When we sought nominations for Bethesda Magazine’s first Extraordinary Teen Awards, we received a blitz of e-mails—many of them from proud parents—touting kids with 4.5 GPAs, numerous extracurricular activities and hours of community service. In Montgomery County, as in Lake Wobegon, it seems that “all the children are above average.” Singling out 10 teens was no easy task. We didn’t necessarily look for the best students or the best athletes—many of whom are already recognized by the newspapers each year. Rather, we looked for teenagers who have been pursuing their passions with a singular sense of purpose, kids who have overcome particularly difficult challenges and gone on to become remarkable human beings, kids with the kind of drive that’s unusual in anyone, much less in someone their age. Their stories follow.
Self-schooled senior, Chevy Chase
Midway through ninth grade at Montgomery Blair High School, Sarah Marx decided to home-school herself. It was an extraordinary decision for a 13-year-old. But her parents—Eric, a lawyer, and Sue, a teacher at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville—weren’t surprised. Their daughter was memorizing flags of the world and learning to read before age 3, and she skipped kindergarten on the recommendation of school officials.
Now a 16-year-old senior living in Chevy Chase, Sarah designed a home-school curriculum that enabled her to intern at NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland last year, volunteer for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, direct Round House Theatre’s youth play, Dracula, in Silver Spring last year and write 50,000 words of a novel during the National Novel Writing Month challenge last November—not to mention earn perfect scores on three Advanced Placement exams.
“I wanted to take charge of my own education and prove that it could be broadening and interesting,” Sarah says.
She has spent months delving into medieval history, winning the 2008 Maryland History Day competition with her profile of a medieval feminist. She competed in last fall’s Jeopardy! Teen Tournament, losing to the eventual winner after she answered correctly but failed to wager enough. And she has acted professionally in Washington, D.C., and in community theater productions.
“Honestly, her application for our fellowship was so outstanding, I thought, ‘Is this kid for real?’” says Niki Torres, education outreach coordinator at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, where Sarah completed a fellowship in 2008. “But when you talk to her, she’s incredibly genuine and unassuming.”
Much of that comes through in Sarah’s blog, www.thoughtfulrevolution.wordpress.com. She writes eloquently about everything from women and body image to the downside of home schooling. (“If I were in school right now,” she writes in a November 2009 entry, “I’d be getting less sleep. I’d be overworked and deluged in simplistic propaganda…. But I’d also have friends, and boundaries, and a constant flow of information. I’d have a school musical in the afternoons, and a Women’s Advocacy Club, and a literary magazine….”)
Sarah applied to only one college and was accepted into St. John’s in Annapolis, which she chose for its “intellectual rigor,” discussion-based classes and classics-based curriculum. “There’s this mentality that if you’re ambitious intellectually, you go for the Ivies, and that anything less than the Ivies is not as intellectually ambitious,” she says. “I knew, despite its lack of name recognition, St. John’s would be a good fit for me.”