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    Interviews by Hannah Rose Neuhauser

    Photos by Clay Cook, claycookphoto.com

     

    KARL HANCOCK
    18, senior, Walden

    Karl helped start Walden’s Pride Club and is also a competitive horseback rider. Of riding horses, he says, “I don’t want to stop until the day I die.”
     

    Tell me about your work with horses. “I’ve been with my trainer for eight or nine years, and the things that I can’t tell my parents, I tell her. She’s that barn mom I can go to. Animals can’t talk, and we can tell them anything and they won’t say anything. This kind of sounds bad, but you can lock them in their stalls and they are stuck with you. The barn has been a safe place for me. When I got bullied freshman year (not at Walden), I would go to the barn and not leave until 10 or 11 p.m. When I’m stressed, having an animal there that can just calm me down is comforting.”

    How do you celebrate after a horse show? “As a barn, we go to dinner. I usually give my horse a soapy bath and praise him a lot.”

     

     

    BROOKELYNN GITTINGS
    12, seventh grade, St. Martha Catholic School

    BrookeLynn is a competitive tumbler (e.g., trampoline and floor routines) and made a national all-star team this year.
     

    What do you like about tumbling? “I just like how you can flip and everything! Competing is one of my favorite parts about it.”

    You’re also an artist. What is your definition of creativity? “When I draw or color, it’s not the basic colors. I try not to use the same color a lot. I also like to take pictures of things — mostly flowers.”

    Dream job? “I really want to be a photographer or a wildlife biologist — actually go out to forests and try to find new animals and plants and help them.”

     

     

    ALEJANDRO DOWNARD
    13, eighth grade, Sacred Heart Model School

    Alejandro volunteers at the Backside Learning Center, a nonprofit at Churchill Downs for equine workers and their families. Right now, he’s working with Scheller’s Fitness and Cycling to get bikes for kids who could use the transportation.
     

    Tell me more about your work with immigrant and refugee families. “I’ve always felt a certain amount of empathy — parents coming here for years and years, coming for essentially promised dreamland. They get here and there’s this huge language barrier, occasional discrimination too, and sometimes they don’t have the money to bring their families over. I’m just trying to make life easier if I can.”

    What makes a good leader? “Someone who has been in the situation of other people and not simply a leader a whole time; otherwise they can’t empathize as easily or understand what people are going through.”

    What study habits help you? “Oh, I just read a ton.”

    Favorite book? “One of my favorites is The Rig. It’s about this kid who gets sent to a child detention center in the middle of the ocean, and it’s built off an old oil rig so the cells are old ruins with high-tech doors and stuff. It’s really cool.”

    Favorite food? “Foie gras. It’s hard to spell. Trust me.”

     

     

    ANABELLE RUIZ
    13, eighth grade, St. Martha

    Anabelle has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten and recently completed her Silver Award, a 40-plus-hour service project.
     

    Tell me about your interest in bees and the environment. “Bees are becoming endangered and I felt like I needed to do something about it. Without bees, we wouldn’t have food and it would be hard to live. I built 15 mason bee houses. If you see a bee, don’t kill it. Just be conscious of everything around you. Don’t do anything that would hurt another animal.”

    Do you have any animals? “I have a turtle, Leonardo; two guinea pigs, Squeakers and Snickers; a blue-and-gold macaw, Moses; two cats, Gizmo and Princess Leia.”

    Favorite TV show?Stranger Things.”

    Did you know Stranger Things is the photographer’s inspiration for this shoot? “No! It is?!”

    Yes, they are doing funky lights. Do you have a favorite character? “Eleven.”

     

     

    CHRISTIAN BECK
    17, senior, Saint Xavier

    Christian founded a videography company at age 13 and uses film for philanthropic causes — particularly pediatric cancer. He has won numerous regional and national awards, competing against other filmmakers from around the world.
     

    How’d you get into film? “I was asked to make a film for my older sister, who has been battling brain cancer. It was conceived to spread awareness in her school community, because not everyone understood what she was going through. Upon releasing the film, it transformed her high school experience and I saw the power that storytelling has. I realized I should do this for other kids like her. Film is very accessible, and in the age of social media, and now that everyone has smartphones that are capable of producing high-quality videos, it’s now also accessible to create films. One of my more recent films is called The Power of Storytelling, and I created it with my phone. It was kind of a call to action for other young filmmakers to go out there and share their stories.”

