Senior profiles

Profiles over 16 seniors selected by The Griffin Rites staff on recommendation from students and staff for their exemplary talent in specific areas from all walks of life.

May 14, 2018

Arfon Abdi

Involved in: Gold Medallion, Key Club, Medical internships, Muslim Student Association

By Jason Hopkins

In Kansas City alone, there are more than 30 well-equipped hospitals available for community access. But in other places around the world, there are none, and with no access to hospitals or any other form of healthcare, people are dying. Senior Arfon Abdi wants to change that. 

“My parents came here from Somalia and after they left there was poor government and poor healthcare,” Abdi said. “A lot of members from my family unfortunately passed away because the areas that they lived in didn’t have doctors, nurses or enough medication to help the people that lived there. It really inspired my aspiration to be involved in my community.”

Abdi is now an active member of Health Occupation Students of America as well as multiple service groups. After high school, she plans to pursue an undergraduate and then professional degree in the medical field before traveling internationally to bring healthcare to impoverished nations. 

“It also kind of inspired my desire for volunteering abroad which is why I want to do Doctors Without Borders to help those in developing countries – not only in Somalia or East Africa, but also in other third world countries,” Abdi said. “Seeing how much they suffer and how much they ask for help, I just want to be that person who steps up and helps.” 

In the fall of 2017, Abdi was awarded the presidential service volunteer award for service to her community. 

“I think everyone goes through different things in life, and you might be a little better off, but then why not assist someone and help them out and brighten their day a little bit,” Abdi said. “Because I am blessed with the time and energy to create change, why not do it?”

Lily Abdulla

Involved in: AVID, Cross country, Gold Medallion, Grifffin Grounds, Key Club, Track and field

By Gage Rabideaux

Senior Lily Abdulla is always running. She runs from Griffin Grounds, to classes, to clubs, to practices and then home to her family. But in the last four years, Lily has also run into herself. 

“Running has helped me grow as a person,” Abdulla said. “Sophomore year when I ran cross country, I didn’t know what my strengths were. Then junior year I found my strength. Before that I was there, but I was lost.”

Having broken the school record in the 400-meter relay and run state for two years, Abdulla will now be running at Park University [PU] on scholarship. A first generation college student, Abdulla did not always believe college would be her path.

“I’ve always been putting my whole entire life into my family and making sure they’re getting what they need. I never stopped and thought about me,” Abdulla said.

While at PU, Abdulla plans to pursue a degree in physical therapy, after which she hopes to save money to help her mother receive a college education as well. 

“My mom never got her education because she dropped out of high school when she was 17 to take care of me,” Abdulla said. “After I’m done with my education I want to save up and be able to pay for her to get hers. I don’t want my siblings to have to say, ‘My mom works at a factory. She’s never here because she’s working 24/7,’ like I did.” 

Regardless of the challenges she faces, with running in her life, Abdulla know she will remain herself.

“It’s like I’m me,” Abdulla said. “I don’t have to be Lily Abdulla student or Lily Abdulla sister or mother or father. When I’m running, I just get to be me. I get to be Lily.”

Nate Blanton

Involved in: Band, Boy’s soccer, Girl’s soccer manager, Science olympiad, Senior shorts, Student Activity Council, Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce Youth Leadership, Principal’s Committee, Senior class president

By Jessica Glaszczak

A firework of pride and excitement, senior Nate Blanton shines as an example of Tonka Pride during every game and pep assembly while he shouts cheers, sings the alma mater and screams the fight song. 

“I try to be the change that I want to see in my school and in peers around me,” Blanton said. “I really want to see the school step up their game because I feel that everyone should be a little like me in terms of their school spirit.”

Blanton also finds pride in the hard work that he sees in both students and staff.

“The people that work here work hard,” Blanton said. “You see that in their work and I like finding pride in that. And then the staff, the staff always does the best for their students and sacrifices their own personal lives sometimes for the good of the student body.”

Blanton also participates in many activities throughout the school. He attributes his many successes in all of these activities not to skill, but to hard work.

“What led me to these [accomplishments] is just putting work in every day, or at least trying to, and just really trying hard,” Blanton said. “There’s no substitute for putting in time into a certain field or anything like that. I like the quote ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ I feel like that speaks volumes.”

Blanton plans to continue to work hard going into college in order to become an environmental engineer. 

Gavin Crump

Involved in: Guitar club, track and field

By Elizabeth Hopkins

For as long as he can remember, senior Gavin Crump has been a drummer. To him, music is more than just a hobby, it a passion he has had since he was just two years old.

