Drive for achievement puts teens on the road to success
Tecumseh High School (THS) Principal Griff Mills recently gathered a small sampling of what he called the district’s “students extraordinaire” when it comes to those who excel academically. Seniors Nicole Cote, Jacob (Jake) Knepper, Ben Myers and Jessica Cory represented THS’s cadre of high achievers and took the time to share some of their experiences.
“Jessica is our music extraordinaire, and Ben is our math extraordinaire,” said Mills. “Jake is a young man of really strong faith, and Nicole basically leads about every organization in our building. They all excel highly in the academic field as well.”
The students typically noticed their academic gifts and desire to become involved in the school community in middle school.
“I guess I started getting into math in fourth grade when my cousin taught me some algebra concepts,” said Ben. “From then on I did work on my own to learn math.” He said until the seventh grade he mostly did algebra and geometry types of things, but then learned trigonometry and later had a tutor to help fill in the gaps of what he was eager to learn. “I tested out of Algebra 1, and geometry and pre-calc and started my freshman year with A/P Calculus. I really like the process of using deductive reasoning and finding solutions with proofs that are conclusive,” he said.
In middle school, Jake realized that his older brother, Travis, was going through a cycle of being a smart kid. “I thought, ‘why can’t I be more like him and get good grades?’” Jake said. “I just got that thought in my head and kind of built off it in high school, whether it was applied to homework or grades.”
Nicole began coming into her own in middle school as she felt her desire to volunteer blossoming. “In sixth grade we had Builder’s Club and it was my first opportunity to finally be part of that and volunteering in the community,” she said. “Then I joined the Lenawee County Youth Council when I was 12. I was excited because this is a group of students who are doing volunteer work and also get to allocate grant money to different organizations.”
Jessica said she realized her academic gifts as she entered high school because most of her classes had come easier than she expected. She also had two older sisters, Linsey and Julie, who had both been valedictorians and served as role models. She also began playing the violin nine years ago, and became a leader in the Tecumseh Schools Orchestra program, as well as playing with the Tecumseh Fiddlers.
“I’ve learned a lot of different talents that will carry me through college with alternative playing styles and also met a lot of great friends, too,” she said.
The students admitted that it was a little more difficult to be known as a high achiever in middle school, though they have never downplayed being smart. “In middle school, you’re still in that awkward stage,” said Jake. All are comfortable with their achievements now, however. “In high school, I learned it’s okay to do well in my classes,” said Jessica.
They agree that being involved in a lot of activities, doing well and getting good grades is a blend of natural talent — and a lot of hard work.
“I would say it’s both,” said Nicole. “I work off my natural abilities to help others and volunteer with five or six groups, and keep up with my studies. I’ve worked hard to get where I am.” They take the pressures of staying at the top of their game in stride, with much of it coming from within.
“I don’t want to say it’s pressure, but I always try to be a role model for younger kids, like in soccer when I tried to push myself so I could get better and leave something for the younger freshmen and sophomore players to build off,” said Jake. “It’s the same with grades. You want to leave a legacy for others.”
“I think there’s some pressure, but at the same time I enjoy almost everything I do, so it’s kind of my passion and I thrive on it,” said Ben.
The students say they keep busy schedules. Jake and Ben both play soccer. Nicole is in cross country and track, and Jessica is involved with TSO and its many activities. Jake and Nicole both teach Sunday School classes at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Tecumseh. Jake says he is definitely in his wheelhouse when he’s at the church and has already determined that he wants a career in the church.
“I just feel called and like that’s where I should be,” said Jake. “When I walk into my church it feels like home. I may be only 18 but I know it’s where I want to be.” He was especially humbled and pleased to receive the Diocesan Youth Leader Award for this region for his involvement with the church’s youth group.
Nicole feels a sense of achievement for having worked her way up through officer positions with the Lenawee Youth Council and being able to help start up a SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) chapter at THS, which has become one of the school’s most popular organizations. “It addresses peer pressure and is made up of good, honest students that can get together and show they can have fun without getting into destructive behaviors,” she said. For a career, however, she hopes to study criminal justice. “Whatever aspect I go into, I know I will be helping people along the way.”
Ben is most proud of founding the Math Club at THS and currently serves as president. “It’s been a really good experience but taken some time to organize and come up with ideas,” he said. “We’re going to run some math competitions and take math or engineering field trips. We also have A/P Calc study sessions and use our problem-solving skills.” He hopes to one day become a math professor.
Jessica enjoys her leadership role with TSO, but said she plans to study to become an engineering or physics major. “I love physics and understanding how things work,” she said.
The students all said to have a successful high school career — and to succeed in life — it’s important to have a dream and goals in mind.
“If you want something, go get it,” said Nicole. “If you want all A’s, go home and study and get them.”
Nicole said to be well-rounded in school is to “know where you fit into society and figuring out your goals at the same time so you can become who you want to be and not settle for something less.”
Jake said at Tecumseh High, there are plenty of opportunities to achieve, whatever a student might be interested in, and Ben had his own definition of success. He said, “Whatever your goal you’re passionate about, if you follow through with it, that’s what success in general means.”