Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (2023)

They are musicians, athletes, scholars and Scouts.

They have an incredible work ethic, superior time management skills, boundless energy, dedication and enthusiasm. More importantly, they are people who genuinely care about others.

The Best and Brightest class of 2023 includes 20 high school seniors from 18 high schools in six counties. There are 13 girls and seven boys that represent the potential of the class of 2023.

The Best and Brightest were honored during a ceremony on May 24 at Colonial Golf and Tennis Club. The speaker was JT Mullins, a 2019 Best and Brightest winner from Hershey High School and a 2023 graduate of Yale University. Mullins is a Rhodes Scholar and will study at Oxford University in England this fall pursuing a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice.

The presenting sponsor for the ceremony was Renewal by Andersen of Central PA. The silver sponsor was UPMC.

During the ceremony, each winner was given a framed photo of themselves taken by award-winning PennLive photographer Sean Simmers, along with a gift card.

At the awards ceremony, the winners saw a video submitted secretly by their family and friends expressing their support and encouragement.

Students are invited to apply for the Best and Brightest award themselves. They submit an application along with two letters of recommendation and an essay describing how they have made a difference in their community and/or school and how that experience will help them to contribute to a better society.

Applicants are asked to list their academic achievements, honors they have received, extracurricular activities, community involvement and employment. They also are asked to name someone they consider to be a mentor and their plans for after high school.

The process of evaluating the applications is never easy.

A panel of nine current and former educators read all of the applications to determine a list of semifinalists.

Then, a panel of nine judges representing various parts of the community such as faith, education, the arts, government and business, read the semifinalist applications and selected the 20 winners.

Best and Brightest was founded in 1993 by The Patriot-News by John Kirkpatrick, former editor and publisher/president of PennLive/The Patriot-News, and Cate Barron, current president of PA Media Group.

While the way the program is administered has changed over the years, one thing hasn’t — the unfailing desire of PennLive/The Patriot-News to highlight high school seniors who are making a difference in their schools and communities while achieving academic success and in some cases, overcoming tremendous obstacles.

These are the members of the Best and Brightest class of 2023. Their profiles are written using information they provided in their applications. Not all awards, activities and honors are listed. The honors listed are primarily for the 2022-23 school year.

Tijesuni Ademuwagun

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (1)

School:Milton Hershey School

Parents:Yomi and Toyin Ademuwagun

In her words:Tijesuni writes about a medical mistake that left her father with a disability. “The strongest emotion I felt, however, was indignation. However, his feeling of indignation has become a beacon of hope; whenever I feel the heat of its anger, passion awakes. To me, that is community service; to right a wrong. It is what prompted me to become a pillar for the residential elementary kids of Milton Hershey School. It is what started the fight for diversity in clothing and equalizing of double standards. It is what opened my mouth to speak of the stereotypes that withhold epidural from colored pregnant women, ignorance concerning the difference in healthcare for people of color, and the systematic disadvantages in medical care.”

In their words: “Tijesuni is a fantastic leader and team player. Her positivity radiates throughout the classroom. She is committed to making the world a better place by sharing even the smallest of gestures, a smile. … A trustworthy, reliable, and caring student and friend are just a few noteworthy qualities of Tijesuni. She is an absolute pleasure to have in class and a student with a true heart of gold. Her positive attitude and belief in herself, even in the face of difficulty, is an admirable asset. I’m confident that she will continue to demonstrate the same determination, commitment, and helpful hand that she has shown her teachers, peers, and community throughout her lifetime.” - Jessica Hillier, dance instructor, Milton Hershey School

Honors: National Honor Society; bronze medal, Afro-Academic Cultural Technological Scientific Olympiad; gold medal, Kangourou sans Frontieres; distinguished honor roll; Is Worthy Of Obtaining The Present Certificate - American Association Of Teachers Of French.

Activities:Milton Hershey Dance Department, student government, junior chapel volunteer, HACC EMT class and certification, gospel choir, New Horizons show choir, praise dance team, Milt to Milt student volunteer, student intern at Country Meadows of Hershey and Kartik J. Desai Medical Center, Ellicott City, Maryland.

Mentor:Jessica Hillier, dance instructor at Milton Hershey School

Plans:Will attend Brown University to major in neuroscience.

Lauryn Chotiner

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (2)

School:Central Dauphin High School

Parents:Erik and Robyn Chotiner

In her words:“For me, teaching has become a wonderful conduit to share my love of learning with my classmates and community. However, teaching’s greatest benefit to me has been the connection that it cultivates with others. Teaching allows me to make a difference in someone else’s life and in the process immeasurably enrich my own. … I’ve learned that education lies far beyond mastering academic concepts and ideas; it lies in the ability to share what you know, connect with, and guide others. It means to positively influence the world around you. My students showed the most success when I demonstrated empathy, patience, and connectivity. It feels extremely rewarding to connect to all different types of students. I enjoy discovering techniques to teach math concepts and seeing the impacts of increasing children’s skills and confidence.”

In their words:“Lauryn’s level of focus, responsibility, and ability to consider and analyze differing perspectives was always evident in the classroom. ... When describing Lauryn’s leadership style, I would characterize her as a highly likable, kind, and thoughtful young woman. ... She combines intelligence and self-discipline with kindness, open-mindedness, and an engaging personality. Students like Lauryn are very rare and extremely enjoyable to have in class, as the level of positive engagement that they bring to the learning environment is immeasurable.” – Steven Tecau, social studies teacher, Central Dauphin High School

Honors:National Honor Society; AP Scholar; Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference; captain, girls’ tennis team.

