The Top 10 of 2020
Listed in alphabetical order, the Top 10 seniors achieved the highest GPAs in Grandville High School’s Class of 2020. They’ve worked their whole lives for this moment, and getting into this group was no easy feat: The average GPA of this year’s Top 10 was an incredible 4.33. Read on to learn about their special activities and college plans as well as who their proud parents are. We also asked this group, “Besides your parents, who helped you the most in your K-12 journey?” You’ll notice from their answers that one encouraging, consistent presence makes a difference on the path to success.
Jaxon Chappell is the son of Craig and Amy Chappell. He was awarded the Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish and received the Centralis Maroon Scholarship from Central Michigan University, where he will major in biology this fall.
Jaxon credits Dani Ahmetovic for pushing him academically and supporting him through tough times. The two have been friends since third grade. “Whether it was his kind words or his competitive spirit, Dani has always been there for me,” he said.
Grace Heemstra is the daughter of Jeanine and Doug Heemstra. She received the GHS Social Studies Department Award and the GHS Theatre Copper Penny Award, and she served on the Executive Board and the Student Life Committee. She earned a score of 1 each of the past two years at Musical Theatre Solo and Ensemble. Grace will attend Michigan State University as part of the Musical Theatre Immersion Program. She also plans to study elementary education, political science or pre-law. She extends her deepest thanks to the following individuals for their guidance and encouragement: South Elementary librarian Lani Pleyel; her South Elementary teachers; GHS play directors Jay Fischer, Amanda Fischer and Eric Tower; GHS social studies teachers; AV teacher Terry Blevins; GHS Theatre alumni; and voice teacher Hollis Bokhout.
Ellie Helferich is the daughter of Sarah Gelbuda and Kirk Helferich. She earned the Michigan Seal of Biliteracy and the Grandville Education Association Scholarship. Ellie served as the secretary of the Key Club and section leader in marching band. She was also a member of the National Honor Society and pit orchestra. Ellie will major in chemical engineering at the University of Michigan. She appreciates the guidance her grandparents have provided throughout the span of her academic journey. “From a young age,” Ellie said, “they pushed me to do well in school and inspired me to go into science and engineering.”
Kiersen Korienek is the daughter of Dan and Laura Korienek. She served as soccer team captain. She was also a US Youth Futsal National Team player. Kiersen was a member of LINKS, Executive Board and National Honor Society. She will attend Michigan Technological University, where she will play for the soccer team and pursue civil engineering and a minor in Spanish. Rochelle Kuyper has been like a second mom to Kiersen, modeling how to be a hard worker, goal-oriented and organized. “My favorite thing to hear was that I was her mini me, which doesn't happen any less now that I'm older and continue to keep checklists and finish tasks a week before necessary,” said Kiersen. “She always made me a priority while growing up as she drove me everywhere, from swim lessons, to soccer practice. Rochelle was always there for me and always believed in me.”
Lacey McGillicuddy is the daughter of Sarah and Patrick McGillicuddy. She earned the Seal of Biliteracy in French and was awarded the French Department Award. She received the Grandville Education Association Scholarship and was a member of St. Cecilia’s Youth Symphony. Lacey will study physics at the Florida Institute of Technology. Grandville High School French teacher Jennifer Callendar has been a mentor for her. “Madame Callendar helped to inspire me not only in my French journey, but also through all aspects of my academic life,” Lacey said. “She always listened to and helped me solve my problems.”
Bennett Mejia is the son of Miriam Chicas and Derek Scholten. He was named a National Hispanic Scholar as well as an AP Scholar with Distinction. Bennett will attend the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, where he will pursue a double major in Materials Science and Engineering as well as in studies in Sustainable Energy. Bennett’s brother contributed to his success in school. “My brother helped me push myself to become better every single day,” Bennett said. “There’s nobody I can really thank more besides him.”
Lara Niemchick is the daughter of David Niemchick and Li Chun Niemchick. Lara was the vice president of Key Club and a member of the marching band and the Women’s Athletic Leadership Club. She also worked part time and played varsity tennis. She plans to study computer science at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. She says that her older sister made a big impact on her academic journey. “She’s always been there for me when I needed help,” said Lara, “and I’ve always looked up to her since she was in the Top 10 as well.”
Leah Renkema is the daughter of Kent and Kate Renkema. She was chosen to receive the GHS Staff Scholarship and was part of the M3 Challenge Team. She was named a National Merit Finalist and was chosen for the 2019 All-State Band. She was also a member of the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony. She plans to attend Hope College this fall. A close family friend, Laura Kierspel, fostered Leah’s love of music. Kierspel was Leah’s first piano and clarinet teacher. “She taught me that there is no replacement for diligence and hard work,” said Leah, “not only in music but in academics as well.”
Santiago Saldivar is the son of Alejandro and Josefina Saldivar. He was named a National AP Scholar and received the Rotary Club’s Barnard Scholarship. Santiago served as vice president of National Honor Society, team captain of the cross country team and treasurer of the Executive Board. He will attend Harvard University and plans to concentrate in mathematics. Santiago recalls that Lani Pleyel, the now retired librarian from South Elementary, made a difference in his life. “She always had a bright attitude about everything, and she encouraged each one of her students to take joy in reading and to read as much as they could,” Santiago said. “Through her reading celebrations, prizes, endless book recommendations and words of encouragement, I became an avid reader. It was indubitably because of my love for reading that I was able to excel in all my courses.”
Josh Symonds is the son of Tammy and James Symonds. He earned Eagle Scout rank and was a member of the Order of the Arrow. Josh also received his third year academic letter. He plans to major in computer science at the University of Michigan this fall. Who was an inspiration to him? “Mrs. Castro, an adult leader from Boy Scouts, helped teach me not to just float my way through life and that I’d have to be determined to achieve my goals,” he said. “She helped keep me driven when I wanted to give up and float through life.”