What you notice first about Brendan Chapko is the obvious, which is the fact he’s 6 foot 6 inches. That is followed closely by the extreme confidence Chapko, the Coronado born and bred Valedictorian of the Coronado High School Class (CHS) of 2020, has in himself. Fundamentally, he’s not afraid, a major theme of his graduation speech which we’ll cover later. Earning a 4.57 weighted grade point average at a school as challenging as CHS, likely provides a boost to your outlook on life.
Interviewing Branden earlier this week allowed me to complete a rare journalistic accomplishment, interviewing both Branden and his twin sister Kendall in a 10-day span. Kendall has several accomplishments of her own to be proud of, including being named the winner of the prestigious Molly McGowan Award this year and planning to attend Claremont McKenna, where she will continue her career in lacrosse.
The son of Terry Chapko and Paige Shuman, Brendan is technically the youngest of the three Chapko siblings, as Kendall is four minutes older. Sister Tanner Chapko (CHS ’17) is a junior at George Washington University, where she is majoring in business, with a minor in statistics.
We started by looking ahead and discussing Brendan’s pursuit of a double major at the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at the University of Pennsylvania/The Wharton School, which share the same campus. “I was looking into a lot of International Relations programs, the tops in the country, and Penn didn’t stick out,” Chapko explained. “A common flaw in my view of the top programs is they are largely theoretical and there’s not as much application to the real world. I’m going to be focusing on the business side of International Relations and their practical applications instantly made Penn/Wharton my top choice. They receive between 600 and 800 applications a year to the Huntsman Program and they accept between 30 and 40 students.”
Chapko’s academic credentials include taking 15 AP tests, but he won’t profit from them in a significant way at Penn/Wharton. “I think only four of the AP classes count for credit at Penn. Spanish, both Physics classes and Calculus count toward credit. I get credit for the only math requirement at Penn and at Wharton I get to skip into Calculus II, which I’m not keen on taking right away.”
During my interview with Brendan’s twin sister Kendall, I gave her the opportunity to ask Brendan a zinger question of her choice, to be included in his feature. She pondered that concept for a while and said, “Ask him what the most challenging class or subject he had in high school. I would like to see what he says to that, because I don’t think he had any.” As it turns out there was one, 10th Grade Honors English, taught by Joshua Chow. As we’ll see in next week’s feature with CHS Salutatorian Andres de la Lama, he had a similar answer.
“It was a good class, tough and it provided the most value out of any course I took, that I didn’t expect,” Chapko said. “Mr. Chow went in depth into every era we got into. My being a lazy sophomore didn’t work with what he was trying to do in the class, and I had to pay attention to what was going on. He researched the stories we were reading. The best example is “A Tale of Two Cities,” about the French Revolution. We took a couple of days to discuss the culture, music, and the context of the book before we started reading it. He puts a lot of effort into teaching that class and it pays off for the students.”
Like his sister Kendall, Brendan took the Associated Student Body (ASB) Class from Nicole Belong, all four years in high school. This past year he served as the Commissioner of Finance, which comes with the added responsibility of being the ASB Treasurer. Chapko said of his role in ASB over the years, “I think it completely changed my high school experience. Going into high school, I was focused on studying and I made some friends on the basketball team. Being on ASB forced me to be involved in the school. Our first Homecoming (ASB plays a major role in orchestrating the annual CHS Homecoming ceremonies) made the high school experience more enriching and fun. I had Ms. Belong for five classes, ASB for four years and AP Biology. Her husband and my father practice the same type of law and know each other well. We like the Belongs.”
The ability to make fun of yourself is another indication of self confidence and Chapko pointed out in his Commencement address that he was the first 6-6 member of a junior class to not make the Varsity Basketball Team in CHS history. “I started playing when I was eight years old, and I was always the center. My Dad played basketball at Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa). He is 6 foot 2 inches and he was a good three-point shooter, before that mattered. He held the NCAA record for most three-pointers attempted at one point, and he made a lot of them. Dad was more motivated to play basketball than I was. I just played for fun.”
We discussed the 2019-20 Islander Basketball Team for a while, which made the Finals of CIF Division IV, and was headlined by rising senior Wayne McKinney. Chapko said, “Yeah, this is the one year I should have played. They were definitely the most competitive and successful team in my four years. I regret not being on the team, they were fun to watch.”
Although basketball ultimately didn’t prove to be his strong suit, Chapko really enjoyed his four years on the CHS Academic Team, coached by Grace Kim. “That was my favorite activity. I was the Co-Captain with Andres de la Lama. The one thing I worked on was to get everyone involved. As an example, sometimes you have an expert on history on your team and there are no history questions. They feel like they didn’t contribute. So I tried to get them involved.”