Activities:Helped to organize Kids Instructing Kids tutoring program, linear algebra team for the Pitt Data Jam, working on Six Sigma green belt, Key Club, No. 1 singles player for varsity tennis team, reader and host for Reading 365, piano, secretary of student council.

Mentor:Darren Rabinowitz, coordinator, Diller Teen Fellows program, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia

Plans:She will attend Georgetown University to major in business.

Atticus “Drake” Christianson

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (3)

School:Commonwealth Charter Academy (Waynesboro)

Parents:Christopher and Bethany Christianson

In his words:“Through teaching others, I felt more connected to the community as I had the wonderful opportunity to build its stronger tomorrow. Volunteering at these camps has given me a valuable perspective, in that educating others has motivated me to pursue global service opportunities in building a greener society through learning. Furthermore, my passion for studying the sustainability of our natural world in combination with scientific innovation grew. In pursuit of my interests in physics and environmental science, the topic of astrobiology ignites my passion for discovery. This topic greatly excites me because in learning how we can grow nutritious food in space and make cosmic travel safer on the human body, we enter the realm of a sustainable presence beyond our world.”

In their words:“He has been a tremendous student and will be missed at our school as he pursues his future dreams. I have seen many examples of his leadership abilities, strong character, amazing talent inside and outside the classroom, among his peers, and have been impressed by his diligence and work ethic. … Drake is a dedicated learner and thus far his grades have been exemplary in five AP classes this year. " – Jonathan Fried, principal, Commonwealth Charter Academy

Honors:Distinguished honor roll; CCA Excellence in Achievement Award; Real World Design Challenge International, second place team; Real World Design Challenge National, champion team; Real World Design Challenge State, champion team; FIRST Dean’s List finalist, Yale, MIT and Worcester Polytechnic Institute; third place, Bentley University Senior Stock Market Challenge; Pennsylvania Certificate of Merit; Science National Honor Society; Mu Alpha Theta National Mathematics Honor Society; National Honor Society.

Activities:Aquaponics internship, Real World Design Challenge, FIRST Robotics Competition, Hagerstown Community College College for Kids camp volunteer, Authentic Community Theatre’s Art in the Woods camp counselor, piano.

Mentor:Kayla Gomez, AgWorks Biotechnology Specialist at Commonwealth Charter Academy.

Plans:He will attend Yale University with a dual major in astrophysics and environmental science.

Katherine Elliott

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (4)

School:Bermudian Springs High School

Parents:David and Jessica Elliott

In her words:“Throughout these volunteering experiences, I have truly enjoyed connecting with others who I might not normally have the opportunity to meet. Volunteering is quite an amazing concept. Speaking in economic terms, volunteering offers a high return on investment and even though I was not looking to ‘fill my own proverbial cup,’ I received huge unexpected dividends. I learned new skills, such as woodworking, gained customer service experience when I worked at the information booth, and learned masonry skills when applying tiles to the Bermudian mural. Volunteering has enriched my life and I plan on making it a lifelong priority.”

In their words:“Kate has consistently shown herself to be one of our school’s most talented individuals. She has steadily showcased an extraordinary ability to function at the highest level in the realm of scholastic achievement. Her attitude, demeanor, and character contain the aspects consistent with those needed to handle the commitment required in regards to her desire to attend a rigorous academic program. Kate’s talents prove her to be a step above the rest, and I have seen her hard work and talent on display as both a student and an athlete. … I consider her one of the most bright and diverse students I have ever had the privilege of teaching. Most students are rarely that mix of character, kindness and talent. Kate Elliott excels at all three …” – Ryan Updike, social studies teacher, Bermudian Springs High School

Honors:National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society, qualified for the YMCA National Swim Meet, East Berlin VFW Voices of Democracy essay award winner, HACC dean’s list.

Activities:2022 homecoming queen, high school swim team, York YMCA and Coast Guard Blue Dolphins Swim teams, high school marching band flute section leader and soloist at halftime, concert band, Girl Scouts bronze and silver awards; lifeguard at Lake Meade Community Pool.

Mentor:Ryan Updike, teacher, Bermudian Springs High School

Plans:She will attend Penn State University to major in architectural engineering.

Madeline Galvin

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (5)

School:Harrisburg Academy (Carlisle)

Parents:Michael and Alecia Galvin

In her words:“Heads pulled off my Barbie dolls, beads broken off my necklaces, sassy pink nail polish splattered across my room. Together, they made me realize that my younger brother suffered from something I didn’t understand at the time but soon would: autism spectrum disorder. With a mother fighting cancer and a father often traveling for work, it also marked the beginning of me playing a much more active role in my brother’s life than I had expected. As we grew together, my perspectives, my goals, my passions, and my attitudes were shaped by the challenges we faced together.

By taking care of my brother, I realized that life didn’t revolve around me. … Thanks to my brother, I now find myself focusing my time, passion, and effort on those problems that can have a meaningful impact on the lives of those around me.”

