2018 Simply Amazing Teen: Karter Bernhardt

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As Simply Family Magazine celebrated its 10th anniversary this past August, it gave us an excuse to dive back into the archives and revisit some of our favorite stories and milestones. Chief among those were the Simply Amazing Teens we’ve featured annually since 2010. It has been our privilege to share the stories and unique accomplishments of some truly incredible youth, and this year is no different. With no further ado, allow us to present 2018’s Simply Amazing Teen, Karter Bernhardt.

Karter in Utah by his 2017 America on Stage MVP title

When we sat down with Karter and his parents, LaShawn and Tod, the trio had just returned from a whirlwind weekend in Nashville where Karter had competed with his team, the Wildwood Cloggers’ Senior Competition Team, at the USA National Clogging Championships. Not only did the team earn themselves a second National title, but Karter brought home some individual hardware as well. Though this humble young man is more comfortable letting the spotlight shine on his team, LaShawn shares he placed first in Acapella and in Free Style before going into a dance-off for Overall Grand Champion, placing second there. She adds, “He’s the reigning Acapella MVP Champion for the America on Stage [National Competition], so technically he’s held three overall National Championship titles.” You could say that LaShawn has extra reason to be proud of her youngest son, not only as a mother, but also as an instructor and choreographer, not to mention, owner of the Wildwood Cloggers studio.

As seems to be a common thread amongst our Simply Amazing Teens, Karter is one busy guy. Juggling a full load of honors AP classes, all four years at Billings West (maintaining a 4.67 GPA), with his dance commitments – as an instructor, choreographer, and dancer – musical pursuits (he’s been in Symphonic Band on the Alto Saxophone all four years of high school and recently added West High Drum Major to the mix), as well as participating in other clubs and the Academic and Science Bowls. Before high school, Karter developed a fondness for the theater when his great grandma “made me do theater camp one summer,” which lead to his winning the Debut Actor of the Year Award at Billings Studio Theatre for his role as Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Through middle school and his first two years of high school, Karter gave sports a whirl, playing football (freshman year) and running track (freshman and sophomore years). As his dance pursuits took off, Karter recognized that the demand was too great for his body – “I could not juggle traveling and practicing with a team across the nation, with doing sports here and trying to stay healthy and stay physically motivated to do things, so I gave up football first, and then I gave up track sophomore year when all that was happening.”

“All that” was Karter having been recruited by a dance team in Nebraska to try out for NBC’s World of Dance, not to mention it was the first year his Wildwood Cloggers team went to Nationals. Though they (the Nebraska team) didn’t make it on the air for World of Dance, the team auditioned in Chicago and made it to the interview portion of things two years running.    

photo by Jana Graham Photography

Having the level of awareness to recognize the necessity of trimming some things from his schedule undoubtedly demonstrates Karter’s ability to find balance among the chaos – the Bernhardt’s word to describe their on-the-move schedule. In fact, LaShawn reflects that she used to worry – especially his freshman year – that it would all be too much, but she says, “He somehow manages to micromanage it all, which is another hidden little talent; without us hovering over everything.” It probably doesn’t hurt that this is a teen who “when he sets his mind to something, it will happen,” explains Tod. And the punctuality Tod appreciates in their youngest, probably doesn’t hurt either.  

When asked to describe their boy, LaShawn and Tod recall that he’s a person who has always pushed the boundaries – in a good way. He’s creative, adventurous, and inquisitive. He was the kid that would walk through every mud puddle he encountered. “He’s driven,” say both parents, which might stem from Karter’s desire to turn everything into a competition with his older brother – different though they might be. LaShawn adds, “Karter is amazing. We are very proud of him…he is intelligent and he has talents that we can’t even understand sometimes. He’s talented in music, in school; we’re not really sure how we got him, but we’ll keep him.”

How close to home they’ll be able to keep him, however, is still very much up in the air. Karter aspires to attend Columbia University in New York. While he’s also planning to apply to Montana schools, among the – at least – 10 college applications that he’s planning to send out, Karter has dreams to fly. The big city is beckoning, and he aims to answer the call. Ever practical, Karter recognizes that there is still a lot of information to sift through, research that needs to be done before deciding where he wants to plant his roots for the next four, plus years.

