Celebrate Some of Edina’s Amazing Seniors

by | Aug 2023

Edina Senior Spotlight

Photos: Chris Emeott

Celebrate some of our city’s creative, generous and driven high school seniors.

When seeking nominations of outstanding rising seniors for this year’s Senior Spotlight feature, I asked local school administrators to nominate students who have left a positive imprint on their schools and/or communities while in high school. I wasn’t just looking for the students with the best grades or most activities on their college applications. Rather, I wanted to introduce our readers to local students who exemplify a spirit of curiosity and generosity—those with a nonjudgemental passion to learn about the experiences of others, those who give of their time through school or community service and those who extend themselves and their talents for the benefit of others.

The students featured on the following pages are all that and more. I continue to be in awe of what our high school seniors have accomplished at such a young age. It’s inspiring to see their passion and generosity come through in so many unique and personal ways.

Ben Sanderson, 17

Edina High School (EHS)

Ben Sanderson

“Ben Sanderson is an example of a well-rounded person. He is the total package with his academics, athletics and the arts. He is the blend of true AAA student. He is an extraordinary student, and all teachers give accolades on his curiosity and engagement. He is an outstanding golfer and remarkable at the trumpet. He is a well respected member of every classroom and group he is a part of. Many teachers have wanted his service and leadership in the classroom. As a peer tutor, he is the first to help students with true enthusiasm! He is also an active member of Model United Nations, where he excels at working with other students tackling issues of global importance. Ben is the type of person that is respected by everyone that he comes in contact with.” —Brad Dahlman, EHS dean of students

When you look back on your high school years, what are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the work ethic and time management skills I have developed through my classes and activities at the high school.

What experiences have you found most meaningful or significant?
My experiences through the Edina golf team have been the most meaningful. Last year our team won the state tournament and we have a very close bond with each other. Golf has taught me to give my full attention to the present and the importance of repetition and practice. The service activity I have found the most meaningful is spending time with kids with disabilities through the Peer Insights program at South View Middle School because I have developed many close relationships that I still have today.

What is the most unexpected or impactful thing that you’ve learned during your high school years?
The most unexpected thing I’ve learned is the importance of pushing past my comfort zone. Public speaking and music have never been talents of mine, but I have come to enjoy Model UN and band a lot and have made a lot of friends through both.

Who has had the most significant impact on your life thus far, helping shape who you are today?
My parents have shaped me into who I am today. They have shown by example how to hold myself to my highest standard and the importance of hard work and preparation.

If you could invite anyone, past or present, to your graduation party, who would it be?
I would invite Jordan Spieth because he is a high-character athlete that I look up to.

What are your future dreams, goals or aspirations?
My future goals are to play golf in college and pursue a career in medicine.

More About Ben:

  • Member of Model UN (2020-2023)
  • Jazz Band and Concert Band (2020-2023)
  • EHS Peer Tutoring (2022-2023)
  • Captain of Edina Boys Golf (2023)
  • MSHSL Student Advisory and Leadership Team member (2022-2023)
  • Vice president of EHS Science Club (2022-2023)
  • Edina JV Hockey (2021-2022)
  • All-Conference Golf Team (2022)
  • Academic All-State Team (2022)
  • Community Service Letters (2021-2022 and 2022-2023)
Sarah Hu, 16

Edina High School (EHS)

Sarah Hu

“[Sarah was] president of Edina’s Girls United group as an 11th grade student. She oversaw the effort to get free/accessible feminine hygiene products in EHS bathrooms. Sarah was at the forefront of student activism events throughout her high school experience. Specifically, she helped coordinate a student walkout in the ’21–’22 school year to specifically highlight the lived experiences of Asian students in the Edina community. Sarah has taken one of the most rigorous academic schedules available to Edina High School students—and she does so with grace and humor. Sarah also dedicates a significant amount of time to Skijammers, where she teaches younger peers.” —Dylan Hackbarth, EHS counselor

When you look back on your high school years, what are you most proud of?
My favorite activity and achievement in highschool is Girls United—more specifically how we got period product containers installed throughout EHS for easier accessibility to period products. Girls United (a club ‘led by girls, for girls’) worked with school administration throughout the last two years to find a manageable way to have period products as available as possible for girls who need it. Although the nurse’s office offers free products, students need a pass from their teacher to go there. Having products readily available in the bathrooms would mean that students can quickly pick up what they need. We hope to expand on what we’ve already done so far so that more bathrooms are supplied with products. A quirk that we have in Girls United is having an 11th grader become President, offering them an opportunity to expand their skill set during a critical period and provide improvements to the club as Vice President in their next year. My work with Girls United has significantly impacted my life, and I hope it can do the same for many other girls.

