Troy student finds drive in family, friends, teammates
By BENJAMIN KIBBEY
The Western News
After turning around her grades and taking a new approach to her school work and her work outside of school, Troy junior Kenzie Wallace — the recipient of a 2018 Youth Achievement Award — could graduate early next year.
And that was the plan, at least until she found out she wouldn’t be able to play softball with her team again.
Softball wasn’t the only thing about her senior year that Wallace realized she would miss with early graduation.
As she has determined her priorities, enjoying the experiences and people in her life has turned out to be something she doesn’t want to miss.
In April, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services honored Wallace with the Youth Achievement Award for what she has accomplished in her life.
As someone who isn’t eager to be the center of attention or even in a big crowd, going to the awards ceremony was an intense experience for Wallace.
“It was very nerve wracking,” she admitted.
But it was worth it.
“It was cool to be recognized in front of an audience. I don’t know, it was just an interesting experience, and now I have something from it,” she said.
Encouraged by friends and adults in her life, Wallace said she has been trying new things this past year, even if sometimes her friends have to really push to get her out there.
The confidence from new experiences and a few successes under her belt has helped.
“I used to just kind of hide out in my room and not really talk to anybody, or have much of a social life,” she said. “But it’s kind of gotten me to get out more and go to different events, to see people.”
It’s gotten easier to be around people, Wallace said. But just because it’s easier doesn’t mean being part of a group activity is always something she wants to do.
And that’s where friends come in, such as the ones who pushed her to join the art club or to attend events she has taken enjoyment from, she said.
“They think it would be good for me, so I try it out,” she said.
And are they usually right?
“Yeah. They are,” she admitted.
“She’s been kind of a C plus, B minus kiddo up until this year, then she kind of just lit it up,” Troy High School counselor Kelly Palmer said.
“I think part of it is that she’s been given a lot of different opportunities and responsibilities,” said Troy Middle/High School Principal Jacob Francom.
Though Wallace had turned down working for the district in past years, this year she jumped into assisting the maintenance department, said Keith Haggerty, who supervises her at work and is also her Head Coach in softball.
“She has a really good work ethic,” Haggerty said. “She’s pretty talented and willing to take on any task.”
Some students who work for the district may hold back on an unfamiliar task because they are worried about making a mistake, but not Wallace, Haggerty said.
“Just her ability to dive in and not hold back, really helps her,” he said. “She’s willing to take a risk, so to speak, to try to accomplish something.”
Palmer and Francom agreed that it’s hard to parse out how much Wallace has taken on additional responsibilities out of a motivation to do better, and how much her involvement in activities and programs has motivated her.
Wallace didn’t point to a singular motivation that changed how she approached things this year, but said she is motivated to get into a good college and by her family. She wants to serve as an example her younger siblings can follow.
“One of my sisters is kind of struggling with her grades a little bit, and I just want to show her that it’s pretty easy to get good grades and the benefits that come with it, to kind of push her to do better — all of them actually,” she said.
“I want them to look at me and be, like, ‘Hey, I want to be like that,’” she said. “Get out and be social and do fun things, not be afraid to try things, and strive to be the best that they can.”
In softball, Haggerty said that Wallace — who also played in her freshman year — has always been a very coachable player, interested and asking questions, but this year he has noticed her participating more.
“At times, she can kind of seem like she is keeping to herself some, but I noticed the last game, she’s shouting in from the outfield and really getting involved,” Haggerty said.
Wallace said she has enjoyed the closeness of her team this past year, and the way the girls have rallied around one another.
The team had more drive this year, she said. During her freshman year, the players — including Wallace — showed up, did what they had to, and left.
This past year, they were having more fun and enjoying one another’s company, she said.
Fellow juniors and softball teammates Cami Finley and Tristyn Winebark said they admire how competitive Wallace is, and that even after injuring her shoulder late in the season, she continued to show up and travel with the team to away games.
“She is a diehard. She wants to be there,” Winebark said. “She gives her best, and you can tell she really, really wants to be out and playing.”
Winebark said that the team came together over the season, going from separate groups to one large family cheering each other on.
Being part of that experience is one of the reasons Wallace said she has decided to take dual credit classes next spring — earining college and high school credit — instead of simply graduating early.
“She really lights up when she’s doing stuff, when she’s involved in something, whether it’s work or softball,” Haggerty said.
And Wallace demands a lot of herself, he said. It’s noticeable how much it bothers her when she doesn’t perform well.
“She wants to get better at things, and I think maybe she’s at a point where she doesn’t just want to do something, she actually wants to be a part of it and see it through, to get better at it, whatever it is,” he said.
Wallace said she would like people to know that there is more to her than they might guess just looking in from the outside.
“Normally, people just look at me and they’re, like, ‘Oh, she’s the quiet one. There’s not really much goin’ on there’,” she said.
“Not everyone,” Haggerty commented, and both broke into laughter.
“Yeah, if you’re one of the people that are close to me, you’ll learn that I’m not quiet,” Wallace said.
When asked who stands out among people she wants to emulate, Wallace came back to family.
“This is gonna sound really cheesy, but my mom. She’s always been a role model to me,” she said.
“We’ve struggled, a little bit, over the years, and we’re with our grandparents now, but she’s still in the picture. She’s trying to be the best that she can,” Wallace said. “And, I don’t know, I just admire that about her.
“She’s always lookin’ on the positives, and she’s happy,” Wallace said. “I try to be that way.”