One of the benefits of taking all these honors AP classes throughout high school is that he might be one of the lucky ones who can step into college with a good chunk of generals already behind them. When asked about his goals for senior year, Karter points to passing those AP tests as a major one. Day-to-day, it’s all about his learning, “to take in as much as I can” in these classes that have sparked a new level of interest that push him to expand his view of the world, and his knowledge. He notes, “I have great teachers at West, helping out with everything. It was exciting when I came into my classes this year, and I realized I really want to learn this stuff because it’s interesting.”

Some of that “stuff” that particularly strikes his fancy? Well, he’s especially enjoying his AP Psych class at the Career Center and Physics. To hear him describe each of his classes, his passion for learning is infectious. In looking towards what he wants to major in, Karter shares that he has two things in mind – on opposite ends of the spectrum: Chemistry and Film Study. Mom keeps encouraging the idea of pursuing a double major, which Karter fully agrees. He hopes to be able to fulfill both the creative side of his brain as well as the mathematical/science side. He says, “I need to do creative things, or else I feel like I’ll shrivel up and wither away…Then I’ve got my mathematical/science brain – I took chemistry last year and physics this year, and I get in there, and it’s this whole gibberish, but it’s gibberish that I can understand, and it’s all happening around me!”

This drive to do his best academically is something that has been a part of what makes Karter, Karter; long before he entered the doors of West High School and became a part of the Platinum Program (a result of taking all honors courses). In fact, he recalls only ever getting a B one time, when he was a sixth grader. And at the time, that B was devastating. He chuckles as he recounts having gone into the principal’s office, and, in all heartbroken seriousness said, “So, I got a B for my science grade…Is that gonna throw off my GPA?” We all roared with laughter as Karter continues, “I don’t even know if I could copy the look she gave me, but she looks me dead in the eyes, and says, ‘No, it won’t. Your GPA will be fine.’ And with great relief, I said, ‘Okay, thanks.'” So it’s not surprising to learn that Karter would enter his freshman year of high school with one goal in mind: to be valedictorian of his class. So far, he’s on track (“Knock on wood,” says mom), but the competition is tight, Karter shares.

The choice to take these honors classes has been Karter’s, though LaShawn and Tod have instilled in him that they do think “if it’s easy for you to get an A, then you should take a little bit of a harder class because you can.” They just weren’t quite expecting how far Karter could take that and run with it. In fact, when they first saw the class schedule that Karter had selected for his freshman year, they asked, “Are you sure you can do this,” to which Karter responded, “I don’t know, but we’re gonna try it!” His mindset through it all has been to look at whatever class he was taking as just another class, and that whatever it was that he was doing, he’d do his best at it. He charmingly acknowledges with a smile, “Not to say there weren’t hard days, because there were, and tears were shed – I’m an emotional person, but for me, it’s about finding some little thing in your day that takes the weight off. Even if it’s just for half an hour, or five minutes.”

Looking to the future, Karter says that in his adult life he wants to be successful at whatever it is he does, but he also wants to be happy. “I mean, I could be a successful guy at some thing, making a good salary, but if I’m not happy, I don’t really think it’s worth it.”

We’re excited to announce the addition of a $500 scholarship to be awarded
to our SFM Simply Amazing Teen! 

A Day in the Life:

  • Wake up at 7am, take a shower, get ready, listening to music along the way. He prefers to listen to classical to start the day (on vinyl), but it kind of depends on his morning mood.
  • Brews a cup of coffee – a necessity to start his day – before going to school where first period is band, “A great way to start the day because I don’t have to think about polynomials or elements; I can just play music.”
  • Then it’s off to Physics where he’ll “have my mind blown by something there that’s going on that I can’t even see.”
  • Next is English, where he loves the wide-ranging topics and getting to “delve into some sort of literature and see what some dude had to say at the time and how it relates to us, and that’s interesting.”
  • Then it’s a mad dash for lunch and off to the Career Center for 4th period and AP Psych, “which is interesting, to say the least.”
  • Leaving Psych early, it’s back to West for AP Government, which has turned out to be an unexpected and intriguing delight. He finds it mind-blowing to learn how government works and how important it is to our society, and how we, as citizens, work within it.
  • Finally, he’s off to “the monster” that is AP Calc. “I walk in there, and I’m scared because there’s always some squiggly line on the board and I have to find the equation of it…Calculus is fun and stressful at the same time.”
  • Then it’s time to go home where he’ll steal a 30-minute nap before heading to teach or attend dance class – if it’s Monday or Tuesday (throughout the week he’s choreographing and making plans for the next class) – or go do Hot Yoga on off days.
  • He’ll wrap up the day with homework, winding down with some Netflix or a book.

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s October 2018 issue.
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