U. City junior adds music to list of talents

Benjamin Shostak strums a selection from his award winning song. Photo: Bill Motchan


He’s only 17, but Benjamin Shostak has already built an impressive list of accomplishments.

The University City High School junior was awarded the coveted Midot (values) Medal in last year’s JCC Maccabi games. He also received the Maccabi Martin Kodner Sportsmanship Award for rachmones (compassion) last year. And on Jan. 26, he won a top award in the Walgreens Expressions Challenge. 

The Walgreens challenge recognizes St. Louis teens for their creativity. It includes a cash prize of $1,250. Shostak took home the second-place honor for his original song “Edge of the World.” The annual competition gives teens an opportunity to express themselves on health and wellness issues.

Nine years ago, the Walgreens Community Task Force developed the challenge to get teens involved in discussing serious topics such as bullying. The Expressions Challenge judging takes place in three rounds, beginning with a public vote followed by preliminary judging and then judging from an expert panel.


Shostak already had done well in athletics, primarily soccer and golf. Last summer, he decided to try songwriting. Then his English literature teacher Peggy Halter posted a notice on Google Classroom.

“I went over the wide range of what they could submit,” Halter said. “And it was Ben who came back a few weeks later and said he was submitting a song for the competition, and the next thing we know, he finished as a finalist among over 2,000 entries.”

Shostak said Halter’s encouragement persuaded him to try creative writing.

“Miss Halter had us read a lot of books,” Shostak said. “I wasn’t a huge reader before I took her class, but afterward I started doing creative writing and that turned into writing songs. I’ve always been interested in music, but I started writing songs this past July. I enjoy expressing myself, putting what I feel out there so people can listen to it.

“I wanted to capture what people go through and feel as they progress through life. That’s where I got the idea behind this song.”

A month after submitting the entry, Shostak forgot about the contest and assumed he didn’t make the cut. Then, his mother, Becky, began receiving phone calls from a number she didn’t recognize in Chicago. She ignored them, but the calls kept coming.

“We thought it was a telemarketer,” Becky Shostak said.

It turned out to be Walgreens notifying them that Ben was selected for the finals. Halter was delighted to get the news, but hardly surprised.

“I would call Ben the perfect student,” she said. “He is every teacher’s dream. He listens intently and actively. He does the work that is asked of him and more. And everything he does is done at a level of excellence. I noticed that about Ben as soon as I met him as a sophomore. 

“He engages with adults, and he is polite and courteous and respectful, but at the same time he reaches across that barrier. Ben was always the student who would catch my eye and say goodbye or have a good day, and that’s unusual and rare for a high school student to want to wish his teacher well at the end of each class period.”

Shostak plans to use the Walgreens prize money to buy a guitar or amp. In early January, after learning he was a finalist, he performed his English lit class. After the last chorus — “I’m on the edge of the world, come on down, take it for a ride. I’m on the edge of the world, don’t go away and hide” — the class erupted in applause and cheers. Halter described the scene.

“They showered him with praise, and Ben was just very humble about it,” she said. “Ben is really well liked and respected by his peers, and one of the kids said, ‘I can’t believe you can play the guitar and sing, too. You can do everything.’ That, in a nutshell, captures Ben. He’s a great kid, he’s a good scholar, he is a good athlete, he’s a good musician, he really is the total package.”

The nomination letter Shostak received from Bruce Cohn for the Martin Kodner Sportsmanship Award also spoke to his character. Cohn wrote: 

“In my estimation, Ben embodies everything Maccabi should be and aspires to be. He is a positive, uplifting, remarkable young man who leads by example.”

Shostak works after school at Ruth Park Golf Course, and his boss there, Doug Castalleri, also has kind words for him. 

“Ben is very detail oriented, always asking questions, great to get along with,” said Castalleri, Ruth Park’s head pro. “He’s one of the top kids I’ve ever had working for me, I just don’t have enough kind words to say about him. He’s perfect.”

When he isn’t shagging balls at the Ruth Park driving range, Shostak handles the course pretty well as a player. He was the first member of the golf team in seven years to qualify for sectionals. 

In addition to athletics and music, Ben is active in the U. City High School Latin Club. He also recently was elected president during a mock election in his government class. 

College is a couple of years off, but he’s considering his options.

“I’d been thinking about majoring in biology because I really enjoy science,” he said. “But my success with the Walgreens Challenge gave me the confidence to think about a minor in music.”

Ben isn’t the only good athlete in the Shostak household. His younger brother Aidan, 14, also won the Midot Medal in the Maccabi Games in 2016 and 2017. Aidan is on the soccer and wrestling teams at Brittany Woods Middle School, and he is likely to make the golf team when he gets to high school. He already hits drives farther than his older brother.