2017 Teens to Watch

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s October 2017 issue. Never miss an issue, check out SFM’s digital editions, here

photos by Jana Graham Photography

If there’s one thread that seems to run consistently from one generation to the next, it’s the bad rap teenagers get. You’ve heard the complaints: They’re lazy, disrespectful, distracted, entitled dreamers. Basically all of the negative everything. We know differently, and we've got just a small sampling of some of the outstanding teens among us within these pages. Individuals who strive for excellence in their lives, and do indeed have great dreams for their futures. Allow us to introduce you to SFM’s 2017 Teens to Watch:

We asked each of the kids the following questions:

  1. Who has been a positive influence in your life?
  2. What motivates you to strive for excellence – to be the best version of yourself?
  3. What plans do you have for your future?
  4. What are a few of your favorite things?

Britney Gagnon is a senior attending Billings Career Center full-time, her “home school” is Billings Senior. A hard-working student, she’s recognized for being kind, respectful, and reliable. She’s been an active competitor on the swim team and with a Bible study group, having participated in both church-sponsored and Global Travel mission trips.

  1. Throughout my life, I have had many positive influences that have helped me blossom into the person I am today. A few people that stand out in my mind are my amazingly supportive and caring Mother, my Grandparents, my church leaders, and my teacher Ms. Simonsen. 
  2. I am motivated to strive for excellence after seeing my Mother form unbreakable bonds with people in our community and change the lives of others for the better. I also have an internal drive to achieve the goal I have had since being a little girl, becoming a nurse just like my Mom.
  3. For the future, I plan to attend college at either Billings City College or Montana Tech in Butte, like my older brother. I hope to achieve a bachelor’s degree as a Registered Nurse and possibly go further to get my Physician's Assistant certification later in life. I hope to work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, but more importantly, find a job I can love and be proud of.
  4. A few of my favorite things to do between work at West Park Village as a Certified Nursing Assistant and school are spending time with my three dogs, fishing, camping, and hunting.

Sydney Hawbaker is a senior at Billings Central Catholic High School. She is currently serving as Student Body President and is active in volleyball, Kids Connecting Kids, National Honors Society, Excel Club, and Central’s Organization for Religious Endeavors (CORE).

  1. My parents have been the most influential people in my life. They have shaped me into the person I am today and have always pushed me to do my best no matter how tough things get! Their kindness and compassion have taught me so much, and I aspire to share these traits with those I meet.
  2. The concept that my passion to succeed can positively affect others is what motivates me to be the best person I can be. By working hard I not only grow as a person, but I get the opportunity to help and challenge others. 
  3. In the future, I plan to major in Elementary Education and teach either 2nd or 3rd grade. I would also like to travel the world and experience different cultures!
  4. A few of my favorite things are old movies, ice cream, jigsaw puzzles, and hanging out with my friends.

Makayla Heiser is a junior at Billings Senior High School. Not one to shy away from leadership roles, Makayla is active in student council, Senior Advocates, cheerleading, basketball, and track. She suggests fellow and upcoming students get involved in high school; joining clubs or sports teams are great ways to make new friends and gain new experiences! 

  1. A positive influence in my life is my Mom, Tammy. She raised my sister and me by herself, and I believe that takes strength. She always encourages me to do my best and never give up. I know that if I ever need someone to talk to or I make a mistake, she will be there to guide me and help me figure things out. She is my everything, and I would not be who I am today without her. My faith is a big part of my life. I attend a youth group at Zoe Bible Church and the Sunday service at Faith chapel. It really is amazing having such a great support group such as my church and family, and knowing that God is with me wherever I go.
  2. What encourages me to do my best every day is how much my family believes in me. My Grandma Mary would always tell me that she knows I am going to change the world someday, I am really close to her, so hearing that meant so much to me. My Mom also always told me that once you start something, you finish it, and you give it your all, even if you don’t want to. Also my older sister Marisa. They all hold me to high standards, and it gives me the push and drive that I need to continue trying my best in whatever I do.
  3. My plans for the future are still unsure. What I know for sure is that I’m going to attend college after high school. I hope to work with people; it would feel good knowing that I am helping people, making them feel better. 
  4. I really love spending time with my family and friends. I am a social butterfly, just like the rest of my family. Also volunteering and serving the community, you may not change the world, but for one person you can change their entire world. I just hope to make a difference; everyone was put on the Earth for a purpose, I truly believe that.

Karter Bernhardt is a junior at Billings West High School. Karter is an outstanding student, active in numerous activities, but dance is his passion. He won the National Champion MVP Male Freestyle title at an NCHC clogging competition in Utah this past May (having competed against up to 50 other young men to earn that title)!

  1. My parents have been a positive influence in my life. They’ve always been super supportive of everything I’ve ever done. Whether it’s been acting, sports, music…just about everything and they're always 100% behind me. Those two are a big deal to me. Also, probably my Great Grandma Kay, she is always 170% behind me in everything I do. They’re the people that help me to stay positive and motivated.
  2. At this point, I think just my future. I’m just trying to set myself up for success later on in life. I always think about where I want to be 10, 20 years from now, how I want to be living. My answer is always I want to make a lot of money and be happy, and I know happiness, for me, will be success later on. That’s what pushes me forward to do well in school, in dance; in anything. It's just always kind of been instilled in me, school is #1, and the only way to get through school is with hard work, and I just let that bleed into all the other things I do.
  3. Oh gosh, that is the one thing that I’m not very certain on right now. My dream right now is to go to Columbia University in New York City. I just want to go to college and get a professional degree in…something.
  4. I like dance. I love my friends – my friends are also part of my support group – they’re always there for me. I love vinyl – vinyl trumps it all (digital, CD, cassette)! I love music. I'm a music fanatic. It's always played a huge part in my life, I've always had a huge emotional connection. I like food; I love to eat. I'm always busy, so I have to keep the tank full!

Devyn Ruff is a junior at Skyview High School. Though Devyn certainly shines on the soccer field, she's also an honor student, has earned Academic All-State this past year, and she participated in student government her freshman and sophomore years.

  1. My parents have been a positive influence in my life. They always support me and always give me what I need in order to succeed. I am the person I am today because of them, and I could never thank them enough for that.
  2. The thought of failing motivates me. I want to be the best me I can be. I strive for excellence. I push to my limits to overcome things that I fear. I know that I will reach my goals because I refuse to fail.
  3. I plan to go to college after high school and play soccer. It's always been a big dream of mine to play at the collegiate level. I have not chosen a college yet, but have narrowed the field to those that will allow me to play soccer and pursue a nursing degree. 
  4. First off, I love dogs! They are the best companions ever! I have two beautiful Bernese Mountain Dogs, Bodhi, and Zeus. Bodhi was my first dog, so he is very special to me. I like to hike in the mountains and go boating with my friends and family in the summer. During the winter I enjoy snowboarding. You could say I love the outdoors!

Alejandro (Alex) Madrid is a junior at Billings Senior High School. Alex is praised for offering a unique brand of leadership, one that comes from not taking things for granted and an awareness that things/life can change without a moment’s notice. He identifies his own greatest accomplishment as placing at the MHSA wrestling tournament.

  1.   The positive influence in my life is my Uncle Vince. He talks with me about the choices we make in our lives and how the choices you make at a young age can either help you or hurt you in your future.
  2. What motivates me is my future. I'm doing the best I can now to help prepare for it. 
  3.  I plan to go to college and get a degree in Athletic Training or Physical Therapy. I enjoy all sports and think it would be a fun and interesting career to work with athletes to help them be in their best physical form.
  4.  I enjoy spending time with my family, wrestling and enjoying the outdoors.