    What’s next for you? “I want some sort of profession that can combine my passion for storytelling with my involvement in the pediatric cancer field. As I’m looking at colleges, I’m thinking pre-med and filmmaking.”

    What’s something you want to see more of in the future of film? “The prevalence of kids engaging in this art form. I think it’s really powerful, and I think it could have a huge social impact.”

     

     

    ELISE WOBBE
    13, eighth grade, Noe Middle School

    Elise is a singer, dancer and actress. She has danced for more than 10 years and was Clara in the River City Ballet’s Nutcracker last year.
     

    Dream job? “Being an actress on Broadway.”

    What’s a favorite performance you’ve seen? “I’ve seen Hamilton three times, and it’s been so good every time. On Broadway, I saw War Paint and I will never forget that performance. Just wow. It gives me shivers. Dear Evan Hansen came (to Louisville) and that was really good.”

    How do you prepare to take on characters? “Definitely do a little bit of research, probably not as much as I should. Using mirrors. Mirrors are your best friends in the theater world.”

    How do you celebrate after a show? “We usually have the cast party and everyone is just bawling their eyes out because you’ve worked so hard with all these people and a lot of them you won’t see ever again.”

     

     

    NOEL SKILLMAN
    17, senior, Holy Cross

    Noel is training to be a combat medic and works at South Louisville Pediatrics and Mid-America Sports Center East. She is in the process of enlisting in the U.S. Army National Guard.
     

    You have two jobs and a 4.6 GPA — how do you do it? “I stay busy. I go to school, drive my siblings home, go to work, come home around 10 or 11 p.m. and then study.”

    What do you do on a day off? “Sleep. Because that is what I tend not to do.”

    What does success mean to you? “Even if you don’t seem successful to the outside world, if you are continuously working toward something, I think that is success.”

    What music are you listening to? “I’m always listening to music. I love all genres, any decade. I listen to a lot of rap in the car. Reggae, R&B, Bob Marley, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé. I know every Beyoncé song. She has her hand in so many different things. She is able to keep up with her family life and her career. She’s very creative. She’s a workaholic, like me.”

     

     

    TYLER KAELIN
    16, junior, Seneca High School

    Tyler is a leader in the ROTC and the FFA.
     

    What made you get interested in agriculture? “I had no idea what agriculture was. I got accidentally put into an ag class and it wasn’t like any classroom I had ever seen. I found a love for it. It’s super-important. My generation is going to be presented with different challenges. As the world population grows and urban population spreads, agriculture and farming isn’t going to be the same. Agriculture is in everything. It is what you eat and what you wear.
       “I think about where my food comes from. There’s a ton of science and responsibility that goes into it. If the weather turns and our farmers fail, that’s food out of our mouth.”

    What makes a good leader? “It’s very simple. Accountability and caring for the welfare of your subordinates.”

    What’s your superpower? “I do what I think is right.”

     

     

    RA’SHELLE PORTER
    13, eighth grade, Crosby Middle School

    Ra’Shelle is a football player and wants to be the first African-American woman to play in the NFL. “I don’t know if that’s even possible,” she says, “but that’s what I want to do.” (U.S. women’s national soccer team player Carli Lloyd is attempting to become an NFL kicker and would be the first woman to join the league.)
     

    What’s it like to be a young woman playing football? “At first, coaches were afraid to play me, so I just started playing real hard and acting like the boys. They started putting me in the game, so I showed them what I got and what I can do. I want to be different.”

    How do you prepare for your games? “I listen to music to pump me up. Right now, it’s Lil Tjay. And I watch films of other schools that I’m playing against.”

    How do you celebrate after a game? “I ask my mom, ‘Can I go hang with the boys?’ We go to each other’s houses. Sometimes we go to House of Boom or Renaissance Fun Park.”

    How has football been important to you? “It helps me take all my anger out and I can put it all on the field. It’s helped my schoolwork a lot.”

     

     

    CODY HORNE
    17, senior, Christian Academy of Louisville

    Cody is a football player and a champion classical singer, having recently played a lead role in a Kentucky Opera performance.
     