In their words:“Maddie has great leadership ability. She is a great speaker and communicator. She understands human nature and listens well to others to help them with cognitive issues, physical impairment and mental instability. Maddie displayed courage and bravado when working with at-risk youth, many who had violent crimes. Maddie also has shown the true colors of her heart by being a guiding light to her brother who is diagnosed with autism.” – Michael Murphy, president, Set Point Tennis Organization

Honors:FBLA competition, second in region; Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science, first in region; National Honor Society; French Honor Society; Tri-M Music Honor Society; academic excellence award and IB Summer Scholar award, Harrisburg Academy; University of Rochester Xerox Innovation and Information Technology Award.

Activities:President, FBLA; student council vice president; president, Tri-M Music Honor Society; Studio ‘91 dance team; varsity tennis team; plays flute in the orchestra; choir; ENGin tutor, virtually tutoring students in Ukraine; student ambassador; founded Eric’s Voice, nonprofit for autism awareness.

Mentor:Richard Huy, French teacher, Harrisburg Academy

Plans:She will attend the University of Notre Dame to major in finance.

Rachel Kaintz

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (6)

School:South Western High School

Parents:Erich and Katrina Kaintz

In her words: “With my various avenues for serving others: through being a state officer for Key Club International, playing music at church, founding the INSPIRE club and leading the STEM activities, and creating a free little library for a local elementary school, I have found ways to serve others that comprise my interests and passions. I believe serving others has made me a more well-rounded citizen and has given me new skills, perspectives, experiences, and friendships that will support my future success, while building a better world. Service empowers me to remember all the people and experiences that have raised me to where I am today and to return the favor by supporting others.”

In their words: “Rachel possesses the skills necessary to be successful in most careers; she is dedicated, mature, intelligent, compassionate, and hard working. She possesses the ability to make lasting changes within any community she is a part of and she will undoubtedly leave her mark wherever her path takes her. … Her willingness to look for opportunities to create new organizations to fulfill a need in our community also speaks to the type of person she is and how much she truly cares about improving the lives of others.” – Rebecca Black, chemistry teacher, South Western High School

Honors:Technology Student Association, state finalist; York County Distinguished Young Women Leadership Award; Colleen Brown High School Scholar scholarship; distinguished honor roll; National Field Hockey Coaches Association Scholar of Distinction; National Honor Society; Tri-M Music Honor Society.

Activities: Technology Student Association; founder of INSPIRE program for elementary students to explore passions and interests with after-school clubs; Key Club; marching band.

Mentor:Dave Daniels, elementary science teacher, Berks County

Plans:She will attend Penn State University, Schreyer Honors College, to study environmental engineering.

Alayna Kelly

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (7)

School:Susquenita High School

Parents:Matthew and Tina Kelly

In her words:“My passion for helping others began when I became a big sister. I helped my sister, Brielle, with everything I could. Brielle could not walk, so I got her everything she needed. At dance classes, I was there helping her hold her walker, and cheering her on. I was so excited for her to come to school and walk her to her classes, that we began school early. I began teaching her to write her name the summer before she went to school. Unfortunately, Brielle passed before I could finish teaching her. … My passion for helping others has only grown since then. I still teach dance classes, and I see my sister in all of the children I get to help. I love teaching in all forms.”

In their words:“Alayna gives her all not only in the academic arena, but she has also excelled in the field of athletics and theatre in our high school. She consistently played field hockey for Susquenita School District for the past eight years. Furthermore, this bright young lady has participated in multiple plays and musicals throughout her high school career. As her teacher and play/musical director, I can honestly say that Alayna has been an asset in every production. … As a young child, Alayna was faced with the tragic death of her younger, and only sister, Brielle. ... What I appreciate most about Alayna is her determination, her self-discipline and her passion to help others.” – Rosario Eppley, Spanish/ESL teacher, Susquenita High School

Honors:Distinguished honors, Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science awards, grand champion of school science fair, Rural and Small Town Recognition Award from The College Board, The Seal of Biliteracy Award for English and Spanish, National Honor Society, vice president of the Spanish National Honor Society; Spirit of Theater Award, 2023 Hershey Theatre Apollo Awards.

Activities:Perry County School of Dance student and volunteer teacher, school plays and musicals, field hockey.

Mentor:Rosario Eppley, Spanish teacher, Susquenita High School

Plans:She will attend Dickinson College as a pre-law student with a double major in Spanish.

Leah Kemper

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (8)

School:Upper Dauphin Area High School

Grandparents:Jeff and Wendy Paradise

In her own words: “Growing up my relationship with my parents has been complicated. I am so thankful that I ended up with my grandparents. It truly is the best thing that could have happened to me. They helped to shape me into who I am today. ... Due to my own unfortunate circumstance growing up, I have become a stronger person. It helped me to become more responsible and to become a leader. My goal is to make something of myself and become successful. I also find much joy in helping others in need and contributing to my community. … I have made myself readily available to anyone who might need someone to talk to. You never know what someone might be going through, so I try to be there for everyone. A little bit of kindness can go a long way. I plan to keep making a difference in my own community and wherever I may end up in my future as well.”

In their words:“Leah is not your average student as she takes pride in her work and has a determination to succeed and thrive in the world. Leah has many positive characteristics that are not seen in many teens of today. She is humble, compassionate, responsible, respectful, hardworking, critical thinking and has a positive personality that sets her apart. Leah not only has these characteristics, but a passion for learning. ... Raised by her grandparents, Leah had to make a choice early in her life to be resilient and overcome her parent choices. This has not always been an easy road for Leah, but she perseveres and continues to grow each day towards a bright future.” – Joann Brim, wellness teacher, Upper Dauphin Area High School

Honors:National Honor Society, Trojan Leadership Academy.

