Ask teenagers who they most admire and be prepared for some surprises.
When given a chance to say which New York State resident made the biggest impact in the past 150 years, they nominated social reformers, politicians, religious leaders, comedians, a fellow student, their grandparents.
For their efforts, 31 local teens won a Gateway computers, printers and software as part of an HSBC Bank USA essay contest to mark the bank's 150th anniversary.
Among those named, there were, of course, the popular: Joey Fatone of 'N Sync and Michael Jordan, because "He always found a way to beat the Knicks."
And the quirky: the Three Stooges and Nathan of Nathan's Hot Dogs, New York City fare, because "No matter how bad a day you're having, if you have a juicy hot dog, you feel better."
The admirable: Father Nelson Baker, who received so many nominations that he came in first locally and skewed the rankings to place him among the top 10 statewide.
The personal: Denise Wolff, a Maryvale senior, mentions how much she admired Arthur Kliber, a fellow student who died in 1999 but who, even in his final illness, was raising money for cystic fibrosis and remained as "friendly, humorous and optimistic as always."
"He really inspired everyone," said Denise. "He knew he was dying, but he didn't give up on life or on school."
Even a teacher made the grade.
When Joshua Sanders Dimmig-Russell of Benjamin Franklin Middle School heard about the essay contest, he wanted to nominate his eighth-grade teacher John Noworyta.
"But I didn't know if it just meant a superhero or a star," said Joshua.
Joshua, 14, decided that Noworyta fit that description, having helped his uncle get into Harvard Law School and his brother to graduate with honors. "He has no kids at home, but over the past 30 years he has called hundreds of kids his own," Joshua wrote.
Now, Joshua says, his teacher has been giving him a hand.
Joshua missed the first 10 weeks of school and spent two weeks in a Chicago hospital because of autonomic nervous system disorder, a rare condition that periodically causes him to vomit, pass out and be unable to move.
"Mr. Noworyta doesn't baby me," said Joshua, who will play a mobster and sing "Living In Miami" in an upcoming school production. "He pushes me to do my best, to succeed in life. He says that we all owe it to ourselves to make a difference for our future."
When Joshua found out he had won a computer, he asked if he could give it to his college-bound older brother, who had also entered, but didn't win.
In his entry, Nate Makin of Williamsville South boasts of his grandmother, Doris Jones, who was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 1999, where she's recognized as an early female television announcer for her work on WGR-TV (Channel 2) beginning in the 1960s.
"She led the way for other women to blast into the broadcasting world," according to Nate, who is impressed that his grandmother interviewed Jackie Robinson and other celebrities.
Nate's grandmother plans to travel to Western New York from Florida when he receives his computer.
Winners are receiving their computers at ceremonies in bank branches. Statewide there were 150 winners, chosen from 2,300 entrants between the ages of 13 and 18.
Shawnte A. Wilson, 13, a City Honors eighth-grader, stretched the point of "New York resident" and the time-frame requirements by nominating Jesus, but impressed the judges, nonetheless.
"I know you may be thinking that Jesus does not actually live in New York State," she states, "but you're wrong because He lives in me."
When the pastor at her church, Mount Olive Baptist, heard about Shawnte's essay, he invited her to read it at a Sunday service. "The whole church was amazed at the message she brought," said her father, Byron Wilson.
Many teens recognized that others led the way for them.
In nominating suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Meghan McKenna, a freshman at Geneseo State College, said she realizes that several generations ago a woman would have been fined $100 just for stepping into a voting booth. "I voted for the first time this fall," Meghan writes, "and I have women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton to thank for that opportunity."
Aaron Krolikowski, an eighth-grader at Springville-Griffith Institute, nominated photographer Lewis Hine for his revelatory pictures of children working in appalling conditions in canneries, mines, textile mills and farms. "If it weren't for Lewis Hine, I would probably now be working in a factory for 80 hours, seven days a week," writes Aaron, of the man who influenced the public and lawmakers to institute the Child Labor Law of 1916.
Nga Tran, a Villa Maria Academy junior, admires contemporary activist Sister Mary Rose McGeady of Covenant House in New York City, who takes in kids who are lost and forgotten, "America's shadows" as Nga describes them. "She points out the way back to their hearts," Nga writes.
Kathleen Rizzo Young, HSBC vice president of public affairs, said she gave preference to essays that went beyond biographical information. "The most creative ones were the ones in which they connected the person to their own life or told us something we didn't know previously," said Young.
Among them was a tribute to Langston Hughes in poetry form; a congratulatory letter from Cady Stanton to Hillary Clinton, and three E.B. White characters discussing the author's qualities.
"I was also struck by how many nominated someone they knew personally," she said. "One boy nominated his little brother, saying that his life really changed when his brother was born. He wrote that he started thinking carefully about everything he did and whether he'd want his brother to see him doing it."
Here are the other winners, their schools and nominees:
Jessica Albright, Wilson: William Rand Kenan Jr.
Kofi Ampadu, Hutch Tech: George Westinghouse
Aniela Baj, Villa Maria: Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Steven Behrens, North Tonawanda: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Yvonne Bridges, Riverside: Father Baker
Tom DiChristopher, St. Francis: Alfred E. Smith
Emily Gorski, West Seneca West Middle: Bella Abzug
Lindsay Anne Hathaway, Clarence: Wilson Greatbatch
Maribeth Head, Niagara University: Teddy Roosevelt
Brian Kaiser, Clifford Wise Middle, Anita Kaiser (his mother)
Levelt King, Ken-Ton Occupational Skills Program: Jackie Robinson
Tara Mastrolembo, Niagara Wheatfield: Robert Moses
Aubrey McCoy, Clarence: John J. Long Sr. (his grandfather)
Stephanie Metz, Notre Dame in Batavia: Hillary Clinton
Nathan Odden, Hamburg Middle: Susan B. Anthony
Michael K. Rozyczko, St. Peter's Lutheran: Nikola Tesla
Mubarek Said, St. Joe's Collegiate: Obadiah Baker
Adam Sima, Cardinal O'Hara: Father Baker
Keith Sniatecki, Depew: Jonas Salk
Sujata Sofat, Williamsville East: Dr. Nilopher Sofat (her mother)
Emily Sullivan, City Honors: Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Terragnoli, Williamsville East: Lucille Ball
Stephanie Vroman, Sweet Home: Lois Gibbs
Rebecca Wolski, Iroquois Middle: Eleanor Roosevelt