Shining a Light on Local Seniors

by | Aug 2023

High school seniors gathered around a table at a diner.

Thank you to Ze’s Diner in Prior Lake for letting us use their dining room to photograph these high school seniors. The diner, which also has a location in Eagan, serves breakfast all day, burgers and classic comfort food. Ze’s Diner, 16731 State Highway 13, Prior Lake, and 3448 Denmark Ave., Eagan; Photos: Chris Emeott

The class of 2024 is already making a positive impact on our community.

This class was just finishing middle school when COVID-19 seemed to stop time, and they started their high school careers in a world that interacted mostly online. Yet, they’ve found inspiring ways to connect with their classmates and communities and develop their skills for the greater good.

Kaiden Cheung, 17

Prior Lake High School

Kaiden Cheung

Even during his free time, Kaiden Cheung finds a way to give back. Cheung founded a tutoring program with his friend Alex Wang. Every Wednesday during Laker Time, a free period during school, Kaiden can be found helping other students with homework. “I’ve always wanted to use leadership skills to help the school,” he says.

In addition to volunteer and academic activities, including National Honor Society, Computer Science Club and Junior Optimist Club, Kaiden competes on the school’s swim team. Kaiden has been swimming competitively since he was 10 years old and says swimming has helped him develop leadership skills. He competed individually and as a part of a relay team at the state level in swimming last season, and the Prior Lake High School Boys Swim Team took home third place in the team standings at state. “It’s like a family,” Kaiden says of the swim team. “You can be your true self.”

After high school, Kaiden is planning to attend college on a premed track and hopes to pursue a career in cardiology or neurology. “I’m actually fascinated by the brain,” he says.

Abby Leach, 17

Prior Lake High School

Abby Leach

Last March, Abby Leach unexpectedly found herself as a key witness in a trial being argued in the Federal Courthouse in St. Paul. She was a part of a Mock Trial team for Prior Lake High School and even though half the team was competing in Mock Trial for the first time, they were delighted to compete at the state level. “It was a lot of work, and it was cool to see that work pay off,” says Abby, who will be a captain on this year’s team.

Abby is also a part of Laker Leaders, a mentorship organization composed of leaders from Prior Lake High School sports and clubs, and she’s a senior leader on the Speech Team. She competed in the categories of Prose and Duo last season. This summer, she competed at the national speech tournament in Arizona.

After high school, Abby plans to attend college but is undecided on a major. In addition to her excellent communication skills, Abby enjoys biology, STEM and humanities. She recently earned 36 on the ACTs, which is the highest possible composite score and a feat that only 1 percent of test takers accomplish, so her future looks promising wherever she decides to focus her interest.

Noah Kujawski, 17

School of Environmental Studies

Noah Kujawski

Noah Kujawski captures inspiring photos of the night sky from the backyard of his Lakeville home, and his compelling work has been recognized in an international competition.

The senior at the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley says he’s always had an interest in space, but his passion for astrophotography really took off after he got his first telescope in 2018. “I would hold a phone up to the eyepiece and take pictures,” he says.

Noah got a DLSR camera and a star tracker (a piece of equipment that moves the camera with the Earth’s rotation to get long-exposure images that don’t look blurry), and started taking his own pictures of the galaxy and other bright objects in the night sky.

He’s continued to accrue more equipment and refine his skill. His photos take patience, planning and perfectly clear skies. He’ll set up equipment to take hundreds of photos over the course of an evening, and use software to blend the images together.

Two of his images—one of a lunar eclipse and the other highlighting minerals found on the Moon—were on the shortlist for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022, an international contest.

After high school, Noah plans to major in physics and study astronomy or meteorology in college.

Ella Fowler, 16

Lakeville South High School

Ella Fowler

Ella Fowler isn’t waiting to follow her dream of working in the medical field—she already volunteers at Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, serves as president for her school’s HOSA Club for future health professionals and was a part of a medical mission to Honduras, where she got to observe surgeries. She loves her volunteer work, transporting patients and supplies at Fairview, because “I have a sense of purpose there,” she says. “My actions benefit others.”

Ella isn’t afraid to push herself academically, as well. “I take as many AP [Advanced Placement] classes as I can,” Ella says, adding that her favorite subject is economics. She took AP Macroeconomics as a sophomore, and last year she took AP Microeconomics. Her passion for economics undoubtedly fuels her success in DECA, a club that inspires future business leaders through competition. Ella competed in the national DECA conference in the category of school-based enterprise for her work at the school store.

Ella has also been playing hockey since she was 7 years old. She plays forward and credits her teammates for helping her grow on and off the ice. “Our team is a family,” she says.

Carter Will, 18

Eagan High School

Carter Will

Carter Will has a sign hanging above his door that says, “How are you going to make a positive impact today?” And it’s clear that Carter takes that sign seriously in all of his many pursuits.

In the sports arena, Carter has been on the varsity football and track teams since his sophomore year, and won the 2023 State Championship in weightlifting—his first year in the sport and Eagan High School’s first year with a weightlifting team.

He takes honors math and college level English classes and is a member of the National Honor Society and World National Honor Society.

He also finds the time to mentor other students, whether he’s coaching a seventh grade football team, teaching religion to fourth graders at St. Joseph’s in Rosemount or serving as president of the Special Olympics Unified Club at Eagan High School.

His work with the Unified Club, which promotes inclusion through sports and other activities, has even inspired his career aspirations. Carter hopes to continue playing football in college and plans to major in special education, with the goal of becoming a teacher and a coach.

Brandon Durgapersad, 17

Apple Valley High School

Brandon Durgapersad

As a high school junior, Brandon Durgapersad was already making significant contributions to global health research. Through the University of Minnesota’s H2U: Global Health and Health Equity Research program, which provides high school students with hands-on research experience, Brandon worked with Caleb Skipper, MD, on research in Uganda involving an HIV/AIDS related infection. While Skipper was in Uganda getting samples, Brandon analyzed the samples in a lab in Minnesota. “I didn’t know I was capable of doing something that big,” Brandon says.

Brandon says his older siblings have driven him to excel in academics throughout high school. “There’s some sibling rivalry,” he says. “I’m trying to live up to the expectations they’ve set and finding my own self.” Last spring, his hard work was recognized with two awards from AVID, a college prep program, one for academics and another for acting as an impactful member of the community.

After high school, Brandon hopes to study at the University of Minnesota and wants to pursue a career that blends his passion for the medical profession with business.


Recent Stories

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This