The nine members of The World-Herald's 2023 All State Academic Team have their sights set on the future as they prepare to embark on their next academic adventure.
Some will attend college in the Midwest, while others are headed to schools as far away as Arizona and New York. The most popular planned career path among this year's scholars is the medical field, though others are interested in astrophysics or engineering.
Beyond their achievements in the classroom, this year's scholars developed passions for sports, music, travel and photography. While they each have exciting paths ahead, many said they'll miss the connections with classmates and teachers they built throughout high school.
Also check out The World-Herald's All Metro Academic team, All Eastern Academic team, All West-Central Academic team and honorable mentions.
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MEET THE TEAM
Omaha North: 1 out of 389; 35 ACT, 1530 SAT, Nat. Merit
Parents: Cindy and Shahab Abdessalam
College, planned degree: Arizona; physics and astronomy, with computer science minor
Scholarships: University of Arizona National Merit finalist; National Merit Scholarship Corporation; Omaha North Foundation-Michelle Ricard Memorial; Omaha North High Class of 2007, PTSO; Omaha Public Schools Foundation-Zdenka Sedlacek; Dundee Elementary-Thomas Hunter Memorial; CW Omaha IBEW Local 22 and NECA contractors Thursday Night Lights Scholar Athlete of the Year; Runza Student of the Week
Why did you pick your college? I chose to attend the University of Arizona because everyone involved in its space science department seemed really invested and excited about what they were doing. They have one of the best space science programs in the nation, and the warm weather in Tucson is a nice bonus.
Surprising fact about you? I hold my high school’s record for the women’s 5K cross country race.
How do you spend your time away from school? I love being active and outside, whether it’s playing soccer, running, spending time with family and friends or reading a good book in a hammock. If I'm inside, I like watching movies, crocheting or organizing my room. I go on trips whenever I can, and I’ve been to almost all 50 states and two other continents.
Favorite animal? My favorite animal is a cat. I’ve never had a pet, but if I did, it would definitely be a cat because they’re calm, smart and will stick by your side.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years? I will be an astrophysicist with a master's degree and maybe a Ph.D., too, working for NASA or a private space company. I want to have my own family, live somewhere with mountains and wake up happy every day. I hope I will have traveled to all the places on my bucket list and be well-connected with my immediate family and relatives.
Advice for incoming high school freshmen? Find your balance. The time for homework and the time to relax. A mix of hard classes and easy classes. Time spent with your family and with your friends. It will take some time to figure out what that balance is, but try to keep that in the back of your mind when making decisions.
What will you miss most about high school? I will miss the familiarity of the building and the people. It's hard transitioning to something completely new, but I know since I've done it in high school, I'll be able to become acquainted with a new school and new people again for college. I’ll definitely miss being able to get to everything I need in one building, and the teachers at North High are truly one of a kind.
Omaha Central: 9 out of 616; 34 ACT
Parents: Katy Simmons and Alistair Cullum
College, planned degree: Fordham; international relations and psychology
Scholarships: Fordham Dean's, Tuition and FACHEX Tuition Scholarship; UNL regents, career; UNO regents, career; UNK regents, career; Creighton Dean's; University of Oregon Summit; Michigan State Non-Resident and Presidential Study Abroad; Salve Regina McAuley, Cliff Walk and Ocean State; Seattle University Achievement, FACHEX Tuition; Syracuse Tuition Exchange Grant, Arts and Science Leadership; USC Academic Research Grant
Why did you pick your college? I picked Fordham because I loved the diversity that I saw there. It reminded me of my experience in the International Baccalaureate program, which emphasized critical thinking and valued diverse perspectives.
Surprising fact about you? I went to seven different schools before I started high school.
How do you spend your time away from school? I am an avid photographer. I love having picnics with my friends, and we are planning a road trip this summer up to Minnesota. I also spend a lot of time volunteering for school events.
Favorite animal? I love a good coyote. They’re like a wolf, but I couldn’t fight a wolf off if it came down to it.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years? The dream is that I end up working in diplomacy.
Advice for incoming high school freshmen? Try to get involved as much as you can early on. I made the mistake of waiting into my junior and senior year to get heavily involved, which made it really difficult to find activities I was passionate about.
