Michael Golz is the kind of intelligent, confident, high-achieving teenager any family would be proud of.
The Minnetonka High School senior, who turned 18 on June 1, has compiled an impressive résumé over the past few years, netting straight A's while taking a full load of International Baccalaureate classes, volunteering in his school's writing center and as a Spanish tutor at an elementary school, serving as commentary editor for the school paper, Breezes, and completing a writing internship for Tonka Times magazine.
But Golz's path has not been easy. After he lost his parents when he was 14 — his 54-year-old mother, Susanne, to pancreatic cancer in August 2009 and his 62-year-old father, Galen, to cardiovascular disease in May 2010 — there was concern that he would stray from his history of academic achievement.
In stepped Joe Umberger, Michael's half brother, then 26 and newly married. "When my mom was sick with cancer, she was really concerned that when she was gone, [Michael] might go sideways, start hanging out with a different group of kids or lose focus, but I just told her I wasn't above tough love, that I would be hard on him if he needed it and be there to support him," Umberger said.
On Golz's 15th birthday, three days after his father died, he moved to St. Louis Park to live with Umberger and his wife, Allison. Golz open enrolled to stay at Minnetonka High School, keeping the network of support the Minnetonka community had built around him close.
"There was never any reason to slack off," he said. "If people are going to be so supportive and so generous, then even if I feel drawn to [slack off], I owe it to so many people, even more than myself, to keep myself straight."
Umberger credits Allison with making sure Golz continued to lead a normal social life instead of shutting people out.
"Allison did not give him an option on whether or not he would go to homecoming," he said. "He would find a date, and he would go, and [Allison] would be there for pictures."
"And he would date her for two more years," Golz chimed in.
As a senior, Golz was one of 12 people in Minnetonka High's homecoming court. During the ceremony, he walked out with a lightsaber as the "Star Wars" theme played.
Staying the course
Over his last three years at Minnetonka, Golz avoided any temptation to slack off at school or wallow in self-pity. Instead, he doubled down on his schoolwork and became one of Minnetonka's most impressive students.
"He is one of the most engaged, genuinely interested and curious students I have. ... He's confident, but at the same time he's open to new ideas," said Kelley Mosiman, his English teacher.
Maggie Shea, Minnetonka's Writing Center coordinator, said Golz came onto her radar as a freshman when he won Twins tickets in a schoolwide writing contest. The next year, Shea recruited Golz to become one of about 30 peer coaches at the writing center. He has excelled in the role ever since.
"Michael really is one of the best [writing coaches] we've ever had," said Shea, who helped him get an internship at the Tonka Times. "He has an intuitive ability to write and is a deep thinker, but what sets him apart is that he has the right attitude and communication skills to work with anyone he sits down with."
Golz loves the outdoors, especially fly fishing, and wrote about local waterways for the Tonka Times. He also fondly remembers backpacking with another half-brother, Christopher, through the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana during the summer after his sophomore year.
Ready to see the world
In the fall Golz will be attending Brown University in Providence, R.I., with the help of several scholarships. He recently won a $40,000 scholarship (over four years) from the Elks National Foundation and a $5,000 scholarship from the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce. He is thankful for the extensive support his family and the Minnetonka community provided during high school, but he says it's time to get out and see the world.
Golz plans to join the Outing Club at Brown, which runs outdoor trips throughout New England during the school year. He has not decided on a field of study yet but knows he wants to study abroad.
"It's exciting to be leaving, but there's so many good people that have been around me for as long as I can remember, it's going to be heartbreaking ... but yeah, I'm going to get to New Zealand, I'm going to get to Mongolia, let's go!" he said.