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    Are you smarter than a Super Kid? You are not. Included in this year's class of Louisville's brightest students: filmmaker, NASCAR driver, cupcake baker, painter, airplane pilot, soldier, 10-year-old black belt, clarinetist, polyglot, fundraiser, author. One actually wrote a paper titled "On the Solution of a Limited Class of Transcendental Systems." No, we have no clue what that means. Oh, and a lesson we learned: Don't challenge a Super Kid to a game of chess. 

    Ben Rhodes

    17, Holy Cross High School, senior

    You might be looking at the next Jeff Gordon or Dale Jr. right now. Ben has racked up impressive finishes in several big races as a driver with NASCAR Next, which spotlights stock-car racing’s upcoming stars. “You’ve got all these old farts — like, I wouldn’t say Jeff Gordon — but Jeff Gordon, he’s getting older now,” Ben says. “A lot of these drivers are getting older, so NASCAR is looking to kind of start the (next) movement now.” Ben is also kind of a social-media superstar, with more than 15,000 Twitter followers and 19,352 Facebook fans. Oh, and he’s a straight-A student, too.

    How did you get started racing?

    “My family bought a go-kart when I was about six, and it just sat in the garage for a while. My brother asked one day if he could take the go-kart out and run it. He was already taking it around in a circle at our house, so they took him out to the track. I watched him for about two weeks, and I said, ‘I’ve had enough of watching; I want to get in on this!’ They bought me a new go-kart. I went out there, and I was horrible. I was absolutely horrible. I got ran over. I think I might have been crying after the race. I got lapped so many times. It hurt. It didn’t feel good. I was too scared to tell my dad I wanted to quit after he bought the new go-kart, so I stayed with it and eventually got good at it.”

    What does it take to be good?

    “You’ve got to be quick-thinking, because everything’s happening at such a fast pace. You’ve got to communicate to your crew chiefs, engineers, mechanics. They look to you for all the information, so you have to take the leadership role. You have to know enough about the car to process the information and tell them, ‘OK, we’re too soft on the right front (tire).’”

    How physical is it?

    “A lot of the guys at the highest level actually do triathlons. It gets really hot in the car, so you’ve got to maintain good cardio. It wears you out because it’s so hot in there. In the heat of the summer, when it’s 100 degrees out, it can get up to 130 in the cars. Then you’re wearing a three- or four-layer suit on top of that. I lose about seven pounds in those races.”

    What was learning to drive a regular car like?

    “Not fun at all. I wish I could teleport places. I always have to put the cruise control on to keep from going faster than I want to. Driving’s not a problem; it’s just a matter of restricting myself to be slow and be patient.”

    Emie Dunagan

    16, Assumption High School, junior

    After finishing Young Entrepreneurs Academy, Emie made her first pitch to investors for funding to start a baking business, Em’s Delights, on her 16th birthday. Look for her cupcakes at the Louisville Coffee Co. in Jeffersontown. Try the chai tea latte flavor.

    How’d you get into baking?

    “I’ve been baking for 10 years, since I was six years old with my grandma. The first cake I remember making was in 2004. It was a little-bitty cake, like a miniature one. I put chocolate icing and a doughnut on top of it.”

    Was it an Easy-Bake Oven cake?

    “Yeah. I still have my first (Easy-Bake Oven).”

    Why cupcakes?

    “They’re the most popular right now. I’m going to expand into pastries; that’s what I’m working on right now. And then I do big cakes as well.”

    Do you have any failure stories yet?

    “Oh, god. So the first wedding cake I made was three-tiered; it was huge. It was a 16-, a 12- and a 10-inch cake, so the day I built the cake, the whole bottom layer collapsed. The day of the wedding. I had to re-bake the entire bottom sheet, re-ice, re-fondant and put it all together and still drive it out 25 miles and get it there and set it up. So I failed in the beginning, but I got it out there.”

    Sowmyan Viswanathan

    10, St. Matthews Elementary, fifth grade

    Referred to by his principal as St. Matthews Elementary’s own Michelangelo, Sowmyan completed a mural of the school’s logo and mascot (a tiger) on a wall in the office over the summer. He’s pictured with his winning entry in JCPS’ annual Derby Welcome Card Contest. His other areas of expertise are tennis, piano and Quick Recall.