What experiences have you found most meaningful or significant?
An experience that is meaningful to me is being a ski patroller at Hyland Hills. For those that don’t know, it’s basically lifeguarding but on a ski hill (at least that’s what I like to tell people), but it’s really so much more than that. If there is anything at Hyland that requires medical attention, patrollers are called to take care of it. Although I personally haven’t encountered any extreme injuries, what I have treated has given me experience that most activities can’t provide. We ensure that injured patients receive the care and preparation necessary for further treatment. As a ski patroller, I’ve been able to meet so many people and provide them with a positive experience in the patrol room. The skills that I have learned, the people I’ve met and the people that we help truly makes Ski Patrol something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

What is the most unexpected or impactful thing that you’ve learned during your high school years?
An impactful thing that I’ve learned is to appreciate what I have. Whether it is the relationships I’ve built or the memories I’ve made, I know that unfortunately, all good things come to an end. By making the best of what I have, when I have it, I am able to live with no regrets and keep good memories.

Who has had the most significant impact on your life thus far, helping shape who you are today?
My parents have had a large impact on my life, especially seeing the experiences that they went through as immigrants. I admire their determination in improving themselves and providing a better life for our family. Despite both having a Ph. D degree, my parents are constantly finding opportunities to increase their skill set, abilities and mindset. Their resolve drives me to better myself. No matter where I am in life, I’ll know that there is always a way to improve myself.

If you could invite anyone, past or present, to your graduation party, who would it be?
As cool as it would be to invite Jackie Chan to my graduation, I’d have to say that I would want to invite my high school counselor, Mr. Hackbarth. He is extremely empathetic when I ranted about my struggles, helpful when I asked for advice and supportive with the different endeavors that I was interested in. I always crack up when I see the framed picture of his experience driving the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. Mr. Hackbarth’s ability to make students [feel] at ease through his relatability and support is something I aspire to achieve.

What are your future dreams, goals or aspirations?
A goal of mine is to properly thank my parents for unconditionally supporting me throughout my high school years. As a person who really isn’t a gift-giver, I hope to find a way to demonstrate my appreciation for all the things they’ve sacrificed. Thanks Mom and Dad, I love you.

More About Sarah:

  • Ski Patroller at Hyland Hills (2022–Present)
  • President and Vice President of Girls United (2022–2023, 2023–2024)
  • Student Commissioner on the Planning Commission (2022–Present)
  • Cahill working group member (2022–2023)
  • Environmental Services Technician at the Mayo Clinic (2022–Present)
  • Youth Council member and summer fellow at Friends of the Mississippi River (2022–2023)
  • Volunteer for: Edina City Hall (2021–Present) , Southdale Fairview Hospital (2022–Present), Bridging (2021–Present)
  • Attended the Johns Hopkins Global Health Leaders Conference (2023)
  • Photographer (@huhara on Unsplash)
Audrey Taylor, 17

Benilde-St. Margaret’s School (BSM)

Audrey Taylor

“Audrey Taylor’s commitment to academics, school activities and volunteerism is inspiring. She loves music and has used her talent to sing in the BSM Chamber Choir, in musical theater productions on and off campus and now is wowing audiences as a member of BSM’s award-winning acapella group, the Red Knotes. As a sophomore, Audrey landed a … role in Elf at Stages Theater, and the role required her to be away from school on and off for several weeks. This was not a problem for Audrey. She managed her heavy honors and AP workload with excellent time management and a lot of communication with teachers. This [past] spring, she [was] shining on stage as a lead in Mamma Mia here at BSM. Audrey also loves staying physically fit and was honored to be a captain for the Red Knight Ladies’ Swim Team this [past] fall. Finally, Audrey is very driven toward volunteer and mission work—she is selfless and truly enjoys helping others. She helps her family’s foundation, Abbey’s Hope, with their mission of working ‘toward a world with safer pools by providing education and advocating for comprehensive safety standards for all pools.’ Most recently, she is spending her time at Loaves and Fishes, where she interacts with people and serves them meals. BSM has been blessed by having Audrey Taylor as a student.” —Amanda Anderson, BSM Senior High guidance and college counselor

When you reflect on your high school years, what are you most proud of?
I’m extremely proud of the fact that, before high school I struggled to branch out from my small group of two or three friends and wasn’t social at all. Once I got into high school I challenged myself to meet new people and start new relationships, and I’ve never been happier with the people I have begun to know in the process.

