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Senior Reflection: Tyler Meeks – Closing a Chapter

Meeks, Tyler 2It is still hard to believe that only two years ago, our class received emails proclaiming “Congratulations! You have been accepted to the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science!”

A new chapter in our life was just beginning. We excitedly told our friends and teachers that they wouldn’t see us much next year; we were going to a new school. At first, that’s all Gatton was to most of us: a new school, albeit one that would afford us opportunities of which we could only dream. We would get to take courses that would challenge us, perform research with amazing WKU professors, Study Abroad in places from England to China. Free college credit, free meals, free housing; it was almost too good to be true. It was only once we actually got there that we learned Gatton was not just a school, but a place where we could truly belong.

The best part of Gatton, as any student will tell you without hesitation, is the community. Although our studies were a big priority, even more important was creating and maintaining our relationships with each other. Between hours of video games, last minute study sessions, and staying up all night with friends to walk to Waffle House as a group in the morning, lasting friendships were created. We bonded through group messages, wing and weekend activities, spending accumulated meal plans on brownies and cheese sticks at Papa Johns; the list goes on and on. Some of my best memories of Gatton are of just sitting in the third floor common area and talking with the people I cared about.

As I sit in my room typing this a full four weeks after graduating, I still have trouble coming to terms with the fact that my time as a high school student is over, that yet another chapter in my life has been closed. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that these last two years have been some of the best of my life, and as our class prepares for the next part of their journey, spreading across the country like data in a scatter plot, there is one thing that I know will remain true.

There will never be another group of people quite like the residents of Florence Schneider Hall.

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Senior Reflection: Lydia Buzzard

Buzzard, Lydia 2Author’s Note: Even though I drastically overshot my recommended word limit, this senior reflection still feels poorly abridged. The past two years are too precious to be watered down or distorted, but here they are: flat, two-dimensional, appearing to you in a standard, professional font. This reflection hurt to write. I have chosen to tell you about a few lessons I picked up over the course of my Gatton career, since it is a place of learning, after all.

On my first Sunday at the Academy, I woke up at 7AM to do my laundry. I did this for two reasons:

  1. To establish good housekeeping habits
  2. I was afraid of other people seeing my clothes. It seemed like such a personal thing to view or handle someone’s clothing without their preparation or consent.

In those first few months, I felt a self-imposed pressure to remain poised. I was somewhat terrified to fall into candid situations, to share myself entirely, jaded from more than a decade spent among peers who took such moments as opportunities to attack. With time, I would see that my Gatton family would never be anything but loving, nothing but supportive and sweet. They forgave my shortcomings and turned a blind eye to my clothes during accidental meetings in the laundry room. They would later be some of the most prized people in my corner, but I could not have anticipated that without knowing them first.

I continued my early morning laundry habits each week for much of my Gatton career, but my definition of “early” loosened over time. As I made room for movie nights, group guitar sessions, and church visits in my weekends, my Sunday morning chore began later and later, but I felt none of the remorse I expected. I gave the Gatton community my trust, and it gave me an hour or two of extra sleep on Sundays.

It also gave me the freedom to become an artist of personhood, to create a working draft of my self-portrait, with smile lines from the field I love and freckles of my personality. I kept a copy in my back pocket, ready to refine it at any moment, and I started to show it to the people around me. They witnessed my unstoppable bouts of laughter, my midterm grade breakdowns, and my college application worry. More than that, they understood. I was given both the permission and the responsibility to feel and to share my emotions as fully as possible. With time and Pokey sessions (meetings with our Asst. Director Dr. Pokey Bowen), I began to carve out the cheekbones of my childhood, and while the Gatton Academy is not known as an art school, it was there I learned how to draw a self-portrait worth studying.

I am happy to say that in my last week at the Academy, I did my laundry on a Wednesday afternoon. Most of the machines were full. Later, I carried my clean clothes back downstairs through a common area filled with people. I even stopped to talk. If I learned anything at the Gatton Academy aside from the curriculum, it was the art of improv—of dynamics, of growth. I learned to revise and to define but to do so fluidly, to not take myself too seriously, to give way to a transparent process—like thinking out loud, like proofreading, like letting someone else in the room as you move your laundry—and I’m proud of those accomplishments, because those things are honest. For me, for a long time, they were also very difficult. I’m not perfect at any of them now, but my Gatton family members were fundamental mentors and observers of my progress.

