Abeunt studia in mores. At first glance, this appears simply as a difficult-to-pronounce, mostly undecipherable phrase. Even more, most would be surprised to learn that this odd bit of ancient locution is the motto for Lake Forest High School. It’s English translation (the Latin scholars out there would have figured this out by now) seems even more cryptic: They leave, striving after morality. And yet, despite not being aware of the existence of this obscure school adage–though it is printed above the main entrance to the high school–one member of the current graduating class has managed to embody not only its meaning, but the very best this high school has to offer.
He can be found in most areas of school-sponsored recreation – track and field, cross country, gymnastics, concessions, LINK crew, and summer tennis camps, among other things. He’s the kid in your English class hyping apathetic students about Shakespeare, or trying to lighten the mood during a particularly difficult physics lecture. He also has found a way to put his own twist on the LFHS experience; while most would picture the average Lake Forest student driving a black Jeep Wrangler in a pair of salmon-colored shorts and boat shoes, he can more often be found cruising around town on his bright red bike in an equally vivid scarlet windbreaker. He’s incredibly talented–academically, socially, and athletically–in his own right, but ends up devoting most of his time to elevating those around him. Etienne Najman has spent his years at LFHS recognizing others, and it’s about time he got some recognition himself.
“Stay in touch!” he’d said, earnestly and honestly, as a mother-son duo waved goodbye and disappeared into the throng of caffeine-seeking Starbucks-goers occupying the coffee shop one morning. These days it’s rare to hear anyone end a conversation with such an enthusiastic “Stay in touch!”, much less an 18-year old boy. And yet, after a minute or two of chatting with the woman and her son–discussing summer plans, how senior year had been going–that’s exactly how he left it. This brief conversation was the first of many throughout the interview, which wasn’t very long to begin with. Our own discussion was punctuated by several shorter exchanges, and two things stuck out to me as I witnessed them: one, the sheer number and variety of people he knew; and two, how much he knew about each person in turn; these microcosmic chats with people said as much about him as the actual responses he gave to my questions.
It seems that in the same way that everyone knows Etienne, Etienne truly knows everyone. He remembers the little things, what makes a person tick. Mrs. Van Skyock, who had him as a student in both her English 3CP and English 3H classes junior year (more on that later), said, “I deal with adults that when you have conversations with them, you know, they can talk about your kids or whatever and they don’t remember the details, and you end up repeating the conversations. Etienne remembers all the details about everybody.”
Even more, it’s this inherent knack for specifics that allows Etienne to maintain the jam-packed lifestyle he leads. For most students in high school, staying on top of a single sport or extracurricular and all the academic stress that accompanies each year is enough to drive most people to the breaking point. For the majority of his high school career, though, Etienne has juggled two varsity-level sports while managing another, two jobs, peer tutoring, and volunteering, all while retaining resolute enthusiasm. When asked how he managed to keep track of it all, he replied with a shrug and said simply, “I’ve got a calendar at home.”
The intrinsic flair that’s made Etienne so successful in high school manifested itself at an early age when he and his sister set up a lemonade stand. This wasn’t your average lemonade stand, though, stocked with somewhat questionably-sourced lemonade and slightly stale Oreos sold for fifty cents a pop. No, this was a well-oiled machine located just off Old Elm a few summers back, complete with business hours, regular clients, and frequent customer punch cards. Interestingly enough, his favorite part of this endeavor was not the $1000 he made over the course of that summer, but the people he met while doing so (some of whom he’s still in touch with–one previous customer now sends him birthday cards). Over the next few years, his business-savvy skills enabled him to raise more than $1,000 for the American Heart Association in middle school, and to contribute to the track team in a major way just by selling pretzels through the team fundraiser. With such an innate sense for business, it’s no surprise that next fall Etienne will be attending Indiana University next year for their esteemed Kelley School of Business.
While he’d always stretched himself in terms of scheduling, it wasn’t until midway through junior year that Etienne realized his full academic potential. In reminiscing about his time at the high school, his one regret was not pushing himself academically earlier on:
“So life realization the other day. Freshman, sophomore, and junior year, I was taking, like, CP classes, and I was getting B’s or whatever, and senior year–I don’t know if it’s like the new schedule or something, but I’ve moved up to like APs and I’m getting, like, predominantly A’s. I just thought the other day, like, what have I been doing the rest of my high school career? My GPA is ugh.”
According to him, this awakening is largely thanks to Mrs. Van Skyock, who had him for English–both regular and honors–that year: “Ms. V was, like, so awesome, because I didn’t really like English and she just brought it out of me.” In her 3CP class, Etienne was essentially a TA, making study sets on Quizlet, creating a Facebook page for the class, and rallying the troops–well, as much as he could–to get them excited about analyzing whatever novel they were studying at the time. From the get-go, it was clear to everyone in that class that Etienne would become the muffin (for those who haven’t had the privilege of being in one of Mrs. Van Skyock’s classes, becoming muffin is basically a student of the month award that comes with a certificate and the student’s choice of Otis Spunkmeyer muffin). In typical Etienne fashion, he took the muffin award to a new level, too. “One day after school, he took Post-it notes and made sprinkles, because we had had that joke that, like, you know, we need a bigger award, like muffin’s been going on for a couple years now, so we need something like the cupcake award,” said Mrs. Van Skyock with a laugh. “He’s a muffin for sure, cupcake-level. There are very few people I would say that about.”
In spite of all of his accomplishments (of which there are many), they are not what make Etienne extraordinary. There are plenty of talented, arguably over-scheduled people at this high school, but there are far fewer who elicit the kind of response one receives at the mention of Etienne. In few words, he puts others before himself in everything he does. In many words, he’s the one cheering on nervous pole vaulters at a track meet in the midst of a grueling workout of his own; he’s the one sending out homework reminders and vocab reviews to an English class that hadn’t asked for them, just because he wanted to see them all succeed; he’s the one who makes everyone around him feel special, be it a short chat in Starbuck’s on a busy Wednesday morning or sending out Snapchats at 11:11 just because he knows they could make someone’s day. His intent has never been to brown nose or draw attention to himself; rather, it’s always been to highlight those around him, and it wasn’t long before people began to notice just how amazing he is, too. It’s this combination, this duality of aptitude and empathy–flavored with a healthy dose of individuality–that makes Etienne stand out.
This article was written by Grace Scheidler, a junior at Lake Forest High School. It was first published in The Forest Scout. The Forest Scout Person of the Year was decided by a small, editorial board and may not reflect the decision of the entire Forest Scout staff as a whole.