Kenwood Academy class leaders discuss their divergent plans for the future

Kenwood Academy Class of 2019 salutatorian Will Clendenning, valedictorian Lauren Calvin and vice president Zoe Thomsen pose at the school, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave. They will graduate on June 10. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff writer

The first- and second-academically ranked students and class vice president of Kenwood Academy — all residents of Hyde Park–Kenwood — are looking forward to bright futures. Valedictorian Lauren Calvin is set to attend Columbia University in New York City, salutatorian Will Clendenning will attend Vassar College upstate in Poughkeepsie and Zoe Thomsen will attend the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Calvin, who lives in Hyde Park, said Kenwood Academy has been fun, challenging and enjoyable. “The administration really cares to have a culture,” she said. “I feel like in a lot of high schools, you come to school, you learn and then you come home, but at least the administration here tries to have things that keep you excited to stay involved.” Among her extracurricular activities, Calvin joined the math team this year and pursues painting through programs at the Hyde Park Art Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown.

She plans to study applied mathematics or economics. “I love math,” she said, and got perfect scores on the Advanced Placement (AP) calculus and statistics exams. “So far it hasn’t been difficult enough, but it presents challenges every so often that keeps it interesting.”

Both Calvin and Clendenning started at Kenwood at its middle school Academic Center and have taken classes at the University of Chicago. Calvin appreciated the opportunity to get used to the rigor of post-secondary classes while still attending high school: “It’s one thing for AP classes to say they simulate a college experience, and it’s another thing to actually be there.” She took basic number theory, introduction to film and contemporary art.

At Columbia, Calvin intends to keep art as a hobby. “That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to go to New York, because there’s so many types of communities there that, if I didn’t find it at Columbia, I could find it down the street,” she said. After Columbia, she is interested in working in accounting and possibly pursuing law school “after building funds.”

Clendenning, who also lives in Hyde Park, decided to continue his secondary education at Kenwood Academy in large part because of its Latin language program — his aptitude in classics spurred by an early interest in Ancient Greek mythology and Ray Elementary School’s extracurricular program — the College Bridge program and the teachers. “I really enjoyed the time I spent with them,” he said. In the last two years, Clendenning has taken multiple independent-study classes that otherwise would not have fit into his schedule — AP calculus-based physics last year and AP Statistics this year.

He chose late last month to enroll at Vassar, the Seven Sisters liberal arts college that went co-ed in 1969, for its small class sizes, low student-to-teacher ratio and small, tight-knit communities. A recreational rower on the Chicago River in Bridgeport in the summer, Clendenning looks forward to getting out on the Hudson River. He wants to major in “anything except English,” possibly something in STEM — science, technology, engineering or math — or the classics or philosophy. He is interested in graduate school after college: “I’m so indecisive about undergrad, hopefully I’ll find something that I love so I can continue doing that.”

Thomsen, an avid equestrian show jumper, is excited to attend to the Bluegrass State’s flagship university because she desires a career in the equine industry. “I’ve been riding horses since I was three, and the other schools I got into were not horse places,” she explained. “I want to go professional with it, and I’m going to major in business management, because I want to start my own business with it.”

She was born in Washington, D.C., and started going to the Rock Creek Park Horse Center with her father when she learned to walk. She moved to Chicagoland in 2009 and commutes to stables in the suburbs.

Thomsen said being on student council has taught her a lot about leadership and taking the initiative. “I think that has been my favorite part of Kenwood, because it’s taught me so much that I’ll need in the real world,” she said, adding that it has helped her overcome her shyness. Asked about the work of which she is most proud, she answered soliciting students’ feedback through social media, all-class meetings and special programming for holidays and the upcoming senior week: “We didn’t have a lot of activities that brought us together in one place at the same time, so now we’ve had more opportunities to be with each other and get to know each other as a group.”

She does not intend to join the University of Kentucky’s equestrian team, planning instead to make use of the numerous other equine opportunities and network in the Lexington area, and plans to go into horse breeding and sales.

Asked for her opinion of this year’s controversial Kentucky Derby, Thomsen said she does not support the horse racing industry out of concern for the horses’ safety. “What was most important to me was that they disqualified the horse for cutting in front of the other horse, but then they still let them run in the bad weather, on the bad footing,” she said. “When dirt is that wet, it’s really bad for their legs, and the shock absorption isn’t as good.”

Calvin said she is excited and nervous to finish at Kenwood. “I think one of the real issues with high school is that you have to come every day, and it’s the majority of your life,” she said, shuddering. But she is nervous about giving a speech on graduation day.

Nevertheless, Calvin is pleased to be attending a university that shares a powder blue school color with Kenwood Academy. “I was going to keep the spirit anyway!” she said. She has nothing planned for the summer, calling it “the one time you don’t have to pad your resume or anything like that” and saying she will “take that and run.”

Clendenning hopes to get a One Summer Chicago job through the Chicago Training Center, through which he rows. He said his last weeks at Kenwood are looking to be more stressful than he wanted them to be, between AP exams, graduation preparations and finals. “But it’s also really nice,” he said. “Having now been here for six years doing the same thing, it’s going to be nice for it finally to be over.”

Senior class president Jelani Hill and student council president Maya Mintor were unavailable for an interview Wednesday and will be profiled next week.

Staff writer Samantha Smylie contributed.