What is the most unexpected or impactful thing you’ve learned during high school?
I’ve been doing theater since I was very young, and before I joined BSM Drama, I was always terrified to perform. Although I love theater, the idea of performing in front of large crowds of people terrified me. Once I joined BSM Drama and met our director Jake Mahler, I learned valuable lessons that eased my stage fright. Presently, I barely have butterflies before an opening night because of the supportive community of artists that is BSM theater.

Who has had the most significant impact on your life thus far, helping shape who you are today?
My parents have both helped raise me into who I am today and taught me so many valuable lessons, but my friends and advisers at my annual church camp, which I have attended every year since before I could read, have helped me shape my values and realize who I truly am as a person. I would not be the woman I am today without their influence and I have them to thank for getting through many hard times.

If you could invite anyone, past or present, to your graduation party, who would it be?
If I could invite anyone to my graduation party it would be my sister Abigail, who passed when I was young. I wish she would have been able to grow up and have the experiences I’m having right now and be able to watch me go through life after her.

What are your future dreams, goals, or aspirations?
I’m excited to attend a college or university of my choosing and learn more valuable information that will help me secure my future. I would love to stay connected with my hobbies because they make up so much of who I am. Music, drama and swimming will definitely stick with me when I get older, and I will continue to love participating in them. Lastly, I would love to travel during and after college. I want to be able to go wherever and whenever to see the beauty of our world.

More About Audrey

  • BSM Drama (2018–Present; Shows include High School Musical, James and the Giant Peach, Brighter Days, Freaky Friday and Mamma Mia!)
  • Nominated for Hennepin Theater Trust Spotlight Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role for the role of Donna in Mamma Mia
  • Ensemble cast member in Elf at Stages Theater Company in Hopkins
  • The Red Knotes Acapella Group (2022–Present)
  • Placed 3rd Place at the 2023 ICHSA Great Lakes Quarterfinal acapella competition (2023)
  • BSM Chamber Choir (2020–2021)
  • BSM Swimming (2021–Present)
  • BSM Swim Team Senior Captain (2023–2024)
  • BSM Honor Roll and Highest Honor Roll
  • Volunteer at Loaves & Fishes (2022–2023)
  • BSM Volleyball (2018-2020)
  • Volunteer Coordinator at Abbey’s Hope for annual fall golf event
Sam Brumbaugh, 17

Academy of Holy Angels (AHA)

Sam Brumbaugh

“Before Sam even set foot in the halls of Academy of Holy Angels, I read a letter he wrote in the Opinion section of the Star Tribune. I was impressed that he was reading the paper and took time to comment on the news of the day and to publicly voice his opinion. It was my first inkling of what a special young man Sam Brumbaugh would be. Sam is a strong student, who has challenged himself with 13 AP or advanced classes by graduation; [he] is an active athlete, who will be a captain of his lacrosse team this spring; and [he] is a leader, who is in the process of completing his Eagle Scout project. But if you ask him about his most important achievement, he would likely say it is coaching his younger brother’s youth hockey team because of the time they get to spend together. Sam is a lovely combination of confidence, enthusiasm for learning and an earnest desire to have conversations to talk through differences.” —Ann Kjorstad, AHA college counselor

When you look back on your high school years, what are you most proud of?
I am most proud of obtaining my Eagle Scout, as this was five years’ worth of work finally come to fruition.

What experiences have you found most meaningful or significant?
The experiences in high school I have found most meaningful is just the down time where you get to meet and truly talk to people face to face.

What is the most unexpected or impactful thing that you’ve learned during your high school years?
The most impactful thing that I have learned in high school is sometimes you have to put your head down and keep working hard, even if it’s tough.

Who has had the most significant impact on your life thus far, helping shape who you are today?
My parents have had the most significant impact on my life so far. Not only have they helped shape me into who I am today, but also they have provided me with support in all my activities.

If you could invite anyone, past or present, to your graduation party, who would it be?
If I could invite anyone to my graduation party I would invite Alexander Hamilton because he was a genius and didn’t care what other people thought of his plans.

What are your future dreams, goals or aspirations?
In the future, I hope to go to college on an Army ROTC scholarship and serve my country.

