Class of 2015: Rare talent, rare intelligence, uncommon grace

His reputation preceded him.

As a freshman, Alexander Helman was the kid with all the answers in his advanced-placement calculus class at Glacier Peak High School. He was a young thorn in the side of senior classmates for whom math didn’t come as easily.

It also put Alex, now a Glacier Peak graduate, on history and government teacher John Bonner’s radar long before they met.

“The word was he wouldn’t pay attention but immediately knew all the answers,” Bonner said. “I knew the name Alex Helman. Everybody did.”

At first, Bonner said, he was intimidated to teach a “boy genius.” The 22-year veteran teacher feared he wouldn’t have much to offer someone so intelligent.

“This is the most brilliant student we’ve ever had at this school,” Bonner said.

Since his freshman year, Alex has earned the highest-possible scores on 13 advanced-placement tests and each of three SAT subject exams that he has taken. He has maintained 4.0 grade point average.

Although Alex is serious about academics, he’s not pompous or pretentious. That’s despite having turned down several prestigious Ivy League universities, including Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth.

When he encountered a question on his application to Princeton University that asked him to use two adjectives to describe himself, he wrote, “5-foot-8 and skinny.”

Alex has decided to go to Princeton.

He isn’t sure what he’ll study but he’s leaning toward economics, linguistics or life sciences. He hopes to one day work for the U.S. Department of State or write about travel and food.

He is hoping to get into a program that sends Princeton freshmen to China, Bolivia, Senegal, Brazil or India to work with charities and non-governmental organizations for a year before starting classes. Alex has his sights on China or Bolivia.

“You have the opportunity to learn about the culture,” he said. “I feel like I’d grow as a person.”

Alex enjoys travel, cooking and languages. He has studied Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. He works for a website as a Japanese-to-English translator.

Alex wants people to see beyond his intelligence. He’s kind and he’s funny.

He started a tutoring club at Glacier Peak. Every Thursday, helping other students with their studies.

Alex is following in his parents’ footsteps. He is the son of Steve and Heather Helman, high school teachers in Mukilteo and Lake Stevens, respectively.

Alex Helman competed at the national level in speech and debate all four years of high school. At the senior debate earlier this year, he ripped up his script and started firing off points. The move was a sharp contrast to most students, who tend to get nervous before a debate. Bonner has it on video and plans to use it as an example for future students, though he worries it’ll set the bar too high.

“It’s highly intelligent and informative with the feel of a stand-up comedy routine,” Bonner said. “Alex is literally one of the funniest people I’ve ever known,”

Alex is one of those rare students who is academically talented in a number of subjects, including math, history, social studies, science and linguistics, Bonner said. At the same time, he is down-to-earth and makes friends easily.

“He is incapable of unoriginal thought. I don’t think I’ll ever have another kid like him,” Bonner said. “For the rest of my life, I get to tell people that I taught Alexander Helman.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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