Growth Through Challenge
By Barry Engelhardt
“Vandalia is just what I know. I know this town; I know where everything is.”
Vandalia senior Keaton Jones has a diverse interest in education, but learning excites him the most. From the humanities to science and math, the subject matter was secondary to his quest for knowledge. This philosophy has paid off, as Keaton will graduate with college credits in several general education courses, including history, physics, and English, by taking advanced placement courses.
While Keaton was born in Louisville, he has always considered Vandalia home. He moved at ten, settling into the rural Illinois landscape the summer before his fifth-grade year. While Keaton was excited to move, he still remembers feeling nervous and shy at the start of fifth grade. At the time, he only knew one student, his family’s landlord’s son. But Keaton pushed himself to grow, and eventually, his new environment became second nature.
“Vandalia is just what I know. I know this town; I know where everything is. Small towns have a tendency not to change a whole lot,” says Keaton.
He adds, “People are naturally scared to change. The best part of small towns is you can learn everything about them, and you don’t have to worry much about them changing. I mean, no matter what, change happens. Stores close and stuff. But things remain generally the same.”
Keaton quickly settled into and thrived in his new surroundings, excelling academically. Upon entering high school, he rose through the academic ranks in various disciplines, creating opportunities to enroll in advanced placement classes worth dual credit and providing weighted grading.
He took honors biology as a freshman and chemistry as a sophomore, setting him up to eventually enroll in AP Physics. He followed similar pathways, taking college-level English and history courses. Overall, he considers history his favorite subject. He admits that AP US History was difficult, but the challenge made him appreciate the subject matter even more. Just as when he first started fifth grade in a new school, Keaton has grown through discomfort.
Keaton anticipates enrolling at Kaskaskia Community College in the fall. While unsure if or where he wants to complete his bachelor’s degree, he is pragmatic about his future employment. He finds himself drawn to accounting and law, career paths he considers valued and stable. He mentions his past interest in politics, playfully adding that ‘people can sometimes get too caught up in it.’
When not in school, Keaton competes in Vandalia’s scholar bowl team, a strong outlet for displaying his diverse knowledge. He laughs as he admits, “We don’t win much. But I have fun.” Keaton equates scholar bowls to participating in a trivia competition, saying, “They’ll ask questions about all kinds of subjects, from physics to history to Shakespearean literature.”
Be it as an accountant or a lawyer or simply as the first friend that comes to mind when forming a trivia team, Keaton has learned a variety of topics while attending jr. high and high school in Vandalia. But no lesson has likely been as important as his love of learning for the sake of learning. It’s through the challenges and mental struggles that growth becomes most evident.