    We’ll get to singing and football in a minute, but first: You are learning magic? “I’ve always been fascinated by cards, so I went on YouTube and I’ve been trying to learn some flourishes. I can do tricks for friends and entertain them. If I’m working on a big project or big essay for school, I’ll have several decks of cards on my desk, and they help me focus because I want to do something with my hands. It’s really become a big stress relief.”

    OK, now tell me about singing and football. “It’s not a very common combination. A big guy like me who plays football could go to college for it. I was being recruited by several D-2, D-3 schools. But this year I can’t play football actually, because of music; I would have had to miss a lot of games and I didn’t think that was fair to my team. A lot of people don’t think of athletes as singers, but singing actually is a very athletic endeavor. It uses a lot of muscles in the core. It has to be second nature — like how offensive lineman, you have to make sure your technique becomes second nature.”

     

     

    LEVI TASMAN
    11, fifth grade, Bloom Elementary

    Levi started a student-directed musical theater program at Bloom and is directing The Lion King Jr., overseeing about 50 of his classmates.
     

    How did you get started with musical theater and performance? “When I was seven, I was in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I thought, Oh, this seems fun. So I stopped sports and I started doing musical theater. Last year, in fourth grade, I started doing this little Into the Woods thing with my friends. So then I said, ‘Hey, I want some people from Bloom to do this.’ In January I started getting some meetings with my principal and we started it.”

    What’s been a challenge as director? “Getting everyone’s attention. They are kids too, and sometimes don’t want to listen. I have to be a little mean sometimes.”

    Dream job? “A director, a psychologist or an author. I want to be a director because I like to boss people around. I want to be a psychologist because I like to help people. I want to be an author because I want to write what’s in my head.”

    Can you tell me a little about your outfit today? “Overalls are my signature.”

     

     

    JOSEPH FALCON
    17, senior, Academy @ Shawnee

    Joseph leads his school’s gay-straight alliance. He’s also the vice president of student council, secretary of Men of Quality and president of the National Honor Society.
     

    Tell me about your experience with the gay-straight alliance. “Back in my freshman year, I came out to my entire class. I just went up to my class and said, ‘I’m gay.’ I hadn’t even fully come to terms with it, but I knew that I had to push that step. Teachers said that I’d be a really good fit for our GSA. The current seniors were leading it, but they brought me into the group and made me a student leader. There are times when I plan meetings or lead discussions about what it is to be LGBT. Those seniors have graduated, so now I lead the group. We had one meeting with 20 people and that was the most. We took a picture. It was great!”

    How do you manage everything you do? “Things float by really fast. I have a good memory and I just have to stay on top of it. I find myself making lists and doing my best. I also have to implement time for self-care — getting into a hobby, playing a video game or just watching one episode of a show if you can. Just make sure you don’t get into that loop of excessive bingeing.”

    Dream job? “Currently, teaching English in Japan. Generally what I want to do in life is to travel the world and learn languages.”

     

     

    RYANE JONES
    17, senior, Sacred Heart Academy

    Ryane founded the black student union at Sacred Heart and is a member of the Muhammad Ali Center’s council of students.
     

    What makes a strong community? “People often think of community as people being the same and doing the same things. But I think of community as recognizing our differences and appreciating them full-heartedly. Taking the time to recognize and accept everyone.”

    Tell me about your writing. “I write poetry sometimes. I wrote an article in the Courier-Journal recently (‘I started a black student union at a mostly white school because we needed true diversity’).”

    What’s in your future? “I want to go to law school, but I’m not sure that I want to be a lawyer. I know that I want to fight for change and to be an advocate. I don’t think I see myself as specifically working in politics. I want to speak and be onstage.”

    What’s a social-justice issue you’re thinking about? “The issue of reparations and returning what’s due to descendants of slaves who have lost so much for generations in America.”

    Any advice you have for young black women? “You don’t have to conform. You can be yourself, fully and 100 percent you. You don’t have to be in line with what society says. You don’t have to be the cookie-cutter black-excellence black girl. You can be yourself. You can like anime and still be black excellence.”

    Favorite food? “Anything with barbecue sauce. And sushi — but not with barbecue sauce.”

     

     

    LAKOT BRENDA LAKANG
    16, junior, Western High School

    Lakot has attended the Kentucky United Nations Assembly. She is also starting her own fashion line.
     

