Outstanding Grads: Salute to Michigan’s best, brightest

The Detroit News

For 31 years, The News has saluted a group of Michigan’s best and brightest high school students in the spring of their senior year.

This is the 32nd class of outstanding high school graduates honored by The Detroit News.

Partnering with CATCH — Sparky Anderson’s Charity for Children — we call it the Outstanding Graduates program.

It is an honor to share the stories of these remarkable young people and to consider that Michigan will benefit from their future endeavors, and the endeavors of so many of their friends and classmates.

The top seniors were chosen from a field of outstanding nominees. Public and private high schools in Michigan were invited to nominate students in each of 11 categories. Students were selected on the basis of grades, test scores, honors, community involvement and a demonstrated ability in one of the academic areas. In a special category called “Against All Odds” students were recognized for succeeding despite a physical hardship or special, personal or family challenges.

Final selections were made by panels of judges that included teachers, counselors and other academic specialists. The judges told us of their high regard for the many nominees and the difficulty in narrowing their choices.

Our thanks go to all of the principals, counselors and teachers who took time to nominate these students. Thanks also go to the judges who spent many hours selecting the finalists.

This is the 32nd class of outstanding high school graduates honored by The News. Many of our early nominees are now well established in successful careers and raising children that may well be honored themselves someday soon. We salute their special achievements and extend congratulations to all of Michigan’s graduating seniors in the class of 2017.


Jonathan Wolman

Editor and Publisher

Hannah Benemann — Language Arts

High school: Swan Valley High School

Hannah Benemann, Swan Valley High School

GPA: 3.995

Parents: Jonathan and Stacey Benemann

College planning to attend: Central Michigan University

Major: Biology

Career plans: Physician or wildlife veterinarian

Most influential teacher: Mrs. JoAnn Schneider


-- Ronald Reagan Student Leader Award — Reagan Foundation

-- Membership in the Great Lakes Bay Regional Youth Leadership Institute

-- National Top Ten in Advanced Office Systems — Business Professionals of America

-- Centralis Gold Scholarship to Central Michigan University (full tuition)

-- Class salutatorian

-- Chapter president for Students Against Destructive Decisions

-- Class secretary

-- Team editor for Tri-Valley Conference Writing Team

-- Captain in Model United Nations

-- Former junior varsity captain for Swan Valley's Quiz Bowl Team

-- Chapter historian for Business Professionals of America

-- 320 community service hours

-- Membership to Swan Valley's National Honor Society; Asgard Chapter

Le’Reatha Burrell — Against All Odds

High school: Detroit Cristo Rey High School

Le’Reatha Burrell, Detroit Cristo Rey High School

GPA: 3.02

Parents: Cortez and Le’Reatha Burrell

College you plan to attend: Oakland University

Major: Engineering

Career plans: Mechanical Engineering

Most influential teacher: Mrs. Johnson


-- Inducted in the National Honor Society

-- Received several 3.0 Recognition Awards

-- Received Second Honors Award (No Grade Lower Than a B-)

-- Received All Catholic Award (One of top 5 players in the catholic league)

-- Featured in the Detroit Free Press Newspaper for scoring 20 points in basketball

Farah Chammaa — Science Education

High school: Crestwood High School

Farah Chammaa, Crestwood High School

GPA: 4.537

Parents/Guardians: Samah Idris and Mohamed Chammaa

College you plan to attend: University of Michigan Ann Arbor

Major: Chemistry

Career plans: Medicine

Most influential teacher: Mrs. Johns


-- First place at the GLOBE Midwest Regional Science Fair

-- Third place at the Science and Engineering Fair of Metro Detroit for environmental science

-- Red Cross Blood Drive coordinator

-- Starting an Advanced Placement Calculus BC class with my classmate

-- Accumulating over 500 hours of community service as a part of the National Honor Society

-- Presenting a chemistry research project at Spring Arbor University with my group

-- Shadowing at Garden City Hospital for a summer

-- Co-coordinating a fundraiser with a rival school to find a cure for Angelman’s Syndrome

