May 27, 2021
Makayla McGlory‘s phone buzzes, with the screen illuminating the numbers of an unknown contact. Noticing Makayla’s hesitation, Anna Lee, standing behind her, urges Makayla on. “Who knows! It could be a celebrity, like Timothée Chalamet!”
Agreeing, Caeli Harman adds, “True! Maybe you won a million dollars.”
Just before the phone enters voicemail, Max Fitzgerald leaps forward and presses the glowing green button.
“Hello, this is Joseph R. Biden, 46th President of the United States,” states the raspy voice on the other end. A cough clouds the line. The president continues. “Myself, along with millions of others around the world, have recently come down with a vicious case of the COVID-19 virus,” he says.
“I am worried. Not just for my own health, but for the health of the entirety of our country–and our world. On behalf of the American people, I would like to invite you and the Class of 2021 to create the COVID-19 vaccine. Absent from the world of modern science is the ingenuity and innovation of young people, and I believe that Stoughton has what it takes. Do you accept?”
In the back of the room, Savanna Jemilo, Tessa Pickett, and Rose Ann Marshall yell, “YES! We definitely should!”
While the rest of us stand frozen in disbelief, Bishop Altenburg approaches the phone and says, “Yes, Mr. President, we accept.”
A moment of shock settles over the room, and we all sit in silence for a short while. How do we make a vaccine? That is the million-dollar question running through our minds. Cohort A-L decides to try their luck at Walmart while the M-Z cohort makes their way to the science hallway to get some insider advice from Ms. Carter and Mrs. Van Veghel.
Upon arriving at Walmart, the students in the first half of the alphabet are confronted with a scene of absolute chaos. As a mob of customers frantically grabs carts and make their way into the store, Samuel Flint, Nicholas Balthazor and Ryan Brady fearlessly push their way through the sea of people and manage to secure the last cart for our shopping expedition.
Our first destination is the cleaning supplies aisle, which we find almost entirely desolate spare for a lone toilet paper tower on display. Carter Keo and Teddy Baldukas line themselves up on the two opposite sides of the tower, ready to jump as high as possible to see who can grab the golden roll shining brightly at the top. Nolan Carpenter volunteers himself as their referee, counting down from five.
“Five, four, thre–” shouts Nolan before he finds himself tackled to the floor by Gunnar Collins, Elijah Robertson, and Brandon Wylie.
“You can’t let them grab the roll! It’s cursed! Haven’t you seen an Indiana Jones movie before?” exclaims Gunnar. Unfortunately for him, Carter and Teddy have already launched themselves high above the ground, hands outstretched. Inches before their fingers can touch the esteemed prize, Hannah Furseth arrives at the scene out of thin air and takes the roll for herself.
Laughter erupts amongst Paige Bellefeuille, Annie Balthazor, and Grace Gilbert as Hannah brings her prize back to the group. From the sidelines, Piper Jensen shouts, “Hey guys! We really need to get to work on this vaccine!”
After Piper’s reminder, the group decides it’s best to get back to the mission at hand. Sebastian Schindler, Sullivan Gates, Benjamin Payas, and Hunter Karlen find miscellaneous items in the auto aisle and grab them just in case.
Meanwhile, Cohort M-Z seeks answers from the AP science teachers. Zayne Zeichert, Eagan Olson, and Jackson Talbert ask about viruses and how they can multiply so quickly. Mrs. Van Veghel and Ms. Carter inform the students that some viruses can multiply on their own in the cell’s cytoplasm, while other viruses enter the cell and trick it into replicating the virus’s DNA instead of their own.
“Well if viruses have a way to trick the cell, then how can we possibly stop them?” asks Ava Schigur.
Just then, yells and laughter are heard down the hall from the science wing and Cohort A-L students race to Ms. Carter’s room. Coltrane Bautch and Maxwell Beale smile, holding various test tubes and containers they discovered hidden away at Walmart. “We found a few things but I don’t know what we’ll do with them,” says Steven Benoy.
“I say, let’s go big or go home. How about we make the vaccine out of everything that’s sure to kill the virus no problem: bleach, hand sanitizer, maybe some of that stuff they put in Clorox wipes,” suggests Rowan Shore.
“I think that will kill people before the virus does,” retorts Connor Blaney with a laugh. Devin Thorp nods his head.
