Bearing News

Hidden among RBHS’ 1,934 students are innovators, leaders and trailblazers. 19 under 19 brings 19 of these impactful lives to light.

Photos by Camryn DeVore, George Frey and Allie Pigg. Videos by Alyvia Swearingen. Illustrated by Moy Zhong.

Shruti Gautam, sophomore

Story by Amanda Kurukulasuriya and Moy Zhong

At first glance, Shruti Gautam’s resume looks like that of a highly accomplished high school senior; one any college would be lucky to have. After finishing calculus, she has taken three college-level math classes, in addition to C++ Programming, Advanced Web Design and several AP-level science classes. Her high-level course-load is complemented by an impressive list of extracurriculars. She has won many awards on the RBHS debate team, worked as a research assistant at a university neuroscience lab and won first place in the Congressional App Challenge, which touts itself as the “most prestigious prize in student computer science.”

Her resume would be an exceptional list of achievements for any seasoned student, yet Gautam is only a sophomore. Her transcript is not the only thing makes her unique, however. A project she began during her freshman year has turned into a major philanthropic effort. The initiative started in her Civics class, where she proposed a theoretical project that would provide free feminine hygiene products in RBHS bathrooms.

“For our Civics project I just went around with [a] petition first, and I wasn’t really going to go on from that, but the French teacher here said there was no way that that was possible, that that was ever going to happen,” Gautam said. “So then I went to the superintendent and asked them if this could happen, and Dr. Stiepleman hooked me up with Mrs. London who is the chief equity officer of the district. She started sending me the supplies and approved it for a pilot [program]. So now that’s going to be district-wide by next year.”

After tackling a problem in her own community, Gautam decided to broaden her project by getting involved with Menstrual Hygiene Day, an annual awareness day with events in more than 70 countries. This year she is organizing a fundraiser walk to benefit Rato Balti (Red Bucket in English), a Nepali charity that distributes menstrual cups and menstrual hygiene education for Nepali teens. Her event has become quite an undertaking due to logistics like finding a location and obtaining a permit to do the walk, but she has older friends to guide her.

“Last year I wasn’t involved with the March [for] Our Lives walk, but I have a lot of friends who were, so I asked them for help on the permit,” Gautam said. That’s how I got into contact with a lot of people who’ve been helping me. It’s just nice knowing someone else did this at [my] age, too.”

What started as a school project for Gautam has turned into something affecting girls half a world away. Even after attaining her original goal, she wanted to do more. While it’s easy for any student to get caught up in school work and forget to follow through, Gautam, even with her taxing course load, is committed to turning a small idea into a movement.

“It was kind of hard to find support in the beginning because people don’t really see [a lack of accessibility to feminine hygiene products] as a problem,” Gautam said. “And obviously if something’s out of a country, you don’t really think you have to care that much. But there’s a lot more support here than there is [in] other countries. If we can help educate or even have some sort of help for anyone about these problems, it should be better. It’s kind of something that’s dumb and should be fixed, and that just keeps me going.”

Junior Rachael Erickson

A debate teammate and friend to Shruti Gautam, Rachael Erickson talks about Gautam’s intelligence and kindness towards others, and her ability to be involved in many aspects.

Madison Hopper, senior

Story by Ann Fitzmaurice

Senior Madison Hopper is a kindness enthusiast. As a Youth Kindness Ambassador for Children’s Grove, she gets to discuss with the other ambassadors how to grow compassion, inclusivity and respect in communities. She reads to children at the library, helped deliver kindness libraries to elementary schools and participated in the making of the kindness chain, a project where people write down something nice they did for someone else or vice versa to form a paper chain of kindness. The summer before her sophomore year, Hopper attended a youth leadership academy that she said completely changed her life.

“[The academy] inspired me to try new things and become a better leader,” Hopper said. “Ultimately, that summer experience encouraged me to maximize my time as a Youth Kindness Ambassador for Children’s Grove, start leading a small group of then-fourth grade girls at my church, and put 100% into all of my clubs and extracurriculars.”

Along with being a kindness ambassador, Hopper is highly involved in Student Council, Giving Girls Opportunities, and Rotary Interact at school. As Vice-President of Giving Girls Opportunities, Hopper helps to raise money for a girl in a developing country, and this year Hopper said she felt elated to receive a photo of a previous year’s sponsored student, María José, at her middle school graduation. Hopper said her biggest motivator for staying involved is, hands-down, her friends and family.

“I am very lucky to have [my friends and family] in my life because they are always so supportive and tell me that they’re proud of me, even when I’m not feeling too proud of myself,” Hopper said. “My teachers also encourage me with positive feedback and constructive criticism that challenges me to strive for greatness. It’s the culmination of a lot of little things that, together, have an enormous impact on my life.”

Hopper said she does not know where she would be without her friends and family. Even when she has tough days, her loved ones are willing to walk along with her in her journey. Additionally, Hopper is able to find peace in the knowledge that she has a strong support cheering her on, and she feels blessed to have that opportunity.

“Seeing positive change makes me proud of myself. It’s incredibly inspiring to see how a simple, ‘Hello,’ high-five, or compliment can completely change someone’s day,” Hopper said. “Knowing that my seemingly-small roles can be so impactful is a game-changer for me. It is humbling and encouraging at the same time.”

Senior Hannah Backman

Senior Hannah Backman, who’s known Madison Hopper since middle school, says Hopper’s kindness is incredible.

Kyle Chen, freshman

Story by Anna Xu

Head bent intently toward the blank sheet of scratch paper, Kyle Chen scribbles variables, equations and parallel lines in a frenzy. More intense than his Pre-Calculus honors unit test are the math competitions he has prepared tirelessly for.

