Williams School senior plans to make career out of serving others

Williams School senior Charlie Bunnell performs an improv skit with classmates in his acting class Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Bunnell will attend Tufts University next fall.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Williams School senior Charlie Bunnell performs an improv skit with classmates in his acting class Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Bunnell will attend Tufts University next fall. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — When asked about a moment that influenced his life, The Williams School senior Charlie Bunnell points to a chance meeting that happened more than 10 years before he was born.

His mother, he said, was crying by herself in a church when a man who turned out to be then-U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd walked up and asked her what was wrong.

A single mom at the time, Eva Bunnell told Dodd of the taxing financial situation she was in while trying to care for her severely mentally and physically disabled daughter.

Over the next several years, Eva became an activist of sorts, speaking far and wide on behalf of those in situations similar to hers.

Dodd, meanwhile, successfully turned a bill he drafted into the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which still is active today.

"I owe my life to my mother's passion, my sister, Chris Dodd," the 18-year-old said, explaining that his sister, Jacinta, died in 2009. "My mother and father have always taught me how everyone deserves the same treatment."

It's a major part of why Bunnell, a resident of East Haddam, wants to be a part of Doctors Without Borders after he finishes the journey to attain the necessary degree, which he plans to begin at Tufts University.

"I want to be able to provide care regardless of political affiliation, regardless of religious affiliation," he said. "I just want to help, and I've wanted to do that for a while."

But since coming to The Williams School partway through his sophomore year — he first had to prove to his parents he was serious about academics — Bunnell has done more than just focus on medicine.

A quiet kid growing up, Bunnell said he broke out of his shell when offered the lead role in a musical in eighth grade.

It wasn't his first time on a stage — "Theater's been with me a lot of my life," he said — but it was the first time he landed such a high-profile gig.

"You see me as shy right now, but when I get to learn something over time and I get to present that to an audience, that (shyness) just goes away," Bunnell said.

Bunnell's newfound confidence followed him to The Williams School, where he has, in addition to being heavily involved in the theater program, joined the varsity sailing team and worked as a class officer while maintaining high honors status.

As a class representative, he spearheaded an effort to rework the student government constitution. The roles of the president, vice president and other class representatives, he'd noticed, hardly, if at all, differed.

Bunnell said he could've just taken a role in organizing a dodgeball tournament or the school dance, but instead thought, "Why not leave something that has more impact?"

He sought to make the elections process less of a popularity contest by eliminating titles and calling everyone a class representative in order to give those most qualified a better shot.

Much to his surprise, his peers readily accepted the new way of doing things.

Bunnell was shocked, too, when his classmates voted to hear him as their graduation speaker.

"I feel really honored," Bunnell said, acknowledging that, since getting more involved in school, he's made more friends and gotten to know them better. "I guess people got to know me, too."

Bunnell had three pieces of advice for upcoming students: Take the time to get to know your teachers, get your work done on time and have fun.

"It took me a while to get the last part," he admitted with a smile, "but it is a lot of fun here."

Heavily influenced by his grandfather, Bunnell in the eighth grade was reading "The Communist Manifesto" at a time when many of his peers were just getting into young adult fiction.

He dreams of finding a way to make true universal health care more efficient and thinks he might tackle that once his stint with Doctors Without Borders is up.

"My mother still says that to me: 'You need to do what's right,'" Bunnell said. "'If you're going to be a doctor, don't do it for the money.'"

But Bunnell, who said he's always been described as an empathetic person, said his intentions are pure.

"Even when I wasn't talking a lot, when I was shy, I always tried to listen and get to know what people were feeling and thinking," he explained. "When they weren't feeling all that well, I would try to help when possible. I continue to try to do that."

l.boyle@theday.com

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