Gabrielle Greenwald and Emma Hlavacek make eye contact and shake their heads, anticipating trouble.
As Rowan sneakily goes through Ms. Carter’s cabinets, he finds excess bleach and a jug of ammonia. He begins to mix the two together quietly. Parker Schmidt, Conor Hanson, Reece Sproul, and Blake Sieling soon join him.
On the other side of the room, biology mastermind Amy Schlicht and the Ecstatic Emmas (Emma Solberg, Emma Lovell, Emma Sperle, and Emma Mueller) talk amongst themselves.
“Anybody have any ideas?” asks Jack Hoselton as he pulls out his notebook.
“Yeah, I think we have something,” replies Alex Orn, who is also researching designs with some other students on Elise Novak’s computer. He makes his way up to the room alongside Lily Weitner and Daysha Huberd, with a piece of paper in his hands.
“How about we try one of these new mRNA vaccines? The vaccine will help our cells make the protein necessary to jumpstart our immune system and create antibodies against COVID-19,” says Jianna Krueger. Stella Larson nods in agreement.
The rest of the class eyes each other. We’re no vaccine experts, but that sounds like a pretty convincing pitch. Soon, we start laying out our game plan.
Rachel Callahan, Kristopher Kennedy, Jonathan Mishka, Lucia Nortwen, and Abbi Kivett suggest a field trip to Europe. According to Ms. Carter and Mrs. Van Veghel, some scientists in Europe have done some amazing research on mRNA vaccines, and we might want to ask some questions.
Greta Nashold, world-class traveler, pulls out her phone and books tickets for the whole class within seconds. “Hey, I have a lot of frequent flyer miles,” she responds to our surprised faces.
A deafening rumble echoes down the hallway. Shannon Boyd and Savannah Beckwith volunteer to lead the class down the hall, peaking around the corners to ensure no threats are lurking in darker places. The source of the noise seems to be at the back of the school. Lucas Gerber, Jameson Schotzko, Logan Wevley, and Connor Wheeler head down to the band room to see if the sound is coming from there, while Molly Bridges and Lorianne Gniech check out the side exit near the art room.
Once Lori reaches the door, she frantically gestures for the rest of the class to come look. Gina Owen, Madeline Schneider, and Ellie Trieloff take it as an opportunity for an impromptu race and sprint down the hall. Outside are four large trucks revving their engines, with Caylie Kotlowski, Mara Hann, Reece Bittrick, Rachel Foldy, and Caden Auerswald grinning in the front seat of their cars.
“What are you all waiting for? We have places to go and a plane to catch!” yells Leighanna Seidlitz over the noise. Amelia Rhinerson, Raven Jensen, and Shelby Wise split the rest of us into five groups, with each group piling onto one of the cargo beds of the trucks. With swirls of dust flying behind us, we were off.
On the way to the airport, a billboard comes into view: “CULVERS NEXT EXIT.”
“Guys, we have some extra time, right? Can we stop to get some food for the road?” asks Ben Moll.
“According to my watch, we only have 10 minutes to spare. We’ll have to hurry!” warns Cade Millam. At that, the trucks make their way onto the offramp to Culver’s. As Mara’s truck pulls into the drive-through, we see Corvin Whitefeather behind the window.
“Hey, what are you guys doing here?” asks Corvin.
“It’s a long story, but we’re heading to Europe to make a vaccine for COVID-19. Want to come with?” Keyontay Askew inquires from the cargo bed. With a shrug, Corvin climbs through the drive-through window and jumps into the back of the truck, with Kiernan Hovland, Patrick Wozniak, and William Crowley bracing her fall.
After everyone’s orders are finished, we find ourselves back on the road again–although a little behind schedule. “That shouldn’t be a problem,” Sofia Bormett assures. When we arrive at the airport, Anna Gille, Jillian Newman, and Mikendra DeBruin go up to the flight attendant to ask about our tickets while food fanatics Nathan Shimon, Christian Smith, and Markus Girling go check out the food court. Worriedly, Rachel Louis runs up to Elizabeth Moe.
“I haven’t seen Lilly Trautman! Please tell me you’ve seen her, Lizzie,” Rachel says nervously.
“No I haven’t! Was she on one of the trucks?” Lizzie asks.
