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For a complete list of our 2017 20 Under 20, and to read a Q&A with each winner, click here.
Each year, CBT recognizes a group of 20 students under 20, game changers in the classroom and in their community. These high school seniors in Columbia were nominated by teachers, mentors, and friends for their leadership, involvement, respect for others, and enthusiasm for learning and experiencing new things. (They’ll also probably make you feel like you haven’t accomplished much. Don’t worry, the entire CBT staff is with you on that one.)
They are Makali Hawkins, Samuel Baumer, Elliot Bones, Landon Wiswall, Gracie Hollrah, William Eiffert, Brevinn Tyler, Dzung Nguyen, Adam Lance, Dane Steinhauer, Bennett Lopez, Stephanie Zhang, Maryam Bledsoe, Marc Chauvin, Boon Palipatana, Shristi Bhandari Bashista, Caleb Bavlnka, Freeman Hickman, Madison Null, and Mekhia Thompson. Seven Battle Spartans, three Hickman Kewpies, nine Rock Bridge Bruins, a Christian Fellowship Knight, and a Columbia Independent School Lion.
The 20 Under 20 Class of 2017 will solve all of your computer problems and they’ll beat you in a 5K. They’re language learners, activists, hikers, athletes, philanthropists, mathematicians, and dancers. They’re as kind as they are dedicated, as funny as they are smart.
Many of them enjoy hiking and the outdoors. Baumer hopes to visit every national park, start a wilderness guide service, and run the Leadville Ultramarathon, in the Colorado mountains, in under 25 hours. Lance is a lifeguard, knows wilderness first aid, and is sailing counselor-certified. Eiffert hopes to someday hike the Sierra Nevada.
“My favorite thing to do is waterfowl hunt with my dog, Sage, and my friends,” Wiswall says. “I also like to go fishing as well as ride four wheelers and go camping and bow fishing.”
“When I’m in active mode,” Palipatana says, “I enjoy playing soccer and attempting to play basketball. I also don’t mind a nice hike and hammock, or a very brief jog. In couch potato mode, I’m usually found reading comic books or binge-watching a superhero show, SpongeBob, or gameplay videos on YouTube.”
Many of them played sports in high school. Track and cross country, football, lacrosse, soccer, wrestling — these students have most of their bases covered. The students found that sports helped make them more well-rounded.
“I am the first Battle swimmer to swim all four years of high school and am proud to have helped to shape the new team,” Null says. “I lettered all four years and had amazing experiences along the way. Swim pushed me mentally and physically. It tested my strength and endurance. Swim introduced me to friends and best friends.”
Tyler, who played quarterback for Battle and earned a football scholarship at Colorado Mesa University, reflects on how sports have taught him about personal character. “The way you perform on the field might make people like you or dislike you,” he says. “The way you impact lives outside of sports is what really matters and can make people love you.”
These students have a passion for communicating with and helping others.
“Communication is imperative,” Eiffert says. “You have to be able to relay ideas and information to other people.”
Hawkins, a member of the People to People program at Hickman, got the opportunity to go on multiple mission trips abroad. “If I didn’t have to worry about money, I would go on mission trips for the rest of my life,” she says. “I really enjoy going to different places and learning about different cultures while helping out where I can. I would love to help with impoverished neighborhoods, hurricane relief, finding solutions for clean water, or anything else where I can make small differences.”
Hollrah, as a Hickman homecoming queen candidate, raised $6,500 dollars for a friend at her dance studio with cystic fibrosis. Null and Hickman were involved in local service through the Battle Service Corps. Nguyen hopes to someday start a nonprofit in Vietnam to offer free art classes to children.
Others are passionate about the arts. Chauvin is an avid photographer; his work was showcased in Columbia Art League’s Quentessence Art Show, a professionally judged contest, where he won an Emerging Artist award. Bledsoe likes to sketch and read poetry, “but not in a pretentious way,” she says. Zhang studies classical piano in her spare time — she particularly enjoys playing pieces by the Romantic composers.
And all that is just what they do outside of school.
These 20 students, like so many other good students, have used their work in the classroom and in extracurriculars to broaden the scope of their lives outside of school. In addition to her interior design class, which inspired her to pursue interior design in college, Thompson enjoyed being a part of AVID, MAC Scholars, GSA, TEDx Battle, and Darkroom Records. Chauvin also interned with Darkroom Records; his favorite course, not surprisingly, was photography.
Bavlnka enjoyed AP Chemistry the most, and he also took collegiate-level math courses. “I’m most proud of taking and acing Calculus 3 at the University of Missouri on top of my high school schedule,” he says. “I put in the time and worked through my confusion to pass a college class I hardly thought I would survive.”
Maryam Bledsoe was part of the Making Waves Youth Radio program at Rock Bridge, where she made radio programs about things she was passionate about.
“I learned about storytelling and how to express myself more accurately and effectively, which is something I often have trouble with,” she says. “This project also inspired me to do a similar project in my school with an ELL class I’ve been working with. It was a truly rewarding experience.”
Nguyen herself is an English language learner; she began to learn English six years ago when she came to the U.S., and her proudest feat in high school is typing essays in English without using a translator. Her favorite class was computer-aided design, where the curriculum and her teacher, Robert Allee, inspired her to pursue a design-related career path. She loves tinkering with 3D modeling software and was also a member of her school newspaper.
Wiswall’s favorite course at Hickman was Dr. Deanna Wasman’s calculus class. Hawkins, in addition to People to People and lacrosse, was part of Hickman’s Speech and Debate team.
Bones wants to be a civil rights lawyer. His favorite class was U.S. and comparative government and politics. Lance, too, enjoyed the challenge of his social studies course, A.P. World History.