    Do you do a lot of artwork?

    “I just draw about once a week, but I paint about two times a month.”

    What kinds of things do you like to paint?

    “I like to paint scenery a lot. Natural scenery. Bob Ross is what I’ve been looking at to draw these things.” (Points to a painting he did of a lake surrounded by evergreen trees.)

    What other things do you like to do?

    “I’m learning to play the saxophone. It was kind of hard at first to blow into it, but then I got the hang of it.”

    Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?

    “I want to be big in tennis, and I want to excel at whatever I do. I also like aerospace, stuff that has to do with space. I want to design buildings and stuff like that.”

    Amanda Tu

    15, duPont Manual High School, junior

    Amanda’s an advocate for food justice. The organization she’s involved with, New Roots, organizes “fresh stops,” where the group sells produce (bought wholesale from local farmers) on an income-based sliding scale to people living in areas with limited access to grocery stores. She’s also a reporter and assignment editor for her school’s news website, RedEye.

    What does food justice mean?

    “To me, food justice would be everyone — no matter what your race is, no matter what your socioeconomic class, no matter where you live — being able to enjoy access to fresh, affordable produce and pursue health through that.”

    What got you interested in it?

    “For a lot of kids, the last meal they eat for the day is the last meal they eat at school.”

    Tell us about your investigative reporting.

    “I think the very first thing I ever wrote on the site was an investigative story about the tables in Manual’s courtyard. There were these concrete tables, like these old, crumbling tables, and the PTSA raised a bunch of money to replace them all with these new red tables. I was talking to the person in charge of that at the beginning of the year, and she mentioned that there was some delay in JCPS bureaucracy; they had to be the ones to remove the old tables before the new ones could be put in. I worked with another girl on staff, and we were able to talk to the head of all the plant operations at JCPS. We found out that, though Manual had filed a request to get those tables removed, for some reason they weren’t following up on it. We wrote this story, published it, and then the next week we got the information from JCPS that, because of this story, they were coming to get rid of the tables and put in the new ones.”

    Sydney Tucker

    13, Newburg Middle School, eighth grade

    With a little help from her parents, Sydney wrote, illustrated and published a children’s book, Up to Bat, based on her experience with three siblings who have autism.

    Tell us about your book.

    “It’s actually a kids’ book. And my three siblings are the main characters, along with me. We’re playing baseball during the summer, and while we’re playing we name things that (kids with autism) might need.”

    Like what?

    “So my sister is very hyper all the time, and what she might need, for example, is a weighted vest, which can just calm her down and make her less active.”

    Why are the characters bears instead of humans?

    “Well, we all like bears. And my mom calls me ‘bear’, so it just came up.”

    What’s it like having three siblings with autism?

    “People might feel sorry for me once in a while, but I think it’s a real blessing to have them. They’re really fun. I take care of them; when we go into public places, I hold their hands and help my mom out.”

    What kinds of other things are you involved in?

    “I Love Animals club, engineering, student technology and leadership program. Then I play sports like basketball and tennis. And I’m in MathCounts. You get the idea.”

    You have a lot of things that you like to do. Do you have one path you’d like to follow?

    “When I grow up, my first career choice would be a lawyer, because I love debating. And I love watching Judge Judy.”

    Jack Chauvin

    12, St. Margaret Mary, sixth grade

    With help from his mom, who’s a professional fundraiser, Jack is the chair of Louisville’s Pushups for Charity event. It’s part of a nationwide effort to raise money for the Boot Campaign, which provides veterans and their families with financial assistance for housing, education and other needs. On Nov. 8, Jack and other fundraisers will gather and do as many pushups as they can in 90 seconds to raise awareness for their cause.

    What made you want to raise money for the Boot Campaign?

    “I just found out how hard veterans have to work to protect their country, so we should show appreciation for it.”

    How have you been involved so far?

    “We went around all of yesterday trying to put up posters in fire stations, and we had a table at the Bats game. We had two soldiers there. We have a website too. If people see the poster and go to the website they can either join my team to do pushups or they can donate money. So far we’ve raised about $1,400.”