“I think I saw her on another truck when we were at Culver’s,” adds Isabella Jerrick. At that, Augie Kellerman takes charge and begins setting up a search party.
Curtis Jaskulke, Jonah O’Connor, Dustin Woelke, Jaden Dykinga, and Henry Mehring, are the first to volunteer and head back to the trucks. Jared Bellisle and Tristian Andersen decide to go to security and request a missing person PA announcement.
Right as the groups are about to disperse, Lilly comes into view, lugging a suitcase at least five times the normal size. “Hey, just because it’s a school trip doesn’t mean I can’t travel in style!” says Lilly nonchalantly.
A short while later, we begin to board our flight. As we allow ourselves to finally relax in our seats, Jonathan Conour jumps up and starts pointing out one of the side windows.
“Wait! Stop! Zack DeGroff isn’t on board yet!” Jon exclaims, pointing to a figure on the runway. “How did he even get over there?” Asha Johnson asks Elita Rexhepi and Madex Lanoway.
Chloe Dunn, always the daredevil, decides to take action. She taps Mavery Mennes and Andraya Wehrman on the shoulder, gesturing for them to give her a leg up. With one foot on a seat’s armrest and the other supported by Mavery and AJ, Chloe, Chloe is hoisted up to the plane’s ceiling. She begins to unlock the emergency exit door and climb through, with Desirae Kaltenberg, Makiah Lane, and Gilian Scot following behind her for backup.
From inside the plane, we see the four dauntless teens jump down onto the runway towards Zack. To our horror, the plane engine starts and we feel ourselves in motion, moving farther and farther away from our stranded classmates.
Sydney Schipper and Grace Ott call the students on the ground. They’re okay, Sydney says, and will continue the mission on the homefront. As the plane descends, Jared McGuire and Alex Charleston go up to the cockpit to ask the pilot where we’ll be landing.
“Germany!” replies the pilot. Immediately, Spanish students Karmen Smyth, Nicklas Hull, Stephen Krcma, and Noelle Gomez yell “Guten Tag!” with pride while German students Kailani Wolfe, Annika Goetz, and Hannah Olson cringe at their terrible accents. In preparation for the next part of our journey, the three deutschsprachige pull out their German notes.
When we land in Berlin, we are greeted with unfamiliarity. A crowd of people swarm in front of us, running in lab coats with test tubes in their hands. Rebekah Apel, Savannah Borroughs, and Lexi Abing suggest that we follow these anxious scientists. The rest of us eagerly agree.
The group of scientists we follow leads us inside a gigantic science laboratory with the results of COVID-19 studies displayed on the walls.
“Let’s type this information into our computers and send it back to the science teachers in the U.S.,” suggests Elijah Adams. Hailey Hedstrom, Jasmine Molnar, Dyani Jankowski and Ava Steinbach pull some of the studies off the wall and start typing on their chromebooks.
Erald Hashani, Michael Pinkston, Rayquon Starr, Danny Perkins, and Aiyanna Miller draw a large, detailed diagram of the virus. Tyler Millard suggests that we design the mRNA vaccine using a life-size diagram on paper.
Anna Amstadt is carrying over a massive stack of papers for us to draw on when trickster Kyler Dobbert throws a banana on the floor right in front of her. Anna falls to the ground as a whirlwind of flying papers surrounds her. Seconds later, the papers land in a pile of mysterious liquid–disintegrating instantly.
The liquid then turns from a deep blue color to an ominous green hue. Suddenly, the door behind us swings open and a flock of strangers donning bright yellow Hazmat suits bursts into the lab, with a tall man in a lab coat leading the way.
“What are you all doing in here?” he shouts as he gestures to the assemblage of workers to obtain all the vials we’ve left strewn across the various tables. Just as one of the Hazmat workers begins to drop the bin of green solution into the trash, the head scientist runs over and yells at him to stop.
“WAIT! Was this hanging above lab table four?” he asks the crowd of us.
“Yeah, I think so,” answers Lindsey Bakken as she looks at Kylah Sotelo-Santiago
“No. Way,” the scientist replies as he hurriedly pours some of the liquid into a flask and makes a run for it. Braeden Connors, Zaiden Lalley, Wesley Jourdan-Buskager, Conner Holvick, and Madison Engen follow him out to the door.
