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    Our annual search to find the best and brightest turned up the next Bill Gates, some energy-conservation champions and the future president of the United States, who says, “I just want society to be Super Kids.” We’ll second that.

    Interviews by Arielle Christian
    Photos by Jessica Ebelhar


    Age 9, third grade, Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary

    Joshua, who’s visually impaired, was adopted from China two years ago. He became fluent in English in three months. He’s learning braille and 70 different “cane skills,” or positions for walking with a cane. “Seventy,” he says. “That’s a lot.”

    How’d you become fluent in English in three months?
    “Just listen, listen, listen, listen.”

    Do you have a favorite book?
    “That I read? It’s The Little School Bus. It picks up three kids and drops them off and at the end it picks them up from school.”

    Do you ride the bus to school?
    “Yep. It’s an old bus. The one last year I rode on — it was (No.) 1118 — that was quiet. This one has an old, junky engine.”

    What do you want to be when you grow up?
    “An inventor. I was going to invent a car that flies. I’ll see how it works. A car that’ll jump automatically all by itself. You just have to push a button on there and it’ll trigger up the flashlight and it’ll flash it on to the — um — what are those called?”

    Have you heard about those cars that drive themselves?
    “Yeah, but those self-driving cars aren’t very good yet. They’re still crashing a lot.”

    What’s something you want to learn about?
    “Science! I like to learn about chemicals — to see if I can make energy all by itself inside of a motor without using it, but holding it. What else do you need to say to me?”


    Age 17, 12th grade, Walden School

    Larkin is a vintage-computer enthusiast who disassembled and reassembled a computer when he was five years old. Last summer, he had an internship with a cybersecurity firm in Santa Barbara, California, and he still works for them remotely. He also scuba dives and ballroom dances.

    Are we secure on the Internet?
    “I think there’s a big violation of privacy happening right now. Facebook and Google — they collect a lot of data on you that I don’t think is very morally correct. I was looking at my Gmail the other day, and I had been talking to someone on Craigslist trying to buy something, and they hadn’t responded to me, and Gmail said, ‘They haven’t responded. Should you follow back?’ I was like: You wouldn’t know that unless you parsed the email. It’s almost like 1984 in a way.”

    How’d this love of technology come about?
    “One of my earliest memories — I was at my dad’s office and he had a lot of computer terminals. He handed me a PalmPilot one day, those old PDAs (personal digital assistants). I was probably like four or so. I remember taking it home and playing with it constantly, trying to figure out what all I could do with it.”

    And you took apart a laptop at age five?
    “I was like, ‘Can I take this apart?’ to my dad. The reason I remember it is because he said, ‘OK, but if you can’t put it back together, I’m not going to help you. You have to do it.’ He came home and I’d taken it apart and put it back together and it was working. He was like, ‘That’s freaky.’
         “Now I have a big cabinet full of parts. Some of it we had to put downstairs, because there’s so much stuff — Apple stuff, old PC stuff, server stuff, workstations from IBM. That’s pretty much where most, if not all, of my money goes — to computers.”


    Age 17, 12th grade, Fairdale High

    Update: This article originally stated that Velazquez uplifted ESL students through the Adelante Hispanic Achievers organization. Though Velazquez does work with the Adelante Hispanic Achievers, it's her efforts with the English Action Group, which she founded, that focus on ESL students.

    Born in Cuba, Lorena moved to the U.S. when she was seven and knows the struggles of adapting to a new country and language. With this experience, she works to lift other ESL students up through the English Action Group, an organization she founded. She calls herself an activist.

    Tell us more about your work with Educational Justice.
    “It’s a nonprofit organization that works with underprivileged children to offer them free tutoring from fifth grade through eighth grade. I’m one of the activists and I’ve been paired now for three years with another student; it hasn’t been the same student. One of our biggest issues is transportation. Due to the cycle of poverty, there are some things we can’t fix that prevent students from coming. I’ve been with different students, but a lot of the time I’ll see the same sort of issues with them. They have the opportunity to unleash their potential, but don’t have that extra push.”

    You’re also involved in a mindfulness program. What do you think about how mental health is understood?
    “It’s very scary. It isn’t understood enough. In our incarceration systems, and so many of our systems, we’re not looking at mental health. Especially in low-income communities, it’s not something that comes to mind — at all — or that they have access to. It’s not just about depression, anxiety. It’s also about being present with ourselves and dealing with trust and being aware of who we are, that little voice in our heads. It’s important to be aware of our mental health in this society that’s hustle, hustle, keep going, never stop, to be in the present.”

    Dream job?
    “I just want to be a change-maker. I don’t know what that means really yet, career-wise.”

    Tell us about the pins on your jacket.
    “People not prisons. I envision a world without discrimination. I demand equal pay for equal work. Immigrants and refugees are welcome in my Old Kentucky Home. Be the change. Transform.”


    Age 17, 12th grade, Louisville Collegiate

    Anne is fluent in Spanish (having taken AP classes at school) and studied in China after both her sophomore and junior years. (One on a University of Kentucky scholarship, another through the State Department.) She likes to play the violin, run and swim.

    In your opinion, what’s the best way to learn a new language?
    “I guess just be consistent with it. I think it’s helpful to study it in school, but that’s just what’s available to me. Outside of school, I have language classes for Chinese and I listen to audio resources, like videos. I find magazines and reading materials in that language. That helps with picking up vocabulary as it’s used.”

    Do you have a dictionary you keep with you?
    “Well, I have my phone. It’s helpful for Chinese characters, because then you can just write them and it’ll tell you what the character means.”

    What language do you want to learn next?
    “Arabic or Russian. I like to learn the literature and the culture. It’s not something I take lightly. It’s a big commitment.”

    Would you rather be able to play any instrument in the world or speak every language in the world?
    “That’s such a hard choice! But I’d go with languages. I think that every language is like a new way of thinking, and seeing the world. I feel like it’d make me so much more mentally flexible. I think someone once asked President Obama what his superpower would be, and I think he said he’d speak every language.” (A 19-year-old asked him this question. — Ed.)

    What’s something on your bucket list?
    “I’d like to read Anna Karenina in Russian. I read the translated version on a dare. Someone was like, ‘Oh, you can never finish this book.’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m in eighth grade, I have a lot of time. I might as well just try.’ I hear people talk about how the translated version doesn’t do it justice. I want to explore that and understand it from a Russian perspective.”


    Age 11, sixth grade, home-schooled
    (or, as George calls it, “Frazier Academy”)

    George is a nationally ranked bicycling superstar. He travels everywhere for cyclocross competitions — Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada. In the bike world, he’s known as a “closer,” which means he starts the race slowly but finishes quickly. He loves science and the Earth and one day wants to be a veterinarian.

    Tell us more about cyclocross.
    “It’s like road biking and mountain biking mixed into one. I started when I was nine. My mom was a biker and my dad used to do BMX. So I just kind of got into biking. I did it for fun, then I started to race and it got more competitive. I’ve been to three national championships. My latest one I got fifth. That was in Reno, Nevada. This year I’m trying to win the national championships in Louisville (in December at Joe Creason Park).”

    You get to go a lot of places with this.
    “Yeah, we traveled cross country to Reno and got to see Area 51. It was OK. I kind of believe in that stuff. Then we went to the Grand Canyon. You have to go.”

    Do you have a favorite place you like to practice?
    “Cherokee Park. I sometimes ride the trails or I can do the loop.”

    Who’s someone that inspires you?
    “My mom and dad, of course. And there’s a rider called Sven Nys and he’s from Belgium. He’s a pro rider. I wanna be like him and be a pro rider. He can jump over the barriers and do wheelies and stuff.”

    Can you do a wheelie?
    “No, not really.”


    Age 12, eighth grade, Noe Middle

    Nonprofit extraordinaire Olivia founded Girls Giving for Good, which connects youth volunteers with organizations in need of service. She started the I Can Be Girls Confidence Conference, an event for girls ages 8 through 12 that teaches them to confidently go after their dreams.

    What are some of the places you have worked with?
    “Dare to Care, Kosair Charities, Uspiritus. We’re looking to do work with Brightside, WaterStep and Wayside Christian Mission. Last year I did a book drive for Kosair Charities and raised over 100 books. The books were focused around (beginner) chapter books. A lot of times charities get picture books or chapter books, and they don’t get that transition in between. They don’t focus on that age, that genre.
         “With the I Can Be Girls Confidence Conference, we have lots of workshops — conflict resolution, service. Last year, we helped Blankets for Hope, who make blankets for the homeless. We always have personal hygiene and self-care. And confidence is the re-occurring subject.”

    What should people know about confidence?
    “Well, there is a healthy amount of confidence. Obviously, no one likes someone who is cocky and arrogant. But you also need to know that you’re the bomb. You’re your own person. Whatever people think about you doesn’t matter. As long as you’re a kind person, people will be open to you. Be comfortable in your own skin.”

    It seems especially important at that age.
    “With media, social media. Cyber-bullying plays a huge role, too. My generation is Gen Z, the generation of technology. It affects everyone.”


    Age 13, eighth grade, Noe Middle

    Angel started acting at age eight and quickly signed on with Heyman Talent in Louisville. Last year, he was selected to participate in a live sketch comedy performance for Nickelodeon, and he starred in the Nickelodeon movie Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. He recently signed with an agency in LA.

    What was your sketch?
    “I did one with my friend and we had these thick accents. We were supposed to be Russian dudes. Like bodybuilders. On a plane. And it was so funny, because the whole time we were yelling at each other on the plane, because the bodybuilders were bumping up against each other (in their seats).”

    How do I become funny?
    “It’s natural. In the moment. I always think yelling is funny.”

    What’s the movie you’re in about?
    “It’s about these 12 kids that get picked to go into a library and write a report. You have to do all these cool puzzles and stuff. You go into different genres and stuff. It’s real, and the books come to life. But then everything goes wrong. There are malfunctions and monsters.”

    Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
    “I think Jennifer Lawrence is pretty cool. She’s from Louisville, too. I really look up to her, because of Hunger Games.”


    Age 17, 12th grade, Kentucky Country Day

    Tala studied abroad in Jordan during ninth grade and goes back every year. She has participated in a research project in Jordan, studying bats. This past summer, she attended a summer program with the Center for Talented Youth and studied zoology. Tala volunteers with the Islamic School of Louisville and the Muslim Community Center. She also likes to paint.

    What’s it like studying in Jordan?
    “The city is alive, in a way. Unlike here, where people are going to school and going home. There, there’s always someone on the road selling something. I definitely recommend that you go. I went to an international school and it was honestly the best experience of my life. It was harder than I thought it was going to be, especially the sciences. I took advanced chemistry, advanced biology and advanced physics. It was a lot of work, but it definitely prepared me to come back and take a bunch of AP classes. When I first got here, I was like, this is so easy!”

    Tell us about your bat project.
    I was part of a collaboration between Indiana University Southeast and the University of Jordan. We were researching why archeological sites are important for biodiversity. They sent me a bunch of bat sounds and I had to identify them using their wavelengths and frequencies.”

    Can you tell if they’re stressed out or just eating?
    “If there are a lot of waves in one box (on the app) and it goes really high up, that means that they’ve found their prey, and they’re going to hunt.”

    What do you like to paint?
    “I painted this dragon with a bunch of fire coming out of it. A galaxy. A girl in the rain.”


    Both age 16, 11th grade, Sacred Heart Academy

    The twins both received perfect scores on the ACT and SAT exams. They co-founded their school’s chapter of Mu Alpha Theta, a national mathematical society. The power pair are on the academic team, student council and are dedicated tennis players and art supporters.

    Tell us about your endeavors.
    “There are so many schools in Louisville with amazing art programs. I felt we could use that to make change in our community. We are collaborating and working over the year to make pieces to support a different Louisville-area charitable cause. This year it’s St. Joseph’s orphanage. We’ll have an art auction on November 10. I’m finalizing the catalogue (of works) now.”

    What kind of art do you like to make?
    “I was experimenting with different mediums over the years — watercolors, things like that. But I’ve found I don’t really like color, to be honest. I find it very tricky to work with. I much more like the simplicity of monochromatic work with black and white. Recently, I’ve been trying lots of pen art and general ink work. I love it very much. I’ll be contributing multiple works to the show.”
    Nell: “I’m also a contributing artist in her charitable cause. I’m more of an engineering artist. I enjoy making machines, so I’m thinking of engraving coasters using a laser engraver. That bleeds into my thing: Obviously, we are very STEM-oriented (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).”

    Yes, look at your necklace.
    “I know. This is a magic square necklace. All of the corners — rows, vertical columns — add up to the same number: 33. Yes, one of my loves. I’ve decided to combine my passion for mathematics with another of my loves, computers. Coding and analyzing things with computers. I created the website Joy of Math Louisville, which is basically a forum website where children throughout Louisville can post questions that they have about homework or math concepts. We can respond with examples and provide steps of the process with whatever concept they’re having trouble with.”

    What’s something you want to learn more about?
    “Our parents are Polish. We can speak Polish, just not grammatically well. It’s always a little embarrassing when your parents start mocking you for not getting the tenses correct. It’s like, this language doesn’t make sense at all!”

    Do you do most things together?
    “For the most part. We have separate musical interests. I’ve been playing piano for a long time. Sophie doesn’t even know where middle C is on the piano.”
    Sophie: “I do know where middle C is, I just don’t like finding it. I’ll sing.”


    Brial, age 13, eight grade; Armond, age 12, sixth grade
    Both at Thomas Jefferson Middle

    The brothers have been boxing since they were four of five. They’ve won their fair share of jackets, medals and boxing belts. They both agree that boxing is life.

    How often do you all train?
    Armond: “Every day for three hours a day. We also do 600 sit-ups every day and 300 push-ups.”
    Brial: “Sometimes we do extra on the weekends. We go to training around 5. The kids’ class ends at 6:30 and the elite class ends at 7:30.” 
    Armond: “We’ll leave at 9 o’clock or something like that. We’re always the first people there and the last ones (to leave). We’re really considering going pro and making this a living.”
    Brial: “Yeah, it keeps people off the streets and from doing bad stuff.” 
    Armond: “It’s really fun and I get to express my personality. It’s like how you get your anger out or anything you feel. The first state championship I won, that’s how I got this jacket. It was in Lexington. I was really excited. The first one I ever won was my first fight. A few days later I got the jacket and I was like, ‘Whoa.’”

    What do you do before a match?
    “You just think: They’re humans; they’re not invincible.”
    Brial: “You can’t get distracted by all the lights.”

    What’s something on your bucket list?
    “I’d kind of like to have my name on a street sign.”


    Christopher: age 17, 12th grade, Trinity High; and Sophia: age 15, 12th grade, Sacred Heart Academy

    This brother-sister duo have been ice-skating since they were kids and recently returned from a Junior Grand Prix competition in the Czech Republic after being selected by the U.S. Figure Skating International Committee to compete. They practice two hours a day, five days a week, plus work out three times a week. Chris maintains a weighted 5.69 GPA at Trinity. At Sacred Heart, Sophia is an Angela Merici Scholar and is enrolled in all honors classes and accelerated math.

    What's it like working together as a brother-sister duo?
    “It gives us a leg up, I think. It’s like we know each other a lot better than some other partners because we grew up together. But sometimes we do fight.”

    How’d you get into this?
    “My mom was a speed skater in Russia when she was a kid, so she started us off young.”

    Do you have any rituals before competition?
    “I’ll listen to music while I do my makeup and hair and it really calms me. Right now, I like Charlie Scott and Kanye West a lot. You’re like, ‘I can’t do this,’ then afterward it’s like, ‘I don’t even know what happened.’”
    Christopher: “It’s a blur.”

    What do you skate to?
    “One is a rhythm dance. Every year it’s a different set dance, and this year it’s a tango. So we’re skating to ‘Tango Classico.’ This year for ‘free dance’ we danced to a song called ‘Halo.’ It’s kind of like a more classical dance.”

    So not the Beyoncé song?
    “No, no.”
    Sophia: “We have three pieces that merge into one as the tango dance. In the beginning, it’s playful, so we smile more. As it goes on, my expression goes more dramatic.”
    Christopher: “The hard part is creating the dramatic expression on the ice. It’s all about how you portray the character.

    How do you get a 5.69 GPA?
    “Time management. It’s everything.”


    Age 9, fifth grade, King Elementary

    This is how Arianna ended up at King: She and her mother were driving to Indianapolis for a cheer competition when she looked at her mom and said, “We need to have a discussion. I’m not being challenged enough. I need you to find the high school that I need to go to and the middle school that feeds into that and the elementary school that feeds into that school.” She has since skipped fourth grade.

    How’d you get on the quick recall team?
    “The coach of the team personally asked me. I didn’t even know about the team, because it was my first year at King, but he asked me to join and I got permission and I liked it! I’ve been told I’m very intelligent.”

    You’ve read the entire Harry Potter series.
    The Half-Blood Prince is my favorite. It’s an intriguing part of the series. It’s putting all the stuff you read in the first five books together so that it can all just explode into pieces in the next book. It’s putting it together to be pushed apart again.”

    What makes someone smart?
    “I think what makes someone smart is having a good attention span. Being able to focus. I understand things very well, so it’s very easy for me.”

    Do you have a favorite subject in school?
    “Well, probably”— (looking at something on the wall) —“why does that look like a bunny holding a marshmallow on a stick?”

    You sure about focus?
    “OK, I may not be the best at focus.”

    What’s on your bucket list?
    “When I’m old enough, I want to enroll in the Doctors Without Borders with my mom. I’m going to go to med school and become a doctor. I either want to be a heart surgeon or brain surgeon.”


    Age 18, 12th grade, Seneca High

    Hung Wei loves to push the boundaries of his comfort zone and has found himself in a lot of leadership positions because of it. He’s the Seneca Future Farmers of America vice president and the regional FFA historian. He came to the U.S. from Taiwan three years ago and learned to speak English in one year.

    Tell us more about FFA.
    “Although there’s a ‘farmer’ in there, that doesn’t mean it’s ‘farmer.’ It’s an organization that puts together a lot of kids that like animals, plants, flowers. But it’s more like a leadership thing.
         “We lead workshops. Our theme this year is Rise Up. Basically, we want kids to push out of their comfort zones, to do something different. I remember when I was a freshman — I’m not from here, I’m from Taiwan — and didn’t talk very often. I didn’t make friends. I had my good grades, but I was like that kid in the back row of the classroom that was quiet and didn’t ask questions. But junior year was really my year. All those teachers and my friends pushed me further out of my comfort zone. Now there’s no limit to it.”

    What was the hardest part about learning English?
    “I was scared. I have an accent. I was scared of stereotypes. In Taiwan, you fantasize America. It’s like, wow, Hollywood. Those high schools in movies. Sometimes they stereotype foreigners. It was super-scary. It was tough, me raising my hand, speaking in front of everyone. I think that’s why I joined those clubs. Public speaking, having to talk to people.”


    Age 17, 12th grade, J. Graham Brown

    Ava started playing on the boys’ varsity golf team at Brown when she was in sixth grade. Since then, she has been the PGA Kentucky Junior Tour Player of the Year twice and has twice won the Women’s Club Championship at the Wildwood Country Club.

    How’d your love of golf begin?
    “I first won (a golf club tournament) at the age of 2. My grandfather lived on a golf course. Every time I’d go visit him, we’d play. Every moment I played with him, now I cherish.”

    Anything you do before a tournament to prep?
    “I don’t listen to music. It’s really distracting. I just take deep breaths and remember I can do this. I’ve done it before and I can do it again.”

    What else are you into?
    “This summer I got to go the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs and learned how to start my own business. One thing they really stressed to us is to be OK to fail. My group and I created a backpack with lumbar support, so it helps with your mechanical back pain — like, caused by heavy books.”


    Age 17, 11th grade, St. Francis High

    The son of a Beninese immigrant, Michael is a student with many talents. He juggles for two circus troupes in town and dances with the Louisville Dance Alliance and the Ford Dance Company. He also plays soccer. As vice president of his school’s Black Students Association, he’s committed to issues of race and justice.

    What do you like about dance?
    “It’s a universal language. It’s always fun to be able to express yourself to people without having to talk. You can go to any place and dance, and you can kind of reveal what you’re trying to say.”

    How does one become woke?
    “It’s a mind state. The definition of ‘woke’ isn’t static. You always have to be willing to learn. Some people, when you call them out, or tell them how something is offensive, or how things are changing — the definition of being ‘woke’ is to see that and instead of being defensive, you look at yourself and address the parts that could be bigoted or biased in some form, and to be able to change that for the better.”

    Do you see more and more people finding common ground?
    “It’s definitely happening, but I wish it was happening more. The people lower on the ladder can say all they want, but we need people on the top aware so they can change things. If black people hadn’t gotten some white people in power aware, civil rights would’ve gone nowhere. We still have far to go. It can’t just be oppressed people.
         “I just want society to be Super Kids. There are so many out there. They might not be doing extravagant things, but the stuff they have to deal with, and the way they’re still rising from that and fighting through it — everyone’s goal should be equity. There are so many people that aren’t being heard that need to be heard.”

    Tell me about your outfit.
    “This is bubu. My dad is from Benin. It’s a country in West Africa, and that’s where my heritage is from. It’s a traditional outfit that he brought back last year when he went to visit our family.
         “I’ve been to the Ivory Coast. I have some family over there, too. I haven’t been to Benin yet. Going (to Africa) was kind of like a culture shock, even though it’s your own culture. You see how the definition of Africa isn’t what you think it is. You go, and you see these crazy, beautiful buildings and nice streets. You also see the harsher parts. It’s all there. You get to go and see the whole thing and feel connected to it. Plus, my grandma’s cooking is really good.”


    Age 17, 12th grade, Presentation Academy

    Last year, as one of 30 pages in the United States Senate, Claire witnessed many historic moments. She worked under Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. At her school, Claire is a part of the Kentucky Youth Assembly and Kentucky United Nations Assembly. She helped start the school’s Future Problem Solving Team.

    Tell us more about your time as a page.
    “I got to do a lot on the Senate floor, which was so cool. I got to be around a lot of influential people who are going through a lot of crazy stuff right now. I got to see Trump’s first State of the Union address. A joint session of Congress being spoken to by (French) President Emmanuel Macron. (Democratic) Senator (Tammy) Duckworth (of Illinois) bringing her baby on the Senate floor, which broke tradition. When (Republican) Senator (Rand) Paul from Kentucky filibustered against the budget bill, we were there all night. That was really tiring, because I had to get up for school at six in the morning.”

    Do you want to continue down this political path?
    “I’m looking at being a doctor or serving in the military. As for political stuff, maybe on down the road I might consider running for the House or Senate, federally. I think it’s important to get involved in our government.”

    Who’s someone who inspires you?
    “Actually, (Republican) Senator (Joni) Ernst from Iowa was really influential. She was really kind, and she was a confident woman. Whenever she walked on the floor, you could see she was ready to go to work and wasn’t intimidated by anyone.”

    What’s your favorite book?
    “Probably The Book Thief. I read it when I was in eighth grade. I love the narration by death. I’m really interested in the World War II era. Liesel Meminger, the female protagonist, is a very confident young lady. Her family did such a great thing during the war — sheltering a Jewish person when they didn’t need to.”


    Age 17, 12th grade, Christian Academy of Louisville

    After being born with hearing loss and enduring years of speech therapy and special education beginning at three months old, Elise started her own sign language club. She recently won her school’s concerto competition on cello, and was a runner-up on the piano. Her ukulele case is covered with buttons: unicorns, emojis, Harry Potter and characters from the movie Inside Out.

    Tell us about the sign language club.
    “Well, me and my sister are both hearing-impaired and (my family) adopted my brother, Graham, who’s deaf, from China. We started the signing club at my school when I was in seventh grade. We started with, like, four people. Over the last five years, we’ve expanded it and over 170 students who have been involved. We teach conversational sign language and how to use sign language to worship God. We do outreach with it and go to different churches to spread awareness.”

    What else do you like to do?
    “Theater. I’m in Charlotte’s Web. I’m Charlotte.”

    What’s her character like?
    “She’s very motherly, but also matter-of-fact. She’s like the hero of the story, because she ends up saving Wilbur. So that’s cool.”

    What do you want to be when you grow up?
    “I want to be a pharmaceutical scientist. Researching medicine and working in a lab to see what works and what doesn’t. I also want to play in a string quartet with my sisters, because they play violin. And my younger sister is going to learn viola. So we’re going to make a string quartet when we all grow up.”


    Age 6, first grade, King Elementary

    Last year, Atonia was the only kindergartner in JCPS to win the Martin Luther King Jr. poetry contest, for a poem she titled “Stars.” She’s in the Gifted and Talented Program for her art skills. She thinks listening is very important.

    What kinds of things do you like to paint?
    “Rainbows. I like to paint a square. And a circle.”

    What was your Martin Luther King Jr. poem about?
    “There was a white sign at a park. And a white school. And there was a sign that said ‘Whites Only’ and all of the city was made for white people.”

    How’d that make you feel?
    Mom: It wasn’t about a sign. It was about how Martin Luther King Jr. was a star and how, even though he’s dead, he still shines. She made it up by herself. She’s really nervous.

    What’s something you want to learn more about?
    “Um, how to pay attention and listen.”

    Do you have any tips for us?
    “You should follow directions.”

    What’s your favorite TV show?
    Shimmer and Shine. It’s about genies.”

    What would you wish for?


    Age 17, 12th grade, Mercy Academy

    Bethany likes to address deep themes and societal issues through her artwork. She’s in the National Art Honor Society and has attended the Governor’s School for the Arts. Bethany has traveled with her theater department — where she does a lot of costume and set design — to Scotland to participate in the Fringe Festival.

    Were there different classes you took while you were at GSA?
    “It was studio art. Painting, ceramics, printmaking. Being there changed the way I think about making art. I used to think it was all about technical skill. There, I saw so much creativity and so much meaning in everyone’s pieces. It’s more about concept to me now. And having something to say through my art.”

    What are you saying through your art these days?
    “The most recent ones I’ve done have been about racism and sexism. I do a lot of costume designing at my school. We recently did a play, completely made up by my school, to take to Scotland. It was called Mercy Me, because I go to Mercy. It was all about Mercy’s critical concerns — like racism, women. That inspired me to do more meaningful art.”

    There was a piece you made about how racism is in our DNA. Can you tell us more about that?
    “Yes, that was inspired by Mercy Me. I actually had to be in a scene in that play — crazy, ’cause I’ve never been in a play — and I performed in Scotland! A nice start to my acting career! The scene was three girls — we’re all, you know, white — and we were demonstrating how hard racism is to talk about, because we don’t have experiences with racism. We just see it from an outside perspective. It shows how unfair racism is. (In my DNA piece) there are thorns going around this woman’s head. The thorns, some of them have the Greek male symbol, like the circle and the arrow. It shows how the patriarchy is damaging women. Her face — she’s very pretty. It shows how we’re just supposed to accept it. You know: Sitting pretty.”


    Age 13, eighth grade, Saint Leonard Community School

    Stella made a website to teach people how to care for animals and how to recover pets when they go missing. She’s been playing softball since age six and also plays volleyball and does archery. Stella skipped a grade without missing a beat.

    Have you ever lost one of your pets?
    “No, but we have property where it’s just woods, like acres of land, where we fish and drive ATVs. One of our dogs loves exploring, so when we go down there, she’ll run away. She knows the place and will come back home at night, but sometimes it’s really late, and it’s kind of worrisome. I also have a hamster and he’s gotten out of his cage three times. That can be scary.”

    Where do you normally find him?
    “In my closet. But the other night he woke me up at 2 o’clock in the morning by crawling on my face.”

    What do you think is the cutest animal ever?
    “I love sloths. When I first got into them, I watched a documentary on Netflix about a sloth named Velcro. I have a sloth mug, socks, a case for my iPod, a bracelet, two posters.”

    What’s your favorite subject in school?
    “I really like science. Like, space and the things we don’t really know yet.”

    Do you want to go to space?
    “I do. I think it’d be so cool to see all the separate galaxies. Because my brother in high school took an astronomy class and he was able to tell us about some basic stuff in the sky. He said that if you see a little cloud — or like a dusty part in the sky at night — that’s a galaxy in the distance. That blew my mind.”


    Age 16, 10th grade, Christian Academy of Louisville

    In seventh grade, Gray was diagnosed with a brain tumor that changed his perspective on life. Now tumor-free, Gray enjoys service-oriented activities, the youth group at his church and spending time restoring a 1950 GMC truck with his dad.

    Tell us about your brain tumor.
    “In seventh grade, I was having trouble with my eyesight. I went to the eye doctor and they said, ‘You just need a new pair of glasses.’ It didn’t really help. It just kept getting worse and worse. We went to a different eye doctor. He kept looking at me and said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with your eyes. But I want you to get an MRI, because it’s something between your eyes and the back of your brain.’ The next morning, my parents get called after I get dropped off at school.
         “Your eyes, they have optic nerves that go to the back of your brain. They cross right in the middle of your brain before your pituitary gland, which controls your hormones and stuff. The stalk of the tumor was wrapped around the pituitary gland, so they cut that out. I no longer have any hormones in my body. It’s easy to supplement, but it’s sometimes an inconvenience. But it’s not that bad compared to anything else that could’ve happened.”

    What was it like dealing with that as a seventh-grader?
    “Pretty rough. But I see the world different now after that. I was in that hospital for two weeks. I saw kids that had to be in there for weeks on end, couldn’t go home; some couldn’t leave their beds. Now I feel like: If you have something bad going on in your life, you can always help someone else.”

    What’s something you want to learn more about?
    “I want to learn more about the brain and how the body works. How cancers and tumors can be prevented. If you figure out how they start, then you can figure out how to stop them from starting, so other kids don’t have to go through what I’ve been through.”


    Fourth grade, St. Agnes School

    This crew of fourth-graders created an energy project that they entered into the National Energy Education Development (N.E.E.D.) program, which won the Kentucky and National Elementary Rookie of the Year awards. These researchers collected data on efficient energy use and assessed ways of conserving energy for an on-campus building. They attended the N.E.E.D. energy conference in Washington, D.C. for their work.

    Tell us more about this project you worked on.

    Lily: “You can have your lights half on and half off, so you’re not using them all at one time. That can save energy. Another way is you can have a green roof. It looks really cool. And it takes in that water so it doesn’t go down the gutters.”

    Maggie: “It uses rainwater to water the plants instead of using water from your sink.”

    Lucy: (whispers) “Can I say another reason? You can open your windows and not have your air conditioning on.”

    Tell us about going to D.C.

    Maggie: “We had a conference and it was about when you moved to Mars — a Mars habitat. And you had to save energy somehow and your lights had to be circuited together, so if one goes out, the others stay on.”

    Anthony: “We worked with kids from all over the country.”

    Maggie: “Another day we had to make some sort of machine that saves energy or does something good for the earth. Our group made a solar-panel phone case. It’d charge your phone if you put it in the sun.”

    Alex: “I think we can all agree that our favorite part of the trip was the trading event. You bring objects and you trade with other people.”

    Maggie: “The group from California brought bottles of sand. I still have mine.”

    Alex: “I brought some goggles. Like jockey goggles. And some horseshoes. My dad has a friend who works at Churchill Downs.”

    Parent: How about going to the Capitol building?

    Alex: “Mitch McConnell had a cool office with a really good view.”

    Do you have any projects planned for the near future?

    Alex: “We’re thinking of making an actual club open to people. They can learn about energy. Like kids. Like fourth and fifth grade.”


    Age 11, fifth grade, Montessori School of Louisville

    This tennis champ and self-described “bookworm” is ranked first in Kentucky and second in the Southern region (nine states) for his age division. When not on the court, you’ll find him playing his guitar, reading, programming Lego Mindstorm robots or doing something science-y. He jokes he likes to sleep in as late as possible.

    Do you have a favorite book?
    “Do Kindle books count? OK, good. There’s this book I read recently about a boy who had red eyes from ocular albinism, which is where he had no pigment in his eyes. He was made fun of and he was Catholic, and he was called ‘devil boy’ and really bad names. It’s a story about his life. He actually became an ophthalmologist.”

    What’s your dream job?
    “Tennis player or mathematician or scientist. I recently did an experiment to determine which surface is harder: a locker, your head, the wall or a table.”

    Mom: Sam, stop it.

    “I hit my head. It went bang. The locker hurt the least.”

    Is that how you got so smart?
    “Yeah. When you have a brain fart on a test, just go up to a locker — bang. I think I dented the locker. Whoops.”

    Who inspires you?
    “In science, my dad. In math, my mom. In general, probably Albert Einstein. I want to do what he does. I also just want to prove all the people wrong and think of a theory that fits everything. Like a theory of the universe.”

    What’s your theory?
    “Probably, well, it depends. The mystery of why there’s less anti-matter than matter. It’s the opposite of matter. Like positrons, have you heard of those? It’s basically anti-matter. When matter and anti-matter collide, they explode. They go boom boom. My theory is that in the universe, for some reason, there’s less matter than anti-matter, so my theory is that on one side of the universe that we haven’t explored yet, there’s a ton of anti-matter, but not where we are.”

    This originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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