Chen has participated in math competition since the fourth grade, encouraged by both his parents as well as his sister Hannah’s success. Now, as a freshman in high school, Chen still views math competition as his main extracurricular and enthusiastically participates in math club on Fridays. In fact, during many meetings Kyle helps others to explain the intricacies of an obscure algebra problem or a massive geometry question.

While he started math competition by the suggestion of his parents, Chen stayed for his passion of math. Completing an elaborate proof, Chen said, is one of the most gratifying feelings ever.

“I think it’s pretty fun,” Chen said, “and sometimes when I solve a hard problem I feel like, ‘Oh yes! I finally got that.’”

One of the biggest inspirations of Chen is his sister Hannah, currently a sophomore at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) college. His parents would always praise Hannah, and Chen hopes to fill her footsteps left in math.

Currently, Chen places top five fairly consistently in local and state math league competitions. Still, he hopes to strive to do better by completing practice test he finds online or from math club.

Additionally, Chen hopes to break the preconceived notion of the boredom or impossibly hard nature of math. He believes everyone should give math, even math competition, a chance, whether that be by coming to math club, going to a competition or even just taking a difficult math class. While it may be hard in the beginning, Chen hopes students can find help and find joy in solving the seemingly unsolvable problems.

“If you don’t like math, you should try math team,” Chen said. “Go to it once and see how it goes. It might be hard when you just start out, but if you like try it, then you’ll realize that it’s not as hard as you think it is.”

Mr. Kevin Taylor

Precalculus Honors and AP Statistics teacher Kevin Taylor commends Kyle Chen’s contributions to his classroom and the school math team.

Audrey Mueller, junior

Story by Anna Xu

Even as a junior taking strenuous courses such as Advanced Placement United States History and English Language and Composition, Pre-Calculus Honors and Chemistry Honors, Audrey Mueller makes time for her creative pursuits.

Just recently, Mueller filmed her Japanese final, the fourth film in the series about a possessive lampshade hat that seeks an unrevealed agenda. The hat controls different magical entities that try to defeat the novice Wizard-san, who seems just skillful and lucky enough to escape in each episode.

Mueller has produced various films throughout her middle and high school years, but her “desperate” desire to communicate fictional stories doesn’t originate from film. In fact, it starts much earlier.

Before she could even spell, Mueller recalls dictating her stories to her parents who would write them down for her. In third grade, Mueller finished multiple lengthy novels that teachers would read aloud to the class.

“[The desire to create has] always been there,” Mueller said. “Even before I could even write, I liked stories, and I liked making them up.”

Growing up in a family valuing the arts, Mueller had many role models to look up to. Her greatest influence, however, was her older sister Maddy, currently a graphic designer and illustrator.

“So ever since I can remember, I was looking at [Maddy’s] drawings and the characters she would design and stuff, and being so impressed by that, [I wanted] to do things like that,” Mueller said.

While Mueller didn’t pick up illustration, other artistic endeavors intrigued her. In first grade, Mueller began playing the piano, something she’s still passionate about today. In sixth grade, Mueller joined the theater, where she’s found a means of self-expression and some of her closest friends.

“[Theater] was sort of something I joined on a whim; my friends were like we’re going to drama club, and I was like sure, why not? And it sort of went on from there,” Mueller said. “I got cast in a really big part in my first play and then I kept doing it.”

While many high schoolers involve themselves in a variety of commitments, what separates Mueller from this crowd is the high standards she holds herself to. None of her activities are just something to write on her application but a project she can be proud of.

From her impeccable grades to her thought out digital films and her dramatic theatre monologues, Mueller always puts her best foot forward when it comes to her craft.

“In areas of my life that I really care about, like theatre and filmmaking, then I’m not really motivated by a grade. I feel like if I’m going to put my name on something creative, I want it to be good,” Mueller said. “If people know this is a film that I’ve created, then I can’t feel good about myself unless I feel good about that film.”  

Shawn Beatty (Beatty-Sensei)

Audrey Mueller’s Japanese teacher Shawn Beatty, who goes by Beatty-Sensei, praises her creativity.

Anna Kate Sundvold,  senior

Story by Maddie Murphy

Senior Anna Kate Sundvold is the epitome of a student-athlete. After four years of the daily 6:00 a.m. wake up call and being on her feet, quite literally, until 10 p.m. every day, Sundvold has been proving her determination in her pursuit of her passions. Because Sundvold is a natural leader, adopting the role of running Bruin Girls practices was automatic for her. This is also her tenth consecutive year as a member of the Columbia Performing Arts Centre competitive dance team, performing year-round across the nation. Sundvold previously attended Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School, transitioning into public school for the first time as a freshman.

“When I first came in to high school, the only group I knew was my dance friends and their friends from Gentry,” Sundvold said. “Throughout high school, I’ve put myself in more situations where I don’t know them because my classes are different. I also joined Junior Leadership and none of my friends did that. I think my parents would be proud that I branched out of my friend group. I’m proud of that too.”

Outside of dance, Sundvold places a heavy weight on her academics. Through the second semester of her senior year, Sundvold still maintains her flawless 4.0 grade point average, an incredible accomplishment for any student, but even more so for Sundvold as she spends the majority of her time in a dance studio. The key for her is a mix between her perfectionist tendencies and discipline, two things she attributes to her parents and dance experience.

“I stress out a lot,” Sundvold said. “I have to get my stuff done. I don’t let myself go to bed unless the work is done. I have to do it or I get anxiety the next day if I don’t do my work. It’s who I am and I can’t help it.”

Because of her commitment to her academics in a way that differs from her peers, she occasionally has to bite the bullet and sacrifice time with her friends for academics. For example, on senior skip day, Sundvold made the decision to come to school to ensure she didn’t miss a challenging AP Calculus AB class.

“I wasn’t going to skip class for another day in a class I’m already behind in. I also don’t joke off at school,” Sundvold said. “If my friends are joking off, I just don’t and I do all of my work. They sometimes make fun of me for that, but I don’t care.”