“Did we just create the vaccine?” asks Makenzie Devore to Emma Lewis. “I think we just did,” Katherine Elliott says in surprise.
“What do you think that man’s going to do with it?” wonders Solomon Ringen as the class begins to make sense of what happens.
A moment later, Jackson Cyvas shouts, “Hurry! He’s getting away!”
Cross country superstars Julia Schulyer, Alexander Wicks, and Noah Ihm take the lead, paving the way for the rest of the class. An alarm sounds, and security begins to trail us from behind. Star wrestlers Rudy Detweiler and Luke Mechler are joined by football extraordinaires Zachary Wahlin and Brooks Empey to tackle the oncoming guards. Accomplished baseball players Conner Vale and Jaden Clausen back them up, throwing styrofoam balls found in open boxes of vial shipments at the guards.
Evelyn Olsen, Karlee Proctor, and Galina Stransky take the side door in an attempt to cut off the scientist from the next hallway over. Harley Stout, Devin Veregin, Jayce Taylor, and Aidan Oliver run outside and start to call taxis for the rest of the group so we can make a quick escape after securing the vaccine.
Clever Cael conspirators Cael Dyreson and Cael McGee, along with Connell McGee, Milot Misini-Selmani, and Florijan Heta, hide behind some desks on the side of the hallway to concoct a plan to outsmart the scientist. Vlora Ashiku, Laura Camiou-Cattino, Autumn Mitchell, and Kaitlyn Reda opt out of the chase entirely and decide to take a mini vacation to see the Neuschwanstein Castle.
Reagan Slinde and JoBeth Kratz, amazed at the majestic appearance of the lab, decide to take a stroll down one of the concealed hallways and explore. A few moments later, JoBeth falls through a hidden trap door on the floor, descending about a story into a secret passageway beneath the lab. “Hey guys! Come look at this!” Reagan says to the rest of the class, who are now running back down the hallway in the opposite direction.
Brave explorers Henry Mehring, Bryce Vitense-Klingaman, Justin Teche, and Blake Wake jump down the trapdoor first, with Casper Luebbers, Julia Lee, Cameron Hay, and Natalie Klawitter not far behind. The rest of us soon follow suit. Cautiously we walk down the passageway until we reach the door at the end of the hall. Makayla Ramberg and McKenna Nelson open it ever so carefully and we see, to our surprise, the scientist sitting alone in a large room hunched over a computer next to the vaccine.
“What do you think you’re doing with our vaccine?” Gregory Moser and Aidan Eldridge ask assertively in unison.
The scientist begins speaking in German, so Hannah True offers to translate for the non-German speakers.
“I just wanted to confirm that this miraculous substance is what I think it is. We’ve been developing a vaccine here too, searching for the last missing protein. Paper must have fallen into the bin, since a protein uniquely found in softwood coniferous trees has now combined with our vaccine. It is finally complete!” Hannah translates. “Well, we’re not going anywhere without that flask,” Evelyn Schafer says.
Just then, Brett Morovic’s phone rings–it’s a call from Zack. “Guys, that concoction that Rowan, Conor, and Parker made ended up exploding and putting a hole in the wall at SHS,” Zack says.
Elsa Wright and Lindsey Luebke exchange glances. Of course this would happen.
Aaron Mittlesteadt then has a stroke of genius that he’d remember for the rest of his life. He had pocketed a small sample of the substance Zack talked about into a vial to test later at home. Quietly, he takes out the vial and throws it as far as he can, blowing up the wall on the far end of the room and creating the most explosive distraction ever.
Scared, the scientist and the rest of the class begin running as fast as they can back down the passageway. Alexander Annen picks up the flask through the chaos, with Lily Ackerman waiting alongside him, and the two begin following behind. Outside, we all clamor into the taxis that had been waiting for our exit.
“Where’s Olivia Pillath?” asks Sienna Richardson.
At that moment, the automatic doors of the lab open, with Alex carrying the flask with a smile.
“Wait, is that–“ Howie Siebert says to Ethan Castillo-Chastain, amazed.
“I can’t believe it! We did it!” exclaims Tyler Peterson and Aiden Holm together.
From that day forward, the Stoughton High School Class of 2021 went down in history for their bravery, ingenuity, and teamwork. Not to mention, we saved the world!