Local seniors earn Academic All-Star honors

Their list of accomplishments, activities and awards seems to go on and on.

An honor they received in late April, however, stands out above the rest.

Brownstown Central High School senior Stuart Hayden and Trinity Lutheran High School senior Rachel Onken were recognized during the Indiana Academic All-Star Recognition Luncheon in Indianapolis.

Through the Indiana Association of School Principals, each high school in the state was invited to recognize one senior based on their academic achievement. Then a statewide committee met to recognize 50 students for regional honors and 40 as Indiana Academic All-Stars.

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Onken was one of the Indiana Academic All-Stars, while while Hayden was among those earning regional honors.

“It was insane to read about and listen to the accomplishments of the other 39 students who were being named Academic All-Stars,” Onken said. “They have all accomplished so much in their times as high school students, and I felt honored to be named among them.”

Hayden said it didn’t hit him how big the honor was until he was at the luncheon.

“This is probably near the top, if not at the top,” he said. “It’s out of the entire state. It’s not just out of Brownstown, which most of the awards are. It hit me that this is a big deal, this is a great honor and it’s something I should be really appreciative of.”

The students could bring their parents, principal and influential teacher, which they wrote about in an essay with their application after being nominated for the honor by their principal.

Onken wrote about Justin Vorthmann.

“Mr. Vorthmann has taught nine different classes over his time as a high school teacher, and he has taught me that I, too, can explore any topic that I wish to know more about,” she said. “Also, I am one of the first four students, who are all members of my senior class, who has had him every year for classes.”

Hayden wrote about Reed May, his football coach and weights class teacher.

“I picked coach May because I had always thought my sports coaches had the greatest impact on me when I was here at Brownstown, and he was the only one that I actually had in class,” he said.

Also accompanying Onken were her mother, Carol Onken, and principal, Ben Stellwagen. Her father, Lance Onken, couldn’t be there because of work. Hayden’s parents, Tim and Carol Hayden, attended along with May.

Onken was chosen by Stellwagen out of the school’s 39 seniors, and Hayden was selected by Principal Joe Sheffer out of 128 seniors.

“It was a great honor to be nominated by my principal because I know that my senior class is full of high-achieving students who exemplify the characteristics that go into being named an Academic All-Star,” Onken said.

“It means a lot to be picked from the school and also to be picked out of the kids at every other high school as one of the top kids in the state,” Hayden said.

Both of them had to fill out an online application listing their extracurriculars, leadership roles, community service, work experience and recognitions. That went along with their essay about an influential educator.

At Trinity, Onken was involved in band, robotics, track and field, handbell choir, dance committee, student government and yearbook all four years. She also did Academic Super Bowl, Student Ambassadors, National Honor Society and events team multiple years.

“The only reason I am able to participate in so many extracurriculars is because of my school,” she said. “Trinity has fostered my growth and allowed me to take part in any club I wish.”

Outside of school, she was involved in gymnastics, dance and church and worked as an administrative assistant at an insurance office and a clarinet instructor at a school in the summers.

“Balancing academics and extracurriculars is tough, but my policy is that I am never too tired,” Onken said. “I take naps during the nighttime in order to get all my homework done, and the sleep pattern has actually worked for me. I rarely feel extremely tired even when I have little sleep, and I am still able to get my homework and extracurricular responsibilities done.”

Many times, she said sports and extracurriculars overlapped.

“This is challenging because I have to make a choice about where to be and when,” she said. “I know my coaches are not always happy when I don’t choose their activity, but balance is the key.”

She said she gained a lot of real world experience through her clubs and activities.

“The one that stands out the most to me is robotics,” Onken said. “I have worked with robotics engineers from across the nation and globe, and working with these people has definitely improved my communication skills, even when there are language barriers.”

At Brownstown, Hayden was a part of the football, basketball and baseball teams and the Booster Club all four years. He also participated multiple years in Academic Super Bowl, Letterman’s Club and National Honor Society and was involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes and student council one year apiece.

He also coached at a flag football camp, was on a committee for healthy students and did manual labor several years at a child care ministry and for a cattle farmer. This summer, he will be a service technician for a computer business.

Between the sports seasons overlapping and academics, Hayden said he didn’t have much free time.

“You have practice after school, so as soon as you get done from practice, you have to go home and do your homework,” he said. “Sometimes, if it takes extra work, you have to stay up later, you have to come into class earlier, ask questions, stay after class, whatever it takes.”

Hayden said he learned to work hard and manage his time.

“At Brownstown, the sports are definitely very competitive, so you can’t just show up to practice and show up to games,” he said. “You’ve got to put in time on your own to get your game better, so I’ve definitely been doing that along with my academic work and practice and stuff.”

Onken is one of three valedictorians of this year’s senior class at Trinity, while Hayden is the sole valedictorian of his class. Both will graduate Saturday.

Onken has a 4.0 grade-point average and was on the high honor roll every semester.

“My whole family has really valued education and academics ever since I can remember,” she said. “My siblings and I have been raised by two great parents who encourage us to aim high and reach for our goals.”

Hayden has a 4.117 GPA on a 4.0 scale. Taking four Advanced Placement classes lifted his GPA because an A in one of the classes bumps it up, he said.

“The reason I work so hard is because Brownstown is such a great community, and I feel like it’s my job to work hard and get a great education so I can give back to the community once I have a great job and I’m older,” he said. “I can give back to the community that really made me who I am.”

Onken plans to study pharmaceutical sciences at Purdue University and ultimately wants to become a pharmaceutical researcher in drug development.

Hayden will be attending the University of Notre Dame to study computer science. He said becoming certified in Microsoft PowerPoint, Word and Excel in a high school class and learning computer coding on a website sparked his interested in that field.

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To see the full list of Indiana Academic All-Stars and learn more about the program, visit iasp.org/dsp/allstars.