The 2003 Academic All-Stars have come a long way since being recognized by the Journal-World for their scholastic achievements as high school seniors. Some have traveled the world; others still are in Kansas. They became, among other professions, lawyers, doctors, financial advisers and musicians. A few are married with kids, while a handful still are finishing school. The Journal-World recently tracked them down to find out where their lives have taken them over the past decade, and what the 2003 versions of themselves would think of how they’ve turned out.
Lia DeRoin’s time in the Lawrence public school system led her into a career in music, which took her from Illinois to Charleston, S.C., to Asia — and beyond. Now she’s ready for the next chapter in her life.
The 28-year-old soon will embark on a career as a physician. She plans to take post-baccalaureate classes in medicine at Chicago’s Loyola University starting in May.
After graduating from Lawrence High School in 2003, DeRoin attended Northwestern University, earning a degree in percussion performance. She later obtained her master’s from the Yale School of Music. She recently left her job as an arts administrator at Rush Hour, a nonprofit that presents free concerts in her hometown of Chicago, to follow her new career.
Her stint as a musician actually was what inspired her to become a doctor, particularly the one-on-one work she did with her private percussion students. She looks forward to forming those kinds of relationships in the future, but instead of student-teacher it will be doctor-patient.
“I always wanted to be in a career that allowed me to make an impact on people. I was able to satisfy that feeling through the teaching I was doing,” she said. “More recently, I wanted to do it more and make it the basis for everything I was doing, not just an aspect.”
Still, DeRoin, who is getting married in August, has no regrets about pursuing a career in the performing arts. The highlights of her foray into music include touring Asia with the Yale Philharmonic Orchestra, subbing for the Kansas City (Mo.) Symphony, performing at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., and playing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series.
“I’ll always love music and it will always be a large passion of mine,” she said, adding that she “will continue to play and teach in the near future.”
Leigh (Morris) Kasper
Leigh Kasper has always wanted to help people. As a student at Ottawa High School, she counseled younger kids on bullying and smoking and went on a mission trip to Mexico.
Now, not surprisingly, she works at a job whose main focus is supporting others. The former Leigh Morris is a guidance counselor at Hamilton Middle School, a low-performing school serving students from low-income families in inner-city Wichita.
Morris didn’t always see herself going into this type of career. She originally wanted to be a forensic anthropologist. Once in college, she realized the profession required always being on call and lots of travel, which didn’t fit with her goal of starting a family (she married Ty Kasper in 2007). She ended up getting her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s in school counseling from Wichita State University.
The 28-year-old was a fifth-grade teacher in Wichita before this year, but switched to counseling after noticing the need for quality support staff. “My passion really was making relationships with kids and helping them succeed and encouraging them,” she said. “You have an easier time doing that when you don’t have to teach them math.”
Her favorite parts of her current job are “the relationships I have with students, being able to celebrate with them when they have successes, getting a bunch of hugs in the hallway,” she said. “You know you’re that person who’s encouraging them. A lot of them don’t have that at home and other places.”
Not that it’s easy. “It’s an emotionally draining job, for sure,” she noted.
Outside of work, Kasper and her husband serve on the worship team at their church and do photography together, shooting weddings and families.
None of this would have been possible without her upbringing, Kasper said.
“I had a great high school experience and had really great teachers. I had really good counselors and support in high school and throughout my schooling. It gave me good role models to do the job I’m doing now. I also had a great family,” she said.
All in all, Kasper is pleased with how things have turned out, even if she didn’t end up in a real-life version of “CSI.”
“I was someone who had my mind made up: ‘This is what I want to do!’” she said of her teenage self. “But I feel like I’m exactly where I should be. I love my job, and I feel like I’m helping at least some of the students I work with.”
“I really miss the open sky. I think I’m going to move back to the Midwest at some point.”
Kate Lammers says this from Oakland, Calif., where she moved a half-decade ago after a friend from college told her it had “bookstores on every corner and sunshine and farmers’ markets.” But you never forget your roots.
“I was not prepared for how much I would miss the big, open sky,” Lammers said. “I feel very connected to the Kansas landscape.”
Still, the 28-year-old wouldn’t trade in her time in California, where she had what she calls her “light-bulb moment.”
After Teach for America, in which she taught U.S. history to mostly Navajo students in Gallup, N.M., “I struggled with depression a lot,” she said. “I’d done some therapy myself. I thought I’d love to work with people that way.”