Looking back on them now, I cannot replicate the fear I felt in my first weeks. I do not feel any of the embarrassment or the anxiety. I feel only grateful, and so indescribably, unbelievably lucky that I was able to come into my own in the presence of such incredible people. I feel honored to have witnessed my classmates’ growth and thankful that they facilitated mine. I doubt I will meet a group with such passion and concentrated personality ever again, and so I’d like to close my senior reflection by simply appreciating my fellow seniors. To my class, know that I am always available by way of Facebook or a phone call to listen to your life triumphs or your Tuesday nights alike. Thank you for putting up with me, for hugging me, for helping me with Physics. Thank you for your support and for your listening ears. Thank you for being the beautiful, quick-witted characters that liven up all of my stories.

And, probably most of all, thank you for sharing the laundry room.

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Senior Reflection: Julia Gensheimer – #Memories: Reflecting on My Two Years at Gatton

By: Julia Gensheimer

Gensheimer, Julia 1After writing a commencement speech, signing yearbooks, and making multiple #tbt collages, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on my two years at Gatton. As an avatar, I’ve enjoyed sharing my “Gatton love” with prospective students, legislators, family, friends, and random college students throughout the year. Lots of people, places, stories, and inside jokes come to mind when I think back on my two years (#dontgochasingwaterfalls). I could spend hours talking about my classes, research, and adventures abroad, but what I remember most when I think about Gatton is the community.

I see students sitting in the hallway at 3 AM working long hours to debug their code during junior year CS and CPS classes. I think of Kindergarten days, water balloon fights, and Ultimate games. I remember the late night conversations on wing and the obsession with Netflix. I remember the impromptu stops on third floor to see some of the most hilarious, hard-working, and compassionate people I had the privilege to call friends and chat about TV shows, Buzzfeed articles, funny YouTube videos, or new scientific theories. That’s not even mentioning the best staff a school could ask for. The Gatton staff are people who will buy you food, listen to your rants, give great life advice, and support you through every application, project, or exam.

As I reminisce on my time at Gatton, I’m sad that I am no longer a “Gatton kid”. However, as a graduate and alumnae (what?!?), I am excited to see what the future holds for my class and other members of the Gatton family. Coming to Gatton was definitely one of the best decisions of my life. Thanks to Gatton, I’ve become a better student and person. Now, as I prepare for what we like to call “real college”, I have the tools to make a successful transition. I’ve learned study skills, how to navigate a college campus, and dorm life. Most importantly, I’ve learned that experiences like Gatton are what you make of them. Take the advice of my childhood hero, Hannah Montana: “Life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.”

To future students, enroll in classes you are excited about. Conduct research. Join clubs. Study abroad. Learn a new language. Make friends. Seek out opportunities. Maximize your meal plans. Listen to the advice of your teachers and staff members. Work hard. Be grateful. Do your best. And while you’re doing all of that, don’t forget to have fun! Gatton isn’t a “prison for the intellectual” – it’s a home. Cherish the late nights, inside jokes, trips, dinners, activities, and people. It’s only two years. Make them the best they can be.

Without Gatton and WKU, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now. I’m looking forward to the years ahead and am grateful to know that I’ll always have a home at Gatton. To those who know this inside joke, we’ve experienced Gatton and now we’ll “fly away to real college”. It’s time to spread our wings and fly, guys. Thanks for the good times and I better be sure to see each and every one of you all at the reunion!

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Senior Reflection: Jenna Willett

Willett, Jenna 1 copyGatton Academy: A home away from home. It even has a mom-away-from-mom, Beth Hawke! Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought that I would find a community that challenged me frequently, yet felt like a place of belonging.

The first semester of my junior year was really imposing. What with difficult curriculum and adjusting to living away from home, it was no wonder that I felt homesickness a couple of months in. However, I made it through that first semester—with plentiful help from family, fellow students, and staff—and such an accomplishment bolstered my determination and love for Gatton.

After that first, arduous, never-ending semester, every other semester seemed to pass in the blink of the eye. There was still hard work to be done, but it was easier after learning how to deal with things. Usually help came in the form of communication with my peers and family. Sometimes it came from a tutor. Whatever the case, I learned that asking others for help was not shameful. On the contrary, it was very beneficial! I do not think I ever would have known the beauty of questions if not for attending Gatton.

The best thing about Gatton for me, over all the wonderful opportunities it provides, was the community. As I said before, I never was challenged as much in my life while still feeling an utter sense of belonging. Whether discussing new science phenomena or beloved book series, getting help on a math problem or a relationship issue, there was always the feeling that I was with “my people.” I will miss the friends made at Gatton more than anything, but I cannot help but be entirely grateful for those friendships. Gatton has helped me beyond belief.

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“Avengers: Age of Ultron” Review

by: Michael Evans

Evans, Michael 1On Friday, May 1st, Marvel Studios’ highly anticipated sequel to The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, was released. With the heavy overlap between its students and Marvel fans, The Gatton Academy provided ticket-buying services and transportation for 16 students (including myself) to attend a screening on that same day.

Age of Ultron focused on the Avengers’ attempts to stop an evil artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark as a reaction to the events of the first film. It was a fun movie, with witty one-liners, exciting action sequences, and occasional breaks for character development. However, there was no sense of consequence; the characters never seemed like they were in danger, in sharp contrast to the previous films where, at the very least, side characters weren’t invulnerable. Age of Ultron also had problems with overcrowding. At 2.5 hours long, it wasn’t a short film by any means, but characters and plots whizzed by with very little time spent on either. Here’s hoping that the 3-hour-long extended edition promised for Blu-Ray release helps with that problem.

Pacing and tonal issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and it’s definitely worth a watch, even as a setup for the next stage of Marvel’s movie universe.

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Alice in Wonderland – 2015 Prom

By: Lydia Buzzard

IMG_2238On April 18th, WKU’s sidewalks were littered in sequins and glitter—the breadcrumb trails of Gatton Academy Prom. Students and their families spread out across campus for photos before the big event at 7pm, when the Augustein Alumni Center saw a procession of dresses and tuxedos enter its doors.

Inside the ballroom one could find Alice in Wonderland themed decorations: chess pieces, colorful bouquets, and empty souvenir bottles tagged “Drink Me,” tastefully adorned our dining tables. After voting for prom king, queen, prince, and princess, we sat down to dinner.

Dancing began at 8:15 with a lively, electric opening move by Academy junior Graham Reynolds. From that point forward, any exams, projects, or presentations plaguing us were nowhere to be found; it was a welcome evening of forgetting. Bass lines and catchy choruses united two classes and their guests as a single mob of teenagers fighting midnight.

At 10:30, this year’s prom royalty was crowned. D.J. Price and Eura Shin were named prom prince and princess, respectively. Meredith Bickett took home the prom queen sash, and Morgan Blair was named prom king, a promotion from his previous title as 2014’s prom prince.

One of the most memorable moments of the night was the last. The final song of prom was Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” With the opening harmonica riff, the dancing mob calmed, formed a circle on the dance floor, wrapped arms around each other, and swayed with the music, shouting the lyrics as loudly as we could. Of the Academy students in that circle, some of us were ending our Gatton careers while others were just beginning, but those futures would have to wait. For now, we had each other and a song that we all knew, and that was more than enough.

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Caves, Olives, and Bumper Cars

By: Kelly McKenna

Most of us had been in a cave before, but the cave of Diros was something different than we had experienced before. Descending into the cave wearing our bright orange life jackets, we boarded boats to explore. The cave is about 14 km and we explored about 1,300 meters on the lake and the other 200 on pathways. The cave has millions of tiny stalactites hanging off the ceiling and stalagmites at the bottom of the lake. The lake itself reaches 90 meters below the surface in the deepest areas. The only animals that inhabit the cave are spiders and eels; and, although we did not see any spiders, we did get to see a foot long eel swim past our boat. After finishing our tour of the cave, we headed up to Sparta where we explored and found a playground to play on before dinner and a trip to an ice cream parlor.

Before leaving Sparta, we visited the Olive Museum, where we learned the history of olives and olive oil. Our bus driver was then kind enough to take us to the top of a mountain so we could climb down, visiting the different churches and the Fortress of Mystra as we went. We learned how the Ancient town of Sparta had been destroyed and those churches and palaces on the hill were all that was left from the Ancient times in that area.

After the walk down the mountain and lunch, we traveled to the city of Nafplio, a port city with a shopping area that had sidewalks that doubled as roads. After learning the best ice cream shop in the city was closed, we went to the next best shop and ate our ice cream on the way back to our hotel. We set out again before dinner in smaller groups with some going shopping, some getting lost, and some even finding a mini fair in the park across from our hotel and rode the bumper cars before heading back to the hotel. After dinner, a large group of us went back to ride the bumper cars again and then relax with another trip to the ice cream shop before turning in for the night. Tomorrow, we will be leaving Nafplio and heading to Mycenae and the Corinth canal on our way back to Athens. Our trip will then wrap up with a day cruise around the 3 Saronic Islands.

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Osa Days

We went by boat.

Costa Rica 7 041There were scarlet macaws, trogons, and toucans. There were tapirs, a sea snake, and peccaries so close you had to hold your nose. There were dolphins, false killer whales, and barracudas. There were more monkeys than we could count—squirrel, spider, white-faced Capuchins, and howlers.  At breakfast this morning, someone said, “Hey, there’s monkeys,” and some didn’t even bother to look up from their gallo pinto. Who could blame them after a monkey was caught hanging from the gutter looking into one of the girls’ cabins just two days ago? Junior Kristen Pedersen described the peeping monkey, saying, “He hung over like this and looked at me!” and dangled her head upside down.

