2023 Simply Amazing Teen: Kaiya Graves
by rebecca stewart | photos by brynn barriger
Special thanks to Scheels for outfitting Kaiya
It’s true that a common trait among our Simply Amazing Teens over the years has been that they are incredibly busy, operating with fully loaded schedules, thriving along the way. However, 2023’s SAT might just take the crown for the busiest. A three-sport Varsity athlete, she also prioritizes faith and family, not to mention school, her art, and friends. An old soul with a whimsical, easygoing vibe, she is also fiercely competitive. Kaiya Graves is bright in every variation of the word.
This May, Kaiya will graduate first in her class at Laurel High School, having carried a 4.5 GPA and earned Academic All-State honors seven times throughout her Varsity sports career thus far. Fun fact, she also participates in math and science competitions (something, she says, always evokes amusement when people learn this). She is the 2022 State champion in the Cryptography event at the Science Olympiad competition. In his letter of recommendation, LHS history teacher Jim O’Neil wrote that “[Kaiya’s] unique combination of creativity, imagination, intellect, and work ethic make her one of the most exceptional young people I have instructed in my 31 years in education.” The dedication Kaiya has applied to her academics is easily recognized in every facet of her life.
Faith and family are the bedrock of Kaiya’s life. In general, she’s active in her church, but when asked about the major commitment of going every morning, busy as she is, and making that choice on the daily, Kaiya had this to say:
I think, for me, it’s become less of a daily choice, and I just kind of made the choice once – at the beginning of freshman year when our morning church class starts (it’s all through high school) – I just said, ‘I’m gonna go every single day that I can, and I’m just going to get the most out of every day.’ And, on the mornings when it’s hard to get up, or it’s hard to be there when I could be sleeping, then I just remember back to that day and think, ‘Hey, I made this choice, I’m gonna stick with it.’
And after that first month, back in her freshman year, she realized this was a place she wanted to be. “It wasn’t a burden to get up and go every morning; it was a blessing. I got to go and learn and feel centered every morning before I go to school.” When her schedule dictates otherwise, and she’s not able to attend, she notices a difference in her day.
Family, Kaiya shares, is her support system; there, when life gets crazy or her social battery is dwindling. There on good days and bad and everything in between. In their presence, you cannot mistake the joy this family finds in each other. Within the safe space of her family, Kaiya has built-in besties, from her mom to her big sister.
Mom, Wendi, is a teacher at LHS and a frequent coach of Kaiya’s, which has provided extra opportunities to spend time together, something Kaiya has genuinely cherished. After navigating a few rough pre-teen years, Kaiya found a closeness with her sister rooted in their shared sense of humor. Having three years of high school with big sister Bailey allowed their bond to deepen in a special way, with memories made on the court, field, and even in academic competitions. Having her away at college has been tough. And then, there is her “biggest fan and supporter,” who also inspired her love of art, Dad (Justin). She shares, "He comes to ALL my things, no matter what, no matter where it is, he’ll travel to it and usually bring my brother along.” And, as seems pretty typical for the youngest, little brother Davin is “Usually there to keep things interesting.”
With college looming (she’ll attend Colorado Mesa University in the fall with a Track & Field scholarship), I asked how the impending separation from her tight-knit family was making her feel. Though fear is currently taking the lead, Kaiya firmly believes “that the habits my parents have taught me are going to stick with me through college. The things that I’ve learned from them, I think, will help to connect me to them while I’m away.”
At school and in sports, Kaiya has proven to be a trusted leader amongst her peers. She is currently the Student Body President and was named team captain of both her volleyball and basketball teams; these latest seasons – she is a teammate who looks out for the younger girls, especially ensuring they feel seen and supported. In reflecting on Kaiya’s leadership, Mr. O’Neil noted that though she is “reserved and quiet and doesn’t demand attention,” she does, however, “have a presence that draws people to her,” adding that the respect of other students is evident in how they look to her for guidance and reassurance. He recognized her as a natural leader who “understands that leading is not about her, rather the people she is leading.”
When asked if there is a teacher who has had an especially big impact on her, Kaiya shares that there are two:
- She’s taught me you can’t just teach the kids; you have to care about them. Not even just about their schoolwork but about other things. Extracurriculars, what’s happening at home, or how your weekend was; she just cares about you all the time.
- She’s taught me a lot about the importance of checking up on people.
- His class is hard, it’s probably the hardest class I’ve taken in high school, but it was really rewarding.
- The way he would lecture, it wouldn’t feel like a lecture; it wouldn’t be boring, it was just super informational, and you were interested the whole time.
- He taught me that if you have high expectations, kids will rise to them.
Kaiya’s Top Tips for Managing the Busyness:
Number one, without hesitation, she says: Stay away from technology. “Not completely,” she amends, “because it’s a really good resource…but when I go to bed, I leave it in the kitchen, and it helps me get really good sleep.” Beyond sleep, though, she does the same when it’s time to focus on homework because, as the teen wisely reflects, “Texts aren’t coming up, getting calls or Snapchats; if it’s there, it’s too much temptation and before you know it, two hours have passed.”
Kaiya both keeps an organized planner detailing everything and writes a to-do list every evening outlining everything that needs to be accomplished the next day. She laughs at herself when she notes that she tries to schedule time to focus on important things. For example, she takes time to read scriptures and her Bible before bed and makes family dinners a priority. “Sometimes we’re in different places, but when we’re all together, we try to eat at the table together just to talk to each other and see how the day has been and see how we need to help each other.”
As academically and sports-minded as she is, Kaiya is also gifted artistically. She shares that art is different from other activities “because it is so impressionable.” She adds, “I can go out and play in a basketball game, and it’s great and all, but that doesn’t really tell anything about me. Through art, you can leave impressions. Art is sort of like a window into someone’s personality.” It’s fair to say that Kaiya Graves will leave an impression on this world in every way. May your light always shine bright!
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