Scholarship Essay by Jacob From STEM School Highlands Ranch

April 16, 2018

graduate certificate and graduate cap on a stack of books isolated on whiteThis essay, by Jacob from STEM School Highlands Ranch, is one of the top five finalists for our scholarship. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section below this post!

To people who have never visited Highlands Ranch, I tell them to imagine The Twilight Zone “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” except on steroids. Each yard is carefully mowed, each house meticulously painted, each road strategically planned. We might not have aliens, but we do have soccer moms with some ridiculous spray tans.

I understand the appeal of our city to new families: safe city streets, great education systems, giant recreation centers, and intricate trail systems. It’s William Levitt’s dream.

Still, with all these desirable traits, I have never found it appealing, and I think most of the people my age would agree with me. Because of the pure nature of this city, we have never had the chance to identify with and develop a true hometown community here. There’s a number of reasons why, but it is most exemplified with our commercial market.

In 2015, my family flew into Atlanta, rented a car, and drove down to a beach house in Panama City, Florida. Say what you will about the South, but even as the sticky feeling of humidity and foul stench of alligator roadkill surrounded us, my family and I all found joy in the small fruit stands and gas stations every few miles, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We found something new in each one – alligator jerky, fresh peaches, boiled peanuts. At one stop consisting purely of a white-tarp tent and a picket fence, there was an entire watermelon patch growing out of the dirt next to the highway. These stands were new for us but clearly part of the local culture.

So, what is it that travelers driving through Highlands Ranch find? What could we have to offer that is different than any other suburb in the world? Arguably, nothing.

Unlike other towns, we are filled almost exclusively with big box departments and corporate chain stores. Want coffee? Starbucks. Medicine? Walgreens. Groceries? Walmart. I could count the number of locally owned restaurants, stores, and locations on one half of my right hand. The reality is we have absolutely no semblance of local culture. I identify with this town no more than I identify with a cup of Starbucks coffee in Phoenix or a patch of carefully mowed grass in Portland. The staggering number of people my age looking at college out-of-state makes this clearer than ever. Obviously, this town does not appeal to young people. It definitely drives me crazy, but, that does not mean we can’t improve it.

That starts with developing a local culture.

We need local holidays, local celebrations, parades, festivals, and ways to build community. We need to realize that local business is important. Different coffee shops, for starters. Different options for pharmacies, or groceries and more family-run stores.

When I asked some of my friends for help getting started on this essay, they suggested the best way to improve Highlands Ranch was to incinerate it. Maybe that is a little dramatic, but it reflects the attitude of young people towards their hometown. I am young, and plans change, but right now, unless there is a major overhaul, I cannot imagine ever living in this city again. The development of small businesses and stores and the creation of a local identity and culture is, in my opinion, the only thing that might change that.

We have to make these goals a priority. We need to make this a town that gives people my age a sense of pride.

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102 thoughts on “Scholarship Essay by Jacob From STEM School Highlands Ranch

  1. Sidney DuVarney says:

    Great piece!! Growing up in highlands ranch I totally relate to this! Moving to cities where they worship local businesses has made me want to move back and change something

  2. Daniela says:

    Jacob did an excellent job describing what it is like to be a teenager living in suburbs. Although it is incredibly safe and appealing to new families, the lack of local business and culture does not make it a place that people want to move to other than for familial reasons. When people imagine a place they want to grow up in and experience new thing, they imagine places like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. which is something that Jake brought up perfectly when he talked about his trip to Florida. Jake showed the importance of local business and culture in a society, especially one like Highlands Ranch.

  3. Brian Nordstrom says:

    Great essay Jake!

  4. Shara Nordstrom says:

    Great essay Jake and I agree with you!

  5. Rasika Mukkamala says:

    Love it Jake!!

  6. Grace says:

    This essay is extremely accurate. There is never anything to look forward too except to get out of it.

  7. Madison Tenney says:

    This is super true! Super well expressed; great job!

  8. Nordy Nordstrom says:

    What a great honest insight into the minds of young adults about to make their mark in the world. The underlying premise that the future can, and will be, a better place, is refreshing. Thanks Jake for sharing your perspective. We look forward to how you, and your friends, change the world for the better, for all of us.

  9. Rachel Watkins says:

    Great essay, and I completely agree!

  10. Holly says:

    I know others who feel this way!

  11. Julie Fortin says:

    You are an amazing writer! This is very interesting! I have heard similar opinions from several 20 somethings I know that grew up in Highlands Ranch. I myself grew up in Columbine. I am sad that Columbine is now most widely known for the tragedy at Columbine High School. I loved growing up in Columbine and I could not wait to return to this community and raise my daughter in that area. Of course, 40 years ago things were much different. Great job!

  12. Alessia Fortin says:

    I hate Highlands Ranch so much. It’s like suburbia hell. Your point is exactly the reason I love living near locally owned businesses. Down with monopolies!!

  13. Sonya Schell says:

    Great essay raising awareness @ the Highlands Ranch culture and opportunities for change!!