“I am a drummer, I have been my whole life,” Crump said. “I consider myself a multi-instrumentalist because I also play guitar, and since I play guitar, I can play bass. I’m kind of all over the place in the music realm, but I primarily play drums.”

Crump has also taught himself how to audio engineer, as well as mix, master and record music in his home studio. In December 2017, this talent brought Crump to become the drummer of his friend’s hard rock and metal band, The Ganzfeld Experiment. 

“I’ve always liked to just jam out with my friends,” Crump said. “It’s kind of a musician thing: you like to play with your friends, you like to make new music. Our guitarist, [senior] Jared Herz, saw an opportunity with the three of us.”

Crump, Herz and their bassist senior Thomas Mitchell practice at his home studio, which has been converted into a live practice and control room. In the upcoming months, the band plans to start playing shows around Kansas City, where Crump believes there lies a great opportunity for his band to gain popularity. 

“I definitely believe we will achieve quite a bit of fame locally,” Crump said. “I don’t think that would be very difficult at all because of our influence. I think we will attract a lot of people with our newness, but in terms of nationally or globally, it’s going to be a long road.”

Matthew DeHass

Involved in: Art Club President, Art Department, Gold Medallion, Jazz Band, Orchestra

By Katie Bullock and Jessica Glaszczak

There is a stark contrast between a test and a performance. A test like the PSAT is a competition, a challenge to beat out 99 percent of the nation for top honors. But a performance is a breath, an artistic vision personified by colorful paint or black and white piano keys. Senior Matthew DeHass is familiar with both these environments.

Last fall, DeHass was recognized as a National Merit Scholarship finalist. While DeHass is often involved in this academic side of life, he finds more peace in the art forms he stumbled upon in high school.

“School, it’s work, but I enjoy playing piano,” DeHass said. “I never really took art classes until high school. It was accidental. I had an empty spot at the beginning of freshman year and I said, ‘I guess I’ll take it,’ because I’ve always liked drawing and painting even though it’s really difficult. It’s a lot more interesting. You can always learn when you are painting a person, compared to landscapes and stuff like that.”

Now, DeHass is in AP Studio art, jazz band and symphonic orchestra. Each of the classes has come to teach him something different, but as a whole they have showed him how to do the things he loves, and how to love the things he does. 

“It’s about not thinking of it as a responsibility,” DeHass said. “It makes it a lot easier to handle all these things if you do them because then you want to do them. The most important thing to acknowledge is that we can only do one thing at a time. Things can feel a lot less big when we just focus one step at a time, and complete each step with the confidence that we will finish everything, no matter how the circumstances look.”

Though his major is undecided, DeHass plans to attend the University of Missouri where he hopes to continue in art. 

Danielle Dodd

Involved in: 48th Street Players, Diversity council, Gold Medallion, Key Club, Louder Than a Bomb, Scholar Bowl, Theater department

By Jason Hopkins

There is a front and a back to everything. In theatre, there is the stage and there is that which is behind the curtain. As the technical director of the theatre department and its lighting designer, senior Danielle Dodd has still been integrally involved in nearly every theatre production since her freshman year while rarely making a theatrical appearence. 

“With lighting as in any element of live theatre, you are responsible for creating these moments of color and observation and brilliance onstage,” Dodd said. “While you can have a lot of minimalism in theatre, when it comes down to it you need lights. Lights create their own universe, their own private conversation on the stage.” 

Dodd brings an emotional element to every production she is part of by manipulating lights and their color to create a sense of the characters inner emotional reality. 

“I tend to go for more emotional sort of lighting styles,” Dodd said. “I’m looking less technically speaking and more ‘how does this feel?’ When you’re lighting you’re creating an environment, and mine is more of an emotional environment and less of a realistic environment.”

On March 14, Dodd discovered she had been accepted to her dream school the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, one of the top lighting programs in the nation. 

“I’m a very artistic person and to do anything else with my life would be not only disingenuous but boring,” Dodd said. “Art at its core is an attempt to affect and create something. It’s an attempt to reach out to your audience and grab them by the hand – or heart, as it were – and at my core, I’m an artist.” 

Ry-Jae Fisher

Involved in: Blacks Achieving Greatness, Family and consumer science department, Girls’ Basketball, Girls’ Soccer

By Jessica Glaszczak

Since her freshman year, family and consumer science [FACS] classes have given senior Ry-Jae Fisher the ability to better take care of herself. Fisher has taken the majority of FACS classes offered at Winnetonka including all foods and child development classes and one clothing and fashion class. 