“The biggest lesson that I’ve learned from high school is that you should do things that you enjoy and that make a positive difference for others,” Bones says. “If what you’re doing makes you happy and it helps the community, then it doesn’t matter what other people think about it.”
Steinhauer is most proud of achieving a cumulative 4.0 GPA in high school, which made him one of Battle’s valedictorians. He was on the leadership team of Battle’s Science Club, and he’s proud of his work in organizing an event with the MU school of nursing. “I learned quite a bit about leadership,” Steinhauer says.
Lopez was voted courtwarming king by his peers at Rock Bridge; his favorite extracurricular was show choir, and he hopes to be a Broadway star someday. “Never be afraid to be yourself,” he says.
Zhang went to Rock Bridge, where her favorite class was AP Physics 2. “We all worked — struggled — together on assignments, but learning how to collaborate is incredibly important in STEM fields,” she says. Zhang is most proud of organizing a math contest for fourth and fifth graders with Mu Alpha Theta, Rock Bridge’s mathematics honor society. (Palipatana served as president of the organization.) “It’s heartwarming to see the kids have a blast playing at the booths and having fun with math,” Zhang says.
Palipatana’s favorite was AP Computer Science, which he dove into with no prior programming experience.
“I’m still free to admit that my programming skills currently lag far behind those of some of my experienced friends,” he says. “I’ve nevertheless held a great enjoyment in the subject despite still being relatively bad at it, and when that’s the case, you know it’s true love.”
Eiffert attended Christian Fellowship School, and his favorite class was Advanced C++ programming. He was the programming lead for a project that recreated the game “Missile Command” from scratch.
“It was not the best recreation ever,” he says. “It consistently plays with lag and the gameplay is not the best. However, I’m proud of the time and thought I put into the project all the same. It was my first ‘big’ program.”
The next chapter in all their lives is full of possibilities. They’ve nurtured passions throughout high school; now it’s time to explore them. Null, for one, will study biology at Colorado State University.
“I’ve always wanted to work with plants and animals,” she says. “Throughout my life thus far, I’ve had many experiences that have broadened my ideas of what to do with my life and career. I have bounced around between veterinarian, wildlife conservationist, and even environmental pathologist. Currently, I don’t have a specific ‘dream job’ in mind, but I’m going to see where my field of study takes me.”
Tyler wants to go into sports psychology, which will be his major at Colorado Mesa University. He hopes to use his skills “to serve as many people as possible in the best way possible.”
Hawkins has a similar goal of making others and herself happy. “Ultimately, my biggest future goal right now is to finish college with a degree that I love and find a job that I genuinely enjoy getting up in the morning to go to,” she says.
Bavlnka wants to be a chemical engineer; he hopes to work toward developing some sort of chemical molecule that helps mankind, perhaps through eliminating the drawbacks of herbicides, curing a disease, or producing new synthetic material.
Wiswall, a young entrepreneur with his own lawn care business, wants to own or operate a hunting guide and outfitter service. Hollrah’s dream job is to be a professional dancer. Baumer will be a pre-nursing major at College of the Ozarks, and his dream is to become an emergency nurse and wilderness guide.
Bones will graduate from Rock Bridge and will study PPE (philosophy, political science, and economics) at the University of Pennsylvania. His dream is to become a civil rights lawyer, but before law school, he wants to travel the world for a year or two.
Nguyen will also attend Penn; she’ll pursue a digital media design program that integrates math, art, and computer science. Her dream job is to be a Pixar employee, but she’d settle for working anywhere in the field of computer graphics and animation.
“I can see myself as a zealous product designer who constantly seeks problems and comes up with solutions, or an animator who creates worlds that help foster children’s creativity and imagination,” she says. “I would also like to help establish an art department at my elementary school in Vietnam, whether it is through designing the blueprint for the physical space or providing monetary support.”
Lance will be attending the U.S. Naval Academy after graduating from Rock Bridge and hopes to become a U.S. Navy aviator. He will major in mechanical engineering, but before he leaves for school, he wants to finish earning his private pilot’s license.
Steinhauer wants to be a patent engineer, following an interest he’s developed throughout his high school classes. “I want to be an outstanding student at the University of Missouri who succeeds in and out of the classroom,” he says. “Besides making good grades, I also plan to be involved with the Formula Car Racing Team and might even interview for MU Tour Team. I will also proceed to promote golf in the community that I love by working with the Columbia Golf Foundation.”
Lopez will go to MU and hopes to attend law school in the future. Bledsoe will attend the University of Chicago. After college, she wants to be a professor or teacher in a foreign country. “I really want to move around as much as possible,” she says. Mostly, Bledsoe cares about being a good person and making positive experiences. Her advice to future students: “Do not procrastinate!” she says. “I rarely follow this.”
Zhang is a self-proclaimed “STEM-inist,” an advocate for other girls in the STEM field. She will either be majoring in mathematics with computer science at MIT or majoring in statistics at Yale.
Eiffert wants to earn his bachelor’s degree and then work in computer science developing new applications and algorithms for tech giants like Google or Microsoft, create new startups, hike, and travel the world.
Bashista will attend Barnard College at Columbia University and hopes to study abroad and do community service in the future. High school allowed her to develop a unique perspective, something specific to her. “I’m proud that I’ve grown and learned and now can think about things in ways that I’d never been able to before,” she says.
Palipatana will graduate from Rock Bridge High School and attend Cornell University, where he will major in information science with a concentration in data science.
“I’d love to be a data scientist or business analyst for a tech giant until I either hold a management role or gain enough general technical know-how to start something of my own,” he says. “I hope to someday oversee a tech-centered organization that would bring effective impact to one — or many — of society’s issues.”
To the class of 2017, thanks for sharing this slice of your lives with CBT; enjoy life, learn, and set goals going forward. And continue to be unapologetically yourselves