Kaneland Connection: Kaneland's Witt plans for career in space technology

MAPLE PARK – When he was in seventh grade, Ethan Witt started wearing a hooded Massachusetts Institute of Technology shirt, a tribute to his “dream school.”

Back then, when it was only a thought, the shirt seemed like fun. But when Witt, now a senior at Kaneland High School, started to realize there was a legitimate chance of making that dream come true, he put that shirt away.

He didn’t put it on again until just last month, when he found he was accepted into the school.

Witt is finishing off a Kaneland career that truly stands out. He accomplished a perfect composite score on the ACT exam. He is a U.S. Presidential Scholars Program candidate. As the team captain, he helped lead the scholastic bowl team to a regional championship and a second-place finish in sectional competition. He holds the school’s single-season and single-game tossup records. And as a sophomore, he was in Kaneland’s production of “Les Misérables.”

Ken Dentino, coach of the scholastic bowl team, said Witt’s achievements stretch beyond his academic accomplishments.

He said Witt has “a winning personality,” and he said if Witt wanted to, he probably could excel in politics. He said Witt manages to be both highly intelligent and “a decent person, too.”

“I think he thinks differently than most,” Dentino said. “He’s not just smart. His brain works differently. I think that’s what makes him special. … He thinks definitely outside the box.”

Actually, Witt’s aspirations are out of this world. He is interested in rocketry and spacecraft work, and he said he hopes to help make space travel affordable, “so human civilization can extend off this planet.”

Witt credits his family for playing a key role in his success. His father is an engineer. His mother, a member of the Kaneland School Board, works at the library at Waubonsee Community College. His older brother, Elliot, helped put Witt on his path, as he also was on the scholastic bowl team, and they both appeared in the musical.

His sister, Erica, is a freshman at Kaneland.

His mother, Teresa Witt, said her son always has been interested in space and science.

“I don’t remember a time where he didn’t know that’s what he wanted to do,” she said, adding that family members have traveled to rocket launches.

The musical participation came out specifically because “Les Misérables” is kind of the family’s musical. Teresa Witt said: “They kind of grew up with the music, and they really liked it. They definitely wanted to be a part of it.”

Witt said the first time he saw the musical performed, he thought it “was really amazing. It was my first experience with professional theater. ... When we heard the school was going to be doing ‘Les Mis,’ my brother and I freaked out and said we had to do it.”

Witt eagerly awaits his next step – MIT. He received notification that he was accepted March 14. The email arrived right on time, 5:28 p.m., but that’s not when he found out.

“When I saw it was 5:28, my heart just stopped,” he said. “I could not click the button.” Instead, he said, he watched TV for two hours before a friend called and “said he was going to come over and make me open” the notification. Witt said he finally opened it, saw he got in and celebrated.

And now, it is again safe to wear that MIT shirt.

“When I got accepted, I broke it out and put it on in celebration,” he said. “It really has been for many years the place that was my dream school.”

• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at alagattolla@shawmedia.com.