“I want to be well-equipped within the world,” Fisher said. “With FACS, you can be well-equipped within your home and you can basically take care of yourself. 

When she is not at school, Fisher often finds herself cooking for her nieces and nephews who she takes care of regularly. Since starting to care for them, Fisher has decided that she would like to open her own daycare when she is older in order to teach and provide for children in the community.

“It’s kind of centered around my nieces and nephews; all I do is take care of them,” Fisher said. “They’re my joy and pride. Honestly, I just want to make sure that kids out there in the world can get cared for. When younger people see me doing that I feel like they should be able to it when they get older.”

Of all the FACS classes she has taken, Fisher’s favorite is cooking. For her, it is a class that has given her the ability not only to provide for her family, but to connect with them. 

“I like to take care of other people before I take care of myself,” Fisher said. “I like to cook for them. Sometimes they help me in the kitchen and sometimes they just watch. You see the joy they have when you take care of them. It’s really fulfilling.”

After high school, Fisher plans to pursue a degree and career in physical therapy before opening her daycare. 

Autumn Hillyer

Involved in: Art Department

By Katie Bullock

Tides are notorious for their ability to change a landscape, to wash away old beach rocks and replace them with driftwood and white shells. For the last year, senior Autumn Hillyer has become familiar with these natural changes while she portrays mother nature in her AP art concentration.

“I wanted to make a statement,” Hillyer said. “I started off with more flowery forms but recently I’ve been going a darker route, showing how mankind is destroying mother nature with landfills and smokestacks.”

A lover of nature, Hillyer decided to focus her AP art concentration on capturing landscapes within the female form and how they have changed over time. In doing so, she has also captured her own phases within the canvas.

“It’s [art] a way to express yourself,” Hillyer said. “If you look at my art, my paintings you can tell what kind of music I’m listening to by my brush strokes, what kind of mood I’m in by the colors I chose. It reflects you and I think that’s really beautiful. You definitely put yourself into the piece and that’s what I love about it.”

But art has helped Hillyer do more than just preserve her life’s changes within her art, it is part of the reason she transformed enough to need to capture such changes. 

“I love all my art for very different reasons, but I really love the blue lady, who I call ‘Rising tide’,” Hillyer said. “She’s made of water. It’s the very first piece where I actually felt confident in my skills. They all reflect different parts of my life and different statements and changes but that one – even though it’s not my favorite piece ever technique-wise – really showed me gaining self-confidence.” 

Although Hillyer plans to pursue a degree in architecture after high school, she also hopes to continue creating art.

Lia Holman

Involved in: Art Department

By Jessica Glaszczak

“It’s basically putting junk on naked people,” senior Lia Holman said.

Holman, who has taken Advanced Photography twice and also been a teacher’s assistant for that class, is currently in AP Studio Art and Graphic design as well. For her AP concentration portfolio, she is creating a collection of photography pieces that focus on materials and their interactions in contrast to the human body.

“I think it’s so cool how I can manipulate different materials to fit the human body,” Holman said. “I love juxtaposition and that’s part of my concentration because random materials don’t really belong on a human body, but I think it’s cool how they can look like they belong and I like the contrast.”

When creating each piece, Holman finds inspiration for her photography all around her before carefully deciding how to position each of her models and their materials.

“Sometimes I’ll see a sign on the side of the road or sometimes I scroll through Instagram and I see other photographers or models and what they’re doing,” Holman said. “Most of the time I just see what’s around and something pops in my head. I like to start off with color schemes or sometimes I pick my model first and I try to think about what would work best for that person and where we could go.”

As the first student from Winnetonka to receive the Gold Key award, which is the highest art award in Missouri, Holman attributes her accomplishments to her dedication for her passion.

“It’s really about making sure you’re always doing photography so you can improve,” Holman said. “You can’t improve if you don’t continue to do your artwork.”

Cameron Keough

Involved in: Engineering, Guitar club, Jazz band

By Gage Rabideaux

From cadences to calculus, senior Cameron Keough finds math in every aspect of his life. Keough is enrolled in civil engineering, digital electronics and engineering development and design while also taking calculus three at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. But Keough also uses his mathematical mind for music. 

“I’ve been playing guitar since third grade. I saw Slash, from Guns and Roses, and I thought ‘he’s really cool and I want to be like him,’” Keough said. “I just play whenever I have time. I’m kind of occupied with school and college and things like that, but whenever I can, I usually find an excuse to play.”