Activities:All senior year classes at HACC, youth group, volleyball, volunteer at Northern Dauphin Human Services Center including Project Prom Wear and the community garden.

Mentor:Joann Brim, wellness teacher, Upper Dauphin Area High School

Plans:She has applied to the diagnostic medical sonography and radiologic technologist program at HACC.

Jack Liedtka

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (9)

School:Annville-Cleona High School

Parents:Karl and Jen Liedtka

In his words: “This past school year, I began privately tutoring a small number of students in algebra, and the incredible experience I’ve had doing so has opened my eyes to the joy that is helping others to gain a new perspective on what is for many an impossibly challenging subject. I find that many students are, frankly, scared of mathematics. … My primary goal in tutoring is to show students a new perspective on mathematics - one that reveals it as not just a set of random rules, but a system built solely on logic. I find incredible beauty in the order of mathematics and the way its many concepts elegantly interact with each other and countless phenomena in the sciences and other fields. I always hope to show my ‘students’ the beautiful side of mathematics, not only because it makes the subject more sensical, but more enjoyable to study as well. The joy that comes with knowing that I have helped someone achieve something that they didn’t think possible and overcome a very real anxiety has been an incredible motivator for me.”

In their words:“Potentially more impressive is Jack’s service to his community and ability to take on challenges outside of his comfort zone. As a servant leader, he was a virtual English tutor for underprivileged Latin American students during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and has over 100 hours of additional community service promoting literacy awareness at a low-income housing community, as a camp counselor, and for a variety of service programs. … His list of accolades is highly impressive, but the most astounding aspect of Jack is his compassion for others, servant leadership, and drive to positively impact all with whom he interacts.” – Matthew Gross, Annville-Cleona High School counselor

Honors:Eight-time Pennsylvania Music Educators Association medalist, including all-state band; College Board Rural and Small Town Scholar award; AP Scholar; Quiz Bowl League All-Star; president, National Honor Society.

Activities:Class vice president; student council president; play and musical performer and student producer; jazz band; marching band; concert band; drum line captain; concert chorale; chamber choir; Church of the Good Shepherd praise band; Quiz Bowl captain; Mathematics/Computer Science Team; Model United Nations; volunteer through the LVC Office of Community Service; private tutor; dual enrolled at Lebanon Valley College.

Mentor:Raymond Kreiser, mathematics teacher, Annville-Cleona High School.

Plans:He will attend Dartmouth College to major in mathematics and physics.

Rachel Lyn-Sue

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (10)

School:Hershey High School

Parents:Jerome and Esther Lyn-Sue

In her words:“As school returned to normal [after the pandemic], we saw those students in person at the library for our lessons and experiments. Seeing their wide eyes as they hung onto every word about the heart, the weather, or a crime scene simulation made me truly realize the impact we were making as a club [Science for All] onto our community. After noticing how rewarding it was to make a positive impact on the local level, I have certainly been inspired to contribute to a better society as a whole, through steps both little and big. Furthermore, that experience taught me the value of creativity in finding solutions using resources like technology as well as not being afraid to speak up if I have an idea. Education is the key to improving our society, and my experience at Science for All has motivated me to continue its mission in educating students from all backgrounds about science, throughout high school and beyond.”

In their words:“Rachel is a very intelligent student. She is one of the top students that I have had the pleasure to teach AP chemistry. … Rachel is not only a bright young lady but also has a warm personality. She is honest and trustworthy as well as fun and jovial. She has the kindest heart and is always trying to help others when they need it. Rachel’s respect for teachers is above and beyond any that I have encountered. She is a mature young lady with a lighthearted personality that makes it easy to like her.” – Kimberly Haney, chemistry teacher, Hershey High School

Honors:National Merit Scholarship winner, Chemistry Olympiad National Qualifier, varsity track and field and cross country, College Board National Recognition Program Award, distinguished honor roll, Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency Certificate of Merit, PMTA piano superior rating, Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences, Math Honor Society, Pennsylvania Music Educators Association District and Regional Orchestras.

Activities:Science for All Club, Hershey Medical Center volunteer, student council, COVID Action & Relief Effort Club, Link Crew leader, Harrisburg Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Mentor:Haw Ru Lin, piano teacher

Plans:She will attend the University of Pennsylvania to major in chemistry.

Isabella Mirarchi

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (11)

School:Trinity High School

Parent:Sarah Mirarchi

In her words:“Along with my passion for conservation, I always try to educate those in my school community about various life skills that will be used now and in the future as president and founder of the Home Economics and Life Sciences Club at Trinity. I introduce other teens to the importance of nutrition, the development of baking and cooking skills, involvement in their community, taking responsibility for their finances and budgeting, and their physical and mental health to their overall well-being and the well-being of their community.”

In their words:“I am able to recommend Isabella without reservation. Isabella is uniquely the whole package. She obviously has strong leadership qualities but her caring and empathetic nature makes her a wonderful person. She is that rare person who can see a problem and then, without hesitation, follow through in solving the problem. I have greatly enjoyed working on projects with Isabella over the past couple years. I look forward to following her accomplishments in the future.” – Ann F. DePaulis, Esq., Appalachian Audubon Society, youth committee adviser

Honors:National Honor Society, Math Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, College Board National African-American Recognition Program.

