Konur Nordberg and Hannah Even call themselves “STEM students.” They’re intrigued by math and science courses like physics and calculus. But both also loved some of their humanities courses.
They did well in whatever they took – and they took some of Staples High School’s most rigorous courses. They earned the 2 highest grade point averages at the academically demanding school. Konur is valedictorian, and Hannah salutatorian. Both will deliver speeches during graduation ceremonies in June.
The pair are also products of the Westport Public Schools. Konur attended Saugatuck Elementary and Bedford Middle Schools. He was an avid soccer and basketball player while younger. At Staples he played soccer and ran track for three years, and raced on the ski team for two.
He was also a member of the school’s Service League of Boys. He participated in a variety of community projects, including clean-up efforts, soup kitchens and fundraising. “I met a lot of grateful people,” Konur says. “And doing it with friends made it special.”
STEM-oriented classes like Advanced Placement Chemistry taught by Dominick Messina, and Advanced Computer Science with Dr. Nick Morgan, were particularly enjoyable and challenging. “I’m a very logical person. Those are fields I may want to go into. It was fascinating to see how many applications there are for them.”
But United States History with Nell-Ayn Lynch also piqued his interest. In fact, he says, the entire Staples environment – which “shows you how to be academically rigorous, with so many amazing courses, but offers so many clubs and sports too” – played a role in his success.
COVID disrupted that environment, beginning last spring. Sports had always provided a balance to Konur’s school day, and helped him manage his time. Instead he ran on his own, and adjusted to distance learning. “I adapted,” he says simply. “Teachers were pretty helpful.”
Konur did not set out to become valedictorian. In fact, “as a freshman I didn’t even know what that was.” But from a young age his parents had instilled in him a desire to try hard in whatever he did.
“You can’t obsess about every grade and test,” he notes. “That can drive you crazy.” It’s much better to “live a balanced life, in and out of school. I was lucky to be able to figure out that balance.”
He recognizes that being Staples High School’s valedictorian is an enormous honor, and credits his teachers for their support and positive influence.
He is not sure what he’ll talk about when he delivers his address. However, Konur says, he remembers writing letters “to our future selves” on the last day of fifth and seventh grades. They are returned to seniors before graduation. As he and the Class of 2021 look forward, he may well use those letters as a way to reflect on how far he’s come.
This fall, Konur heads to Duke University.
Hannah, the salutatorian, applied her STEM skills in two types of competitions. At Long Lots Elementary School she participated in Math Olympiad; at Bedford Middle School she captained her Science Olympiad team to the national competition.
“That introduced me to engineering,” she recalls. “I saw how physics overlapped between science and math.” She also realized that math relates to “real life” – particularly when her team built a hovercraft (and won first place at the state meet).
Hannah continued Science Olympiad at Staples, and was again captain. She is vice president of the Science National Honor Society, and a member of its math counterpart. She is also on the math team (captain), works on the STEM Journal, and tutors with Top Hat.
“It all makes sense to me,” she says of science and math. “There are so many creative paths to get to a fundamental conclusion.”
Hannah’s favorite courses include Advanced Placement Chemistry with Mr. Messina, (Konur is a classmate), Advanced Placement Physics with David Scrofani, Pre-Calculus with Rasha Tarek, Advanced Placement Language with Mary Fulco – and Advanced Placement Government with Suzanne Kammerman
“That was not in my wheelhouse,” she admits. “But it became one my favorite classes. It was cool to take it in a year when there was so much going on politically.”
Distance learning during the pandemic took some of the stress off – with fewer extracurricular opportunities, she could spend more time on schoolwork and college applications – but Hannah missed debating ideas face-to-face with teachers and students.
Earning salutatorian honors “just happened,” Hannah says. “It was important to me that I took classes I liked. But of course I wanted to do well in them. This is really a great honor. There are so many good students at Staples. It’s nice to know I’ve made it through, and my work paid off.”
Her advice to younger students: “There’s a lot of pressure to take AP classes, just for the credit. But if you don’t like the subject, you won’t do well. Take classes you have a passion for. You’ll enjoy them more. You’ll even enjoy studying for the tests.”
Hannah plans to study engineering at Princeton University.