Keough recently melded music with his engineering project by creating a device for acoustic guitar that allows the player to change the pitch of the strings.

“In acoustic guitar, you don’t have any way to adjust it [intonation of open strings] and that’s what project is for,” Keough said. “With electric guitar you basically use a screw and it moves it [the bridge] up and down to change the string length and pitch. That’s what mind does except you just take the regular saddle out and you put it in and from there, you loosen the strings and move the little saddle piece where you need it. You don’t have to give it to a professional luthier and spend a hundred dollars.”

Although the immersion of math into music may seem like an odd combination, for Keough it makes perfect sense.

“They’re actually hugely intertwined,” Keough said. “Math is the language for everything. It’s the ultimate truth of everything. You can do anything with it. All the problems we have can be solved with math. You can’t argue with it.”

Jackson Mattingly

Involved in: Choir, Gold Medallion, Powerlifting, Theatre department

By Katie Bullock

Since his freshman year, senior Jackson Mattingly has studied and performed over 50 pieces of large ensemble vocal music in addition to an array of small ensemble and solo performance pieces. Having earned multiple state exemplary ratings for these performances, Mattingly has also been heavily involved in the theater department where he has held lead roles in multiple productions. 

“Anything I can do, I will do – just because I love it,” Mattingly said. “It’s a great way to express myself and make art at the same time.”

These performances allow Mattingly to not only express himself, but also step into the shoes of someone else’s narrative. 

“I think that music and theater are both great ways to express yourself and also to express the idea of another person because while you’re the one that’s performing it, it’s someone else’s vision,” Mattingly said. “Having that opportunity to make something real is really important and I don’t think that it should be overlooked.”

After graduation, Mattingly plans to make his change in the world by attending the conservatory at the University of Missouri – Kansas City to pursue a degree in music education and vocal performance so that he can later teach vocal music at the high school level. 

“I think that our school district does a really good job of letting the arts flourish and of letting music flourish but I don’t think that the country as a whole does,” Mattingly said. “I think that being able to make something out of nothing that can touch people’s lives is extremely important. It’s [theater] taught me that every voice is valid, that very idea has merit and should be seriously considered.”

Dillon Osborne

Involved in: Band

By Gage Rabideaux

Senior Dillon Osborne lives for two things: music and teaching. When he is not playing music in band, he is thinking about making a career out of his passions and becoming a music educator.

“The social aspect of band gets me involved,” Osborne said. “It has impacted me for the better, I make new friends from all classes and then I help them make the transition into high school.”

After high school, Osborne plans to attend Missouri State University’s music education program so he may teach band. While he has laid foundations for his life in his mind’s eye, that does not mean making it will be easy. 

“Some of my obstacles are going to be finding the funds for college and the whole new aspect of being away from home,” Osborne said.

While he recognizes both of these as rather large obstacles, Osborne is not letting the difficulty slow him down. His passion for music fuels him to continue working hard and playing harder.

“It’s the feeling of performance that keeps me going,” Osborne said. “The impact, both socially and as a stress relief, makes me love band.”

As his last year comes to a close, Osborne is now closer than ever to his dream and continues to put his all into band where he auditioned for and performed with the Kansas City Metro All-District Band and Jazz band on both the Tuba and the Trombone earlier this school year.

Geoffrey Rooks

Involved in: Broadcasting journalism, choir, theatre department

By Elizabeth Hopkins

Every Griffin knows the face of thespian and Tonka Talks host, senior Geoffrey Rooks. Each morning, Rooks can be seen on the morning announcements which he dedicates his time to as a way to make the world a little happier.

“I’m passionate about entertainment, making people happy through a medium,” Rooks said. “I am passionate about acting and making people laugh. My day gets better because their day gets better. I’ve mainly been trying to get some sort of presence with a really positive aspect to it.”

But besides just literally broadcasting himself to the school, Rooks has also been been building up his social portfolio by getting involved in various activities from choir to theatre which he believes gives him an avenue to get to know and to connect with other students.

“These past few years I haven’t really been active in the Winnetonka community, but senior year was my renaissance year,” Rooks said. “I just got more involved.”

In the future, Rooks plans on working independently as a voice actor in the entertainment industry where his passion lies. He has been doing voice-over projects outside of Winnetonka, hoping to gain some credit to his name.

“I don’t really plan on going to college, I just don’t think it’s right for me,” Rooks said. “I am planning on going straight into work, having voiceover or voice acting work. I don’t know if there’s a career I want other than voice acting, but I’m willing to work with what’s put in front of me.”

