Falcon Accolades: Summer Edition

Ronan Wallerius

Roan Wallerius (11) began independently learning Russian when he thought the Russian characters in a video game sounded “sick.”

A year later, he was accepted into a program organized by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to further his study of the language.

Wallerius, after competing against thousands of applicants from across the country, won the National Security Language Initiative for Youth Virtual Summer Intensive scholarship, a program designed to encourage international dialogue. Through the course students study Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Tajiki, Russian or Turkish and are connected to international teachers and peers.

Every day for six weeks, Wallerius attended virtual lessons with a Russian teacher and spoke with peers in Latvia to apply the lessons to conversation. When Wallerius initially spoke with his Latvian peers, he said he did not know what to expect.

“It was weird because not only are you meeting somebody online, but there’s a language and cultural barrier,” he said.

Yet, as the program progressed, the interaction became more comfortable.

“We [had] a lot of common interests … like the same music taste or hobbies,” Wallerius said.

Wallerius felt this course was “more intense” than learning a language in a traditional classroom.

“I learned more over those six weeks than I did in all three years of Spanish at school because … the instruction was more hands-on,” he said.

Wallerius, who hopes to pursue a career in international relations, highly recommends this program.

“The more you view languages as this completely vast thing that takes years to learn, the worse it’s going to be,” he said. “The more fun you have with [it]… the more you’re going to learn.”

Brock Brown

High in the Wasatch Mountains of Snowbasin, Utah, Brock Brown (12) completed the 29029 Everesting Challenge, returning to start his senior year having hiked the equivalent of Mount Everest in 32 hours.

The 29029 Challenge, open to anyone, is a guided 2.3 mile hike up Summit Snowbasin. Gaining 2,130 feet in elevation for each ascent, participants complete the climb 13 times to reach the equivalent height of Mount Everest.

“I trained three to four days a week, going on hikes and doing 70 laps around my neighborhood,” Brown said.

While training, Brown began a GoFundMe to raise money for the Trevor Project.

“Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, I believe that we need more resources to connect us to people who know what we are going through and the Trevor Project helps to provide that,” he said.

In the final hours before the clock started, motivational speakers, some who also participated in the hike, amped up the hikers.

“Right when the speaker finished his inspirational speech, the countdown went off and I was immediately in the zone,” Brown said.
After a challenging 32 hours, Brown and his father completed the event.

“Crossing that finish line was a feeling I’ll cherish forever,” Brown said.

Having completed the event, raising more than $16,000 for the Trevor Project, Brown finds himself seeking his next challenge.

“Looking back, I’ve come [far] mentally and [I’ve] realized how much I’m capable of,” Brown said.

Libby Bezdek

On a sidewalk in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a street musician’s performance attracted a crowd of eager listeners. Pausing his play, he asked if anyone could sing.

In the crowd stood Libby Bezdek (12) and her classmates from the MPulse Musical Theater Workshop at the University of Michigan. What followed was an impromptu performance of singing and dancing by Bezdek and her peers. The crowd showered them with applause.

“We made it our own show,” Bezdek said.

For three weeks in June, Bezdek attended the MPulse program, learning from Broadway icons, including the musical director of “The Lion King” and the original choreographer of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

Bezdek, who has starred in multiple TPPlayers productions and is a member of the TPHS dance team, was among 36 rising high school juniors and seniors worldwide selected for the program. Despite the selectivity of the application and audition process, the instructors minimized competition in the program, encouraging students to focus solely on their own improvement, Bezdek said.

“You can’t move forward while looking sideways,” she recalled one professor saying.

In class, Bezdek experimented with new types of characters. While many of her past roles have been confined to the “dumb blonde” stereotype, Bezdek said she realized at the program that she has the talent to play much more.

“I learned that it’s okay for me to stand up for myself and say, ‘I have more to offer.’”

With college approaching, Bezdek believes that the connections she formed at the program will support her plan to study musical theater and eventually pursue a career in acting.

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