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Waterford High School senior is a Jack of all trades

Waterford — High school senior Jack Lange does a lot. In sum, he creates, performs and competes. But that's just the short of it.

Lange, who will soon graduate Waterford High School and move on to the University of Connecticut, is in the top 10% of his class. He's preparing for a career in engineering/robotics and has built multiple robots. He's been an athlete in football, cross country, track and wrestling at different points in his high school career, and he's been wrestling since he was in first grade. He is a thespian who has acted in school plays and musicals. He is a videographer. He is a journalist. What could possibly be the unifying theme of these activities?

High school students are often encouraged to be active inside and outside the classroom in order to bolster their resumes for college. Lange participates in so much not for that reason, but because he enjoys creating.

"I have a very wide range of interests. All I've known that they've had in common is at the end, I have made something and I can look back at that product," he said. "In journalism, I have the articles that I've written. For videography, I have home movies and the stuff I've produced there. For the robots, I've had robots. I really like just having something at the end as proof of, 'I did this.'"

Lange added that sports and theater are much the same, even if they don't render a physical product. He keeps the posters for the shows he's been in.

"I look at those (posters) and I remember the nights that we performed, what the audiences were like," he said.

Though Lange downplays his technical acumen, Principal Andre Hauser does not.

"He is interested in a career in engineering/robotics, and last summer, he built and wrote the code for a functioning robot as a summer project," Hauser said.

Lange said he's been making models of all kinds since he was young with different kits, some of which happened to be for robots, "and those were the ones I loved the most." His father's work is related to robotics, so Lange grew to enjoy the mechanics of what wound up being a bit bigger than just a hobby.

Last year, Lange's transportation robotics class had in-person classes cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he made a robot from home. "I had a lot of fun with that and I wanted to keep doing it," he said. So he took a virtual Worcester Polytechnic Institute intro to robotics class during his summer going into senior year and made another robot. He says he has two robots that could function right now, as well as some that don't work so well anymore, including a robotic arm and some remote-control pieces.

The robot from the WPI class is described by Lange as "a frisbee on wheels with a bunch of stuff in it."

Robotics are "a very generalized science," he said. "It's mechanics and computer science and electrical engineering all together. Those things come together to be more than the sum of their parts."

Chris Gamble, Lange's history and criminal justice teacher as well as his cross country, wrestling and outdoor track coach, spoke glowingly of the student's range and abilities as an athlete.

"It is amazing what Jack has done at high school. There are no limits for him. The phrase 'Renaissance Man' comes to mind," Gamble wrote in an email. "I remember when he told me that he might be a little late to practice because he had a drama audition. I was like, 'What, you can do that also?!' He acts, sings, and dances. And yes, he is a video editor, and is involved in robotics. Jack would be one of the first students that I would reach out to if I needed something edited or fixed. And if I needed singing and dancing lessons I would ... well even Jack isn't that talented. The Waterford High School community is going to miss Jack Lange."

Lange listed "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Diary of Anne Frank" as his favorite dramatic performances. In Beauty, he provided the comic relief as the character LeFou. He recalled "flipping around on stage, doing tricks, falling on my face, and getting punched in the face more than once." He recounted a story from the stage displaying his almost dangerous dedication to his craft.

"One night everyone came up to me and said, 'How did you make that punch sound and look so real? That was amazing!'" Lange said. "I was like, 'I got punched in the face.' He had kind of looked away to look out at the audience, and I had leaned in, and he just hits me square in the forehead. It was about an inch away from my mic, so it picked it all up. That was 'Beauty and the Beast.'"

Lange has been writing stories for the school newspaper and recently began editing other students' work. His position as the online editor is fitting, given that "for the most part" he built up the paper's website.

This year, the school started to notice Lange's video work, he said. The school commissioned Lange to put together a 30-minute video with a tour of the school, Hauser said. Lange said the school keeps sending him things to do but his interests extend beyond the confines of Waterford High.

"I like making stuff that has cool effects and interesting stories or endings," he said. "A lot of my free projects, even the ones for school with a lot of guidance, if there are a lot of rules about how to do a project, I will find whatever way I can to get around those while still following the rules. Twist endings inside a very specific thing are my favorite."

Despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic, Lange said he thoroughly enjoyed his high school experience because he felt he was important to the school, he was useful and he feels he's had an effect on people. He did have trouble with remote learning, though.

"The end of junior year was very hard for me because I had a tough time focusing on the computer," he said. "I had a lot of trouble with my physics class. I enjoyed the first half of the year but could just not get a hold of online. I was much better with the hands-on stuff, like in my robotics class, because I got to see, 'Oh, that's how that actually works.'"

Senior year in particular has been rough, Lange said. "We've been told all 12 years, 'Oh yeah just do the work, senior year you'll get to enjoy all the stuff. It'll be fun. It'll be great.' And then none of the stuff happened."

He's looking forward to going to UConn, where he's hoping to be in the robotics engineering program and where he'll look to add to his collection of creations.

s.spinella@theday.com

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