Activities:Conservation Ambassador, Wildlife Leadership Academy, Appalachian Audubon Society, founder and president of Home Economics and Life Sciences Club, captain of the varsity cross country team, BioMed Club, Birding and Conservation Club, Highmark Caring Place volunteer, yearbook club, Kairos leader, Astronomy Club, Patriots Club, environmental club, New Hope Ministries volunteer.

Mentor:Chris Pushart, cross country and track coach, Trinity High School

Plans:She will attend Villanova University as a pre-med major.

Abigail Nissley

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (12)

School:Lower Dauphin High School

Parents:Jeffrey and Kendra Nissley

In her words:“… I want to use my skills of public speaking and advocacy to continue my fight for social justice. I currently partner with anti-human trafficking organizations, and I desire to give hope to people trapped in human trafficking and abusive relationships, speaking up about the reality of exploitation. In college, I want to research exploitation to discover how to use positive psychology to help people understand their self-worth and their potential. The leadership confidence I gained from serving my community sparks my desire to empower people and equip them to believe in their potential. I hope that my story will inspire people around me to find their purpose in life and to abandon the lie that they are not capable of leading or pursuing their dreams. Whether I become a psychologist or a social justice advocate, I want to impart the truth that everyone has a voice. Whether it looks like public speaking, creating an art piece advocating for human rights, or encouraging the next generation, everyone can speak up for what they believe in.”

In their words:“Academically, Abby is a hard worker that sets high standards. ... Quite honestly, there are few others in my career teaching that I have met that work as hard as Abby. Abby is also a critical thinker. She has an outgoing yet humble personality that always led class discussions to a higher level of understanding and debate. She is the reserved type of leader that isn’t the center of attention, but others listen to and follow when she speaks. … Abby has a kind and humble attitude. She is a student that never brags about her achievements and service; instead she simply does what she feels is right. Abby is the first to offer to help anyone in need, and will put others needs in front of her own.” - Clinton Tackler, AP world history teacher, Lower Dauphin High School

Honors:Distinguished honor roll, National Merit Scholarship commended student, Pennsylvania Certificate of Merit, AP Scholar, multiple Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, National Art Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, History Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, National English Honor Society.

Activities:Lower Dauphin 4-H Livestock Club, 2022 Elizabethtown Fair queen, varsity volleyball team, secretary of the National Art Honor Society, Inspire Flower Bouquet road-side business, student council, AMEC Bible Quizzing, Dauphin County Envirothon, Elizabethtown Mennonite Church youth group, works for family’s business, Jubilee Dairy.

Mentor:Lia Swartz, fair queen coordinator, Elizabethtown Fair

Plans:Yale University class of 2028, majoring in psychology and neuroscience, taking a year off to travel and volunteer with nonprofits around the world.

Parimala Rajesh

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (13)

School:Cumberland Valley High School

Parents:Rajesh Natarajan and Jyothikiran Bhat

In her words:She is president of her school’s Science Olympiad team. “I meet with school officials to further boost the growth of STEM awareness in my school district. Being elected the Junior Commissioner of Hampden Township, I aspire to take this further and spread awareness of STEM outside of my school. I aim to make sure that everyone feels included and enjoys this journey as much as I have. Unity in diversity is our strength, allowing my team to improve at every step.”

In their words:“From your initial glance at her resume, you can tell that Parimala is exceptional. She has consistently challenged herself to grow as an individual in science, math, engineering, writing, and problem solving. She has a passion to learn and strive for excellence. ... However, in all that she endeavors to accomplish, her primary focus is to serve her country and community to be a positive agent of change. If you are looking for someone that demonstrates adaptability, empathy, problem solving, critical thinking, responsibility, respect, integrity, character, and holds herself with confidence, then you can look no farther. ... Parimala attacks challenges with a gusto unparalleled by her peers and thrives in these settings and leads by example! … She inspires me.” - Jason Haley, adjunct history professor at HACC, social studies teacher at Cumberland Valley High School

Honors:National Merit Scholarship finalist, AP Scholar with Distinction, National Honor Society, National World Language Honor Society, Hampden Twp. Junior commissioner, Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences, Johns Hopkins Innovation summer course.

Activities:President of Science Olympiad, science fair, Civil Air Patrol, working on private pilot license, certified NRA apprentice rifle and pistol instructor with expert qualification, West Shore Fencing Club, attended USAFA Fencing Sports Camp, Natanam School of Dance, Road Runners Club, viola, Harrisburg Junior Youth Symphony Orchestra, founded AI Innovation Council, Key Club, volunteering.

Mentor:Chris Irvin, Science Olympiad coach, Cumberland Valley High School

Plans:She will attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology to major in aerospace engineering.

Ashleigh Rogers

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (14)

School:Susquenita High School

Parents:Jeremy and Jaclyn Rogers

In her words:“The 4-H pledge is, I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world. I learned that pledge when I was 6 years old and have taken it to heart. Over my lifetime, I have done a lot to improve my community through 4-H, youth group, National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society and the Principals Advisory Committee. …

While in college I plan to improve that community I live in. I’m a student with a visual impairment. I have visited several colleges over the past year looking for the one that best fits me. As a part of the college community, I would educate others about having a disability and about breaking the stereotypes of people with disabilities. I would also contribute my knowledge and experience to help improve the life of other people with disabilities at college.”

