From the weight room to the chem lab, high school posed welcome challenges for graduating Shawnee Mission seniors


This week, hundreds of Shawnee Mission School District students will walk the stage to pick up high school diplomas, a ceremony that serves both as a sending off to the next level, but also a period of reflection on how far these young adults have come.

We caught up with a few of this year’s graduates to find out what their major takeaways from four years in high school are.

Kenny Dorsey, Shawnee Mission West


By his own admission, Kenny Dorsey was a “rough kid.”

“I was always getting in trouble here and there,” he said. “I was a bad troublemaker my freshman, sophomore and junior year.”

But then something clicked for Dorsey at Shawnee Mission West this past year.

“When you finally realize you want to do something bigger — running track in college or doing biotech as a career, which is what I want to do – you realize you’ve got to stay focused,” he said. “It stepped me up.”

Dorsey focused on improving his times in the 110 meter and 300 meter hurdles. He put his head down and started producing some fascinating work in the district’s biotechnology signature program, where he studied the anti-bacterial properties of molecular compounds found in onions. The idea for the project came from a home remedy that had been passed down in his family for generations, going back to ancestors who were slaves.

As he prepares to graduate tonight, Dorsey says he’s passionate about pursuing his goals. He finds himself surprisingly disappointed that he doesn’t have class to attend anymore.

“I realize I have nothing to do until school starts again,” Dorsey said. “It’s like a void. I’d rather be in school hanging out with friends, honestly.”

In a couple weeks, though, he’ll start training in a summer track program to get him prepared for the fall, when he starts school at Butler County Community College, where he’ll run the hurdles and continue studying biotechnology.

“It’s a good school and a good program for me,” he said.

Spencer Dubois, Shawnee Mission North


Last Thursday afternoon, Spencer Dubois found himself posted up on a picnic table under the shade of a tree on the Shawnee Mission North lawn. To his right, he could see the stadium where he’d played football and ran track and field. In front of him, the school building where he’d spent four years attending classes.

For the friends he sat around joking with as they signed each other’s yearbooks, it was a leisurely afternoon in the lead up to graduation week. For Dubois, it represented something of a last chance to acknowledge the end of one phase of life and the start of another.

Dubois enlisted in the Marines, and received a ship date of May 15, two nights before Shawnee Mission North’s graduation ceremony. He was saddened that he wouldn’t get to walk the stage to pick up his diploma. But also excited.

“They told me I could either ship May 15, or sometime toward the end of the year,” Dubois said. “I didn’t really want to put my career on hold like that. I’m more excited about getting my career started than I am disappointed about missing graduation.”

He hopped on a plane to San Diego on Monday, and will be in boot camp for three months before moving on to North Carolina, where he’ll have duty-specific training.

Dubois, who was named the recipient of the school’s Dale M. Dennis Excellence in Education Award this year, said that while he’s ready to move on to the next stage of his life, he’s grateful to the Shawnee Mission North community for everything he learned there.

“I wouldn’t want to go to any other high school. I love this place,” he said.

Yashi Wang and Katherine Vander Laan, Shawnee Mission East


Yashi Wang and Katherine Vander Laan have known each other for most of their young lives. So when the two of them attended the reunion of graduating seniors who had attended Westwood View Elementary, they couldn’t help but be struck by how far they’d come.

At the reunion, every student opened a letter they’d written to themselves as a sixth grader. In many ways, their goals were the same — to travel, see the world, explore interesting things. But their personalities had grown. Wang said she’d transitioned from being a solid introvert to being more social in the past few years.

“I think I’ve learned that it’s important to have a good balance,” Wang said. “A lot of my friends have very stressful academic and extracurricular lives. This year, I kind of learned to have more of a social life and enjoy myself.”

Vander Laan says a pessimism that marked her personality as a grade schooler had given way to a more optimistic view on life.

“I was very pessimistic in that letter to myself,” she said. “I’m much different at this point.”

Both friends donned honors medals as they made their way into the Shawnee Mission North auditorium Tuesday for staging ahead of the graduating ceremony, Vander Laan for a Governor’s Scholar honor, Wang for being a National Merit commended student. The two excelled academically, and have chosen challenging paths for their transition to college. Wang will be attending Brown University, where she plans to major in economics and philosophy. Vander Laan is heading to the University of Kansas, where she will major in chemistry.

Caroline Garcia, Shawnee Mission South


Caroline Garcia and her parents were all smiles as they headed toward the Shawnee Mission South entrance Tuesday, preparing to send Caroline off to walk the stage and pick up her diploma.

Garcia got to watch her brother Brian pick up his diploma last year, and her youngest brother is set to start his freshman year at the school this fall.

Her father, Francisco, says he’s been a fan of the education his kids have received at South and its feeder schools. And Caroline agrees.

“I really like this school. I”m going to miss it for sure,” she said.

This fall, Garcia will start a cosmetology program at Johnson County Community College. But this summer, she’s planning on continuing a passion she picked up during her high school years: weight lifting.

“I picked the class [my sophomore year] because I wanted to lose weight,” she said. “But as I got into it, I really liked it. I liked the challenge.”

Her favorite lift is the power clean. She maxes out at 115 pounds right now.

“But I’m hoping to get higher,” she said. “The coach pushed me to do better and work at it. And I learned to really like it.”