluent in three languages. A member of the national science and math honor societies, she will complete 11 Advanced Placement classes by graduation. She also specializes in freestyle and breaststroke on the school swim team and with SwimMAC, prompting the school to nominate her for the Lowell L. Bryan Scholarship to Davidson College, an award for top scholar athletes. Daughter of Eleonora Barnett, Claudia wants to major in biology and become an occupational therapist.