In their words:“Ashleigh is identified as a person with visual impairment. What sets Ashleigh apart, and continues to make her an exemplary young adult, is not her visual condition but rather a set of higher-level skills she has developed over time and now uses to great effect. She is skilled in the use of technology, she is a problem solver, she manages her time, she builds in time for family and friends and fun, she is confident of her abilities and aware of her unique needs. She is a gifted self-advocate. Ashleigh is self-motivated and willing to do the work required to experience success in every situation.” - Sallyan Thomas, retired teacher of students with visual impairment

Honors:4-H Diamond Award, Thomas R. McGlynn Memorial Award, Penn College Mock Constitutional Convention superior delegation, U.S. International Kuo Shy Championship Tournament medal winner, Tri-Valley girls’ soccer champions, National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society.

Activities:Marching band, jazz band, pep band, Dixie Land band, brass quintet, concert band, track and field, varsity soccer, 4-H, Kung Fu, treasurer of National Honor Society, science fair, youth group, 4-H Diamond Clover project was restoring a local park including installing a bat box and organizing educational events with environmental scientists.

Mentor:Sallyan Thomas, retired teacher of students with visual impairment

Plans:She will attend Lebanon Valley College to major in actuarial science.

Melissa Saintville

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (15)

School:Chambersburg Area Senior High School

Parent:Litamene Saintvil

In her words: “In my career, I want to focus on racial disparities, the wrongly convicted, police brutality, and discrimination. ... My uncle recently came to America with no knowledge of the American language. As a result, he gets mistreated by his employer. Fortunately, he speaks Creole and Spanish and can communicate with his coworkers. They told him their experiences on how they are: overworked and wrongly treated. Having that opportunity to intern at the D.A.’s office helps me see the justice system’s weaknesses and helps me make connections to real-life issues. Minority groups refuse to speak about issues because they are not told their rights and options. The lack of diversity and translators prevents non-English speakers from exercising their rights.”

In their words:“Melissa was born in Haiti where she experienced a life of poverty. In her native country, education is not free and Melissa’s mother instilled in her at a young age a genuine appreciation for education; in fact Melissa was bilingual by the age of 5. After becoming homeless and immigrating to the United States, Melissa was able to continue her education. At our high school Melissa has devoted herself to the NJROTC program where she thrives in the structure and discipline afforded by this program. As a cadet Melissa enjoys opportunities for community service; one of her most notable areas of service being her willingness to assist with translation for other students who move into the district who do not speak English. … This extraordinary young woman has experienced more obstacles in her first 16 years than many people encounter in a lifetime. She continues to set an example for other young women on the value of education and persistence in the face of adversity.” - Lisa Hill, school counselor, Chambersburg Area Senior High School

Honors:Exemplary Conduct Ribbon, Distinguished Unit Ribbon, Double Honor Star, Single Honor Roll, Cadet Seaman, all NJROTC; Lenfest Foundation Scholar, National Honor Society.

Activities:FBLA, youth group, AGAPE English, Crosswalk Children’s Ministries, Franklin County District Attorney’s office internship, works at Patriot Federal Credit Union.

Mentor:Wendy Auyon-wauyon, Patriot Federal Credit Union

Plans:She will attend Susquehanna University to major in criminal justice and pre-law.

Shernel Singh

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (16)

School:South Western High School

Guardian:Luz Singh

In his words:“My life shows my community and my peers that even others from different backgrounds and cultures can experience the American dream with hard work and determination. The blessing to come to America was given to me when I was ten years old. My family had petitioned and waited over [20] years to come to the United States. At the age of t[10], the time had come, and they, thankfully, decided that I could come too with my grandparents and siblings to the United States. My great-aunt, who lives in the United States, saw my dad struggling to provide food and shelter for my siblings and me. She willingly offered for us to live with her and to take care of us. They told me I would have a better life in America. My experience in America proved that to be true, and I was given the chance to live the American dream. … I was grateful for the opportunity to learn in such a beautiful air-conditioned school after my little crowded school in the Philippines.”

In their words:“Shernel has an outstanding work ethic and character. He gives one hundred percent and cares so much about each person and always wants to do his best. He brings diversity and culture to his community, school, and sports teams. Not to mention, he has an outstanding attitude and perspective on life. He is very happy and always ready to share his smile with anyone. His enthusiasm and zest for life is contagious. Shernel is also a well-rounded student, besides running and sports, making good grades, and working a job, he also worships at St. Vincent’s Church, is a talented published artist, sings karaoke, and plays guitar. …If I meet a stranger that knows Shernel and his brother, they right away tell me what excellent character and work ethic the boys have. They have impressed many in our community, and they are known for their kind actions.” - Julie Smeltzer of Hanover

Honors:Distinguished honor roll, National Honor Society, district and state qualifier for cross country and track, cross country YAIAA Division 1 All-Star four years.

Activities:Varsity cross country and track, basketball, ultimate frisbee, artist, guitarist.

Mentor:Paul Zeroth, technology education teacher, South Western High School

Plans:He will attend Thomas Jefferson University to major in architecture.

Jake Sokolofsky

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (17)

School:Boiling Springs High School

Parent:Kim Sokolofsky

In his words:After learning about complaints about the school dress code, he formed a student-led committee to look at the issue. “In doing so, I wanted a committee that would be representative of all groups of people, so we worked with people who were transgender, were of other ethnicities, who wore diverse styles, and even those who thought that little should be done to change it. Creating a proposal took the entire school year as we worked with principals, teachers, and students to involve every stakeholder in the process, especially those who disagreed with our opinions on the changes. In a small, largely-homogenous community like mine, little change in this manner comes to fruition because of the pushback that often occurs; luckily, our group had the support of the school administration who were worked with tirelessly to create a positive change. After months of hard work, the school board recently passed the new dress code, an enormous step toward making our community more tolerant, open-minded, and equitable for all.”