Freshman Kate Echelmeier

Freshman Kate Echelmeier talks about her friend Anna Kate, who she danced alongside since they were little and is now a fellow Bruin Girl.

Claire Swindle, sophomore

Story by  Maddie Murphy

Sophomore Claire Swindle perfectly brings boldness to life. She is known and respected throughout RBHS for her gentle style of leadership. Swindle has used her Christian faith and social media platform as a way to encourage people in their physical and spiritual well-being over the course of her time at RBHS. She even started an Instagram page affectionately titled @TheHealthTrinity. Her goal, she said, is to support people in their goals to live holistically, including the mind, body and spirit.

“I love food. I like to eat healthy, too. I don’t eat healthy all of the time because that’s just not realistic,” Swindle said. “[The name] also has a double meaning because the Trinity in the Bible is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s a faith blog and a health blog. I’ll put parts of my life and Bible verses on there. I don’t really think of it as a food blog or health Instagram as much as I do my own personal blog because it’s more of a balance between the two.”

Swindle is also nearing her eighth summer as a “Kamper” at Kanakuk Kamps, which is a Christian camp where thousands of students go to “disconnect from things of the world and learn to rely on and trust Jesus.” Growing up in a Christian household, Swindle said her parents had introduced her to Jesus far before her time at Kanakuk began, but Kanakuk has encouraged her to continue on in her boldness and to “live out of love.”

“I don’t want to say it’s Kanakuk that has changed me because it’s God who has changed me while I’ve been there, but I just can’t get over how much [Kanakuk] has had an impact on my life, and I honestly don’t know where I would be without it,” Swindle said. “Being enriched in the Word and having older college students pour into me like that and just being surrounded by people who are all on fire for God is just. . . I can’t even explain the feeling. I wish everyone had the opportunity to go to Kamp. When you’re there, everything else here is eliminated. You just feel like you’re in this mini-Heaven because so many struggles that we go through daily become obvious there.”

Sophomore Kate Burns

A friend to Claire, Kate Burns commends Claire for her strength in her faith and her ability to be kind a caring all of the time.

Nate Peat, senior

Story by Isaac Parrish

Senior Nate Peat is an impressive student and outstanding football player. After completing his last season with the Bruins and helping them obtain a [9-2] season record, he signed on to take his talent to Stanford University next fall. Perhaps more important than his football prowess, however, is the impact he has on others around him.

“I think the thing that makes me most proud of [myself] is just being a role model for younger kids,” Peat said. “Whenever I hear kids just being excited to see me or just wanting to be like me, it kind of makes me proud of what I’m doing [and] what I’m fighting for. There’s a lot of people that have been in harder circumstances than what I’ve been through. Having a better outlet to education and football that makes kids more hopeful for the future.”

When he was young, Peat had a role model of his own: his older brother. Rather than starting something like soccer or track, Peat said he wanted to be just like his brother, meaning playing football.

“[My passion for football] started I’d say in first grade whenever I started playing flag football then all throughout the years I’ve been playing and it’s just grown to be one of my dream things,” Peat said. “I have a lot of fond memories of the people I’ve played with, but [especially] training in my backyard with my brother and doing drills that I thought of [as] just being fun, but actually got me better as being just an athlete and being a better player. I’d say he was a big contributor to what I am today, my brother.”

Ultimately, the biggest motivator for Peat is his hope for the future. Not just his personal future, either; Peat said he wants to be a role model for his family and for his community. Throughout his life, he said he’s encountered people who have told him he can’t accomplish what he’s set out to do, or that it’s not in his best interest to pursue goals that high, but all that’s really done for him is driven a desire to prove them wrong.

“I guess whenever you first look at me, you don’t recognize me to go to Stanford or something like that, or go to a prestigious school,” Peat said. “Whenever you think of an athlete, you don’t think of someone being smart, or if you think of someone going to Stanford you don’t think of an athlete. I think it’s just doing the extra things and going for higher expectations, that’s what kind of makes me different. I think it’s just wanting a better… something more than what I’ve had.”

Senior Martez Manuel

Nate Peat’s teammate in both football and track, Senior Martez Manuel praises Peat for his ability to always give his all in whatever he does and be a dependable person on and off the field.

Diana Curtright, freshman

Story by Maddie Murphy

Diana Curtright is not your typical freshman girl, caught up in drama and boys and toying with the idea of self esteem. Curtright is confident for many reasons, but two of the largest being her hope in Jesus and the YouTube platform that she has. She started her YouTube channel in September 2018, but its effects on her life have been extraordinary.

On her YouTube channel, she creates video blogs, affectionately called “vlogs,” and shows parts of her life that others may not be comfortable sharing. For example, her social media presence is stamped with her Christian faith, something that most freshmen in high school wouldn’t be comfortable showing to the digital world.

“I’m different because I have more confidence than others because I’m not afraid to show who I really am. I don’t really care what other people think,” Curtright said. “Yes, it has has its faults but it’s better to not care what people think instead of always being scared of what other people are saying or doing about what you’re doing with your life. Like yes, I’ve gotten a lot of hate in the past but if you don’t care what other people think, then their hate and negativity can’t control you.”

Curtright doesn’t plan on dulling her personality to conform to the demands of the world. She believes she was called to be kind, compassionate and uplifting.

“I continue to do what I like to do. I’ve always been different. I’ve never been amazing at sports. I’m always tried hard on my grades but I’ve never been amazing at academics,” Curtright said. “So, I think I’m proud that I continue to do what I love and I’m not letting America’s standards tell me what to do whether that’s get perfect grades or be a perfect athlete. Like, if that’s not what I’ve been called to do, I’m not going to do it. My parents are proud of me because I’m unashamedly my own unique person and so it’s cool because a lot of people notice that.”

Senior Caroline Curtright

Senior Caroline Curtright commends her sister Diana’s kind and open nature.

Jackson Dampier, senior

Story by Ann Fitzmaurice

For the past four summers, senior Jackson Dampier pointed his trumpet to the press box and roll stepped to the beat of the Emerald Regiment Marching Band. This summer, Dampier plans to take his music career a step further by joining the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps, a professional marching band.

“No one, I don’t think, in the past five-ish years has accomplished [going into professional marching band] during their high school career,” Dampier said. “I know people have done it after, but I feel like I’m one of the only ones that have tried to do it earlier.”

Dampier said his dedication to RBHS’ band is something he takes pride in. He is currently first chair trumpet in Wind Symphony, RBHS’ highest performing concert band, and was also first chair trumpet at Missouri’s All-State band last year. Additionally, Dampier brought Tri-M, a music honor society club, at RBHS.

“I had kind of heard about [Tri-M] first at All-State last year . . . it’s pretty much just like NHS but fine arts based,” Dampier said. “I had been in Mu Alpha Theta the year before and the one thing that kind of bugged me about that was that I didn’t really have control over it and I didn’t think it went as far as I thought it should have, and having my own reign on that kind of group kind of allowed me to succeed and push people to do service hours.”

Tri-M has around 40 members, and Dampier said the club generated around 300 service hours in its first year at RBHS. Dampier said he likes to think people look up to him, and he takes pride in the fact that he’s seen as a leader in the band world. Dampier said although he thinks he was the most dedicated sophomore year, he tried to stay motivated throughout his upperclassman years.

“I wouldn’t say I’m motivated in the aspect that I want to be recognized for it,” Dampier said. “I kind of have accepted that if you’re good at what you’re doing, you’re going to get the recognition you want without trying to pry it out of someone.”

Junior Meredith Farmer

A close friend to Jackson Dampier, Meredith talks about how she loves Dampier’s ability to make others feel included and happy.

Ncuti Ishimwe, senior

Story by Moy Zhong

As RBHS’ halls buzz between passing periods, senior Ncuti Ishimwe hurries to her nursing classes in royal blue scrubs only to hustle to track practice in bright athletic wear just a handful of hours later. During the annual celebration of Global Village, she struts in traditional Burundi igitenge, eager to showcase her Central African culture in the Midwest. Ishimwe’s most defining features, however, are the smile and wave that compliment her greetings to acquaintances and strangers alike.

Since moving to the United States from Burundi her freshman year, Ishimwe has made it her life’s passion to foster inclusivity. Her philosophies are largely inspired by her first experiences in the United States after moving.

“So, I moved [to the United States] my freshman year and I went from knowing everyone to knowing no one,” Ishimwe said. “I just remember the impact [that] the few people [who] reached out to me [had on me], making me feel included and how it didn’t take much effort to do that. So after that, I made it a goal of mine to reach out to anyone and everyone to make them feel like they matter.”

Ishimwe’s voice only grew stronger following her involvement in Columbia’s C2 Church youth group. There, Ishimwe’s sentiments are not only echoed but preached via Christian ideals. Reading her Bible every morning, Ishimwe uses Scripture as a model of how to live her own life.

“As a Christian, we are encouraged to read our Bibles—[it’s] like our way of life, how we’re supposed to live,” Ishimwe said. “The Bible, whenever I read it’s just a constant reminder of how Jesus lived and we are encouraged to live the same way.”

Ishimwe recognizes that there are those who oppose or do not acknowledge her beliefs. While she respects others’ own thoughts, she sometimes struggles in the face of adversities.

“Hardships that you face, like, not everyone will accept your kindness; not everyone will accept it the same way, when you wave at them maybe they’ll think you’re weird or something,” Ishimwe said. “There aren’t really hardships, but just like finding the motivation to stay kind, remembering like I’m doing it for a grander thing than just myself­ [and] even the little things have big impacts I guess.”

Ultimately, the tight-knit bonds Ishimwe made within her youth group are her greatest motivations to live out her benevolent ideals. Her community members hold her accountable to living a life modeled by Christ as she does the same in return, motivating each other to read the Bible and pray to God.

Having found a safe space at the C2 Church, Ishimwe hopes to replicate her youth group’s same welcoming atmosphere within  Light Bible Club at RBHS while promoting self-worth and building meaningful relationships. As a club leader, she aims to unconditionally welcome anyone and everyone who wanders into the meetings.

“Our goal is to learn about how Jesus lived,” Ishimwe said. “And to not just learn about it, but put it into practice here at Rock Bridge, making everyone feel loved and included.”

Sophomore Kalinga Ishimwe

A sister to Ncuti Ishimwe, Sophomore Kalinga Ishimwe talks about how her sister’s outgoingness and confidence for life pushed her out of her own shell to experience new things.

Jarett Ren, sophomore

Story by Moy Zhong

Wielding two yarn mallets in each hand, Jarett Ren holds himself with grace while looming over the edge of a marimba. With his stature tall and wrists loose, the percussionist masters etudes and show tunes alike with the ease and precision of a seasoned musician though he is a sophomore in high school. For the past two years, Ren has started nearly every morning this way as an active member of Rock Bridge’s Emerald Regiment Marching Band. Whether positioned on the athletics field, the stage of the Performing Arts Center or the floors of the choir or band rooms, Ren’s morning routine revolves around music.

Marching band duties include participating in over 100 hours of summer practice and 15 weeks of rigorous practicing during the school year between August and October for the marching band alone. On top of numerous overnight trips, performing at local events and additional competitions during concert band season, the amount of time that Rock Bridge’s band program requires consumes most of a student’s life. But aside from his musical pursuits, Ren’s life also follows a separate and drastically different path in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and high-level, equally time-consuming academia.

“I’ve always been interested in these areas. I started playing piano at a young age and percussion in fifth grade. I’ve also always been interested in STEM and STEM stuff, math and science,” Ren said. “I’m part of band—I’m part of the marching band. I also do a lot of other band-related activities like Solo and Small Ensemble, Capers is another one. But I also do other activities like the Math Team, Science Olympiad and Scholar Bowl.”

Ren has won awards for his excellence in arithmetic at local math competitions and consistently places within the top three at Science Olympiad competitions for events ranging all the way from water quality to the anatomy of diseases. His interests are remarkably different and most members of the band community are unaware of his academic endeavors and vice-versa.

“I think some people know [about my other interests] but I think maybe a lot of people aren’t really aware of that,” Ren said.

But despite the demanding commitments from both ends, Ren thrives in balancing his opposite interests. Till now, Ren’s pragmatic time management capabilities have allowed for his exploration of both band and extracurricular studies. Undeterred by future hypotheticals of the challenges that come with junior and senior year, Ren presses on.

“Band does take a lot of time and so does the other activities like Science Olympiad does take a good portion,” Ren said. “But like I said before, I’ve been able to keep everything balanced. It hasn’t been too difficult so I’m just going to keep up with these activities.”

Sophomore Brent Brightwell

Sophomore Brent Brightwell, a friend of Jarett Ren since Brightwell moved to Columbia two years ago, talks about Ren’s exceptional drive.

Annika James, junior

Story by Isaac Parrish

Junior Annika James didn’t get a fairy tale life. Raised in a rough household and placed in the foster care system at the age of seven, James never truly experienced what it was like to be a part of a stable home. She kept bouncing from place to place and now, she said, she has educational gaps because of that.

“I don’t know social cues [and] I’m very blunt so I don’t know how to filter what I say, because where I was you don’t get to talk, you just don’t,” James said. “You’re very isolated. I didn’t get to learn very many things. Just last year, I learned how to actually advocate for myself, how to speak up for myself. So far I think I’ve gone a pretty long way because I’m on the [Missouri] State Youth Advisory Board for kids in foster care, so I advocate for them.”

While she was with her birth parent, James said her and her sisters suffered abuse from their parents. The father went to jail eleven days after her birth for beating her mother while she was pregnant and returned when James was four, which is when she said everything really started going downhill. They were neglectful, James said, so she didn’t talk to them on a daily basis.

“If I did have any contact, I was either getting hit or smacked for something I did wrong,” James said. “Me and my sisters, we basically grew up on ramen noodles or bologna sandwiches; we didn’t really get food very often.”

According to James, it was about two years ago when she came to the conclusion that she was going to have to be on her own. Her mother called her names, hit her during visits and eventually got in trouble for drug use. James sought comfort from her mother her whole life, and after facing constant disappointment, decided it was time to give up on it.

“I just started doing more research on everything,” James said. “I went through the legal standards and all of the things that should happen and what shouldn’t happen. I read all the manuals to the places I’ve been at, I’ve read everything that I could think of, and at that point I just wanted to make a change because no kid should have to go through what I’ve been through, especially at the age of four. Being punched in the face and beaten at four? I don’t think that’s right.”

Despite her tough experiences, however, James is looking hopeful towards the future. She said she’s applied for Lincoln University, University of Missouri—Columbia and Moberly Area Community College, and has already received a few scholarships to help her pay for it. She hopes to one day make a big impact in the U.S. government in the name of foster children like her. As an officer for the Youth Advisory Board with plenty of experience proposing bills and laws to the Missouri Legislature and as an intern-to-be for Missouri House Representative Martha Stevens, she is well on her way to achieving that goal.

“I can’t sit back and watch all these kids go into foster care… and then them just having the life I had, it makes me really sad to see,” James said. “Kinda hurts me to say this, but my anger towards my family [is what motivates me] because yes, I can forgive them, but I will never forget what happened to me. And I’m not mad at them anymore, I’m more of angry for what happened and how so many people watched and let it happen. My dad dragged me out of my school by my hair and the teachers watched as he dragged me down that hallway and just stood there. I was screaming for help, and nobody helped. So, I’m sick of it being ignored.”

Despite James’s challenging background, she emerged a very vibrant person. She enjoys spending time with other good people and she believes her struggles may have contributed to her becoming stronger emotionally.

“Some people say I kinda look mean, or I look like I’m a bully or something, but when people really get to know me, I’m actually super fun and bubbly,” James said. “And, kind of smart-alecky sometimes, but I’m just super fun to be around. [My hardships have] made me stronger overall; it’s taught me how to handle different situations, it’s given me more life experiences, so I know how to handle everything in my future.”

Mrs. Michele Parker

RBHS Receptionist — and friendly face to Annika James — Michele Parker explains why James is such a remarkable individual.

Lucas Clements, junior

Story by Anna Xu

Lucas Clements went to a Christian orientated private school, grew up in a protective family and always felt out of place. At first he didn’t know why, but through the use of the internet and the support of his online friends, Clements began to search for his identity. After several years of uncertainty, anxiety and confusion, Clements discovered and accepted that he was a transgender boy.

“It was a pretty rough period of my life. Not necessarily because I was trans[gender] because I hadn’t realized that at that part in my life,” Clements said. “But… feeling that I had to live up to the expectations of not only my peers but my teachers, and my parents, and the pressure of that was so crushing constantly,  that even thinking about coming out to anyone was like I would be killed on the spot. It was just so stressful. And I think it made my depression so much worse.”

For a long time, Clements kept to himself about his newfound identity, but it just became more and more unbearable. Eventually Clements worked up the courage to reach out to his best friend.

“It took me a very long time to figure out that it was an okay thing to be, and an OK thing to do. It took me two years to get the courage to email my best friend because I was too scared to text her, that hey, I’m a boy. Can you call me by this name, and call me “he” now?” Clements said. “And she was like, yeah sure, whatever. So, with the confidence of that, I eventually came out to my parents in 2015, I think.”

Coming out to his parents was an incredibly nerve-wracking experience, but Clements felt the need to because of his ever-changing body and declining mental health.

“They had so many questions, like how did you know about this? Where did you find out about this? Who were you talking to that influenced you to do this? It was that sort of thing,” Clements said. “But eventually they came around, and last year I started testosterone. Recently got my name legally changed.”

Although Clements eventually succeeded in terms of changing his name and receiving testosterone, convincing his parents was no easy task. In fact, his parents were set on him not starting anything until his eighteenth birthday.

Clements said he understood the argument of waiting until he was mature enough; however, he said he had already spent years finding his identity and waiting four more years felt like a death sentence.

”I was 14, depressed, anxious, and on top of that being trans with all this dysphoria. It just really started to build up. I was getting more and more suicidal everyday. It was understandable that they wanted me to be mature enough to be on these things, but it was unbearable,” Clements said. “So eventually I had to start asking at all these doctors appointments; hey, does testosterone do this. And eventually, my parents just caved.”

Since receiving the treatment Clements desired, his whole world has flipped right side up. He finally feels comfortable in his in skin, ready to live the life he was made to have.

“It makes me feel so much better,” Clements said. “I can go outside and go to school without having to like cover myself completely. I can be more open to you know just talking and being where I am. I’m excited to go outside because, you know, I look more masculine, I sound more masculine, and I feel more masculine, certainly. And it just makes me so much more confident. My depression has gone down; my anxiety has gone decreased. Like, of course, I still have that, oh no I’m not a real boy. But it just feels like more me, and it makes life a lot easier.”

Of course, Clements’ life isn’t perfect now, and he admits to lurking thoughts of uncertainty. What helps him feel better, however, is art. By creating, Clements is able to release and express himself in a way he can be proud.

“A majority of my art that I’ve done this year has been reflective on my experiences as a trans man. It really helps me express my feelings better than let’s say in a sentence,” Clements said. “If I put it in a painting or a drawing then people start to understand it a little more. And it makes me feel better because it is like venting it out.”

Vishnu Arun, sophomore

Story by Anna Xu

Sophomore Vishnu Arun prides himself as a high achiever and team leader. He participates and succeeds in a variety of activities: DECA, chess, speech and debate and scholar bowl. Despite being an underclassman, Arun adopted many high leadership roles this year in these activities.

“In DECA, I made it to internationals in Orlando. In state [chess] this year, I got 6th in my division and at nationals last year, I got 21st in my division [under the rating of 1400],” Arun said. “In scholar bowl, I’m one of the four leaders and organizers of the club, and even though its in its infancy, we’ve performed quite well for a team filled with sophomores and freshman only.”

Although Arun is talented in several aspects of academia, his primary focus is on debate. For the activity, Arun steps up to play his role as a leader, mentor and friend. His close-knit policy debate group even encouraged him to run for debate captaincy as a junior, a position usually expected by seniors, and were disappointed to watch him opt out to the point of leaving the room for a moment. He said he did it in respect for his older debate members.

“The first time I stepped through those doors a year and 7 months ago, I was an impressionable and immature young freshman,” Arun said. “Me and a few other friends were looking for a club to join and to make some new friends. We settled on joining speech on debate. To this day, speech and debate has been the single greatest experience in high school.”

As the policy chair, Arun had to fill large shoes of the senior leaders before him who taught him the workings of the event. Even as a sophomore, Arun was motivated to expand the program. In the beginning of the year he heavily advertised policy debate, known to many as the hardest debate event and always having low freshmen interest.

“Justin and I, as well as a few other varsity members, dedicated their time to teach and develop teams of policy novices. That combined with the amazing work ethic and debate skills of the novices let them break in multiple tournaments, and grew our policy program quite big,” Arun said. “Around the time of Ladue-Clayton, I made a decision that would propel policy debate into a new level. I decided to volunteer myself after school whenever the novices wanted me to help for a workshop. I realized that mondays and thursdays were not enough for them to reach their full potential. These workshops were laid-back times for us to relax and work on out cases and valuable times for them to ask me or other varsity members present about their case.”

Arun also learned many valuable lessons as a leader, the most important quality of which was to be a friend, not a superior. He said it’s important to break down the hierarchy to connect with the younger classes.

“As the year progressed, I realized that we’re all the exact same,” Arun said. “I realized that the way to connect with novices wasn’t to think that I was better than them. I was to be their friend, to enjoy our time together, and to listen to whatever funny story they had about a bad round against a marquette novice team. I truly became one with them.”

Mallory Gard, freshman

Story by Jared Geyer

As a freshman, Mallory Gard has already proven herself a leader for the long distance girls team at RBHS. She has continuously improved her running times and has gotten the chance to compete at the Missouri All-State cross country meet with her teammates. Running varsity track as a freshman can be a daunting task in a new environment that usually prefers the older classes.

“Hardships I’ve faced are getting used to the high school atmosphere in running and school while also balancing everything,” Gard said. “In running, I had to get used to racing longer distances and training in a different style. Overall I had to learn to balance school while also trying to run well and have a decent social life.”

Gard uses her intrinsic motivation to continually improve her times while running. Either for herself or her teammates, she loathes losing, leading to long training sessions year-round. Gard’s ambition is fuelled by her own passion for running. She loves what she does and is strong enough mentally to continuously improve.

“Running is really fun to me and the girls make it better,” Gard said. “With running it’s easy for me to be motivated because there’s always someone to beat or a time to hit. Running isn’t based on talent, it’s based on mental toughness and who can work harder.”

This constant routine of running can potentially lead to further complications and hardships. This track season she has suffered from a stress fracture due to overworking. Gard states that it has been the toughest challenge she has faced yet. She wants to help her teammates, but can’t without restraining and hurting herself further. Regardless of the injuries she faces, she still wants to pursue running academically in the future.