That breakthrough led her to enroll at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling psychology. She plans to become a psychotherapist after graduation and currently is interning at the Women’s Therapy Center in Berkeley, Calif. “When I moved to California, it was really a big moment for me: stepping off the path of always pursuing success and really just focusing on trying to heal,” she said. “I sort of stopped trying to figure everything out and let life happen.”
While her stint as an educator taught her how difficult teaching can be, she says she can envision herself returning to the field, perhaps at a community college. Right now, though, her focus is psychotherapy.
“I really love the process of healing. I love talking about feelings and the meaning of life and those kind of questions,” she said. “I’m also interested in somatics: how the body plays a role in our emotions.”
Besides school, Lammers plays violin in a San Francisco community orchestra, and is involved in the fat-acceptance movement.
“We’re taught that it’s not OK to be fat, because if you’re fat you must be unhealthy,” she remarked. “But, in fact, there is a lot of research that shows that you can be fat and perfectly healthy. … I identify as fat, and I think that’s OK. I actually love my body the way it is.”
Prior to moving to California, Lammers got a degree in history from the University of Chicago, where her senior thesis about the racial integration of Chicago’s Hyde Park High School was published in an academic journal.
Back when she was at Baldwin High School, Lammers thought she would go into law, but along the way she decided “it’s a little too cutthroat for me.” Still, she says the Sunflower State had a big impact on her life.
“I fell very rooted in Kansas,” she said. “Rural areas are often painted as less desirable, and I actually think they’re very valuable. I can’t imagine being from somewhere else. It’s who I am.”
Annie (McEnroe) McDonald
The teenage Annie McDonald, then Annie McEnroe, had a pretty good idea of what the next decade of her life would look like. She knew she would go to graduate school and earn a degree in literature. The only difference is, she thought she would pursue English; she ended up studying the classics.
But who frets over such small details? McDonald, for one. Then — in 2003 when the Journal-World described her as “the grammar police” — as now, she is a stickler for the English language and its proper usage.
That’s just one aspect of her lifelong love of words: from reading to speaking to writing, language takes up almost all of her time.
The 28-year-old wouldn’t have it another way. She currently is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Classics at Brown University in Providence, R.I., where she is studying Latin and Greek and doing a dissertation on the 1st century philosopher Plutarch. “I’m especially interested in ancient philosophy and moral philosophy,” she said.
McDonald got involved in classical literature after realizing it was the foundation for everything that came after it. “In studying English literature, I was always going back to the classics,” she said, adding, “I enjoy the rigors of the field of classics. It’s really challenging but worthwhile. It serves you well for all kinds of different studies.”
More than just picking up knowledge at Brown, she also found a partner: She met her husband, Joe, in the program.
McDonald did her undergraduate work at Kansas University, where she studied creative writing and classical languages, before getting her master’s degree in classics and ancient history from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.
For now, the Free State High School grad has one year left at Brown before she plans to pursue a career — in academia. She hopes to teach Latin and Greek in a classics department like the one she’s at now.
At KU, McDonald enjoyed the writing workshops where she got to pen personal essays and other creative nonfiction.
“The KU honors program was wonderful,” she said. “I had some very good mentoring through that and took some very good classes.”
When she’s not writing or reading, McDonald is an avid long-distance runner, having taken part in five marathons. The Providence resident is also interested in aesthetics and morality, and has lately gotten involved in the Rhode Island right-to-life movement.
Merry (Chadwick) Nanne
After graduating from college, Merry Nanne got about as far away from Kansas as you could imagine while remaining in the U.S. She has a simple reason for relocating to Anchorage, Alaska. “I just moved up here because there are mountains and it’s pretty,” she said.
Nanne taught choir for a time at Anchorage’s Service High School, but resigned from the job at the end of last school year to raise her first child, Eleanor Joy, who was born in December.
The former Merry Chadwick married David Nanne in late 2011 after meeting him under some interesting circumstances: while taking part in a cross-country bike ride to raise awareness about human trafficking. Pedaling from coastal Alabama to Niagara Falls, the two developed a close bond. “After that summer, all that sweat and spandex, it became true love,” Merry said with a laugh.
The 27-year-old isn’t sure of her next career move, but it may involve her interest in helping to beat back human trafficking. “As my husband and I are looking to move abroad, that’s an area we’re both passionate about,” she said. “There are more slaves in the world today than there were in 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”
Through teaching, Nanne realized she prefers music to instruction. If she ever gets back into the profession, she wants to teach high-schoolers because she would rather work with more polished musicians, she said.
