Stonington senior excels at academics, duty and obligation
Stonington — Jacob Bundesmann wrung all he could from his four years at Stonington High School, but due to a stunning loss, the best lesson he learned was about life.
The 17-year-old has excelled academically, taking honors, advanced placement and early college experience courses. He was a member of the crew team for three years and played the saxophone in the band, jazz band, marching band and saxophone ensemble for four years.
But his teachers said it is his character ― dedicated, compassionate, perceptive, and conscientious ― that stands out.
“Jacob always, since freshman year, just comes across as someone who is inherently concerned with others and values others,” said Jacob Nelson, Bundesmann’s homeroom and junior English teacher. “He’s about as likable of a person as you’re going to meet.”
He will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the fall to major in biology in order to pursue a career in research on Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The progressive condition causes the gradual deterioration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leading to the loss of motor function and, ultimately, paralysis.
During Bundesmann’s junior year, his oldest brother, Ben Bundesmann, was diagnosed with ALS.
“You need people to go into these fields to find these cures,” he said. “I would like to see a world where it doesn’t exist, and I don’t know if that’s possible, but I’d like to bring the world closer to that.”
On Sept. 8, 2022, the first week of Bundesmann’s senior year, his brother, role model and friend succumbed to the fatal disease.
As the youngest of three boys, Jacob Bundesmann said he loved to be around his two older brothers. His middle brother, Max Bundesmann, was 7 when he was born, and Ben Bundesmann was 9, and though he couldn’t always be a part of their activities and conversations, he wanted to be a part of everything they did.
As his oldest brother’s disease progressed, Bundesmann took on much of the care his brother eventually needed, and treasured their time together and their late-night conversations spanning philosophy, religion, hobbies, books and life in general.
He used the opportunity to give back much of the love and care he had been given.
“He taught me a lot. I sometimes see him as my mentor, but, as we got toward the end, I really felt like I was able to repay that a lot,” he said.
As his brother began hospice care at home, Bundesmann was happy to be able to do whatever he could for and with his brother.
“I just wanted to spend as much time with him as possible,” he said.
At the same time, Bundesmann, who would rather take a point deduction for being late than turn in sub-par work, was struggling to meet his academic obligations ― especially his summer reading for English.
He never asked for extensions, and his teachers recounted having to force him to not do his work and to take time for himself, but finally, he capitulated.
“He has matured in his understanding of what really matters in life. I think he’s mature enough now to recognize that there are times when you will have to ask for help or support and be willing to advocate if you need time,” said Bundesmann’s senior English teacher, Melissa Kwan.
His brother’s final wish was for everyone in the family to go to confession, and sitting in church awaiting his turn, Bundesmann had a moment of clarity about what was truly important.
“I realized, would I rather spend my time reading that book and making — I’ll be honest — poor quality annotations because I rushed it, or would I want to spend it with my brother?” he said.
“I realized I was indeed happy with how I handled everything. After all that had happened, I could honestly say that I did everything I could to make his last months and year the best they possibly could be,” he added.
“In that moment, I knew I did right,” he explained.
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