  14. Simone says:

    Well said Jacob! I grew up in Highlands Ranch and can definitely see that once I stepped outside of the bubble of our city, as I’m now a college student living in California, that the dynamic of our city was very secluded. I love the use of the local store examples because those were the stores that I grew up with too! Overall, very well done 🙂

  15. Jamie Roznoy says:

    Wow this one’s my favorite

  16. Anna says:

    What a great essay!

  17. Heather Campbell Nordstrom says:

    I agree, and I live inHighlands Ranch.

  18. morgan says:

    this is my favorite

  19. Jennifer Christensen says:

    Great essay! I lived in that town and thought that it was pretty and put together, but never felt that it was anything memorable. Just another town to check off the list. Then I moved to Nebraska where they have a spirit… small town proud. Everyone tries to buy local, everyone knows each other and their story and families live for generations here in this small town. Their roots are here and have no plans to change. The spirit comes from longevity I think. It’s grows with time. Highlands ranch isn’t bad, but it’s just like any other new town. It will take some time to build character. Some where along the line it will have a culture… Let’s give it time to shine 🙂

  20. Lexie Massey says:

    This is harsh but with the intent of finding solutions instead of simply putting down his hometown. The writing is also incredibly enjoyable to read!

  21. Jo Barrett says:

    A very well thought out & on point description of the sprawling suburbs surrounding most large cities in the US.

  22. Susan Hobbs says:

    You just described exactly what is lacking from so many of our newer communities.

  23. Amanda Andujar says:

    This is definitely my favorite. It’s extremely well written and the author makes valid points.

  24. Emily Zelenka says:

    So true! Excellent point of view!

  25. Rebecca says:

    I love it. “Soccer moms and spray tans” 😂

  26. Jessica Rowe says:

    I love it! I could invision what your writing about!

  27. DH says:

    I relate. My kids grew up in Golden, & like you, did not find it desirable when they went off to college. However, now that they are adults, where do they want to raise their family – ? – Golden! I myself grew up in Hershey, & like you, never thought it desirable to live there. Looking back as an adult, my view definitely has changed. With time, yours may also. Good luck in all your future endeavors & will be interested in seeing where you “plant your roots”.

  28. Nathan DeVine says:

    Well stated Jake! We need young entrepreneurs like yourself to help us old folks to get started in the right direction.

  29. Tiffany Hengel says:

    Gets my vote! He managed to capture the viewpoint of his generation in a way that challenges assumptions and biases of his elders. Thought provoking for sure!

  30. Alex Fortin says:

    Great essay! Gives the reader a lot to think about. Good job!

  31. Austin Gross says:

    My vote is for Jacob, very well written! I love seeing the writer you have become! Continue young man, great things ahead for you, and hopefully Highlands Ranch!

  32. emily schultz says:

    This is so true Jake! I would love to see some changes in the Ranch!

  33. Sarah Baker says:

    Go Jake!

  34. Erin Mitchell says:

    Very interesting perspective.

  35. Scott Sippel says:

    This is my favorite!

  36. Victoria Owens says:

    Fantastic essay, this gets my vote!

  37. Jacqueline says:

    This is my favorite essay.

  38. Lesli says:

    Well done!

  39. Lee Ann T says:

    This is my favorite essay.

  40. Danny says:

    “this is my favorite”

  41. Doug says:

    This is my favorite

  42. Karey Larson says:

    This is my favorite essay!

  43. Dodi Poulos says:

    Beautifully put, Jacob! My son, who is almost 20 is moving to Washington State and feels almost exactly how you feel. There’s definitely a reason why this place is called “the bubble.”

    I appreciate the cleanliness and safe feel of this area but I agree it lacks a lot.

    I am very, very proud of you and your writing. It was a great pleasure to be one of your 6th grade teachers! I can’t wait to see you go explore the world! My best always to you!

  44. Dodi Poulos says:

    Oh, and this is my favorite!!!!

  45. Anita McDonald says:

    This is my favorite!

  46. Marcia Graziosa says:

    Great idea and professionally put into words. It really gave one food for thought. This is a subject that Highlands Ranch should truly and honestly ponder . Maybe you will become Mayor someday Jake. Hoping it will not take that long and your suggestions will come into fruition . Good luck in college and beyond.

  47. Anly Ha says:

    This is my favorite.

  48. Tanya says:

    This is my favorite! Great Essay.

  49. Lindsey says:

    This is my favorite! Great essay!!

  50. Wendy Davis says:

    This is my favorite

  51. Shayne Barrett says:

    Awesome insight, Jake!!! I couldn’t agree more.

  52. Sarah Phelps says:

    This is my favorite

  53. Marco Levesque says:

    This is my favorite

  54. Tina Kampouris says:

    This is my favorite.

  55. Jody womack says:

    Nicely done

  56. Emily says:

    Very well and cleverly written!

  57. Tammy says:

    Interesting view point. It definitely intrigued me. You are a very good writer. I hope you win! Well done.