In their words:" … he is one of the most dynamic students I have ever taught. Jake consistently exhibits a curious, driven, and thoughtful nature in all that he does and is committed to learning and excellence. He capitalizes on these traits to exhibit a level of critical thinking and creative problem solving that far supersedes his fellow classmates. … Above all, Jake has a passion for social justice, self-government, and freedom. He has spent countless hours thinking about and studying these topics on his own time. The truly impressive quality about Jake, is that he does not keep this passion to himself, he is actively involved in striving for change.” - Lauren Mozart, social studies teacher, Boiling Springs High School

Honors:Scholastic Art and Writing Awards; AP Scholar with Distinction; AP Capstone Diploma; perfect scores on AP Seminar and AP Research exams; National Spanish Honor Society; National Honor Society; Mu Alpha Theta National Mathematics Honor Society; won the 2022 PA District Public Forum debate and the PA District 6 Lincoln Douglass debate, competed in state championships.

Activities:Class president, student body representative to the South Middleton School District, vice president of National Honor Society, vice president of the Social Justice Club, member of the Debate Team, vice president of the Model United Nations Club, vice president of Mu Alpha Theta.

Mentor:Lauren Bozart, social studies teacher, Boiling Springs High School.

Plans:He will attend Williams College with a double major in philosophy and political science.

Tyler Steffy

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (18)

School:Cedar Crest High School

Parents:Kristian and Rebecca Zimmerman

In his words:“The day I found my calling for politics came when I stopped dead in my tracks to that horrible sight on our trip to Washington, DC. I was in the middle of my Hamilton phase, so I forced my group to walk around the Tidal Basin and visit the Jefferson Memorial. On our way back I saw what would strike me to the core: a homeless man sleeping on a bench wrapped in a dirty blanket. I just stared. I couldn’t comprehend it. In our nation’s capital, next to monuments celebrating Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, there was a man who couldn’t afford housing. After the late bus ride home, I stayed up for hours researching every politician imaginable until I found inspiration in Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. Even after establishing myself far past only text banking and sharing her posts on social media, I’m still moved by the bold lines on her website that read, ‘The time for small ideas is over. We need big structural change.’”

In their words:“Tyler is a remarkable student, knowledgeable global citizen, and respectful individual. He is a great role model, always engaging students in local and global matters. … Tyler is a fantastic young man who stands out from his peers for his curiosity, responsibility, conscientiousness, effort and humor as well as his passion for improving his community. He consistently challenges himself. He is caring and respectful of diversity and needs of others. ... He demonstrates his ability to be an independent worker and great team player as well in multiple projects and assignments. His good sense of humor goes well with his astute observations. His creative and in-depth thinking is refreshing, as he is a student who thinks outside the box and is unafraid to share his views respectfully.” - Ana Zorilla, D.Ed., AP Human Geography/UPitt CHS Western Civilization II

Honors:Lancaster-Lebanon League Cross Country Coaches Association Scholar Athlete Award, Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency certificate of merit, Susquehanna Valley Model United Nations League outstanding statesman and parliamentarian.

Activities:Class vice president, varsity cross country and track and field, Quiz Bowl, mixed choir, concert choir, show choir, Model United Nations, president of the Debate Club, string orchestra, Sky Earth and Environment Club, High School Democrats of America national expansion director, High School Democrats of Pennsylvania rural membership director, Voters of Tomorrow, Dream for American, Lebanon County Democratic Committee, Cavi Miller for state House campaign, Hans Reimer for county executive campaign (Maryland).

Mentor:Brandon Risser, cross country coach

Plans:He will attend The George Washington University with a double major in international affairs and political science and a minor in biology, pre-law.

Benjamin Teplitz

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (19)

School: Susquehanna Twp. High School

Parents: Rob and Randi Teplitz

In his words:After a terminal diagnosis of lung and brain cancer for his aunt, Ben said he became involved in the school’s Four Diamonds mini-Thon that faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The experience of raising money during these challenging times taught me a lot about leadership. Leaders need to be flexible and creative in order to accomplish a goal when circumstances change. They must be able to inspire the other members of the team to make the best of a difficult situation. Finally, they have to show confidence that everything will work out in the end, even if they aren’t totally certain that will happen, so that everyone else will believe that and make it a reality. During my senior year, we trying to build on the $6,000 that we have raised over the past two years. However, my own efforts won’t end with high school. I am determined to fight cancer in Aunt Melissa’s memory during college and beyond.”

In their words:“Mr. Teplitz is a hardworking, dedicated, and intelligent young man. He is admired by the faculty for his dynamic leadership ability and always takes the opportunity to help within his community. … He is a curious self-starter who loves a challenge. He has a winning attitude and is respectful in all of his dealings. He works hard to understand difficult material and puts a great deal of time into his studies. His work in class is always accurate and consistently impressive.” - Mary Graham, math teacher, National Honor Society adviser, Susquehanna Twp. High School

Honors:AP Scholar, The College Board recognition, National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta National Mathematics Honor Society, National English Honor Society, Tulane University Book Award,

Activities:Four Diamonds mini-thin chairman, student government Supreme Court, president/Rotary liaison of the Interact Club, mathematics tutor, volunteer income tax assistance program at Widener University Commonwealth Law School, treasurer of Key Club, school orchestra and chorus ensembles, student representative to the Susquehanna Twp. Alumni Association, student representative to the Hanna Education Foundation, counselor and lifeguard at Emma Kaufmann Camp in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Mentor:Aaron Cantor, director, Emma Kaufmann Camp, Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh

Plans:He will attend Tulane University to major in economics.

Jesus Vaca-Garcia

Meet the Best and Brightest class of 2023 (20)

School:Harrisburg High School SciTech Campus

Parents:Jesús Vaca-Rodriguez and Elvia García-Salgado

In his words:“The sense of community and belonging is what we as human beings strive for. Growing up in low-income Allison Hill, I saw how community-based organizations provided for the people. While I was involved with the Latino Hispanic American Community Center, I was raised with community, companionship, and a sense of gratitude. Being involved with the community and school has always been something that I am passionate about, given the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds and ages. The sense of accomplishment that I feel when being involved with school activities such as Community Partnership Day, volunteering to write cards for the elderly in senior homes for the National Honor Society, and getting involved with the Latino Hispanic American Community Center are the many things that I look forward to.”

In their words:“Jesús is a multitalented young man that does not hesitate to get involved in any project or activity that is going to improve himself, his family, his school, or his community. … Having come to the U.S. as a child, Jesús understands firsthand how difficult it can become to overcome the English language barrier. The challenge of learning English, did not prevent Jesús from succeeding in school. Jesús will tell you, it only pushed him to work harder. As an elementary student, he was cognizant that his lack of fluency resulted in him being behind his peers. So he pushed himself to catch up. That internal motivation and dedication to his studies is still evident today. Jesús is always willing to assist himself or another student in mastering a concept or skill.” - Rebecca Hardie, science teacher, College in the High School, Harrisburg High School SciTech Campus

Honors:National Honor Society, Certificate of Recognition from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for effort to register every eligible student to vote, distinguished honor roll, graduate of the LISTO program, Latino Hispanic American Community Center.

Activities:In 11th grade he got every senior who was eligible to register to vote, Hispanic Heritage Festival volunteer, Latinx Club, Joshua Group learning center volunteer, Key Club.

Mentor:Kevin Varano, teacher, Harrisburg High School SciTech Campus

Plans:He will attend the University of Pennsylvania to major in nursing and public health.

The Best and Brightest judges

The preliminary round judges were a group of current and retired educators. They were: John Brenneman, John Bricker, Sharon Caba, Susan Cohen, Takia Colston-Krow, Frank Flamini, Albert Parrillo, John Rubisch and Jill Sedor.

The final round judges represent areas of the central Pa. community such as government, nonprofits, faith and the arts.

This year those judges were:

  • Susan Anthony, retired, community service director, The Patriot-News and board member, Susquehanna Art Museum, HANNA Foundation
  • The Rev. Dann Caldwell, chaplain of Homeland Hospice & Homeland Center; president of Christian Churches United of the Tri-County Area; and father of 2018 Best and Brightest Peter Caldwell.
  • Michelle Cruz, voiceover artist and mother of Sophia Yost, a 2022 Best and Brightest winner
  • Stacy Garrity, treasurer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Armenta Hinton, Ph.D., Vice President of Engagement, Retention, Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator at HACC
  • Tina Nixon, vice president of Mission Effectiveness, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, UPMC Central Pa.
  • Kevin Ressler, president and CEO, United Way of Lancaster
  • Eric Saunders, executive director of New Hope Ministries
  • Mikell Simpson, founder of Capital Rebirth

The 2023 Best and Brightest semifinalists (excluding the winners)

Avanti Athavale, Cumberland Valley High School

Sammi Blocher, Cumberland Valley High School

Sara Brubaker, Manheim Central High School

Kensi Buser, Dallastown High School

Zane Cassell, Halifax High School

Adam Ceja, Cedar Cliff High School

Nora Craig, Dover Area High School

Nora Dickey, Waynesboro Area Senior High School

Kelsey Dobbin, Halifax High School

Jordan Ebling, Eastern Lebanon County High School

Kara Bidgood Enders, Susquehanna Twp. High School

Gabrielle Etter, Spring Grove Area High School

Olivia Gerhart, Cedar Crest High School

Andrea Guiher, Bermudian Springs High School

Noah Henry, Shippensburg Area Senior High School

Tori Kaufman, Dauphin County Technical School

Haley Kennedy, Red Land High School

Molly Klose, Central Dauphin East High School

Thomas Kramer, Milton Hershey School

Matthew Mailman, Hershey High School

Kellen Mikesell, West Shore Christian Academy

Elizabeth Moores, New Oxford High School

Bridget Muller, Middletown Area High School

Jesse Mullins, Hershey High School

Miranda Nace, Halifax High School

Alexandra Patterson, Cedar Cliff High School

Amelia Peters, Bermudian Springs High School

Brendan Peyton, Waynesboro Area Senior High School

Gabriel Pinsker, Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School

Savannah Reisinger, West Perry High School

Mohamed Salem, New Oxford High School

Aditi Sanghvi, Cumberland Valley High School

Jade Selby, Dallastown Area High School

Megan Thomas, Central Dauphin High School

Alicia Xie, Hershey High School

Abigail Zeigler, Dallastown Area High School

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