    What are some things you’ve learned living in different countries? “No way is the right way. There’s just different lifestyles.”

    What issue is on your mind right now? “Child homelessness. Children don’t choose their families or their path. Children who are homeless have less opportunities — they can’t have birthday parties, they are always on the move, they don’t have a place to call home. It makes me feel a certain way that people overlook it. People look at homeless adults and think, Oh, they could get a job. But my point is that children can’t. It makes no sense for a child to be homeless.”

    Dream job? “I don’t have a dream job. I want to do everything. I want to explore everything. I don’t think of a job as a final solution. I think that limits you as a person. The path I’m heading toward right now is fashion-architectural-medical school.”

    You have a fashion line, right? “I’m about to start it. Right now, I’m just sketching. I feel like everyone dresses the same. I want a clothing line where everything is a limited edition because everyone is a limited edition.”

     

     

    JACKSON JONES
    17, senior, Eastern High School

    Jackson is involved with quick recall, math league and Governor’s Cup competitions. Over the summer, he competed on Jeopardy! Teen Tournament, where he advanced to the semifinals, winning $21,600.
     

    Tell me about being on Jeopardy! “There’s an online test, and then I did an in-person interview in Kansas City. After that, they call you if you get on. I received my call a couple months after my audition. It was hectic, but a lot of fun. I met a lot of really great people. Alex Trebek is really nice.
       “There was actually one question that I only knew because my friend talked to me about it a couple weeks before. It was her favorite TV show, Freaks and Geeks. I really only knew it because of her, which was kind of funny.”

    What’s your prep strategy for quick recall? “Reading the news, Wikipedia articles and online flashcards.”

    How’d you get into trivia? “I remember being in preschool, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was on. That was the first memory I have of it. And we always watch Jeopardy! when it comes on at 7:30.”

     

     

    LIBBY GILLILAND
    17, senior, Presentation Academy

    Libby is a golfer, journalist and school leader. She is particularly interested in using journalism to fight for women’s rights in the sports industry.
     

    Tell me more about your passion for journalism. “I’ve played sports my whole life, and I’m going to play golf in college. I think women’s equality in sports is the most important thing to me. My senior project at school is starting a podcast called ‘Fighting for Female.’
       “In seventh or eighth grade I figured out that sports broadcasting is what I wanted to do, so I started watching sports a lot more. I noticed, hey, there’s not a lot of women here. I felt obligated to be a voice for that.”

    Tell me more about your podcast. “My first episode was with Whitney Harding. She’s a sportscaster with WHAS. We talked about her struggles getting to where she is right now. I’m going to get women in the community — coaches, athletes, broadcasters, whoever I can find — to talk to me and just tell their stories. My next one is on Tori Murden McClure.”

    Who are some of your sports idols? “Erin Andrews is someone who comes to mind. I’m a huge Packers fan, and she’s often a sideline reporter for the Packers game on FOX. She has a really strong voice. Doris Burke is another one for basketball. She is always sitting with the guys, talking and commentating. It’s so inspiring.
       “When I say I want to be a sports broadcaster, people kind of step back and say, ‘Oh, that’s cool. But, like, really?’ I’ve dealt with that a lot. But it’s OK. I’m going to prove them wrong.”

     

     

    DANIEL BRONFMAN
    14, ninth grade, Kentucky Country Day

    Daniel is a pianist and composer. He has attended the Stephen Foster Music Camp at Eastern Kentucky University and has received numerous music awards. Daniel also started a charity called Strikeachord For Change, which raises money for music education.
     

    How’d you get involved with music? “There was a program at my school called Little Mozarts, and they were offering piano. I signed up because I thought it would be like pressing buttons. At the time, I liked pressing buttons a lot, but it was really fun and I stuck with it. Then I started writing my own music and playing at restaurants. I really enjoy sharing music.”

    Tell me more about composing. “After I read Harry Potter, I tried to make a Harry Potter soundtrack. I might make jazz or classical, but it really depends on the day. I listen to all kinds of music. It changes a lot, but right now I’m listening to alternative rock and lo-fi hip-hop.”

    If you had a day without school and music, what would it look like? “I have a lot of other hobbies. I like reading, playing video games. I solve Rubik’s Cubes. I sometimes do magic. I do yo-yo tricks.”

