Five distinguished alumni inducted into hall of fame


Tatum Mitchell

(from left to right) Nicholas Tilbrook, Samir Soneji, Maudlyne Ihejirika and Amy Liss pose in front of the “Distinguished Alumni” wall.

On Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, a crowd of family members and supporters gathered to witness the reveal of the 2018 Distinguished Alumni plaques mounted on the wall of formerly recognized alumni.

Every two years DGS selects five former students who have made a significant impact on society and have earned the title of a DGS “Distinguished Alumni.”

This group of inductees has shown the DGS student body that while high school is only four years, it can be a springboard to impact multiple aspects of the world and community.

The paths that these alumni have taken post-high school include journalism, physiology, research, motivational speaking and commanding of nuclear submarines.

The first alumni of the five, Dr. Robert Roose, graduated from DGS in 1997 and attended the University of Illinois to study physiology on the track of being a physician.

Roose is a board-certified physician leader and the vice president of Behavioral Health for Hospital Center in western Massachusetts.

Roose specializes in addiction medicine and the integration of behavioral health care. A major focus of Roose’s innovative work is centered around opioid addiction. Roose was awarded the 2012 Addiction Medicine Physician of the Year in New York.

Roose spoke of the importance of establishing an identity while in high school.

“High school is a critical time, Downers Grove South High School is a special place. This is where you form the foundation of who you are … and how you are going to be a part of the world,” Roose said.

Maudlyne Ihejirika is a journalist with the Chicago Sun-Times. Ihejirika is an award-winning journalist and frequent contributor to CNN, PBS, ABC, NPR and multiple other outlets.

Ihejirika graduated from DGS in 1981 and attended the University of Iowa, earning her bachelor’s degree, and went on to earn her master’s degree from Northwestern University.

After 37 years, Ihejirika continues to appreciate her time at DGS.

“Downers Grove South was where it all began. The lessons I learned here have served me well throughout college and throughout my career. I think that Downers Grove South … provided me with the highest quality education,” Ihejirika said.

Dr. Samir Soneji, class of 1994, was a flight test analyst for the B-2 stealth bomber and now is a researcher and professor of health policy at Dartmouth College. One of the focuses of his teaching is on how demography affects health.  

Another aspect of Soneji’s work is looking at tobacco control, however; this is now geared towards the research of vaping.

“I am a demographer by training, and I teach a class called Social Determinants of Health, and it’s the idea our social environment largely determines our health and our life … it’s where you live that ultimately determines how long somebody live and how well they live,” Soneji said.

Nicholas Tilbrook, class of 1988, commanded a nuclear submarine known as USS CHICAGO and is the Commodore of Submarine Squadron Seventeen.

Tilbrook attended the University of Illinois and earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and physics, M.A. in engineering administration from Virginia Tech and M.A. in national security strategy from the National War College.

Tilbrook spoke highly of DGS and shared advice on how to handle the struggles of getting through high school.

“Persevere, high school is only four years and when you leave, it’s a whole different world … everything starts fresh when you leave … Get as much out of high school as you can because it will set you up for success in the next thing you do,” Tilbrook said.

Amy Liss is a motivational speaker and works at Easterseals, a non-profit organization that aids people with disabilities to live, learn and work actively in the community.  Liss graduated from DGS in 2001.

Liss was born with severe cerebral palsy; however, that does not limit her abilities to make a large impact on the community and a multitude of people’s lives. Liss’s inspirational words to live by are “Live each day with an attitude of gratitude.”

Liss has spoken at Snowball and Snowflake events for DGS and while speaking at DGS on Friday, Sept. 21, she touched on how her life motto carries over to a high schooler’s everyday life and how important this advice can be.

“Realize that gratitude can change your life. When you’re having a bad day or feeling stressed, when you’re having issues with parents, teachers or friends, when you’ve got too much homework or too much on your schedule – remember to find joy in the little things,” Liss said.