    You’re a good spokesperson. Have you had any training?

    “Most times when I’m in the car, my mom says, ‘So why are you doing this, Mr. Chauvin?’” (Jack’s also done pretend interviews with his English bulldog, Petunia.)

    What’s required for a proper pushup?

    “Back straight, and you have to touch your chest to the ground. You can have your knees on the ground if you want to.”

    So any idea what you want to do when you grow up?

    “Not really. I kind of want to be a teacher. I just want to teach like algebra I, so I can make kids’ heads hurt.”

    Wren Hoadley

    6, Walden School, first grade

    A little more than a year into her BMX racing career, Wren is ranked third out of 14 girls in Kentucky. She also does gymnastics, cross country and Girl Scouts. “My mom starts talking about stuff, and I go, ‘Can I do it, can I do it, can I do it?’” Wren says.

    How is a BMX bike different than a regular bike?

    “The wheels can go backwards and it goes really fast — faster than a normal bike.”

    What kinds of things do you practice for BMX?

    “I kind of practice with my brother, and I was riding with my bike on a track and then Daddy just let me race when I was five.”

    Do you have any pets?

    “One died, and her name is Scout. And she’s a cat. And my other one is a cat; then my other one is a cat; then my other one is a cat; then my last one is a dog.”

    How many cats do you have?

    “Three now, ’cause one died. One’s crazy. It’s Speedy.”

    What’s your dog’s name?

    “Caesar. My other cat’s name is Homie; then my other cat’s name is Cosmo. That’s a weird name, isn’t it?”

    Jaydon Lake

    6, Portland Elementary, first grade

    From Jaydon’s kindergarten teacher: “I have been in education for six years, and I have never seen a student at his age so well-behaved and engaged in learning.” Jaydon didn’t mention it during our interview, but his teacher said Jaydon has been known to play school over the weekend. He was also voted “most dependable” by his classmates. Side note: He wishes he could have had his photo taken on a motorcycle.

    Your teacher told us you’re a really good student. What’s your favorite subject?

    “Special area.”

    What’s that?

    “It’s where we go to a special place in school at a certain time of day and we have to do it until 10 o’clock, and one is computer, one is library and one is gym.”

    What have you been learning about in school recently?

    “Um, I don’t know — times.”

    On a watch or multiplication?

    “On a watch and times where you do number sentences.”

    What kind of books are you all reading?

    “Chapter books.”

    Do you have one that you like?

    “I like them all.”

    So we hear you play sports too.

    “Yes, football and tee-ball. My football team is the Redskins. And my tee-ball team is the Cardinals. In football, I play tight end. It’s a special part in football where you have to go be the third one on the line and the last one on the line on each side.”

    Ruthie Dworin

    15, Louisville Classical Academy, sophomore

    The head of Louisville Classical Academy says it best: “Ruthie is a collector of ancient languages.” Ruthie took the AP Latin exam during freshman year. She has won gold medals in the National Latin Exam and National Classical Etymology Exam. She also placed third in a Greek contest at the National Junior Classical League Convention and teaches Hebrew to students preparing for bar and bat mitzvahs.

    Why learn Latin and Greek?

    “My parents studied Greek in college, and my dad did Latin in college as well, so we’re just sort of a classical-centered family.”

    How did you learn Hebrew?

    “I’ve been taking Hebrew at temple at Sunday school since kindergarten.”

    What do you like about learning these languages?

    “That’s hard to articulate. I guess I like the idea of being able to communicate in a different way. And I think it makes more sense to read things like ancient texts in their actual languages because you get nuances that don’t cross over into English.”

    What are some examples of those texts you’ve read?

    The Aeneid. That was for the AP Latin exam. And The Gallic Wars by Caesar. There were some nuances that made more sense in translating them than reading the translations.”

    So do you and your family have conversations in Greek or Latin?

    “Sometimes me and my dad will have very, very short conversations in Latin.”

    Minh Khoale Tran

    17, Central High School, senior

    Minh moved with his family to the U.S. from Vietnam when he was in seventh grade. He worked hard to learn English when he got here, and with assistance from a nonprofit called Educational Justice, which provides tutoring to students from lower-income families, he scored above a 30 on the ACT. He was a 2014 Governor’s Scholar and is taking AP Chemistry online at the Harvard University Extension School. He’s planning to study computer science in college, then go to medical school.

    Do you remember how you felt when you first moved here?

    “I remember it was the snowiest day of the year, and it doesn’t snow in my country, so it was a new experience for me, as with everything else. My parents didn’t speak any English at all and neither did I or my brother. Then when I got to classes there were translators for different languages, and I was the only person in my class that was Vietnamese and there was no Vietnamese translator, so throughout that semester I had to really work on my own to learn English and understand the lesson. I think that was one of the factors that helped me to be able to move on more quickly than the other students at the Newcomer Academy.”

    What motivates you?

    “I come from a family and culture that values education. And my family and also my extended family, my uncles and aunts, are always encouraging me and my brother to do our best, because they always remind us that’s the reason why my parents are here. My parents both worked in offices back in Vietnam: My dad was an accountant, my mom was a nurse. When they moved here, their certificate and degree didn’t really translate, and so they had to land really hard, labor-intensive jobs. My family is a big motivation for me.”

    Aboubacar Cherif

    17, Central High School, senior

    Like Minh, Aboubacar moved here in middle school. He came with his family from Guinea, and his first language is French. Aboubacar also got tutoring at Educational Justice, scored high on the ACT and was a 2014 Governor’s Scholar. He’s taking the online AP Chemistry class from the Harvard Extension School and plans to study bioengineering in college before applying to medical school.

    Tell us what it was like for you when you first got to the United States.

    “When people spoke, it was kind of just gibberish.”

    Do you remember your first day of school?

    “Really disorienting. It was like I was back in elementary school. People were talking and it was a bit frustrating. I remember there was this guy who came up to me and said, ‘What’s up?’ and I did not know what he was saying. But there was a girl next to me who said, ‘Oh, it’s just a greeting.’ So I just waved my hand.”

    How’d you learn to speak English?

    “I went to the library and picked up elementary books, and every time I came across a word I didn’t know, I marked it, and when I came home I looked up the word and translated it and that’s really how I picked up the language. I would say in maybe six months I could really understand what most people were saying.”

    What’s your biggest motivating factor to excel academically?

    “The knowledge that my parents brought me here because of education. My mom and my dad always said, ‘If it weren’t for you children, we would have been fine in our country.’ My dad was actually a doctor and my mom was an accountant, and they were doing just great. It was just to give us more opportunities for our education that they sacrificed themselves. And for me, the firstborn child of my family, I really had to be the role model and help my siblings.”

    Sammy Cawthon

    17, Sacred Heart Academy, senior

    The pole (used for pole vaulting) that Sammy is holding in the photo has a sheath around it that she designed and got provisionally patented. Some of her other accomplishments: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with her dad and learning how to hybridize plants.

    Why did you decide to invent the sheath for pole vaulting?

    “I have four poles. I became too strong for one of them. It’s super-easy; it’s like a limp noodle. I can’t use it anymore. I’m like, ‘Why can’t I use it? It’s $400.’ I don’t want to just have it sit there. So I’m like, ‘Why can’t I do something to make it useful?’”

    Why plants?

    “Do you know Frank Otte Nursery? That’s my uncle Frank. My mom was always into plants; I thought it was the dumbest thing ever. But my mom and I bought this African violet, and she was like, ‘They’re really hard to take care of, and I don’t think I’ve ever had one live past the winter.’ I took that as a challenge.”

    How do you hybridize a plant?

    “Columbines (a type of violet) are just super-prolific. You put them anywhere and they breed. The general idea to hybridize a columbine is you just take two that you like and you put them together, like on top of each other, and you re-plant them and re-pot them and you just keep them away from other plants.”

    So what do you want to do after high school?

    “I want to do a biomedical engineer undergrad, and then I want to go to medical school; then I want to intern at NASA for two years and hopefully be a physician on the International Space Station.”

    What would you do there?

    “If you think about it, when you go from gravity to no gravity, there’s a lot of health issues. I want to be an attending physician and potentially do experimentation while I’m up there. We want to be able to eventually live on other planets, so we need to explore that in more depth.”

    Jordan Ridge

    7, Kerrick Elementary, first grade

    Last summer, Jordan sold donated items, lemonade and cookies at a neighborhood yard sale to raise $360 for the Humane Society. This summer, she raised $565 at the yard sale for Kosair Children’s Hospital.

    What kinds of things did you sell at the yard sale?

    “Anything that we didn’t need.”

    Your mom said you donated some of your toys. What did you donate?

    “Stuffed animals.”

    What kinds of cookies did you sell?

    “Chocolate-chip and snickerdoodle.”

    Had you been to the Humane Society before you raised the money for them?

    “I had Humane Society camp for two years. We learned about animals, and we played with dogs and cats.”

    Did you just lose a tooth?

    (Nods.)

    When did you lose it?

    “Friday night.”

    Andrew Lipman

    17, Walden School, senior

    Andrew Lipman just put you in checkmate. He’s been playing chess competitively since kindergarten, and at 13 he won a match against a chess master who had three or four decades of experience.

    What’s the most nervous you’ve ever felt while playing chess?

    “Super Nationals. I can’t remember what grade, but before the tournament started, there was a blitz tournament. Blitz is basically just five-minute games. It was the second game — I believe I’d won the first one — so I was playing my opponent for the second time, and we were like the last people there. There were all these people watching us.”

    Do you like other board games?

    “I like them, but chess made me really competitive. Like, I have to win, so my friends don’t like playing them with me.”

    This might be a silly question, but do you have a signature move or something?

    “Everyone’s got like their own opening that they play. There are all these grand masters and masters that have written books on what they believe is the best opening. I mean, there really is no best opening, but everyone just kind of takes one. So I took one, the English (e.g., moving your third pawn from the left two spaces forward), and modified it to fit my play style a little more.”

    Marian Hernandez Reyes

    11, Western Middle School, sixth grade

    After Marian moved here from Honduras, she started fourth grade at Frayser Elementary with a limited knowledge of English. In two years of diligent study, Marian improved her English by four grade levels.

    So you started fourth grade not speaking much English?

    “Yes. It was really hard for me when I first got to school. It was really weird because I didn’t understand what other people were telling me, so I was just talking to the people who knew Spanish, and then they started helping me.”

    How did you learn English so well in just two years?

    “Well, it wasn’t really easy. But at home on the Internet I used to go to Google and put the words in Spanish and then it got to me in English, so I just did that and I wrote it on a piece of paper and then I tried to practice.”

    What was the first thing you were able to read?

    “We read this book called Uncle Jed and His Barbershop, I think. That’s the first thing I had to read, and it was really hard. Then my teacher gave me some cards to practice how to read, and after two months I read that book and started reading in front of the class.”

    What do you do for fun?

    “I listen to music in both English or Spanish, and I sing. I like Ariana Grande.”

    If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?

    “Either Brazil or France. Brazil because it looks fun, and my favorite player from soccer is there.”

    Is there anything else that you’d like to learn?

    “I’d like to learn another language like French or Italian.”

    Anoa Zakee

    17, the Academy at Shawnee High School, senior

    Along with two other classmates, Anoa won a high school marketing challenge sponsored by Louisville’s chapter of the American Advertising Federation. The students created a social-media campaign about online safety. Anoa is also a Girl Scouts Ambassador, swim instructor and Governor’s Scholar.

    What kinds of things did you have to do for your marketing campaign?

    “We had to make our own brand name, and we had to make our own logo. We decided to call ourselves the Pride Protectors, so basically we held these after-school meetings and talked to people about how what they put online can be dangerous and how things online can affect your future life.”

    What did you have to do to get your message across?

    “We were trying to reach teens, so we were like, ‘Would teens really pay attention to us telling them not to post that online? Probably not.’ So we went on social media that we knew they would look at, and we got a lot of followers and people asking us questions like, ‘How do I change my settings to private?’”

    Is marketing something you’re hoping to do career-wise?

    “Not really. I want to be a pediatrician.”

    What makes you want to be a pediatrician?

    “I work with little kids and babies and teach them how to swim. I’m a Girl Scout; I work with younger troops and stuff, and I realize that I really like working with children. I really like helping people. And I like science. I also like math. I’m in statistics right now.”

    What kind of colleges are you thinking about?

    “I’m thinking I might study biology for the first four years, then go to pre-med. So I’m really thinking U of L or UK or private schools like Spalding or Howard.”

    Michael Gollnick

    18, Male High School, senior

    Michael admits that he’s a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. He finished basic training for the U.S. Army over the summer, and he starts training as a combat engineer next year. “Basically, my job in the Army is to create and destroy obstacles,” Michael says. “So let’s say there’s an obstacle in the road: I can blow that up and get rid of it. Or I can create obstacles to stop the enemy.”

    So you’ve been out in the field blowing things up?

    “Not yet. That’s next summer. That’s when the fun starts. Last summer we threw hand grenades. That’s the most we did with explosives.”

    What’s been the most rewarding part of your experience so far?

    “Finishing (basic training). The last thing we did was called Night Infiltration Course. Basically, they were shooting live rounds over our heads and we had to low-crawl about 100 meters. After that they formed us up, and we had a big bonfire and they said we were United States soldiers. It was just kind of at that point that I finally realized my dream.”

    Do you have a bucket-list item?

    “I want to go bungee jumping, I want to jump out of a plane, I want to get tased once. Not bad tased, like running away from the cops. But I just want to try it.”

    Jocelyn Vasquez-Romero

    8, H.B. Slaughter Elementary, third grade

    Jocelyn speaks English and Spanish and is learning Mam, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala and Mexico.

    Tell us about the language you’re learning.

    “Mam. It’s a Guatemalan language, and I want to learn it so when I visit my grandmother and my grandfather, I can talk to them in that language.”

    What’s your favorite subject in school?

    “I like reading and art. I like to read language books.”

    Do you have a favorite book?

    “Um, I like a Japanese one.”

    Do you have any pets?

    “I wish I could.”

    What kind of pet would you have?

    “A guinea pig, because they’re fat.”

    Because you like to learn languages, would you like to live in another place when you grow up?

    “I’d like to live in another state or another country. Maybe Canada.”

    Evan Sennett

    17, duPont Manual High School, senior

    Evan’s movies have appeared at festivals all over the country and at the Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Corner. To fund these projects, he has raised a total of $5,255 on Kickstarter.

    Tell us about the film you had at Cannes.

    “I made a short called Writing the Big One. It was based on the 1940s and ’50s film noir crime movies. I worked on it with my friend Matthew Rivera. We shot it for three days and sent it to several film festivals. It got picked up by Cannes Short Corner, as well as many other festivals. I’ve made three other films with Matthew and one by myself.”

    Can you talk about those?

    The Executive was shot on 16 mm film. It was a silent movie, and we did everything the way they would have done it back then. We even typed the script on a typewriter. Then we made a film recently on 16 mm, but it was a sound film called Keep It Clean. And Keep It Clean is about an OCD, neurotic clean freak. And one day a greasy, disgusting vacuum-cleaner salesman comes into his house and has a heart attack and dies, so the clean freak has to deal with the corpse.”

    What was the first film you ever made?

    “Third grade was the first time I started thinking about making movies. I made a claymation kind of thing. So I would sculpt the characters out of clay and then take a picture and move them a little bit and take a picture, kind of like an animated cartoon.”

    This is probably a hard question, but do you have a favorite movie?

    “I don’t really have a favorite movie, but I do have some films that are inspiring. I think the first film I saw when I was a little kid that got me thinking about how they made it is The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

    Michelle Jones

    16, St. Francis High School, senior

    You read that right. Michelle is 16 and graduates this school year. Her academic specialty is math. She’s taking AP statistics and an independent study in complex variables. She wrote a paper titled “On the Solution of a Limited Class of Transcendental Systems,” submitted to a math journal. And she’s a state-champion, level-nine (two levels below Olympic) gymnast.

    What does the title of your paper mean?

    “Transcendental equations are anything that aren’t algebraic, so like sine or exponential or non-algorithmic. Generally, some of them have to use a calculator, but there are other ways that I wrote about.”

    Math is a hard subject to talk about with people, right?

    “Yeah, I’m never sure how much they know.”

    What do you like about math?

    “It just makes sense. It’s so logical. It all fits into place, and you don’t have to interpret it.”

    How did you get into gymnastics?

    “I started when I was really little because I would do handstands against the fridge and I would do cartwheels around the house. My parents didn’t want me to break my neck, so I started gymnastics and I just kept going.”

    Is there anyone who inspires you?

    “Watching Olympic gymnasts. My new favorite gymnast is Simone Biles. You’ll hear of her next Olympics; she’s been winning everything recently. She’s 17, a year older than me — kind of scary, kind of inspiring.”

    What do you think makes someone smart?

    “Um, I think you have to be able to find patterns in stuff and be able to explain them.”

    Christopher Zhou

    17, duPont Manual High School, senior

    At 17, Christopher’s resume is already two full pages of awards and achievements in math, science and as a clarinetist.

    What was your favorite place to play with the National Youth Orchestra?

    “Where do I even begin? In terms of performance, I think the Washington, D.C., performance (at the Kennedy Center). As much as I loved the prestige of the Russian venues, I think that nothing could really top the performance at the (BBC Proms in London) because that’s the largest orchestral festival in the world. There were people lined up to buy tickets early in the morning, and as we headed to our dress rehearsal, we could see the long lines waiting.”

    What did you do during your internship at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center?

    “I was assigned to the tumor immunobiology department, and I did lots of research on autoimmune diseases. It involved lots of pipetting and some dissecting of mice, which I thought was pretty interesting. I feel pretty good about my work there because I had a minor research breakthrough in understanding how this one disease works. If the lab does continue the research and publishes the results, I may be listed as a co-author. The disease was (hyperimmunoglobulin E) syndrome, also known as Job’s syndrome, which just results from an overabundance of IgE antibodies in your blood. It’s kind of like allergies but on a very large scale.”

    How many colleges are you applying to?

    “On my list I have well over a dozen.”

    Erin Baxter

    10, Eisenhower Elementary, fifth grade

    It’s too bad we can’t put video footage in a magazine, because seeing Erin, a black belt in taekwondo, break boards with her hands and feet is impressive. Erin’s also a multisport athlete and an actor. She recently played Aladdin in a kids’ production at the Derby Dinner Playhouse.

    What’s your favorite sport? Taekwondo?

    “Softball or basketball. Taekwondo is not really a sport; it’s like an art, but I like it.”

    Why do you call it an art instead of a sport?

    “Because, like, yeah, you’re getting athleticism and everything, but you’re learning and you’re getting self-defense and you learn how to be a better citizen.”

    Does it hurt to break the boards?

    “Um, yes. But with my hand I’ve gotten used to it because I do it every time and it’s really easy now. But when I was testing for my first-degree, I kicked it and I cut my ankle on the board and that hurt. I had like seven Band-Aids on at the end.”

    Do you have any career plans?

    “I want to be a surgeon. I want to open people’s stomachs.”

    Is there a sport you don’t like?

    “Cross country wasn’t my thing. I’ll run, but I have to be doing something while I’m running. I can’t just be running because I’ll be like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. Dad, where are you? Let’s go home.’”

    Your principal said you’ve had perfect attendance since kindergarten. How did you do that?

    “Because if my mom says (I’m) going to miss a day of school, I go crazy a little. I want to get that trophy in eighth grade that you get if you’ve never missed a day. I like trophies.”

    Joseph Jewell

    17, the Academy at Shawnee High School, senior 

    While most of his peers were worried about getting a driver’s license, Joseph was working on his pilot’s license as part of his school’s aviation magnet. Right after he got his license, he flew his mom to Frankfort for dinner as a way of saying thank you.

    What’s the farthest you’ve ever flown?

    “It was probably a two hour, 20 minute flight. It was 150 nautical miles from Clark County Regional Airport to Columbus, Indiana, then over to Bloomington, then over to Clark County.”

    Do you hope to do this as a career?

    “I want to fly for UPS one day.”

    Do you know what you’re doing after high school?

    “I want to get into Stanford or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and continue my aviation career.”

    Is there anywhere you’d like to fly to?

    “I’d like to visit a bunch of different countries — places like Australia, Brazil, China. Just to see their culture.”

    What are some skills you have to have to be a pilot?

    “You have to have good vision. You have to trust the instruments on the inside of the plane. You can’t focus on how you feel. You might feel like you’re turning, but the plane is actually flying straight.”

    Ian McShane

    17, Ballard High School, senior

    Ian began his road and cyclocross (off-road) racing career at age 10. He has won enough awards since then to land spots on the USA Junior National and Vertex Cycling teams in Europe. After high school, Ian’s headed to Marian University in Indianapolis on a cycling scholarship.

    What kind of training do you do?

    “We go to Florida sometimes and we’ll do 100 miles every day for a week.”

    What’s a memorable race?

    “When I went with Team USA, we did a classic called Paris-Roubaix. It’s a cobblestone race where there’s 16 sections of cobbles. I ended up actually crashing and breaking my elbow, which was not fun. I was a little sad I didn’t get to finish the race, but I came back and finished the season.”

    Is there anything that scares you about cycling?

    “Not really. Sometimes when you get those crazy-fast downhills that are 65 miles per hour it gets a little sketchy and you try not to have speed wobbles. I get this thing where I start going over 50 and my left ankle starts shaking uncontrollably.”

    Michael Buchanan

    16, DeSales High School, junior

    Michael recently completed his second summer as the owner/operator of Big Mike’s Shaved Ice. When his business, which he runs out of a small yellow building in Hikes Point, is closed for the season, he plays varsity football.

    What made you want to have your own business instead of getting a job somewhere?

    “I thought it would be kind of cool being my own boss, making my own schedule, making my own money, not having to make money for someone else.”

    At what point did you know you were successful at it?

    “People were like, ‘This is so cool.’ Shaved ice, you know? We use a machine where we put a giant block of ice on a razor blade and it spins around and shaves the ice and it comes out like clear snow, so when you eat it, it doesn’t crunch in your mouth or anything. That’s what separates us from snow cones. That’s what everyone was looking for.”

    What did you do with your first paycheck?

    “Put it in the bank. I have to order inventory a lot, so I didn’t really use my money until the end of the season. I bought my first vehicle, which was a truck off Craigslist.”

    What’s your best-selling flavor?

    “Cherry. I have to order that every week.”

    Do people combine flavors?

    “You can choose up to four, five, six or however many. The thing is, I don’t recommend it. It would get really nasty and turn the ice into a slushie. Some people do it, though.”

    Madison Mattingly

    18, Atherton High School, senior

    Madison’s been drawing horses since she was two. Her love of animals inspired the sculpture of a horse morphing into a fish that won Land Air & Water magazine’s 2014 Eco-Art Contest.

    Tell us about your sculpture:

    “It took me about three months. It’s recycled material, mostly cardboard and chicken wire. I was going for something that would represent Kentucky as a whole, both the land and the rivers. So I have the horse with the fish tail. And then we wanted texture on it, and when I say we, I mean me and my art teacher. I’ve had her for four years, so she’s a great inspiration. She has two birch trees in her front yard, and she actually went and ripped all the bark off them for me. So she has two bare trees in her front yard.”

    Where do the ideas for sculptures come from?

    “When I was younger I’d play with Legos a lot, and I’d pick something up and start building and it would turn into something.”

    Are there any artists you’ve been inspired by?

    “Not really. I don’t really like to look at other peoples’ work, because then I get that image and I want mine to look exactly like that.”

    Is art something you want to pursue after high school?

    “I want to be a horse trainer or a veterinarian. I’ve always wanted to work with animals, but I definitely want to keep art as a hobby.”

    Images courtesy of Chris Witzke

    This article appears in the November issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here.

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    About Amy Talbott

    Piscean. INFJ. Cat person. Runner. Mediocre housekeeper. Excellent cook. Scours the sleaze on Craigslist so you don't have to.

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