     

     

    ALEXANDER CLAPP
    7, first grade, Smyrna Elementary

    Alexander taught himself how to read and has an impressive vocabulary. He is reading on a third- or fourth-grade level.
     

    Do you have a favorite book? “The Geronimo Stilton books.”

    What are they about? “You know! The one with the mice in them! The mouse with the green suit. There’s also a show of him on Netflix.”

    What do you love about reading? “Anytime I read, it makes me smarter.”

    What’s your definition of smart? “It means to get better at things and learn new strategies. When I first started playing Minecraft, I didn’t know how to make six-block jumps, but I actually found out that by placing five blocks, you can do it. Or I could just make a staircase with a pickaxe.”

    What do you want to be when you grow up? “I’m going to make my own restaurant called Alex’s Big Blue Buffalo. The big hit is going to be the Big Breakfast Sandwich. It is going to have waffles for the buns and have some syrup with a MorningStar sausage in the middle. On holidays, if you want to get the Big Breakfast Sandwich, you can get extra syrup!”

    Anything else I should know about you? “I’m a really energetic little boy with an upbeat attitude. I rarely ever talk negative. I usually give advice that is good.”

    Any advice for people on how to be super like you are? “I usually remind people to be quiet, but I’m not being mean.” 

     

     

    GARRETT MCNEAR
    17, senior, Western High School

    Garrett is currently in his second year as a full-time student at JCTC. He is an Eagle Scout and a competitive cyclist.
     

    You seem like a really adventurous person. What has been one of your favorite adventures? “Probably going out to Colorado and climbing Longs Peak, which reaches 14,000 feet.”

    Dream job? “To be a storyboard writer for video games. It’s one of the higher-up jobs, because you have to be a coder and then you have to actually have the story.”

    Favorite book? “Michael Vey, by Richard Paul Evans. It’s not a very well-known book, but I really liked what the story’s about. It’s about this kid and other kids that were experimented on. They got electricity powers.”

    What’s your superpower? “Well, I try to be as nice as possible. I’m very, very forgiving — probably a little too much sometimes. And my stamina. In running and cycling, people quit, but I just keep going.”

     

     

    ANNELISE BUECKER
    12, seventh grade, Sacred Heart Model School

    Annelise is particularly interested in social justice and writing. She is also an actress.
     

    What social-justice issues are on your mind right now? “I recently read a book about an author telling her story about how she was mistreated by men. That’s something that I have very strong opinions about — honestly, and about equal rights for any group, whether it be race, religion, sexuality. It makes me mad that people don’t give them equal rights.”

    What advice do you have for other young women? “Be yourself, and if people want to try to do something that makes you uncomfortable or to do something that makes you feel like you aren’t being true to yourself, then let them know. If they aren’t willing to adjust their expectations of you, then that’s not something you should be doing in general.”

    What’s something you want to learn more about? “Genetics. It’s what makes a person a person.”

    Favorite TV show?Grey’s Anatomy.”

    Favorite character? “That’s hard. They are always changing. They are always dying. I liked George.”

    Favorite food? “Right now some fries sound really good.”

     

    ------------------------

    Clay Cook photographed this year’s class of Super Kids. Here’s how he came up with the sci-fi look.

    “When I think ‘super kids,’ my head goes to Marvel movies and DC Comics, with dramatic light. So I thought of Stranger Things, and went for an ’80s, retro color style and vibe. 
       “I spent a day pre-lighting, trying out color choices. I was actually inspired by a shoot of the Stranger Things cast by photographer Miller Mobley — dark-looking, blue, cool hues or tones. I took that and added a pop of pink or red to give a little separation from the black.
       “What’s interesting is that a lot of those kids had never watched Stranger Things. It’s more of a millennial thing. Miranda McDonald, the prop stylist, brought in tables of random stuff. The kids took their thing or something they liked, to tell their story a little more visually. Some kids were quiet, some got really into it. I don’t photograph kids often, and it was hard to talk to some of them. Most sat down and assumed it was like a school photo. I told them: This is nothing like that. I told them to find their inner superhero, and that we want a serious vibe rather than to sit down and crack a smile.”

    — Clay Cook

     

    This originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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