-- Working with the Red Cross in Canada to send medications to Syrian hospitals

Thomas Cohn — Mathematics

High school: Ann Arbor Skyline

Thomas Cohn, Ann Arbor Skyline

GPA: 4.0

Parents/Guardians: Amy and Jonathan Cohn

College you plan to attend: Undecided

Major: Math and computer science (double major)

Career plans: College professor, focusing on robotics

Most influential teacher: Laurie Hochrein, BC calculus


-- Four semesters of math (beyond BC calculus) at UM

-- Skyline Robotics team: Lead design engineer (senior year), training instructor; team qualified for state and world championships 2015

-- Intern at UM Robotics lab: Developed code to develop topological maps of buldings

-- MBK Challenge: Won $5,000 grant to develop/run high school robotics program in Detroit

-- Skyline Drop-In Tutoring Center: Volunteer math tutor, four years

-- Ann Arbor YMCA: Volunteer youth sports coach, five years

-- United Way Community Service “Varsity Letter,” three years

-- Math programming: Wrote code for a 3D graphing calculator from scratch

-- Purdue STEP: Best male student and member of best team in weeklong summer program

Rachel Dearing — Vocational-Technical

High school: Grosse Pointe South High School

Rachel Dearing, Grosse Pointe South High School

GPA: 3.9

Parents/Guardians: Barbara Cerda and Tyrone Dearing

College you plan to attend: Michigan State University

Major: History

Career plans: I am unsure what I want to do as a career, but I wish to utilize my creative talents however possible.

Most influential teacher: Mr. Geresy


-- Continuing to learn Spanish in Spanish 5 AP and being a part of the Spanish Honor Society

-- President of Grosse Pointe South’s Video Club

-- Entering the 2017 DAFT (Digital Arts Film & Television) Film Competition and receiving two Honor and two Excellence Awards

-- Being accepted into Michigan State University

Emma Drake — Mathematics

High school: Williamston High School

Emma Drake, Williamston High School

GPA: 4.0

Parent/Guardian: Steve and Corey Drake

College you plan to attend: Northwestern University

Major: Mathematical methods in the social sciences

Career plans: Global health

Most influential teacher: Joe Rasmus: Math and Science Academy adviser


-- Recipient (team member) of the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam $10,000 grant to invent an automated portable, electronic, device to help students with disabilities open school lockers.

-- Research paper on early causes of gender bias in STEM fields published in Questioz, an international journal of high school research

-- National Merit Scholarship finalist

-- Top 10 in the 2017 graduating class

-- Willamston High School National Honor Society secretary and treasurer

-- Four-year member of the Williamston High School Math and Science Academy

-- Williamston High School Rotary Club Student of the Quarter

-- Member of the Williamston High School Spanish program’s trips to Costa Rica and Peru

-- Member of the inaugural LINKS Program at Williamston High School

-- Accepted into and attended a two-week seminar at Northwestern on Humanitarianism and Global Health July 2016

Destiny Esters — Visual Arts

High school: Skyline High School

Destiny Esters, Skyline High School

GPA: 3.4

Parent/Guardian: LaSonia Forte and Michael Awkward

College you plan to attend: College for Creative Studies Major: Illustration

Career plans: I plan to work at a big company such as Disney or Cartoon Network and design characters for cartoons.

Most influential teacher: Ms. Wade and Ms. Whitehorn


-- Sold first piece of artwork for $200 at Pop X Art Showing in Summer 2015

-- Had art showing at Washtenaw Community College for the African American Cultural Museum of Washtenaw County (AACMH)

-- Multiple-time Freedom Fund Scholar

Nina Renee Ferri — Against All Odds

High school: L’Anse Creuse High School North

Nina Renee Ferri, L’Anse Creuse High School North

GPA: 3.75

College you plan to attend: Great Lakes Christian College

Major: Elementary education and biblical theology

Career plans: Elementary or special education teacher

Most influential teacher: My fifth-grade teacher: Mrs. Patrona


-- Honor roll for all of middle school

-- National Technical Honor Society — junior/senior year

-- Varsity Letter in Choir

Stephen Freeman — World Studies

High school: Northville High School

Stephen Freeman, Northville High School

GPA: 4.0

Parents/Guardians: Mike Freeman (father) and Pat Freeman (mother)

College you plan to attend: Harvard University

Major: Molecular biology

Career plans: To work as both a doctor and a genetics researcher to help solve global health issues

Most influential teacher: Mrs. Karen Motz


-- National Merit finalist 2017

-- Le Grand Concours (The National French Contest) Silver Medalist (2016)

-- Le Grand Concours (The National French Contest) Bronze Medalist (2015)

-- 4-year membership in the Société Honoraire de Français (French Honors Society)

-- 2-year member and Senior Co-President of the National Honor Society

-- 4-year member of the Varsity Boys Tennis Team and Senior Captain

-- 2016 All-State Tennis 1-Doubles

-- Boys Tennis Conference and Regional Champion 1-Doubles (2016) and 4-Singles (2015)

-- Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award

-- Michigan Math Prize Competition (MMPC) semi-finalist (2015)

-- 2-year member and captain of the Northville Prep Black Hockey Team and GLPHL Champion

Alyssa Gall — Journalism

High school: Richmond High School

Alyssa Gall, Richmond High School

GPA: 4.077

Parents/Guardians: Andrew and Susan Gall

College you plan to attend: Alma College

Major: Business and journalism

Career plans: Journalism or something that incorporates writing, especially in the business field

Most influential teacher: Mr. Michael Murphy (English 10 and newspaper teacher)


-- Part of NHS and Key Club

-- Captain of the 2016-17 Girls’ Varsity Cross Country team

-- Co-captain of the 2017 Girls’ Varsity Soccer team

-- Varsity athlete all four years of high school

-- Graduating fifth in my senior class out of 154 students

-- Perfect attendance all four years of high school

-- All BWAC academic athlete

-- One of the four female scholar athletes from Richmond High School

Leah Graham — Journalism

High school: Troy High School

Leah Graham, Troy High School

GPA: 4.3

Parents/Guardians: Laurie and David Graham

College you plan to attend: Honors program at the University of Michigan

Major: Philosophy, Politics and Economics

Career plans: Attend law school and work for a nonprofit

Most influential teacher: Jayna Rumble and Valerie Valentino


-- Michigan’s 2017 High School Journalist of the Year

-- Member of the 2017 All-State Journalism Staff

-- Co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Chariot, Troy High’s student newspaper

-- First place from the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) for News Analysis in 2017

-- First place from MIPA for Story Package Design in 2017

-- First place from MIPA for Editorial Writing in 2017

-- First place from MIPA for Sports Feature Photography in 2016

-- First place from MIPA for Review Writing in 2016

-- First place for Staff Editorial in the Michigan Youth Journalism Experience in 2016

-- Excellent in Editorial Writing from the Journalism Education Association (JEA) in 2015

-- Ranked superior in News Editing/Headline Writing from JEA in 2016

-- Won more than 30 awards at the state and national level for writing, design and photography

Amira Humes — Visual Arts

High school: Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy

Amira Humes, Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy

GPA: 3.824

Parents/Guardians: Daren and Juvy Humes

College you plan to attend: Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

Major: Illustration

Career plans: To become an illustrator working in packaging or textile design

Most influential teacher: Becky Sullivan


-- Member of the National Honor Society for two years

-- Earned a Silver Key for my senior portfolio in Scholastic Art and Writing

-- Won Best of Design at Celebrating Saginaw’s Cultures Art Show

-- First place or The Saginaw Pan-Hellenic Council’s Fine Art Exposition

-- Honor Roll for three years

-- Region 11 Award (MAEA) and artwork displayed at the Saginaw Art Museum for three years

-- Accepted to my school of choice (Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design) with an $80,000 scholarship

-- Artwork featured in my school’s art and literary magazine for five years

-- Second place snow sculpture in Zehnder’s Snowfest competition 2017

-- Two-year recipient of the Stand Up Student Award for academic excellence and citizenship

-- I was accepted to Eastern Michigan University and offered a full tuition scholarship

