A hyper-focused, driven leader who wants to help the world. That’s how Jackie Extrand describes her son Aden.
Both Jackie and her husband Adam grew up in families who gave back to their communities, so it’s no surprise their sons do the same.
Seventeen-year-old Aden, a junior at Brainerd High School, spends his spare time — between school, sports, working and making music — volunteering to help make the Brainerd lakes community a better place. The Nisswa teen was honored for all that work this past fall, as well as for his outstanding academics.
Aden gained membership to the National Society of High School Scholars, which recognizes academic excellence at the high school level and works to advance the goals and aspirations of high-achieving students through unique learning experiences, scholarships, internships, international study and peer networks. The society has more than 1.5 million members in over 170 countries.
“It means a lot,” Aden said of the honor during an interview Thursday, Jan. 28. “We as students put in a lot of time into schooling, especially this year with all the challenges, so it really means a lot to be a part of that.”
It’s a combination of factors that earned Aden the honor, including his 4.2 GPA, participation in hockey, lacrosse, football, cross-country and wind symphony and — of course — all his community involvement.
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In 2019, he and his younger brother Ashton co-founded the service group Teens Making a Difference, which amassed 50 teen members in its first year and eventually merged with the Brainerd Junior Jaycees to become Junior Jaycees-Youth Making a Difference.
“It’s a way for kids outside of school and church to really give back to the community in a little bit more of a flexible way,” Aden said.
The group has close ties with the Confidence Learning Center in East Gull Lake, which serves people with cognitive and developmental disabilities, and spent nearly every Monday volunteering there this past summer.
Members also participate in cultural exchange activities with similar groups in other countries, like India, volunteer at various local events and do projects like making positivity rocks to place around the community.
“Teens — I think we get a bad rap sometimes, and we don’t necessarily do enough in our communities,” Aden said. “We have so much time that we spend — whether it’s on social media or our phones — and we have so much time available in our youth that we can give back, and obviously just the willpower, and we’re obviously able physically to do some stuff. And we have a lot of energy, which is always good.”
For Jackie, it’s humbling to see her son so involved in helping others, especially with some of the challenges he has overcome.
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“Aden has grown into the young man that he is while living with a mom with metastatic breast cancer, which is going on 5 years (which has developed into Stage 4),” she wrote in an email after Thursday’s interview. “What teenager wants to be labeled as the teen with a mom with cancer?”
But Aden doesn’t let that or anything else get in his way.
“I feel that we’ve been very blessed — my husband and I — with two outstanding young men. I think as a mom I’m happy to toot my horn a bit, but I’m just very proud of them, just how they have really taken on volunteerism,” Jackie said Thursday. “... Aden inspires me with his selflessness. And there’s many nights where he does sacrifice. He doesn’t go out with friends. He’s choosing not to get in with maybe the crowd that’s not making the best choices. He’s at home, he’s with his friends making positivity rocks.”
Or he’s playing music with friends or being coached by his dad in hockey or participating in the Civil Air Patrol to help further his military goals.
After high school, Aden hopes to attend a military college and has his hopes especially set on the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. He applied for a summer seminar there this year, as well as seminars at West Point and U.S. Naval Academy. He’d ideally like to study something in the fields of aerospace engineering or chemistry.
With Aden’s induction into the National Society of High School Scholars comes a lifetime membership and opportunities for scholarships and other educational resources along the way.
“On behalf of NSHSS, I am honored to recognize the hard work, sacrifice and commitment that Aden has demonstrated to achieve this exceptional level of academic excellence,” Founder and Chairman Claes Nobel stated in a news release. “Aden is now a member of a unique community — a community that represents our very best hope for the future.”
And part of Aden’s hope for the future is to get more kids involved in giving back to their communities in whatever ways they can.
“There’s a lot of options. Find something you’re passionate about, and there’s always a great way to give back,” he said. “... (Volunteering) is just a lifelong skill that is good to develop at a young age because you can always give back, and there’s always areas that we need to improve, whether it’s personally or as a community, and to develop the skills young and work on them as you grow is really important.”