CANNON FALLS — When COVID-19 closed Cannon Falls High School this spring, it did more than just shorten Bryson Felton’s senior year. It helped him define his future.

“I was already planning on majoring in microbiology,” Felton said. “I’m not necessarily interested in practicing medicine, but more in the research side of it.”

Felton has watched two close relatives suffer from the effects of long-term illnesses. Those experiences have motivated him to want to help find cures and preventions for those diseases and reduce the destructive impacts.

Bryson Felton (rightO played the King of Hearts in the Cannon Falls High School 2019 spring play “Alice @ Wonderland,” a parody of “Alice in Wonderland,” with Bianca Caputo, the Queen of Hearts. Photo courtesy of Bryson Felton
Bryson Felton (rightO played the King of Hearts in the Cannon Falls High School 2019 spring play “Alice @ Wonderland,” a parody of “Alice in Wonderland,” with Bianca Caputo, the Queen of Hearts. Photo courtesy of Bryson Felton

“That really steals people’s lives away,” Felton said. “We don’t understand how those diseases progress, specifically in autoimmune disorders. I want to be able to mitigate that in the future and help people all around the world. The coronavirus has helped me make that decision.”

His interest in research was also inspired by Amanda Thompson, who teaches AP Biology.

“If you asked her a question and she didn’t know the answer, she would come back the next day. She would have researched it and would get back to you,” Felton said. “It was awesome. It was a curiosity-based approach. Our final project for that class was to research something.”

Felton, who is ranked first in his class, has taken all of the Advanced Placement courses offered at Cannon Falls High School, and he earned an A in every one of them. His senior year, he is enrolled in AP calculus, physics, English and humanities.

“I try to keep myself busy academically,” he said. “I’m interested in a lot of things, and I’ve never been sure, until this year, what I wanted to do in college, so I’ve tried to keep my options open and take every class that I can.”

In Cannon Falls High School's 2019 fall musical, Felton played Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid.” Photo courtesy of Bryson Felton
In Cannon Falls High School's 2019 fall musical, Felton played Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid.” Photo courtesy of Bryson Felton

As he looks ahead to college, Felton is on a waiting list at Cornell University, but has been accepted to the University of Minnesota and UCLA.

“The University of Minnesota has an amazing master’s degree in the public health field of epidemiology,” Felton explained. “The statistics-based approach to tracking a disease and working through it in order to help people is really fascinating to me.”

High school wasn’t all academics for Felton. In addition to band and choir, he was involved in the fall school musicals for six years. He was in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” as well as “Grease” in the lead role of Danny Zuko. He played Billy Crocker in “Anything Goes,” and last year he was Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid.”

He has been on the newspaper and yearbook staff for four years. His sophomore year he was assistant photography editor and the past two years, he has served as the photography editor.

Bryson Felton ties his tie before a speech competition. The season was shortened by the coronavirus crisis. Photo courtesy of Bryson Felton
Bryson Felton ties his tie before a speech competition. The season was shortened by the coronavirus crisis. Photo courtesy of Bryson Felton

“I am not great at painting or other art mediums,” he said, “but when it comes to photography, I love being able to show off my creative side.”

Felton joined the speech team in sixth grade and has competed in the storytelling category, taking fifth place at state last year. He’s pleased with those results, but said the team results are more important to him.

“For three years, we got first as a team,” he said. “Being a part of those teams which were truly exceptional, especially for such a small school, is something that I am proud of.”

School counselor Deb Klegan said, “Bryson is one of the most outstanding young men I have had the honor to know. He is a caring, kind, and humble student, and he always puts others first.”