Nanne says her high school years — and one faculty member in particular — informed her teaching career. “Musically, I pay homage to (Free State choir teacher Pam) Bushouse. The choir program at Free State was extremely influential,” Nanne said. “Even as I was teaching I just kept thinking, How would Mrs. Bushouse do this?”
Nanne also credits Lawrence with shaping her as a person. “Lawrence is a small town, yet it is very academic. It’s very artsy. It has a lot to offer (that) other places its size usually don’t have to offer,” she said. “Because of that, I grew up with a lot of knowledge that I’ve found is not necessarily customary in the rest of the world.”
Nanne, who got her bachelor’s in music education from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., has long loved music, playing oboe since sixth grade and performing in the chamber choir and marching band in high school. More recently, she sang choir music with the Alaska Chamber Singers.
Nanne first visited Alaska during a break from student teaching in Minneapolis. She fell in love with the scenery and realized city life just wasn’t for her. Anchorage is great, she said, “as long as you don’t mind a foot of snow in late March.” She likes the relaxed attitude, the small-town feel in a big city, the mountains on one side and ocean on the other.
The teenage Nanne never would have foreseen her adult self living north of the border. “Alaska was where people lived in igloos,” she said of her previous knowledge of the northernmost state.
An avid Christian, Nanne has recently taken part in a class about how people of different cultures and nationalities practice the faith, and once trekked the Camino Santiago, a Christian pilgrimage route across northern Spain.
Robert ‘Mat’ Overbaugh
Mat Overbaugh thought he wanted something different in life. As a high school senior, he dreamed of living under the bright lights of New York City, where he would work on Wall Street as an investment banker or financial adviser, coming home every night to his penthouse apartment. “At that time, I thought I was going to rule the world,” he said.
But somewhere along the way, he discovered that lifestyle wasn’t for him. He visited the Big Apple but hated the traffic and congestion, and couldn’t stand being away from friends and family. “I’m much more Midwest than I am East Coast,” he decided.
The Tonganoxie High School alumnus stayed closer to home. He now lives with his wife and two daughters in Topeka, where he works as the manager of financial planning for Payless ShoeSource. He got both his bachelor’s (in finance) and master’s (in business administration) degrees from Washburn University in Topeka.
One thing Overbaugh never lost was his passion for business. It started all the way back in high school, when he was president of the Young Business Leaders Club and took classes in accounting and economics. “I had a lot of great teachers while I was at Tonganoxie,” he said. “Karen LaRosh was a big influence on me for business. Bill DeWitt, the economics teacher, did a great job. Phil Williams (math and stats) got me familiar and helped me enjoy working with numbers.”
Nowadays, Overbaugh is a member of Toastmasters International, which focuses on leadership and public speaking. He also likes to garden, golf and fish, activities he says are easier to do in Kansas than a huge city. Most importantly, his loved ones are here.
“I wanted a good work-life balance,” he said, “not only enjoying what I do but enjoying what I do outside of work.”
Mark Samsel was right 10 years ago. He did become a lawyer.
Samsel practices civil law at the Overland Park office of Kansas City, Mo.-based Lathrop & Gage LLP, dealing with everything from estates and trusts to constitutional and education law.
“I think my political interests are what drew me into the law,” said Samsel, 28, of Kansas City, Mo. “I got the opportunity to work at Lathrop & Gage and enjoyed doing it and stuck with it.”
Samsel did his undergraduate work at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo., before getting a degree from the Kansas University School of Law. He has since passed the Kansas and Missouri bar exams.
Whether it was his high-school track coach or the partners at his law firm, Samsel always has looked to his elders for inspiration. In that same vein, he aims to be a role model for the younger generation, officiating at soccer and basketball games in area counties, and taking part in Big Sisters Big Brothers of Douglas County and Leadership Overland Park.
Samsel said his time at Wellsville High School provided him with an excellent foundation as well as the ability to communicate and work well with others. “I think our school districts do a great job,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep those standards up. That’s one of my goals … whether that’s working with school boards or local government.”
Through it all, Samsel has tried to be respectful of others, a lesson he picked up long ago. “I think that’s still one of the golden rules: to treat others as you want to be treated,” he said. “Some attorneys don’t practice that rule. I learned it in elementary school.”
Could the 18-year-old Luke Thompson have foreseen that in 10 years, he’d be preparing to receive his Ph.D. from Yale after having studied there, at Cambridge and Kansas University and spending time in Northern Ireland and Vietnam?
“If I could have, it would have been delusional,” the 28-year-old Free State High School grad said.
But it all happened, and Thompson couldn’t be more grateful. He considers his time at KU a turning point.