Nicholas Kroetsch — Vocational-Technical

High school: Seaholm High School

Nicholas Kroetsch, Seaholm High School

GPA: 3.99 Unweighted

College you plan to attend: University of Michigan

Major: Computer Science

Career plans: Work as a software engineer at an innovative company such as SpaceX, Google, Tesla, etc. or get involved in a startup

Most influential teacher: Ms. Passarelli


-- 2017 FIRST Robotics State Championship DOW Division finalist

-- 2017 FIRST Robotics Southfield winner

-- 2017 FIRST Robotics Indiana St. Joseph District winner

-- 2016 OCCRA Robotics champion

-- National Merit Scholar

-- National AP Scholar

Audrey Ladd — Science Education

High school: Birmingham Seaholm

Audrey Ladd, Birmingham Seaholm

GPA: 4.00 (Weighted GPA: 4.543)

Parent/Guardians: Nancy and Gilbert Ladd

College you plan to attend: University of Michigan College of Engineering

Major: Mechanical engineering

Career plans: Biomedical industry, specifically prosthetics

Most influential teacher: Mrs. Linda Wichers (AP Biology)


-- Mitch Fischer Scholarship for Leadership and Character, awarded to one Seaholm student

-- Donated $1000 to Make-A-Wish Foundation through personal business Audrey’s Bakery

-- President of Seaholm’s National Honor Society

-- Vice President of Seaholm’s Science National Honor Society

-- Cross country and track captain (junior and senior year)

-- Cross Country Division I Team State Champions (2015, 2016)

-- Cross Country Individual Oakland County and Regional Champion (2016)

-- Cross Country All-State (11th place 2015, 10th place 2016)

-- Cross Country Academic All-State (2015, 2016)

-- New York Times Summer Reading Contest winner, Week 10 (2015)

-- National Merit Commended

-- AP Scholar with Distinction — scored a 5 on 5 AP exams

Joseph Mullally — Health

High school: Port Huron Northern

Joseph Mullally, Port Huron Northern

GPA: 4.0

Parents/Guardians: Thomas and Loretta Mullally

College you plan to attend: Ave Maria University

Major: Biochemistry

Career plans: Considering a career in research or medicine

Most influential teacher: Mrs. Anna Jamison and Mr. Leslie Latham


-- Valedictorian of Port Huron Northern

-- AP Scholar with Distinction

-- President of Students for a Healthy America

-- Eagle Scout

-- Captain, Varsity Cross Country Team

-- Varsity Cross Country, Track, Soccer and Quiz Bowl

-- Dual enrolled in Organic Chemistry

-- 2016 Boys State Representative

-- Senior class treasurer

Claudia Paddy — Performing Arts

High school: Monroe Jefferson High School

Claudia Paddy, Monroe Jefferson High School

GPA: 3.87

Parents: Scott and Heather Paddy

College you plan to attend: Michigan State University

Major: Political science

Career plans: Entertainment attorney

Most influential teacher: Carrie Grube


-- Recorded a CD of all original music titled Reborn

-- Opened for country musicians Little Texas at Christmas in Ida

-- Headlining act for Michigan State Fair

-- Finalist in the Michigan Super Stars vocal competition

-- Gypsy Robe winner for Shrek the Musical thru Downriver Youth Performing Arts Center

-- Lead in Thoroughly Modern Millie through Downriver Youth Performing Arts Center

-- Lead in Willie Wonka through Off Beat Productions

-- Jefferson High School Marching, Concert and Jazz bands. Secretary for Wind ensemble

-- National Honor Society

-- 4-H State Youth Leadership Council

-- President of Small Animal Association, Monroe County 4-H

-- Vice President of Youth Leadership Board, Monroe County 4-H

Allyssa Pant — Health

High school: Wellspring Preparatory High School

Allyssa Pant, Wellspring Preparatory High

GPA: 4.12

Parents/Guardians: Jennifer and Kenneth Pant

College you plan to attend: Eastern Michigan University

Major: Social Work

Career plans: I plan to earn my masters in social work and become a geriatric case worker

Most influential teacher: Eric Vanderleest


-- Varsity soccer and basketball team captain

-- SADD member

-- National Honors Society member

-- Summa Cum Laude honor roll

-- Eastern Michigan University Emerald Scholar

Reilly Parent — Against All Odds

High school: Clarkston High School

Reilly Parent, Clarkston High School

GPA: 3.1

Parents/Guardians: Steven and Charmaine Parent

College you plan to attend: Kettering University

Major: Computer science

Career Plans: Co-op opportunity at Kettering University; would like to program autonomous cars

Most influential teacher: Mrs. Kyle Hughes, calculus teacher and robotics coach


-- FIRST Robotics member of ‘Team RUSH’ at Clarkston High School. Programming sub-team.

