A photographer with dreams of fashion editing; a marine biologist and physicist called to the ocean; a class leader drew to history and exploration; and an admirable volunteer and future pilot. All share a thirst for knowledge and a drive to use their passions to become the best versions of themselves.
Four GFA students — Bella Bohnsack, Max Howat, Benjamin O’Brien, and AJ Tenser — were selected among Fairfield County’s top teens this year, part of an annual Moffly Publications series for their Westport, Weston & Wilton, Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien + Rowayton, and Stamford magazines.
Each publication selects ten teens from its respective town(s) who have made an outstanding contribution to their communities. The magazines just hit the newsstands, but here are some highlights:
Bella Bohnsack (Class of 2021 attending Boston University)
Bohnsack has earned a gold and two silver keys for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, has been featured twice in the national Drexel University High School Art Exhibition, earned the Jurors Award at the 40th Annual Photography Show at the Carriage Barn Art Center, and is the Young Arts Winner in the photography category. She graduated from GFA with High Honors and was the co-editor of the yearbook her senior year.
About GFA: “The best part about my school is my friends. They have taught me lessons on thoughtfulness and compassion and aren’t afraid to call me out when I go wrong.”
The biggest challenge facing today’s teens is: “social media. It has destroyed, or at least drastically altered, our childhoods and lives in a way that’s never been done before, and we have yet to see the true repercussions.”
She aspires to learn: “more about how I can use my voice to help others.”
Max Howat (Class of 2021 attending University of Miami)
Howat has always been born for the water. Throughout Upper School, he was shellfish warden for the Harbor Department of New Shoreham, first mate on Marine Patrol, and worked part-time on Hula Charters. His global thesis, presented at GFA’s World Perspectives Symposium, studied changes in the striped bass fishery concerning fishing regulations, the environment, and the economy.
About GFA: “I loved the fact that it was a small school. If you had a problem, you couldn't just run away from it because everyone knew everyone. The problem-solving skills I was taught will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
About marine biology: “[Its importance] was obvious from the get-go because of how much the ocean has influenced my life and the way I live it.”
Advice to high school freshmen: “Everyone is nervous, make the most of the next four years.”
Benjamin O’Brien (Class of 2021 attending University of Michigan)
A natural-born leader, the recipient of the Head of School Award of Distinction, varsity cross country runner, varsity Golf player, Teen Awareness and Conversational Opportunities peer counselor, and junior class president, O’Brien took charge in and out of school.
About GFA: “I think GFA has a faculty that truly values genuine academic interest from its student body. They want students to take control over what and how they learn because they know the best work comes from a student who is actually interested in studying the thing they’re studying.”
His proudest accomplishment was: “being able to turn around my high school experience after my sophomore year. As an underclassman, I was unengaged and far from thriving at GFA. As I overcame some personal challenges and matured with age, I started to come out of my shell and, ultimately, decided to run for junior class president — and won. This marked a major turning point for me. Beginning with junior year, I approached everything I did with greater focus, effort, and determination, and it was from there that I was able to grow into who I am today.”
Finding the positive in the pandemic: “This taught us how to adapt, something we can all benefit from. I believe Covid also helped build confidence for many people. Staying true to our strengths was important in a time when there was so much uncertainty.”
AJ Tenser (Class of 2023)
In his first two years of Upper School, Tenser has been very busy serving as co-chair of Model UN, special events chair, and temporary co-chair of QUEST Club, Quiz Team, Academic World Quest, Jewish Students Club, Coding Club, Newspaper, Yearbook, and the Golf Team. As impressive as his activity list is, his intrinsic motivation led him to pursue his pilot’s license and volunteer for Corporate Angel Network, helping cancer patients get the necessary travel needed for treatment without expense.
About GFA: “I like that the teachers are accessible and easy to talk to, but still keep me challenged. The environment at GFA is also great. The history behind the school can be seen through the architecture, but it is not overbearing or dark. The headmaster, who arrived the same year that I did, has been supportive and makes the school a great place to learn.”
About history: “By studying other cultures, my perspective has changed, and I am better able to understand how past events are influencing actions and decisions today.”
On pursuing his pilot’s license: “I recently passed my written exam, which was almost entirely self-directed. It took almost a year of studying information that I had never seen before. By breaking down the material into manageable pieces, I was able to stay motivated and nail down the material, easily passing the exams. It definitely took me out of my comfort zone but, ultimately, made me a more independent student.”