What will you miss most about high school? I love the shared connection between me and my classmates. It’s something I hope I am able to replicate in college.
Elkhorn South: 1 out of 361; 36 ACT
Parents: Louis and Christine Giacalone
College, planned degree: Duke; biochemistry and neuroscience, music minor
Scholarships: Elkhorn Public Schools Foundation Gold ACHIEVE; Legacy Eyecare; Fire Ridge Elementary PTO
Why did you pick your college? I chose Duke University because it has some of the best neuroscience and pre-med resources in the world. Duke provides world-class, leading-edge interdisciplinary research opportunities to its undergrads. Its culture of growth, challenge and collaboration will set me up for success as I progress onto medical school. The campus is also beautiful!
Surprising fact about you? I was the second-chair tuba player in the NAfME All-National Concert Band as well as first-chair tuba player in Nebraska’s All-State band three years in a row. The tuba is my thing.
How do you spend your time away from school? I spend my free time playing four instruments (tuba, bass trombone, piano and ukulele), playing tennis, bowling, and hanging out with my friends and family.
Favorite animal? My favorite animal is the dog. I have a goldendoodle (Rocket) and a border collie (Oreo). Dogs are super loyal and interactive. It’s no wonder they are known as “man’s best friend.” I would love to get a corgi next.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years? I see myself as a successful pediatric neurosurgeon pioneering new ways to save lives.
Advice for incoming high school freshmen? Complete all assignments your teachers give you to the best of your ability. Every task has a purpose, provides valuable information and practice, which are key to long-term retention. If you don’t understand something, always ask your teachers! Gaps in knowledge can build up, and the best way to avoid this is staying on top of your work. Finally, never go into a test unprepared.
What will you miss most about high school? I will miss all of the people that I have met over the last four years and the camaraderie we have shared.
Holdrege: 1 out of 76; 34 ACT
Parents: Rodney and Eileen Golus
College, planned degree: South Dakota School of Mines & Technology; mechanical engineering
Scholarships: South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Gold Scholar; UNL regents; Purdue National Recognition Programs; Iowa State Adventure, Expedition, Engineering Merit
Why did you pick your college? South Dakota Mines has a strong hands-on program. There will be many opportunities for me to get real-world experience at Mines that other schools may not be able to offer me. They also offer great value, being one of the cheapest options available to me.
Surprising fact about you? I know how to sew. As a kid I spent part of summers learning to sew with my grandma, eventually getting quite good at it. As a middle schooler I was able to make a button-down dress shirt that I wore for several years.
How do you spend your time away from school? I keep myself extremely busy with school, so the free time that I do have is very limited, but my favorite thing to do in the evenings is watch a 1960s show called "Hogan's Heroes." I also enjoy yoga and meditation as a way to decompress after a long day.
Favorite animal? Wolves are my favorite animal. Mysterious and cunning, they are awesome. Plus they travel in packs, so I feel a certain connection to them when I'm running with my track and cross country team.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years? You know I'm not exactly sure. Throughout high school I have felt my life being pulled in several different ways. I see two paths in my future — one where I pursue a career of excellence and one where I pursue relationships. If there is one thing that high school has taught me, it is that there are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy to invest into activities and relationships. Only time will tell if I settle down and become a family man, or if my ambitions remain in the stars and I start an engineering firm.
Advice for incoming high school freshmen? Walk on the right side of the hallway and don't stop moving. In all seriousness. though, find the things you're passionate about and live by principle. Living by principle means doing the things you need to do even when you don't want to do them. It means not letting feelings run your life. There have been many moments throughout high school when I felt like giving up and quitting, but I persisted through them. Success is just around the corner, and when you get there, it will be all the sweeter because of the hard work you put in.
What will you miss most about high school? I will miss my teammates. I know many people say friends, and I will miss my friends, but the bonds I have built through my activities will be the thing I miss the most. There is just something about the mutual respect and camaraderie that is built through the blood, sweat and tears that excellence requires. I will miss sweating, bleeding and crying with my teammates.