-- A+ Certified in Computer Hardware/Software

-- Member of Clarkston High School’s CSMTech Program, an advanced STEM program.

-- AP Classes: Computer science, Chemistry, Calculus

-- Spanish (4 years)

-- SAT score: 1310, ACT score: 30

Trevor Roznowski — Athletics

High school: Alpena High School

Trevor Roznowski, Alpena High School

GPA: 4.058

College you plan to attend: Ferris State University

Major: Pre-Optometry (Biology)

Career plans: Earn a degree in Optometry and serve Northern Michigan communities for years to come.

Most influential teacher: Mr. Chris Limback


-- Alpena High School Varsity Football MVP (2016)

-- Alpena High School Student of the Week (2015)

-- Alpena High School Varsity Track & Field Co-MVP (2016)

-- Alpena High School Top Cat Award

-- President of AHS National Honor Society

-- Two-time captain – Varsity Football

-- Captain – Varsity Basketball

-- Besser Foundation Top 10% Class of 2017 at Alpena High School

-- Second Team All-Big North Conference Shot Put, Third Team All-Big North Conference Discus (2016) Honorable Mention All-Big North Conference Defensive Line (2016)

-- MHSAA Scholar Athlete Award Class A Finalist (2017)

-- Member of Alpena Public Schools D.A.R.E. Role Model Program

Hunter Stroh — Against All Odds

High school: Union City High School

Hunter Stroh, Union City High School

GPA: 4.0

Parents/Guardians: Craig Stroh, Michael and April Ware, David and Rachelle Booth

College you plan to attend: Undecided

Major: Biology

Career plans: Doctor

Most influential teacher: Mr. Bradley


-- Valedictorian

-- Big 8 All-Conference Academic Team

-- Four-year High School Honor Roll

-- National Honor Society

Caroline Szabo — Athletics

High school: H.H. Dow High School

Caroline Szabo, H.H. Dow High School

GPA: 4.0 UW/ 4.75 W

Parents/Guardians: Mike Szabo and Christi Szabo

College I plan to attend: Michigan State University (I will play tennis there)

Major: Biochemistry

Career plans: I plan to go to medical school and become a pediatric sports medicine physician or orthopedic surgeon

Most Influential teacher: Douglas Bradford


-- Winning two state championships in 2 different sports in the same calendar year (see below)

-- Won 2016 MHSM Division 1 Tennis Team State Championship

-- Won 2016 MHSM Division 2 Golf Team State Championship

-- Won 2016 MHSM Individual Division 1 Tennis (2 singles) State Championship

-- Competed in Dow Corning Tennis Classic, a WTA Professional tennis Tournament twice

-- Named MHSM Scholar-Athlete Award Recipient and named Academic All-State for golf

-- Accumulating eight Varsity letters in two sports throughout my high school career

-- National Merit Finalist

-- 2 Time All-conference team golf and tennis, All-region team golf, 2 time All-state tennis team

-- Achieved a perfect composite ACT of 36

-- Winning a DECA State Championship in Sports and Entertainment Marketing Category

Alex Toth — Performing Arts

High school: Detroit Catholic Central High School

Alex Toth, Detroit catholic Central High School

GPA: 4.1

Parents/Guardians: Janice and Edward Toth

College you plan to attend: Central Michigan University

Major: Music education and performance

Career plans: Music Educator and Performer

Most influential teacher: Dr. Max Plank


-- Junior and Senior Drum Major, Detroit Catholic Central Marching Band

-- Detroit Catholic Central High School Band President

-- National Honor Society

-- Gabriel Richard Club, Detroit Catholic Central High School Academic Honor Club 2017 Michigan All State Band, 1st Chair Alto Saxophone

-- 2017 Michigan Youth Arts Honors Band and Nomination as Outstanding Soloist Academic Awards in Physics, English and Music, Detroit Catholic Central H.S.