“I can’t say enough good things about the education I had at KU,” he said. “I had great advisers there. I literally would not be finishing Yale without them. I realized you cannot get through a career, academic or otherwise, without good mentoring. KU more than any other university I’ve visited or attended does mentoring right. Part of the reason KU is so successful, given the challenges it faces, budgetary and otherwise, is its advising, particularly in the honors program, and promoting student success.”
Thompson graduates from Yale in May, ending what he calls his “10-year plan,” after which he intends to get a job in national security. He now lives in New Haven, Conn., and says he will most likely work in Washington, which he said is “kind of the industry town for what I do.”
He chose this career because he wanted to utilize his background in political philosophy and the history of ideas in a field with “concrete consequences,” adding that “the more you think about executive power, the more strange it becomes.”
While the teenage Thompson thought he would become a lawyer or politician, he chose neither path. “I still want to be a public servant, but I’m not sure if running for office is in my blood,” he said. Rather, he wants to work behind the scenes, effecting policy change from the inside.
Because of the workload from his dissertation, Thompson hasn’t had a lot of time for his old hobby, creative writing. He has, however, worked athletics into his schedule, playing indoor soccer, basketball and squash, calling the latter a “typical Yale activity.”
He has also remained involved in student government. He helped establish a legal-services office at Yale after being shocked to find out it didn’t have one, and has served on the advisory board for the university’s health plan.
After all his success, Thompson hasn’t forgotten where he came from.
“I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of folks in Lawrence,” he said.
Julie (Beck) Weeks
Julie Weeks has played soccer for most of her life, whether at DeSoto High School or MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, where she set school records in every offensive category. Nowadays, though, she hasn’t been competing in the game she loves, and for good reason: The 28-year-old and her husband, David, are expecting their first child in August.
But don’t worry, the former Julie Beck still coaches the sport, teaching soccer to 8-year-old girls near her hometown of Olathe.
During the day, she works at the Prairie Village-based Kansas City Autism Training Center, a year-round school for autistic children between the ages of 2 1/2 and 12, where Beck provides one-on-one applied behavioral analysis. The most rewarding part of the job, she says, is “to see the progress and the difference you can make in the kids’ lives and the families’ lives.”
Weeks said there are many misconceptions about autism.
“A lot of people think kids with autism have no social interaction at all,” she said. “But a lot of them like physical activity or hanging out with friends, especially if you teach them activities that promote that.”
Weeks graduated summa cum laude from MidAmerica Nazarene before getting her master’s — both degrees were in psychology — from Avila University in Kansas City, Mo., where she was a graduate assistant soccer coach. She did her master’s project on integrating autistic children into youth soccer leagues. One of the kids still is playing the sport, four years later.
Weeks is also heavily involved in her church, where she does activities like serving meals to the homeless. She said she might even get another graduate degree down the road.
Weeks believes her 18-year-old self would be pleased with how her life has turned out. “I remember as a senior having no idea what I wanted to do because there were so many opportunities and different directions and possibilities,” she said. “But I’m happy where I am now.”
And all it started back in De Soto.
“There’s where I first had all the different sports opportunities and opportunities to get involved with kids at church. I think that helped guide where I went, as did my family and their support,” she said.
Jenna Wilcox is a world traveler, having spent time in Africa and Latin America. But she didn’t go to vacation. She went to the countries to learn and help the less fortunate. Along the way, she realized her life’s goal.
The 28-year-old is an independent-living specialist at the Mattie Rhodes Center in Kansas City, Mo., where she assists young adults with developmental disabilities, primarily those in the bilingual community. She helps her clients define and meet goals, identify volunteer work and extracurricular activities and attend medical appointments.
“It seemed like a good fit in what I was passionate about and the changes I wanted to see in our community and increasingly global society,” Wilcox said, adding: “I’ve always had an interest in immigrant rights. Working with the immigrant community at Mattie Rhodes seemed like a good fit in that sense.” She also volunteers for immigrant-rights groups in and around her current hometown of Kansas City, Mo.
After graduating from Lawrence High School, Wilcox attended Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., where she got her bachelor’s degree in social work. She later got her master’s in the same subject from Kansas University.
During her first trip to study abroad, in El Salvador, she realized she had found her niche. She later did another semester in the Dominican Republic before spending two years in Nicaragua with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
“It was life-changing,” she said of her time overseas. “I thought 10 years ago I was headed to medical school. This was definitely not a path I foresaw for myself.”
But Wilcox, and the people she has helped, are thankful she went the direction she did.