School: Jay M. Robinson High School, Concord.
Class rank: No. 14 of 350 (estimated).
College: UNCChapel Hill.
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Parents: David and Marylu Kataja.
Darren's words: "I don't think anybody should be hungry. It seems to be an easy thing to fix. Whoever is not hungry, go to school, learn, become invested (in the issue). Being well fed is the start of so many other things. End hunger."
Superlative: Collected more than a ton of food for area pantries.Although sports and classes were always a priority for Darren Kataja in high school, his passion for writing also will follow him to college in the fall.
Because of his academic excellence and achievements in school, Darren was selected one of the Observer's Seniors of the Year.
"It's really a big honor for me, because it's nice to know all of my hard work has been noticed," said Darren, who will graduate this spring from Jay M. Robinson High School in Concord. "It's validating."
In the fall, Darren plans to attend UNCChapel Hill and major in journalism.
Darren said writing is a talent that, luckily, has come easily to him throughout the years. He was introduced to the idea of journalism when his eighth-grade teacher said he should apply to the high school newspaper his freshman year.
"I've always been a good writer by luck," Darren said. "When I got on staff, I just fell in love with it and the whole process of (newspapers)."
He said he is not sure what avenue of journalism he will explore but considers himself a "huge sports geek," so he may venture into sports writing.
An avid reader of Sports Illustrated, Darren said, he enjoys the controversies surrounding sports.
In addition to working as associate editor of the school newspaper, Darren also was student body president and a member of the Beta Club, and participated on the school's tennis, swim and baseball teams.
"We are absolutely delighted and extremely proud of him," said David Kataja, Darren's father. "It's an accomplishment to be recognized."
Darren said he is excited to attend college in the fall so that he can be challenged and forced to expand his perspectives. But he is also a little uneasy.
"I'm a little nervous about leaving home, because I found who I was in Concord," Darren said. "I'm nervous about leaving the nest, and I hope I'll be able to fly and not plummet."
As for advice to his son about the future, David Kataja said, "Be OK to try just about anything, because you may be surprised where you find yourself."