Senior student’s involvement gained him leadership skills, career interests
By Melissa Riker
Dedicated, passionate, hard-working and motivated were words used by Gus Van Walsen’s teachers to describe his character.
Van Walsen, now a senior, has been an active participant in activities and academics Seneca High School has to offer since his freshman year.
Van Walsen has been taking five or more honors or AP classes since he started at Seneca and is involved in the marching band, robotics, National Honor Society, community service club and Anti-Defamation League, all while working part-time at a local kennel.
Music first sparked his interest in fifth grade when he picked up the trumpet, which he continued into his freshman year when he joined the marching band. After taking a year off his sophomore year, he returned to the marching band his junior year and ultimately ended up pursuing a leadership position as brass captain his senior year.
Van Walsen said he gained a great deal of knowledge from the leaders during his junior year and he wanted to create a similar experience for incoming freshmen.
As brass captain, he overlooks about half of the band, while making sure to uphold an inclusive environment by spending time together outside of school as well.
In October, the Seneca marching band won first place at the Lenape competition, which Van Walsen said was an exciting and overall cool experience.
“You feel a mix of excitement for yourself, because you know you and all the people you’ve worked with have done so well. Marching band has such intense practice,” Van Walsen said. “All that hard work pays off and it’s a great feeling. It’s also a great feeling to perform so well as a newer school.”
He said that through this experience he has learned how people react to different situations, win or lose, using the times they have performed well to motivate the marching band.
“Losing is just an opportunity to do better, and winning is an opportunity to take that experience, how happy you feel, and turn it into inspiration,” Van Walsen.
He said marching band is intense, but robotics may be even more so, with practice being held six days a week for six weeks with more than 50 members.
Van Walsen also holds a leadership position on the robotics team, being the management lead for the past three years, assisting with project management, team sponsors, newsletters, fundraising, event planning, outreach projects and more.
This year, the robotics team won the Chairman’s Award, which is based on the team having a considerable impact on the community outside of assembling a robot, as a means of getting younger kids involved in STEM activities and trying to direct students to STEM careers.
The Iron Devils team formed a strategic partnership with Six Flags Great Adventure to integrate robotics into the theme park on select days, capturing the attention of children in a fun environment.
The team previously won the Chairman’s Award when Van Walsen was a freshman, however, he wasn’t able to reap the full benefits of being intensely involved in the team.
“Being in a leadership position who had a lot of responsibility in winning that award, seeing it my freshman year and being able to get that full circle feeling by winning it my senior year… I had worked so hard for it, along with the rest of the team,” Van Walsen said.
Jennifer Enos, Iron Devils Robotics advisor, has known Van Walsen since his freshman year, and said he immediately impressed her with his commitment to robotics, the community and ability to mentor younger students.
“The most impressive thing about Gus is his dedication and passion for everything that he does,” Enos said. “Gus works very hard and he does not give up on anything until he has reached the goals that he has set.”
As a member of the Anti-Defamation League, he is able to visit undergraduate classrooms to discuss the proper ways to deal with sensitive, yet prevalent topics such as racism and homophobia.
As a member of the NHS, he is able to be an active member in serving the community, to which he said, “I love being involved and I love feeling like efforts that I make have some sort of impact. I want to work for something really hard and I want to make sure I’m having a positive impact on it.”
Rocky Panarella, Van Walsen’s prior English teacher, said he is a quiet leader, extremely insightful and self-motivated.
“I am not sure I could find the right words to explain the effect Gus had on me, this school, and the world around him,” Panarella said. “Gus is someone you root for, someone you hope achieves everything he wants because he deserves it.”