Meanwhile, ever the competent comic, Rooks continues to spin upbeat fun to those who watch him in the hopes that his positive personality imbues happiness in others.

Harper Ross

Involved in: Art department, Choir department, Gold Medallion, International club, Key club, Louder Than a Bomb, National Honor Society, Science olympiad, Theater department

When senior Harper Ross woke up on Dec. 18, 2017 the skies were gray. In her poem, “Poet_Artist,” she calls the shade “six o’clock some Sunday morning, maybe better named Sunday mourning.” That morning marked the death of Korean pop artist Jonghyun, and also a pivotal moment in Ross’s life.

This fall, Ross will attend Oberlin University where she will study psychology and film to become an entertainment psychologist based in South Korea to will help struggling artists. This decision came after the death of Korean pop artists Kim Jonghyun, when Ross came to the realization of the Korean mental health problem.

“I felt this would be a good way to give back to a community where everyone dedicates their lives to inspiring others,” Ross said. “This was the least I could do to help them and give back for all the inspiration and strength they’ve given me.”

Ross has been involved in many activities, especially in music and art, both of which will aid her in her future career.

“I’ve now found a way to take my love for music, art,  psychology and helping people and funnel them all into one job, which I never thought would be possible,” Ross said. “But it kind of goes to show that if you have an interest in something and it really touches your heart, you can find a way to bring all of those things together.”

Though Ross long debated pursuing interests in other fields that appeared more practical, she realized recently that she needed to, “follow her heart,” to her passions. 

“To anyone having trouble reconciling what to do with what’s practical, there definitely is a way,” Ross said. “There’s going to be people that look at you crazy when you tell them what you want to do. If it’s something that’s really in your heart, then that’s a sign that you should do it.”

Vincent Tinoco

Involved in: Baseball, Football, Track and field

By Katie Bullock

From the crib to cleats, senior Vincent Tinoco has been swinging baseball bats since he was five years old. Now, after eleven years, Tinoco’s high school career has not only earned him two academic all-state letters and a first team all-conference title, but also a sense of spirit. 

“Sports have taught me a lot. They’ve built my character,” Tinoco said. “Obviously you’re not going to win every single time. You have to learn to hate to lose more than to win because once you get that, you’ll get so much better. Not everything is going to go your way and you just have to learn how to bounce back from that.”

Although Tinoco’s main priority is baseball, he is also involved in both varsity football and track. Last year, Tinoco made it to sectionals and showed up just short of state in track, but he is hoping to advance further this year. Until then, every day before and sometimes after baseball practice, Tinoco can be found working out on the track. 

“It’s more than just showing up and letting people cheer you on and having fun, it’s about the process as well,” Tinoco said. “You can’t love it if you don’t love to do the work as well. You have to love to do the work as much as you love to get the result out of it.”

While there are many words that could be used to describe Tinoco, according to him there is perhaps none more fitting than determined.

“No matter what you want to do, just work on it,” Tinoco said. “No matter if it’s in sports or school, I promise that if you have the determination, the dedication and the will to just put your nose to the ground, look straight ahead and focus on nothing but the goal, you’ll come out on top.”

Alison Walker

Involved in: A+ tutoring, ACE Mentors, National Honor Society, NCAAPS, Symphonic orchestra, PLTW engineering, Robotics

By Jason Hopkins

Being one of the only female Winnetonka students invested in engineering, senior Allison Walker has worked her hardest to carve her path. 

“I figured out in middle school that I really liked math. Some people told me that I’d be good at architecture because of that, so I decided to take the PLTW [Project Lead The Way] classes for engineering,” Walker said.

Walker decided to go into engineering her freshman year and was encouraged by her father who is an electrician. After taking one class, Walker kept going in the engineering field.

“I experimented with the field and the more I experimented, the more I found out I liked it,” Walker said. “It was relatively easy to settle on engineering but there is always the struggle of being a girl in a mainly male-dominated field.”

Also involved in the ACE [Architecture, Construction, & Engineering] Mentor program, Walker has received two scholarships through the program. Currently, her plan is to go to UMKC for engineering. To help herself get prepared for her future, she has decided to become a part-time student and professional. 

“First semester of this school year, I went to a manufacturing plant where I learned professional skills and got to work on projects,” Walker said. “This semester, I am at an internship at Alston Associates, which is an engineering firm.”

Walker has been determined to stay on this path despite the stress of having little time for other things. To keep herself from being overwhelmed, she focuses on the positives rather than the negatives.

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