-- Consecutive Superior Ratings at District and State Solo and Ensemble, four years Commission of Drum Major, First Class Designation, Smith Walbridge Clinics

-- Admittance into the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, earning an “Emerging Musician” and academic scholarships

-- Admittance into Central Michigan’s Saxophone Studio, earning multiple scholarships for academics and music

Ricky Young — World Studies

High school: Troy High School

Ricky Young, Troy High School

GPA: 4.3

College you plan to attend: Stanford University

Major: Management science and engineering

Career plans: Hospitality and computer science

Most influential teacher: I can’t choose


-- Runner up for the Princeton race relations scholar

-- Raised $4,000 for Flint as a member of student government

-- Led community dialogues for the Council of Asian Pacific Americans documentary OurstoriesOurvoices (

Jiwon Yun — Language Arts

High school: Detroit Country Day School

Jiwon Yun, Detroit Country Day School

GPA: 4.0

Parents/Guardians: Hanho Yun and Yeounseung Lee

College you plan to attend: Princeton University

Major: Foreign policy

Career plans: Law

Most influential teacher: Mrs. Beverly Hannett-Price


-- President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2015 and 2016 (total of more than 300 hours of service)

-- Numerous regional and national Scholastic Writing Awards (3 gold and 2 silver medals at the national level and 20+ gold and silver medals at the regional level)

-- 2016 National Council of Teachers of English Achievements Awards in Writing recipient

-- Editor-in-chief of school’s literary magazine, Spectrum, which has won national recognition

-- Nominated for and selected to attend the all-expense-paid “Creative Arts and Humanities Symposium” at Princeton University

-- National Merit semi-finalist and finalist

-- Member of school’s National Cum Laude Society (top 10% of class)


Against All Odds

-- Ramiro Gildo-Alvarado

-- Kyle Levick

-- Sarah Mallon

-- Jeremiah Meeks

-- Alayna Nugent

-- Jillian Papow

-- Ashley Poling

-- Emeleo Rocha


-- Ryley Alaspa

-- Collin Finn

-- Emily Karas

-- Lindsey Mertz


-- Fekrah Alsoufi

-- Ezra Kalmowitz

-- Elizabeth Perez-Vazquez

-- Brock Romisch

-- Maggie Schaller


-- Dejamaree Davis

-- Seungwon Hur

-- Brooklyn Rue

Language Arts

-- Jesse Handelsman

-- Katarina Hanson

-- Caroline To

-- Nina Zarek


-- Sebin Choi

-- Shachi Salvi

-- Omer Siddiqui

-- Ross Smith

Performing Arts

-- Carly Bins

-- Trevor Prevovar

-- MaKenzie Smith

-- Michael Wolf


-- Jillian Marie Estrope

-- Anna Kaehr

-- Yara Komaiha

-- James Shepich

Visual Arts

-- Dana Matson

-- Blair Totzke

-- Cassandra Trumbull

-- Marjorie Tubie


-- Lauren Barczak

-- Earl Kummer

-- Katherine Mentel

-- Brandon Page

World Studies

-- Faren Bartholomew

-- Gurliv Chahal

-- Kelsey Evans

-- Vince Nguyen

Arts (Performing)


Executive Director

Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association

Arts (Visual)


Deputy Presentation Editor

The Detroit News



Sports Editor

The Detroit News



Division Head, Pediatrics

Henry Ford Health System



Assistant Managing Editor

The Detroit News

Language Arts


Adjunct Professor for WCCCD



Mathematics Consultant

Macomb Intermediate School District



President, Michigan Science Teachers Association (MSTA)

Against All Odds


Director of Student Services and Special Education

Westwood Community School District

Kimberly Sams-Smith

Freelance Journalist



Assistant Principal

Lamphere High School

World Studies


Social Studies Consultant

Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA)