March-April 2011 | Parenting

Top Teens 2011

Bethesda Magazine's 2011 Extraordinary Teen Awards.

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The Survivor

Sarah Pankratz

Senior, St. John’s College High School

What sets her apart: While living with her family in Chennai, India, in 2008 and 2009, Sarah Pankratz helped start Non-Governmental Organizations in Action, a club that worked with NGOs to raise awareness of local issues, including poverty, child labor and sex trafficking. Among its projects: Sarah and her classmates sold purses at their school made by women who had escaped the sex trade.

Sarah knows something about terrifying escapes. Last summer she was on a mission trip in Ethiopia when her bus fell 100 feet off a mountain. All the passengers survived, but doctors initially told her she’d never walk again. Her faith told her otherwise. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I honestly felt peace,” she says.

Today, the 18-year-old Burtonsville resident is captain of hervarsity swim team and competes for the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club. She broke seven swim records in the South Asian Interscholastic Sports Association, held in Sri Lanka in 2007 and 2008.

Other accomplishments: She’s one of 29 peer counselors at her school; 4.19 weighted GPA, with one honors and four AP classes.

What others say: Seventeen-year-old Elise Boyum met Sarah at their church in India and was on that bus in Ethiopia. “Sarah and I shared a hospital room for a few days after the accident,” says Elise, now a high school senior in Cambridge, Minn., “and not once did Sarah complain. …Sarah and I had the idea of creating a ‘list of miracles’ related to the accident, and it hadn’t even been a full day since we flew over a cliff.”

What her future holds: Sarah wants to continue international mission work. Ethiopia and India have “so much poverty and women forced into prostitution and children forced into labor,” she says.

“I’m most passionate about helping these people abroad.”

Andrea Leitch is the associate wed editor and producer for BethesdaMagazine.com.