LHHS seniors Addison Berta, Carson Brown, Jacob Armer, Calli Hickman, Emily Kenny, Lauren Toungate, Luca Gisellu and Luke Kirkpatrick

President John F. Kennedy, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year, famously declared in his 1961 inaugural address that, “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century.”

Lake Highlands High School seniors are torchbearers of another sort. As they begin their final year as Wildcats, they represent the first graduating class born in a new century – even in a new millennium.

I sat down with 8 LHHS seniors born in the year 2000 on the night before school started and found them wise beyond their years. Luke Kirkpatrick, member of Wranglers and the golf team, is interested in studying applied mathematics at UT. Emily Kenny, Highlandette and president of Girls Service League will major in business at UT or the University of Georgia. Addison Berta, baseball player, Student Council president and founder and president of Men’s Service League, wants to go to the Naval Academy to study mechanical engineering. Lauren Toungate, volleyball captain, wants to study kinesiology at OU or Texas A&M. Luca Gisellu, football captain, Wrangler captain and wrestler hopes to major in business at UT. Calli Hickman, cheerleader and Wrangler, wants to graduate from OU and become a teacher. Carson Brown, cross country runner and singer in Espree, wants to study advertising at UT. Jacob Armer, baseball captain, Wrangler captain, football player and National Honor Society president, hopes to study business at UT.

What’s the best thing about being a senior?

Hickman: Freedom!

Brown: It’s exciting to be a step closer to college.

Kirkpatrick: Knowing all your hard work paid off. Even if you aren’t [ranked] as high as you want to be, you can use this last year to keep working.

Berta: Seeing the results of everything you worked for.

Ever wish you had tried harder?

(Unanimous, resounding “yes!”)

You were the first class born in this century. What does that mean?

Berta: Our grade and the grade below us are closest to 9/11, and we don’t know a world without domestic terrorism.

Gisellu: We grew up with technology – it’s the way we do our business. We’re like the Geek Squad – we can help our parents.

Hickman: We grew up with technology but we have to be careful what we post, and that causes us to be secretive even when we know we are doing nothing wrong. We know someone may be watching. Our parents say, “we may have done what you did, but at least there was no camera phone to capture it.”

Kenny: We were born in a time of security threats and technology and “all eyes on us.” And every year, there are more stresses about homework and college.

Kirkpatrick: There are going to be higher expectations on us. People looking in, future employers, and it’s important to do the best we can.

Armer: We’re witnessing a lot of hate – hate is on the rise. Seeking world peace is cliché, but I feel like our generation is beginning to have more power to make a difference.

Brown: We were born in the year 2000, but we’re just a tiny blip on the life of Lake Highlands. We’re no different than anyone else that graduated from LH.

You’ll be the first class issued Chromebook laptops by the school.

Berta: Waste of money.

Brown: I hope the Chromebooks replace binders, because I hate carrying all the binders around. By the end of the year, I just end up stuffing papers in my backpack. I’ve become more accustomed to typing papers rather than writing them, and the computer keeps things organized. Plus, when we go off to college, we’ll be submitting assignments online.

Hickman: But the computer can be unreliable, and I’m worried work can be lost. Plus, we’ve been using Google, but the business world uses Microsoft. It’s confusing.

Does anyone worry about the companies furnishing the technology now owning your information?

Berta: Not really. SAT and other companies already have our stuff. (Unanimous shrugged shoulders)

What advice would you have for incoming freshman?

Kirkpatrick (laughing): My little brother is a freshman, and he’s clueless.

Hickman: You come from the top of the world in 8th grade to the safety of the LHHS freshman center, and you’re just not ready to be back on the bottom.

Kenny: You think you’re so cool in ninth grade, but you’re just not ready for all of the responsibilities and the hard work you have to put in.

Toungate: In junior high, teachers are helping you out. High school is different.

Armer: My advice would be to start off on the right foot and make good grades freshman year. And never give up, even if you make a bad grade or have a bad class or a bad teacher.

Does having a good freshman year mean you get to coast senior year?

(Unanimous “no!”)

Armer: This will be the hardest year I’ve ever had – with involvement, if not scholastically.

Brown: You just make it tough on yourself if you coast. There are still AP tests you want to do well on.

Kirkpatrick: You want to impress yourself. You have high expectations for yourself as a student. It’s a mindset you have. You feel good if you do well.

You guys are high-achieving kids. Would every student answer the same way?

Berta: No one as a freshman understands the impact of freshman year. When you come out of 8th grade, you still think you have a long way to go until you apply to college, but realistically, freshman year is a big piece of the college application.

Kenny: We all think, “I’ll do better next year,” but even if you blow freshman year, you can’t give up. You have to keep trying.

Armer: It’s important to find something you’re interested in.  Just going to school to do school may not be that fun, but if you find something you’re passionate about, it makes the day worth it.

Toungate: Yeah, get involved in things like sports, GSL and choir. It shows colleges you can balance school and other things.

Brown: I feel like our class is better-prepared because so many of us have older siblings.

How has having older siblings shaped the Class of 2018?

Armer: We’ve learned what to do and what not to do. I’m lucky to have a good brother who set a good example for me and taught me how to “work” high school, because it’s kind of a puzzle. You have to learn to fit all the pieces together, with your extracurriculars and everything you are involved in. I think we, as seniors, can be like older siblings to younger students.

Let’s talk about social media.

Hickman: It’s very distracting.

Armer: It exposes kids to stuff they shouldn’t be exposed to at such a young age. I was recently on vacation, and my elementary-aged cousins knew things I didn’t know til 10th or 11th grade. It was shocking, and it was all due to social media access.

Toungate: It’s a risk, too, because what you put out there, colleges and coaches and parents can see. During high school, some people got caught putting inappropriate things up.

Kenny: And once you put something out there, you can never take it back.

Gisellu: I’ve had college coaches ask me about things on social media. People actually look.

Armer: The University of Texas business school Instagram page just followed me, and I said yes, but now I’m kind of nervous because I just sent in my application. It’s not that I have anything bad on there, but I know they could be watching.

What will be new at LHHS this year?

Toungate: We have 40 new teachers and most of them are young. I think the principal change is going to be good. We had a lot of disagreements with our principal.

Berta: It’s kind of unsettling to have so many new teachers. We can’t ask anyone else what to expect. But I’m fine with a new administration. That’s a good change.

Over the summer, lots has gone on in the world of current events – Confederate monuments, race relations, domestic terrorism– and college will be a place for open expression of ideas. Is LHHS such a place?

Gisellu: Casey Boland’s classroom is. [Boland teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History]

(Shaking heads in agreement)

Kenny: That especially happens in AP classes – during the election we had some great discussion.

Armer: I think our school is a great platform for discussion, because we are so diverse and have so many different opinions, but I don’t think we speak about them at school much. Even living in a diverse community, there’s a lot of sheltered people. Being on the football team opened my eyes to issues in our world. When you get to know people as individuals, you care about them. It’s humbling to take a step back and see I don’t really know what’s going on in someone else’s life. It opens you up to the world.

The discussion has been edited for brevity and clarity. Thank you, seniors!