When asked what additional extracurricular activities he wished he would have added to his CHS experience, Chapko replied, “I wish I would have gotten more involved in clubs earlier. My senior year I was in five clubs and the president of two. I enjoyed those a lot because they brought people together with a common interest. My senior year I was in both the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans. With all of the crazy things that happened, I got to see different sides in two days. It expanded my view on a lot of topics. Clubs are a great way to get involved in the school.”
That same mental dexterity was reflected in Chapko’s answer to his favorite academic subject at CHS. “I flipped around a lot. Going into high school, my favorite class was Science. I studied Physics over the summer a couple of times. Then I took World History with Nate Aldworth, and I loved that class. I found the content fascinating. And I loved Calculus, so it kept bounding around. Now I enjoy pretty much everything, with English being my least favorite. Science, Math and History are all close enough I don’t make a distinction.”
His senior year, Chapko was the outstanding Science student at CHS, and he won a medal in Math, which places him in the Top Five of his class. He also won a medal in History his junior year. Sprinkle in the Big Kahuna Award which recognizes his leadership in ASB and a Lions Club Scholarship Award for community service and that represents an exceptional high school career.
Looking ahead, Chapko discussed what he will remember about CHS 10 years from now. “I’ll remember the fact that it felt like a community. When I came to school and in every class I had, there was a different group of people. You would go to break and see another whole group. I was always comfortable and thought I could talk to anyone about anything.”
As for his career aspirations, Chapko said, “I’m largely undecided. Because I’m in a dual degree program with two distinct paths and branches. If I go into International Relations, I might go into the State Department. If I go the Business path, depending on my major at Wharton, I could work in business consulting, finance, or real estate. That is something I have to figure out for myself. I’m leaving that largely open to decide upon when I’m ready.”
Free time is a valuable commodity for students, but with the coming of summer, Chapko’s time has freed up somewhat. “I really like to play poker. Once every couple of weeks, I invite my friends over, and we play for $10 to have some fun. Recently I’ve been playing a lot of chess and any strategy-based games like Risk or Monopoly, you can play with other people. Being able to read people is super intriguing to me. Kendall is better at reading people than I am and that is something I have been working on. She is naturally a better poker player than I am, and she won the last time we played.”
Teachers who had a major impact on Chapko include Nicole Belong, Grace Kim in AP Chemistry, Casey Tanaka in AP U.S. History; Nate Aldworth in World History; and Smokey Bayless in Spanish. Chapko mentioned fellow students who have been role models over the years. “Obviously, my older sister Tanner, and Andrew Harmez (CHS ’18). I was friends with him through basketball and he was always the most positive person I met. When he went to Yale, a similarly rigorous institution, I was hearing from him about what he was experiencing. He assured me that I should go to a top university and I thank him for that.”
Salutatorian Andres de la Lama is a long-time friend of Chapko’s, with the first of these following thoughts delivered complete with a large smile. “Andres knows this. I consider him my arch-rival, but in the friendliest way possible. We’re great friends and when I have poker nights, he’s the first person I invite. He’s great and a lot more serious than I am outside of academics. He can be as sarcastic as I am, so we get along well.”
Personal acknowledgements went to Brendan’s parents. “They put in a tremendous amount of effort into getting me into the position to go where I’m going in the fall, financially, emotionally, and intellectually. The put in so much more effort than they had to. I was naturally smart as a child, and they pushed me to improve. I owe them everything. And with Father’s Day recently, special thanks to my Dad. He is working hard every day to provide for three kids in college. I am thankful for the support they have given us.”
As for his sister Kendall, Brendan said, “It’ll be a change and it will be difficult at first. We do a lot of things together and we faced most of our challenges together throughout school. She was forcing me to stay on top of my work, and I challenged her to take AP classes. We’re ready for the change and hopefully we’ll both succeed in college.”
We’ll conclude with a portion of Chapko’s thoughtful and well-crafted Commencement Address. “Failing in basketball has helped me attain success in other areas in my life. So, as I go into the future, I am not afraid to fail because, in the words of Paulo Coelho, ‘There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve, the fear of failure.’ I hope to fail over and over as this will help me lead an ultimately successful life. Finally, as we leave our childhood behind and go into an increasingly uncertain environment, we must remember to have no fear of the world. The situation we are all about to enter is not a great one. It is full of danger, sickness, and injustice. These are the results of people in power acting on their fear of the world. But if we, the Class of 2020, enter the world boldly, with hope in our hearts rather than fear, we will make a society better, safer, and happier than the one we were given.”