Waverly: 1 out of 177; 35 ACT
Parents: Doug and Deborah Kasparek
College, planned degree: UNL Raikes; computer engineering
Scholarships: UNL regents, Raikes Foundation, College of Engineering, Nebraska Career; UNO Walter Scott Jr.
Why did you pick your college? I chose to attend the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management at UNL because it provides an exceptional education in both computer science and business while allowing me to graduate without debt and stay close to my hometown.
Surprising fact about you? I can ride a unicycle.
How do you spend your time away from school? I spend my time away from school running cross country and track. After school I train to run the 4x100-, 4x400- and 4x800-meter relays as well as the 400-meter dash.
Favorite animal? My favorite animal is the axolotl because of its ability to regenerate its limbs regardless of where they are injured.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years? I see myself living comfortably with a loving family. Hopefully, I will have a secure career and the ability to travel as I please. I will be a major contributor to my career field and pursue what I am passionate about, whatever that will be at the time.
Advice for incoming high school freshmen? My biggest piece of advice for incoming high school freshmen is to not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone by trying new things. In high school, there are countless opportunities available, which can often be overwhelming. You shouldn't be afraid to put yourself out there even if you don't know what you're doing at first.
What will you miss most about high school? What I will miss most about high school is my cross country team. Our conversations over the most random topics somehow made long runs bearable. The spikeball games at our pre-meet meals always got more competitive than I would ever expect.
Omaha Duchesne: no rank out of 79; 36 ACT, Nat. Merit
Parents: Jayashree Pani and Hemant Satpathy
College, planned degree: Notre Dame; neuroscience and Spanish
Scholarships: National Merit; UNL regents; UNMC Travis B. Lewis; American Legion Post 1 Outstanding Scholar-Athlete-Citizen
Why did you pick your college? Last fall, some Notre Dame alums came to visit Duchesne. I initially wasn’t even planning on attending the visit, but one of my friends asked me to go with her. I instantly fell in love with the school’s diverse, challenging academics, niche environment and strong alumni network. I knew it was a school that would prepare me well for all my future endeavors as well as allow me to make the most out of my lifelong passions.
Surprising fact about you? I’m a tiny bit radioactive!
How do you spend your time away from school? I love tennis. I’ve played for over 10 years and am currently a two-time state champion. I especially enjoy playing with my family. The countless summer nights we’ve spent together on the courts are core memories forever engraved in my head.
Favorite animal? Elephants because they are fierce, caring and social.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years? I’ve always felt compelled to enter the medical field, so I could definitely see myself as a surgeon.
Advice for incoming high school freshmen? Don’t be too hard on yourself. Things won’t always go your way, and that’s OK.
What will you miss most about high school? The people! I’ll miss my friends who have inspired me with their ambition, spontaneity and compassion. I’ll miss my tennis team who have showered me with constant love and support. And I’ll miss my teachers who have instilled in me a greater love for learning.
Lincoln Southwest: no rank out of 596; 35 ACT
Parents: Jennifer and Rick Thompson
College, planned degree: Georgetown; biology
Scholarships: UNL regents, Nebraska Career; Loyola Chicago Presidential; Loyola Marymount Arrupe; University of Miami President's
Why did you pick your college? I picked Georgetown University because I wanted to go to college in the city and on the East Coast. My mom grew up on Long Island, and my dad grew up outside Philly, so I have always been drawn to the area. The moment I stepped on Georgetown’s campus I felt right at home, and I knew it would be the place for me. As for academics, I couldn’t turn down the top-rated programs there. I am hoping to do the Early Assurance Program for medical school my sophomore year and use the convenient location for internship and research opportunities.
Surprising fact about you? I’ve been vegetarian since I was 7 years old!
How do you spend your time away from school? Making the most of my time away from school is very important to me. I am outgoing and adventurous, so tuning into the spontaneous side of my personality is always fun! I love spending time with friends whether we are just driving around singing to music or watching cheesy Disney movies. I also enjoy sports and play No. 1 singles for the varsity tennis team at LSW.