  58. Jessica Aden says:

    What an awesome essay! What a great job! I live in Castle Rock and I have to say…the thing’s you crave in a hometown…. I’ve got to experience and have in our wonderful Castle Rock community. On top of awesome neighbor’s that make life that much more gratifying! Can’t wait to see when you are older and out on your own and be able to see where you decide to go in life!!

  59. Jamie says:

    Favorite essay by far!

  60. Nicki Burke says:

    Great read I vote him for the win

  61. Rheanna Bryson says:

    Best description of suburbia I’ve heard. Make them think of change, a community is so important and it always starts with one person and an idea.

  62. Licia says:

    Great job!

  63. Paula Brubaker says:

    I understand what you are saying, Jacob . . . we raised our children in a small town and appreciated the things you wish for. However our children wished for some of the advantages you have as part of a big city! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could combine those special features!

  64. Kelly says:

    Well said. I love it.

  65. Casey says:

    This is my favorite!

  66. Lyssa Franckowiak says:

    Great perspective! This is my favorite.

  67. Kellon Mitchell says:

    Yes Jake this is so good. Off to the west coast we go 🤙🏼

  68. Madisen Frie says:

    I agree 100% with this. Growing up in Highlands Tanch, I’ve become so accustomed to the same daily routines over and over, nothing new. When I moved to Boulder, I was in a state of culture shock for the first week because I had never experienced a community like this were people Don’t look like a cookie cutter copy of each other. Great paper!

  69. Joyce says:

    Wow love this!!

  70. Andrew Burke says:

    Brilliant response!!

  71. Juan says:

    You raise some good points! Creating a local culture is definitely important woards raising pride for a local community.

  72. Apoorva Prakash says:

    This was a really strongly worded essay! I like how confident you are of your opinions, and you did a great job showcasing your thoughts in your own voice.

  73. Hao Peng says:

    A great read!! Definitely deserves to win, good luck! 😀

  74. Vikram Satyan says:

    This is a very interesting piece! It is my favorite!

  75. William Loo says:

    Very inspiring, and empowering response!

  76. Jamie says:

    Best essay very accurate good job jake!

  77. Mia says:

    This is an amazing essay!!!

  78. Yazmin says:

    Great job!!

  79. Scott says:

    Great insight Jake! We started our family hear for the very reasons you stated above and have watched HR grow over the last 20 years. So from a parents perspective, there wasn’t a better place to start a family, but I can certainly understand how you and other teenagers feel. Funny, when we first moved here, there were a number of smaller/family owned business and not a lot of chain stores/restaurants….and then those started to come to HR and we were all really excited to get our own Outback, Home Depot, Target, etc….and they kept coming. Now, as you have said, there really are not a lot of local businesses. Funny how we thought it was a huge win for us to finally get those stores. Anyway – great essay and my favorite!

    1. Ammon says:

      Jake, I am so happy that you decided to talk about this. I feel like by adding fun local shops will increase the diversity of shops making Highlands Ranch more unique. Great job Jake!!!!

  80. Katie says:

    Jake did such a spectacular job on this! Good luck!!

  81. Alecia Brynda says:

    Nice job!

  82. Liz says:

    Wow! What an amazing piece. Great writing and insight!

  83. Dr. Morganne Patterson says:

    As someone who is not from that area, it definitely gives me a view of the pluses and minuses of living there. I now understand why so many people your age in that area are looking oit of state for college when so many in the area I grew up stayed in state. Well written, honest, and clear. Good job and good luck!

  84. Caroline says:

    That was truly wild

  85. Kenzie says:

    Great essay Jake I agree

  86. Sommer Brubaker says:

    Great Essay Jake! You are a great writer 💕

  87. Kim says:

    Great job, Jake. Honest, full of heart and real.

  88. Kim Dagg says:

    Great job! I spent my high school years in a very small town. Every time I go back it feels amazing to let time slow down. I agree with you in supporting local businesses and would much rather purchase from them than the box stores! Thank you for your perspective!

  89. Kristen Koske says:

    Love this! I grew up in your area, but have lived in IL – in a far NW suburb of Chicago – for the last 13 years. We love our local coffee shops, gelato/ice cream shops, and numerous local restaurants. We have great annual events, too (parades, Pub in the Park, Ribfest, Labor Day festival, fireworks, etc). I never gave it too much thought until reading your article, but you’re absolutely right that these local establishments and events are anchoring us to our community and helping us establish a strong connection – these are things our son loves and will remember fondly when he’s left home.

  90. Geniva Deal says:


  91. Jonnie says:

    Jake….you and kids like you will make your mark on this world with changes to grow your world. Great thoughts

  92. Ed says:

    Jake amazing essay very relatable.

  93. Logan says:

    Nice essay Jake I enjoyed reading it.

  94. Christine says:

    Jake very nice essay truly enjoyed it

  95. Marc Hobbs says:

    Brilliant essay, Jake!

  96. Terry says:

    Great essay Jake. I really enjoyed it.

  97. Sami Schaefer says:

    Great essay!!! Couldn’t agree more. I feel like sometimes we are in a “bubble” here in the Ranch. You are an AMAZING writer Jake!!

  98. