Taygen Altenburg


Holton High School (Darin and Kristi Altenburg): This quiet leader has juggled a rigorous academic schedule with athletics and the arts and plans to attend Wichita State University and major in dental hygiene.


Quote: "A major concern I have for the future is our usage of fossil fuels. Our world is full of cars burning gas that will soon run out and we’re burning through coal as if it grows on tress. My generation is going to need to discover how to use more renewable energy sources more effectively."


Emory Apodaca


Shawnee Mission East (Melanie Jo and Timothy Apodaca): An accomplished public speaker and volunteer who has co-founded several clubs, this scholar plans to attend the University of Chicago and double major in physics and molecular engineering.


Quote: He described working two jobs during the summer to pay for debate camp. "I saved every penny I made and eventually, my hard work paid off. That summer I was able to attend the Jayhawk Debate Institute with the money that I earned, and I loved it."


Lane Barrette


Basehor Linwood High School (Penny and Robert Barrette): After making a mark on the school by helping develop programs and activities that include all students, this pioneer in Innovation Academy plans to attend the University of Kansas, Yale University or Harvard University and study political science/pre-law, theater.


Quote: "I realize now that my biggest obstacle has always been myself. Now that I’ve reached the final stretch, I can finally say I accomplished the unrealistic standards I set for myself. And looking back, I don’t know if all the sacrifices of my time and energy were needed to become successful."


Mira Bhandari


Manhattan High School (Nidhi Bhandari): Dedicated to helping others, this student is working with a research team at Kansas State University and plans to attend the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and study pre-medicine.


Quote: She described launching a nonprofit called Engineers4Cancer to support caregivers of cancer patients after her father’s death. "My dad was always my teacher, and before he left, he taught me through his selflessness and resilience the most important lesson I have ever learned: that the true measure of one’s character comes from their ability to turn tragedy into triumph."


Katherine Bircher


Lansing High School (Meaghan and Chip Bircher): A leader in student government who has chosen the most challenging academic path at her school, this accomplished dancer plans to attend Washington University in St. Louis and study neuroscience and dance.


Quote: "By striking a balance and setting priorities, I excelled at ballet while mutually achieving academic success. I recognize there will be arduous hurdles throughout life; however, I know I can rise above any challenge I encounter on the path to my future successes."


Madeline Blake


Southeast of Saline (Lori and Keith Blake): This scholar, who has balanced academics, sports, music and volunteering, plans to attend the University of Kansas and study pre-law.


Quote: She described missing her final season of softball because of the pandemic. "We should not take for granted the time spent with our friends and families, but embrace them as well. We should not take for granted the education system we are blessed to have here in America, but fully embrace it each and every day. I am sad. But, I am also grateful. To have had something so special is a blessing in itself, and today, I choose to embrace that."


Irene Caracioni


Topeka High School (Stefania Caracioni, Adrian Caracioni and Elisa Corbett): Studying calculus online through MIT Open Courseware and founding the Medical Club are among the achievements of this skilled debater, who plans to study applied mathematics and economics.


Quote: "My generation must learn to discuss with our minds, not with our emotions. We must be politically engaged and willing to participate in civil conversations. If we do not agree with others, we must not let ourselves become antagonistic, but rather try to understand the opposing perspective and respectfully defend our own."


Erin Crissman


St. John - Hudson High School (Marcia Crissman): A leader in academics, athletics and activities, this scholar plans to attend Princeton University and study political science or international relations.


Quote: She described how her father instilled a love of learning before his death. "I decided I would live out my life for my dad, and be the first one in my family to attend college. Despite the financial and mental struggles my mom and I have faced since his death, I've maintained a 4.0 GPA, have been highly active in my school and community, and have been accepted into the number one school in the country: Princeton University."


Cale Curtiss


Cimarron High School (Mike and Andi Curtiss): This well-rounded and diligent student has been a leader in cross country, track and field, band, and forensics and plans to attend Kansas State University and study architecture/product design.


Quote: "It is clear that many of the laws that our country has in place reflect morals and ideals from Christianity. However, if we, the American people, do not use an unchangeable source, such as the Holy Bible, for moral guidance, we will continue to change the Constitution to fit whatever ideals and morals we want it to."


LyLena Estabine


Olathe Northwest (Kristy and Jean Estabine): Active in Engineering Academy and the Thespian board, this scholar plans to attend Columbia University and study civil engineering with a focus on international development and community-based design.


Quote: She described learning to embrace her natural hair. "As a public speaker who encourages students to be authentic and true to themselves, I was falling victim to what I warned them against. Through this experience, I have learned how to overcome stigma, address naivety, and be comfortable in my own body, plus whatever hair comes with it."


Emma Frieze


Chapman High School (Todd and Sue Frieze): This National Merit Finalist, dance team captain, singer and volunteer plans to attend the University of Kansas and study marketing and strategic communications.


Quote: "One major concern I have regarding the future is how humans will continue to negatively impact the environment. Despite warnings from government agencies, including the EPA, as well as other reputable environmental organizations, companies continue to produce fossil fuels and non-reusable plastics at an alarming rate."


Kaylynn Hendricks


Cheylin High School (David and Amy Hendricks): Writing grants for school supplies and starting a research business are among the accomplishments of this State Scholar, who plans to attend Kansas State University and study secondary education.


Quote: "My biggest concern with the future of my generation is the inability to stop and listen to what other people have to say. Many people today listen to respond instead of listening to comprehend what others are saying. This has caused many people to be divided since they think that their views are the only right way."


Levi Joseph Hickert


Hays High School (Kevin and Sondra Hickert): Active in the school’s Leadership Team, Scholars Bowl, Industrial Tech Association, and National Honor Society, this leader plans to attend Fort Hays State University and Kansas State University and study physics and mechanical engineering.


Quote: "My greatest concern for the future isn’t necessarily our economy or our climate, but our national division and political polarization. … I’ve always heard the terms ‘radical left’ and ‘radical right’ but nowadays it seems more radical to be in the center of the political spectrum. To think that there is now a ‘Radical Center’ is a stark warning that our country is troubled."


Ellie Hildreth


Wamego High School (Mary and Robert Hildreth): This top scholar, dancer and musician plans to attend the University of Kansas and study chemical engineering.


Quote: "Technology can become a toxic influence that encourages fixating on others' lives, increases sedentary behavior, and also exasperates anxiety and depression. I have never been a big user of social media, but the current pandemic has further helped me scale back my usage and reminded me to live in simplicity."


Sarah Kimmi


Atchison County Community High School (Angie and Gene Kimmi): Described as kind, ambitious and optimistic, this top student plans to attend Kansas State University and study business finance and statistics.


Quote: "My hope is that my generation will find the motivation and willingness to work together to form solutions. In today’s world, it is so easy to become divided over political views, social status, or even gender and race. I wish for my generation to look past the superficial obstacles in order to conquer the ones that need to be addressed."


Molly Lynn


Bishop Miege High School (Thomas and Julie Lynn): A Dartmouth Book Award, Executive Student Council Board, tennis and soccer are among the achievements of this scholar, who plans to study chemistry, pre-medicine.


Quote: "In just this past generation, the sheer amount of technological advancement is unprecedented. It has transformed our world incredibly in many ways by improving communication and accessibility to more information than ever before. However, I am concerned how this overwhelmingly extensive world of technology that is so easily available will affect future generations."


Tracy Orgera


Andover Central High School (Thomas Orgera and Maureen Vlaun-Orgera): Active in of National Honor Society, Tri-M, band, soccer and volunteering, this scholar plans to attend the University of Kansas, Colorado School of Mines, or Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and study chemical engineering.


Quote: "For generations, people have been polluting the planet because there are few options that are eco-friendly and the regulations on pollution are too lenient. My generation is being left to deal with issues like poor air quality. We will need to assess the most polluting aspects of our lives and bring about awareness of the necessary changes."


Makenna Orton


Shawnee Heights High School (Rex and Robin Orton): Creating the school’s Care Closet is one noteworthy achievement of this accomplished scholar, who plans to attend the University of Kansas and study biology with a focus in ecology and evolutionary/organismal biology.


Quote: "The world is rapidly losing its iconic landscapes, from prairies to rainforests to glaciers. A state’s natural wilderness allows communities to physically connect with their region. ... We, like many other citizens, connected to Kansas through its natural sites. If these natural sites disappear, citizens will become less connected to and invested in their community."


Isaac Patteson


Udall High School (Cynthia Wells and Wade Patteson): A leader in FBLA, Theatre, FFA and athletics, this student plans to attend Wichita State University and study finance.


Quote: "My fear is the next generation of leadership will be servant to their voters’ current desires, and the actions towards the ‘greater good’ will falter to non-existence. History teaches us that prevention is usually much safer than half-baked solutions. For the problems that cannot be predicted, we must have safety nets in place to preserve our communities and our way of life."


Amanda Phanivong


Campus High School (Alex and Ana Phanivong): A student council member involved in the National Honor Society, President’s Club and other activities, this servant leader plans to attend Wichita State University and study dental hygiene and marketing.


Quote: "I believe that the challenges our developing contemporary society will face for many years to come is the lack of understanding and using social skills due to the use of many technological innovations constantly being encouraged."


Jay Ram


Washburn Rural High School (Suresh Ramamurthi and Suchitra Padmanabhan): This International Baccalaureate Diploma candidate, Presidential Scholar, and National Merit Finalist plans to study physics or economics.


Quote: "I’m really concerned about how rapidly society is changing, especially with respect to the job market. Automation specifically presents a huge challenge, with many jobs being deemed obsolete due to advances in technology. Especially right now it seems like we’re on the cusp of a recession, and I’m not sure how quickly we’ll recover from the coronavirus pandemic."


Bridget Schippers


St. James Academy (Dale and Caroline Schippers): Active in swim, soccer, Scholar's Bowl, debate and four different honor societies, this top student plans to attend Fordham University or the University of Notre Dame and study economics/international political economy:


Quote: "Amid a civilization based purely on production and outcomes, we lose focus on the human person and start to treat people as yet another opportunity for utility. The world begins to overlook the inherent worth of the individual regardless of physical or intellectual capabilities."


Mia Sisul


Saint Thomas Aquinas (James and Bronwyn Sisul): After completing the most rigorous course sequence available while creating a design business on Redbubble.com and serving as a student mentor, this scholar plans to attend Washington University in St. Louis or the University of Tulsa and study chemical engineering.


Quote: "One of the main concerns I have about the future is the increasing price of prescription drugs. The current system as we know it allows for dramatic price increases with little warning for medicines that have ineffective or very few alternatives."


Ainsley Smith


Sabetha High School (Rick and Shelley Smith): This top student who excels academically, socially and civically plans to attend Brown University or the University of Kansas and study English and literature.


Quote: "The challenges I face in my life are anxiety, time management, and organization. Still, I stay involved because it gives me a creative outlet and a greater sense of purpose. Being involved in artistic activities like band or theatre gives my brain a break from my rigorous courses."


Savannah Stallbaumer


Wetmore High School (Ken and Joyce Stallbaumer): Active in cheerleading, sports, student council, KAYS, SADD, Wetmore Honor Society and school plays, this student athlete and volunteer plans to attend the university of Kansas and study nursing.


Quote: "My nine years in foster care was … an obstacle course. I overcame many difficulties in those nine years, such as attending nine new schools, moving into over 17 new homes, and struggling to maintain contact with my siblings and old friends. I faced these difficulties with a positive attitude, and overcame them by being adaptable to change, staying involved in school activities, and striving to earn good grades. Now that I have been adopted, looking back, I would have to say the obstacle course was a blessing in disguise."


Jade Yuliza Valdez-Gomez


Garden City High School (Maria Gomez and Hector Valdez): Balancing a rigorous course schedule with community service and student activities, this Governor’s Scholar plans to attend Kansas State University and study dietetics.


Quote: "My passion for health and nutrition has motivated me to pursue a career in dietetics. Overall, I strive to eat well-balanced meals every day, and I encourage my friends and family to develop similar habits. Unfortunately, not everybody shares this mentality. In the modern world, nutrition is overlooked and has caused the obesity trend to rise in our nation."


Samantha Vermetten


Valley Heights (Mike and Stacy Vermetten): Student council, National Honor Society, volleyball, basketball and track are among the activities of this scholar, who plans to attend Kansas State University and study microbiology.


Quote: "For many, there will be no senior prom or even an official commencement. It is heartbreaking after four long years of dreaming about it. … Regardless, there is no time for bitterness. More than anything, the circumstances have shown me the many things that I took for granted. The challenge has taught me to be grateful for every single aspect of my life."


Surina Walia


Blue Valley High School (Damandeep and Puja Walia): Active in student council, tennis, mentoring, honor societies and community service, this National Merit Semifinalist plans to attend the University of Florida and study chemical engineering.


Quote: "As I reflect on my metamorphosis, I realize that I can accredit my success to one thing: my support system. I entered BVHS as an unconfident, shy girl, but I leave this school proud of my accomplishments and betterment as a person. My sponsors, teachers, friends, and family pushed me to become the best, possible version of myself; for that, I am so grateful."


Eleanor Wiltanger


Olathe West High School (Matt and Laura Wiltanger): Tutoring, volleyball and National Honor Society are among the activities of this scholar, who plans to study mathematics and Spanish.


Quote: "People seeking refuge should not be separated from their families and forced to reside in inhumane conditions. After I graduate college, I will go to medical school. I’m not sure what profession I want to have, but I want to help people. Along with just working in the medical field, I want to provide free medical attention to immigrants at our southern border who otherwise might not get helped."


Taylor Wixson


St. Mary's Colgan Catholic Schools (Todd and Silvia Wixson): Sports, National Honor Society and Catholic Youth Ministry are among the activities of this top student, who plans to attend Pittsburg State University and study Spanish and biology with a pre-medicine emphasis.


Quote: "The national debt right now is $23 trillion and is growing every second. For many people my age, this rising number is not a concern, but sooner than we know it we will have to deal with the repercussions of this number. … Not only will I be paying more for taxes, but I will also be paying more money through interest."