Favorite animal? My favorite animal is a dog. I have two, and to me, they’re like miniature humans. They have such sweet dispositions and constantly make me giggle.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years? I hope to be an oncologist, potentially with my own practice. I have dreamed of becoming a doctor since I was young, and I became particularly drawn to oncology in my AP Biology class when we studied gene mutation.
Advice for incoming high school freshmen? Don’t stress too much. You will end up where you are meant to be.
What will you miss most about high school? I will miss it all! From Friday night football games in the student section to even studying way too late at the local coffee shop, I have truly enjoyed my high school experience. As my senior year comes to an end, my mind is only filled with sweet memories. I think what I will miss most, though, is the people. I have grown up alongside many of these kids, and it is hard to believe we will finally be parting ways. I cherish my friendships that began all the way back in first grade, as well as the ones that have formed from us simply having class together. I am excited, but it will be difficult to leave.
Hastings: no rank out of 264; 34 ACT, 1540 SAT
Parents: Billy and Kimberly Vuong
College, planned degree: Notre Dame; environmental engineering
Scholarships: Bill & Melinda Gates
Why did you pick your college? I certainly didn’t choose Notre Dame because of prestige. With so many open-sourced and online resources (Khan Academy and MIT’s OpenCourseWare being my favorites!), you don’t need to go to a Top-5 school with $100,000 in debt to be important. I chose Notre Dame because of its strong community as well as breadth of engineering courses. Go, Irish!
Surprising fact about you? I own chickens! Their names are K, F, C, HENry and Madame Clucksalot. Cleaning their kennel, I’ve learned so much about standing your ground — especially when you’re outnumbered 5-to-1. Additionally, the coos are always comforting as I’m finishing my physics homework or preparing for finals.
How do you spend your time away from school? Running with my friends. It’s always been a blast cracking jokes and pushing each other to our limits during our runs.
Favorite animal? I’ve always liked the ant. It’s small and frail but hardworking, and when you stack thousands upon thousands of these little ants, you get a community.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years? I’d love to be working as some type of researcher in mathematics or engineering. On the other hand, I could see myself returning to Nebraska to help engineer more sustainable farming practices.
Advice for incoming high school freshmen? I recommend following the 3 P’s: Proactive. Proactive. Proactive. If you know what you want to accomplish, whether it’s acing a test or starting your own club, you better have a plan.
What will you miss most about high school? Getting to be with my friends in person. Yes, we have Snapchat and Instagram and Discord and everything else to keep in touch, but there’s something special playing video games, biking around town or watching a movie in person.
Millard South: no rank out of 616; 35 ACT, Nat. Merit
Parents: Alex and Tami Williams
College, planned degree: UNL Raikes; data science
Scholarships: UNL Chancellor's, Raikes; National Merit Corporation; Millard Public Schools Foundation Robert Ackerman Elementary School, George Russell Middle School; St. Paul's Lutheran Church
Why did you pick your college? I chose to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln because Lincoln is a premier business and engineering school, and I was super interested in the Raikes program that it offers. I’m also a huge Husker fan, and I love going to football, basketball and volleyball games.
Surprising fact about you? I used to play in the marching band before COVID hit, and I made the switch from band to theater in my junior year. I was a born performer, and don’t regret a thing about that decision to this day!
How do you spend your time away from school? I spend most of my time away from school hanging out with my friends and girlfriend and playing video games. I also enjoy taking family trips to Colorado to go white-water rafting in the summer and skiing in the winter.
Favorite animal? My favorite animal is an elephant because they are intelligent, majestic creatures. I even had the opportunity to see many up close and personal on a bucket list trip with my family to Tanzania and Kenya.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years? I see myself as a successful data scientist with a happy, healthy family. I also plan on having enough money to give back to the community and travel the world!
Advice for incoming high school freshmen? My biggest piece of advice to incoming high schoolers is to try it all and to put 100% into everything you do. You don’t have to be the person that’s involved in 20 million activities, but it’s important to find a couple of things that you’re passionate about and really commit to improving in those areas.
What will you miss most about high school? The thing I’ll miss most about high school is the friends I got to see in class every day. After spending so much time with many of my peers, I’ll miss getting to see a lot of the people I’ve grown close with over the last four years.