Costa Rica 7 058The Osa Peninsula delivered.

Living up to its reputation as one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots, wildlife spotting became part of our routine the past three days on Costa Rica’s southwestern tip—a place so remote that few visitors get to travel there.

Still, getting there is half the fun. A 45-minute boat ride through Central America’s largest mangrove swamp, our tiny boats were suddenly met by the rolling waves of the eastern Pacific. From the delta, it’s another 45-minutes by boat through open sea to Poor Man’s Paradise. From the boat, our students saw the wild land. Sea caves, sea tunnels, and a waterfall that fell straight into the sea.

After a long travel day, we’re back to civilization. And, maybe too soon. Near the San Jose airport now, where advertisements point the way to Hooter’s, Denny’s, and the Holiday Inn Express, the wildness of the Osa Peninsula seems very far away indeed.Costa Rica 7 024Costa Rica 7 064 Costa Rica 7 079 Costa Rica 7 085

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The Magic Man and Hill Climbing in Greece

10378547_10152635555119067_3979533795758756556_nBy:  Kelly McKenna

In the little town of Kalampaka, Greece, you don’t see the village so much as the cliffs and mountains above it. They are absolutely breathtaking, and if you look close enough, orange terracotta roofs can be seen. These are the monasteries of Meteroa. While definitely not an easy walk, visiting the Greek orthodox churches contained within these religious centers was well worth the 300 steps it took to get there. To respect the religion, we didn’t take pictures inside and the females in the group used wrap-arounds as skirts over our pants.

After leaving Kalampaka, we drove to the small town of Delphi, which is built on the side of the mountains. On the way to Delphi, we stopped to see a hot spring of water coming down the mountains as well as monuments to the Spartans and Thespians of the Battle of Thermopylae. A few of us ventured to take off our shoes and put our feet in the hot spring and found it very refreshing. After arriving in Delphi and touring the museum of the ancient city, we toured a smaller town further up on the mountain. While walking on the city streets, there was a staircase that went off up a hill. After the many steps from the monasteries the day before, I thought it would be a bright idea to climb the hill to the top of the town. Of course we had to stop half way up to play on the seesaw and swings on a playground we found, but at the top of about 265 stairs, we received a beautiful view.

After arriving at our hotel in Delphi, a few of us decided to go out and look around the different shops. We ended up walking to the end of town and coming back down another road. While passing one store we remarked about the Spartan armor in the window but continued walking until the store owner invited us in. We went in and he told us that because we are students and it is the off season, he would give us discounts. We ended up buying multiple items and getting a few magnets for free. This store was a big topic at dinner, so afterwards almost everyone on the trip went back to the store. The owner of the store was very good at persuading us to buy souvenirs and after leaving the store for the night we collectively nicknamed him the “magic man”, because your money seemed to just magically disappear.

Today we toured the ancient ruins of Delphi and were joined by two cats that we promptly named Apollo and Artemis because the temple at Delphi was dedicated to Apollo. After leaving Delphi we set out for our trip to Olympia, stopping on the way for lunch and a tour of an Orthodox church. We stopped by a seaside restaurant for lunch and ventured out to the shore, skipping rocks and exploring a rock pier. Our group has really enjoyed the trip so far, becoming very close through inside jokes such as Panos, glue, and keeping our tally of cats we have seen (58 in four days). Tomorrow we will be exploring Olympia, visiting the museum and ancient Olympia along with shopping in town.

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Costa Rican Dance Party

Costa Rica 3 092 IMG_2718 Costa Rica 3 074 Costa Rica 3 058Juggling show.  Empanadas.  Three Costa Rican cowboys playing guitars.  Sixteen sweaty students shaking-it-like-they-just-don’t care.

This was Friday night in San Gerardo de Rivas.

When Tony Duncan heard that a group of students was going to be at Cloudbridge at the same time that he was planning a visit, he offered to do a free juggling performance in town.  Our students gathered around five and six year olds from the village on the town soccer field for a half hour show which included witnessing the juggler balancing a golf ball and tee on the tip of his nose for a world record-setting 1 minute and 31 seconds.

After the show, students walked over to the Cafe Bambu at Proyecto San Gerardo, a non-profit that provides volunteer services to the area and scholarships for local students.  Dinner was served, including fresh fruit juice, tortilla chips, two empanadas, beans and rice, salad with pico de gallo, and tres leches for dessert.

Three local musicians played traditional music for our group while we ate.  Then…  the dance party.  There wasn’t a shy dancing (er…  hiking) boot in the joint.  The locals were as impressed with our students’ enthusiasm as they were their dance moves.

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