Two of Eastern Regional High School’s brightest from the class of 2019 are prepared to take on their next challenge in life after graduating Tuesday, June 18.
Alexa Grabelle was named Eastern Regional’s valedictorian, while Geoffrey Brandt was named the school’s salutatorian.
Grabelle will be attending The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, studying business and hoping to concentrate in behavioral economics.
She says she can remember from a young age pretending to own her own hotel, pretending to make reservations for people. However, as she got older Grabelle got much more serious about her aspirations and founded her own nonprofit “Bags of Books,” granting her the opportunity to interact with businesses all over the state and country with the mission of bringing books to those in underprivileged communities.
Grabelle started a book drive when she was in fifth grade after learning that some students in Camden don’t have books, eventually turning a small project of good faith into a nationwide initiative.
“My objective when I first started out was to collect enough books for one class of students, so I was really aiming for maybe six books per student in a classroom of 25 students for a total of 150 books,” said Grabelle. “But I collected 2,000 books in just a few months, so I realized that that project had a lot more potential than I initially anticipated and it’s really grown from there.”
Since first starting in fifth grade, Grabelle has collected more than 150,000 books nationwide. Having seen the growth of her nonprofit, Grabelle says she’s been fascinated in development of how she’s expanded to other states.
Originally, she collected books at schools, churches and synagogues, however she’s since moved into partnering with businesses and companies. Recently, a law firm that collects for “Bags of Books” in Philadelphia reached out and received word that its other offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago would also be collecting soon.
“It’s been really interesting to see how it’s expanding in this corporate way,” said Grabelle. “I realized that a lot of companies seek to have some kind of corporate social responsibility, and because running a book collection doesn’t cost anything, they’re usually always on board.”
Grabelle says the reason she wants to study behavioral economics in college is due to her desire to want to help people. Thanks to the founding of her nonprofit, she believes she’ll be well-equipped to help various community initiatives succeed.
“It’s a combination of business and social impact, in terms of how you can apply it into a career,” said Grabelle. “There are firms that are pretty new, where they’ll take people who studied behavioral economics in college and have them work on projects, so in a sense it’s like a consulting firm but instead of helping a company succeed, you’re helping a nonprofit succeed.”
Moving forward, Grabelle is looking toward being able to help others anywhere in the world in some way. While she’s unsure if she’ll be able to continue running “Bags of Books” in the near future, she says she still feels responsible for helping others in some capacity.
“I would be able to apply the skills I’ve developed in running ‘Bags of Books’ over the years with the social impact phase, and I would get the business aspect from my time at [The Wharton School],” said Grabelle. “I think it’s really important that I pursue meaningful work that makes a difference … I want to be fulfilling that need in my career,” said Grabelle.
Brandt will also be attending the University of Pennsylvania this coming fall, but has not yet determined a major. Having interests in math and science, he says he wants to be able to see what sticks out to him most at college, such as physics, computer science or economics.
While at Eastern Regional, Brandt earned varsity letters in soccer, basketball and baseball, while also serving as vice president for the class of 2019, helping plan trips and dances as well as fundraise.
As many students can attest to throughout high school, Brandy says time management was a major skill he developed while at Eastern, most specifically making sure to find the time to study and complete school work, while performing at a high level in the classroom and on the field.
Having finished his final year of school athletics, Brandt says he’s thankful for the lasting memories he’s created since competing in various sports with friends for more than a decade.
When looking back, Brandt says athletics helped make him a better person for a multitude of reasons.
“I think I grew as a person in general because you face a lot of adversity whether it’s fighting for your position on a team, fighting between freshmen, JV or varsity, or of course the typical opponent which is the other team,” said Brandt. “So you learn how to work as a group, which I loved.”
Looking back, Brandt says two of the most important lasting memories that stick out to him are between soccer and baseball.
This past fall, the boys soccer team rallied from a 2-0 deficit at halftime to win, 3-2, in overtime against Mainland High School. More recently, Brandt achieved a walk-off squeeze bunt in the 10th inning of the second game of this year’s miraculous boys baseball season, something he could only describe as “intense.”
In the classroom, Brandt says he enjoyed history the most while at Eastern Regional.
“I had a bunch of good teachers in the history department at Eastern,” said Brandt.
Brandt was also a member of National Honor Society, helping with various collection drives throughout the year.