“I am hoping running will carry over to college,” Gard said. “My dream is to run in college. It’s always taught me patience, self-confidence, mental strength, and how to trust a team and do things for them. It’s giving me perspective and letting me figure out how to live healthy and happy.”

Freshman Maci Stuber

Freshman Maci Stuber talks about how she appreciates her teammate Mallory Gard’s contributions to the [sport] team and the love she puts into everything.

Anthony Wu, freshman

Story by Jared Geyer

Freshman Anthony Wu began his musical journey in sixth grade when he joined the band program. At the time, he was uninterested in his band practices, but this unenthusiasm was turned around the next year. After struggling with piano lessons throughout his elementary years, Wu started to enjoy playing around seventh grade. The real transition moment for Wu to get invested in music came from an unexpected source.

“My friend recommended me an anime. It was called ‘Your Lie in April’,” Wu said. “Looking back on it, it is super cheesy. I cringe when I think about it, but in 7th grade, it was groundbreaking for me. After that, I was inspired to play trumpet and piano again.”

Wu is a self-proclaimed music nerd. At RBHS, he participates in regular band, jazz band and any activities associated with the band program. He performs at the talent show and other competitions that give students a chance to demonstrate their abilities. Wu’s expression through playing the trumpet in band programs helps him stand out among a crowded curriculum. While he is a talented musician, Wu also has personality quirks that make him unique.

“I am a hyper-extrovert,” Wu said. “It’s very nice to be hyper-extroverted because I love talking to people. That’s probably my second biggest love [behind music], just talking. But sometimes it’s super depressing because when you’re alone or on break [and] there’s just no one to talk to.”

Although Wu doesn’t exactly know what motivates him, he just always has the urge to perform. He genuinely loves playing music, so he doesn’t need an extra push from parents or students to get him to reach his goals. In terms of other curricula besides music, Wu is motivated by fears of being left behind. A common fear of students is that they have to perform at the level of their peers in order to get into the higher education they desire. Wu struggles with this fear, but also realizes that his future is mostly dependent on the music he loves to play.

“I plan to play music all my life. It’s just something that’s going to stay with me,” Wu said. “You don’t spend so much time on [something] and then when you go to college you suddenly decide ‘okay, I’m just throwing this away’. Some people in the band program do, but for me, I’m really, really into it. I’ll probably never drop music.”

Matthew Hauser, sophomore

Story by Jared Geyer

As a sophomore, Matthew Hauser has established himself as one of the fastest long distance runners in the state. As a freshman he ran in the state cross country meet, the largest and most competitive meet in Missouri. This made Hauser a new face for competing runners to watch out for in the coming years. He once again competed at state last year, where he placed 16th at the meet, making him one of the fastest high school runners in the state of Missouri.

While these feats come early in Hauser’s running career, they signify years of dedication and determination that gave him the ability to achieve these goals. Propelled into the running spotlight at RBHS, he has become an important figure in the leadership of the RBHS cross country and track teams. This leadership role was not one he was thrust into, but a warranted one. Hauser’s growth as a leader throughout his running career has been substantial.

“I like to think that hard work helps me to stand out, as well as a leadership role,” Hauser said. “My motivation is my teammates, seeing what they do motivates me to work harder.”

Hauser works vigorously to get the results he wants at the meets. To be a good leader, an individual has to be appreciative of the people he or she is leading.

Running, however, does not come without its hardships. Sometimes performances at meets and workouts do not line up with the expectations of the team. Injuries can be sustained for multiple weeks, weakening the possibility of a runner performing well. Issues internally in the team can fester even at the highest levels. Hauser has managed to outrun these challenges and outperform himself every subsequent season.

“I’ve faced many hardships while running. There have been many times when all I’ve wanted to do is give up,” Hauser said. “The work that is put in now will help [me] to race faster and eventually get me into college.”

Zachary Wilmore, freshman

Story by Bailey Stover, Camryn DeVore, Anna Xu

Freshman Zachary Wilmore leaves a presence. In his stylish, eye-catching, bright pink outfits he struts down the main hallway, waving to friends and blowing compliments their way. At football games with full stadiums, Wilmore, a cheerleader, commands the stage with his tumbling runs, gaining so many cheers one would think the Bruins scored a touchdown.

Wilmore prides himself as an unapologetically extroverted freshman, but he also desires to leave a more lasting contribution than simply a self-proclaimed title. Next year he said he hopes to involve himself in school organizations by joining student council. By listening to students to better understand what activities they truly want to participate in, Wilmore said he thinks student council could increase student participation in school events and functions.

“I am running for Student Council [representative] this year,” Wilmore said. “I want [to be] Student Council president junior or senior year. I think that is something that I would do well in, and I would really like it. I would also really like to be Courtwarming king.”

In any elected position, even at the high school level, appearance plays a part in the election process, a fact Wilmore understands well. He said while people may not mean to judge others internally on how they look, it can happen subconsciously. How people present themselves, Wilmore said, will influence how they will come across in interpersonal interactions.

Embracing himself comes naturally to Wilmore, and he said he is happy to speak with anyone about identity. By being an authentic and unapologetic version of himself, “literally the craziest person,” Wilmore said he hopes to empower others to feel comfortable to be themselves without fear of ending up “dead on the streets.”

“However you feel, however you express yourself, you can express yourself through your clothing,” Wilmore said. “It’s something I take a lot of pride in doing.”

While making a statement through his outfits and his generally exuberant persona bring him satisfaction, Wilmore said his greatest joy comes from uplifting others. He began giving people compliments in sixth grade, and once he saw the positive impact his words made on another person’s day he did not want to stop. Still, Wilmore worries his actions are selfish because they make him feel good.

“When I walk through the hallways, I always try to give three compliments to people. It’s usually like, ‘Oh, my god, your outfit is so pretty,’ or ‘Your hair,’ or, ‘Yes, girl, get it,’” Wilmore said. “I just want to make people happy. I think that if you make people happy, they make you happy.”

Junior Mikayla Morgensen

A teammate to cheerleader Zachary Wilmore, Mikayla praises Wilmore for his uplifting spirit during hard practices and overall infectious happiness.

Jessica Payne, junior

Story by Bailey Stover

Caring, outspoken, brave. With an impeccable sense of style, a precision for language and a unique perspective on the world, junior Jessica Payne holds her head high and makes herself heard.

After growing up in a “crazy environment” and a “crazy neighborhood,” Payne transferred to RBHS from Chicago at the beginning of the school year. As the only African-American student in Chris Fischer and Nicole Clemens’ second-hour Advanced Placement (AP) United States History and AP Language and Composition class, Payne is not afraid to pose questions regarding race relations and white America’s treatment of African-Americans throughout history to her teachers and peers.

“That is my biggest goal, well, one of my biggest goals in life: to not become a statistic,” Payne said. “I don’t want to give in to stereotypes about Afro-American people in general, but also about Afro-American women.”

During her life Payne said she wants to “break generational curses” and “make multi-generational changes” that will last after her time. As a child Payne said she would write poetry and songs, so when she found out in seventh grade there was a slam poetry club she immediately knew it was for her.

Most of her writing happens at night, a time when she is alone to think in silence. Sometimes Payne said she will dream and wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, which she then develops into a piece. But slam poetry is not meant to be kept in isolation. It longs for a community; a place where it’s creator can express it and feel understood. Payne uses the art as both an expression of ideas and as a platform of activism, especially at competitions, which she describes as a “slam poet heaven” where people are free to be themselves. Spoken word poetry allows Payne to share ideas with her audience that are “seemingly one-sided in conversation,” commonly misunderstand or controversial.

“I definitely use it as a way to respond to the world around me because sometimes you want to speak up about certain things, but you can’t formulate those ideas in formal conversation,” Payne said, “and I feel like if I can’t formulate an idea in formal conversation I can do it in slam poetry.”

Through the complexities of her childhood and early adolescence, Payne found her voice. She said she makes herself heard. Along with being “on fire” and being weird, Payne said she feels that if people want others to listen to them, then they must make their audience listen.

“I feel like finding your voice is not literally just using your voice, but it’s the way that you present yourself; it’s in your walk; it’s in your posture, everything,” Payne said. “But something I do make sure to do when I perform poetry, when I share it, I share it with a lot of emotion, and I share it in a firm way.”

Because she is just one person, Payne said she knows she is unable to enact the change she hopes to bring about alone, even though she strives to combat stereotypes daily. Through her activism and example, she said she wants to inspire those who come after her to be better than her in order to create lasting and meaningful change.

“I want to inspire [black and Latino kids],” Payne said, “and I want them to know that they’re capable of doing whatever it is that they want to do, and they’re capable of making changes, and they’re capable of breaking generational curses.”

Caring, outspoken, brave. With an impeccable sense of style, a precision for language and a unique perspective on the world, junior Jessica Payne holds her head high and makes herself heard.

After growing up in a “crazy environment” and a “crazy neighborhood,” Payne transferred to RBHS from Chicago at the beginning of the school year. As the only African-American student in Chris Fischer and Nicole Clemens’ second-hour Advanced Placement (AP) United States History and AP Language and Composition class, Payne is not afraid to pose questions regarding race relations and white America’s treatment of African-Americans throughout history to her teachers and peers.

“That is my biggest goal, well, one of my biggest goals in life: to not become a statistic,” Payne said. “I don’t want to give in to stereotypes about Afro-American people in general, but also about Afro-American women.”

During her life, Payne said she wants to “break generational curses” and “make multi-generational changes” that will last after her time. As a child, Payne said she would write poetry and songs, so when she found out in seventh grade there was a slam poetry club she immediately knew it was for her.

Most of her writing happens at night, a time when she is alone to think in silence. Sometimes Payne said she will dream and wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, which she then develops into a piece. But slam poetry is not meant to be kept in isolation. It longs for a community; a place where it’s creator can express it and feel understood. Payne uses the art as both an expression of ideas and as a platform of activism, especially at competitions, which she describes as a “slam poet heaven” where people are free to be themselves. Spoken word poetry allows Payne to share ideas with her audience that are “seemingly one-sided in conversation,” commonly misunderstand or controversial.

“I definitely use it as a way to respond to the world around me because sometimes you want to speak up about certain things, but you can’t formulate those ideas in formal conversation,” Payne said, “and I feel like if I can’t formulate an idea in formal conversation I can do it in slam poetry.”

Through the complexities of her childhood and early adolescence, Payne found her voice. She said she makes herself heard. Along with being “on fire” and being weird, Payne said she feels that if people want others to listen to them, then they must make their audience listen.

“I feel like finding your voice is not literally just using your voice, but it’s the way that you present yourself; it’s in your walk; it’s in your posture, everything,” Payne said. “But something I do make sure to do when I perform poetry, when I share it, I share it with a lot of emotion, and I share it in a firm way.”

Because she is just one person, Payne said she knows she is unable to enact the change she hopes to bring about alone, even though she strives to combat stereotypes daily. Through her activism and example, she said she wants to inspire those who come after her to be better than her in order to create lasting and meaningful change.

“I want to inspire [black and Latino kids],” Payne said, “and I want them to know that they’re capable of doing whatever it is that they want to do, and they’re capable of making changes, and they’re capable of breaking generational curses.”

Mrs. Nicole Clemens

AP Language and Composition teacher Nicole Clemens, explains Jessica Payne’s ambition for learning and pride to being a fantastic student.

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