More About Sam:

  • AHA Football (2020, 2021, 2022)
  • Edina Youth Hockey (2020)
  • AHA Hockey (2021)
  • AHA Lacrosse (2021, 2022, 2023)
  • Coaching Edina Youth Lacrosse 2nd and 3rd graders (2021)
  • Coaching Edina Youth Football 4th grade (2022)
  • Coaching Edina Squirt Hockey (2022, 2023)
  • Volunteering at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina
  • Volunteering with Edina Scout Troop 102
  • Obtaining Eagle Scout
  • Order of the Arrow – BSA
  • High Honor Roll
  • AHA Gold Service Award – 60 hours
  • AHA Blue Service Award – 40 hours
Sonja Holtey, 17

Edina High School (EHS)

Sonja Holtey

“During the pandemic, Sonja and some friends participated in the Student Solutions Project. The focus of the project was to give students a voice to find ways to improve educational equity in the Edina Public Schools. Following the return to post-pandemic, she continued to advertise the ‘Say Hey Hornets’ message and started a student club to help make someone’s day. This group has been visible trying to make a difference for all students to feel welcome and seen at Edina High School. She is a gentle, kind and intellectual soul. I believe she represents the core values of EHS.” —Jenn Carter, EHS assistant principal

When you look back on your high school years, what are you most proud of?
I think I’m most proud of leading Say Hey Hornets, a schoolwide initiative that a group of friends and I started in 2021. The mission of Say Hey Hornets is to encourage people to say hello to each other in order to promote inclusion, acceptance, and connection throughout the Edina schools and the greater community. Greeting and acknowledging each other are simple acts that anyone can do, but they can make a powerful positive impact on all of our mental health and well-being. The students, staff and community support for Say Hey Hornets has been nothing short of amazing, and I hope that the Say Hey Hornets message can continue to spread even further.

What experiences have you found most meaningful or significant?
An experience that I have found very meaningful is volunteering at the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery. My mom and I both enjoy cooking, so we started helping with the nursery’s “Cook for Kids” program. We make a meal, serve it to the kids staying in the nursery and then sit and talk together while everyone eats. It is incredibly uplifting to see the kids’ kindness and enthusiasm despite the serious obstacles that their families are facing.

What is the most unexpected or impactful thing that you’ve learned during your high school years?
One of the most important things that I’ve learned during my high school years is to stay curious. My life at Edina High School is constantly enriched by new people, new ideas and new experiences. I feel really fortunate to be in a school system that is full of extraordinary staff and students that motivate me to keep growing and broadening my perspective.

Who has had the most significant impact on your life thus far, helping shape who you are today?
A person who has significantly shaped who I am today is my older brother, Bjorn. I love his empathy and willingness to help me up when I am feeling down, but one of the qualities that I admire most about him is his perseverance. Bjorn is quite possibly the hardest worker I know—he is persistent in the face of setbacks, and he doesn’t turn away from a challenge. He encourages me to pursue my goals and supports me as I try, whether it’s giving me a pep talk or laughing with me through a rerun of The Office. I feel lucky to have him in my life.

If you could invite anyone, past or present, to your graduation party, who would it be?
I would invite Ina Garten, author of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. I’m inspired by her joyful outlook and appreciation of everyday things—spending time with family and friends, preparing simple but delicious food and learning inside and outside of the kitchen. Plus, she might bring some of her Outrageous Brownies to share!

What are your future dreams, goals or aspirations?
After high school, I would like to attend college and study history and public health. I love to learn about ways to improve access to healthy, affordable food on a national and international scale, and I want to try to develop the necessary skills to contribute to that effort.

More About Sonja:

  • EHS Say Hey Hornets Boosters Club Founder/Organizer (2021—present)
  • EHS Healthcare Career Speakers Club Co-Founder/Organizer (2021—present)
  • EHS Speech Team Captain (2022—present)
  • EHS Nordic Ski Team Member (2019—present)
  • EHS Orchestra Member (2020—present)
  • EHS National History Day Participant (2018—present)
  • Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery Volunteer (2022—present)
  • Recipient of honorable mention in the 2021 C-SPAN StudentCam Documentary Competition
  • Recipient of “Women of Color in History” topical prize in the 2021 Minnesota State History Day Competition
  • Member of 2022 National History Day Sacrifice for Freedom®: World War II in the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute in Honolulu, Hawai’i
  • Presenter of 2022 TEDxYouth@Edina talk: “Inclusion, Acceptance, Connection: It All Starts with Hello”
  • Member of 2023 Global Health Leaders Conference at Johns Hopkins University
  • Recipient of first place award for Individual Senior Documentary in the 2023 Minnesota State History Day Competition

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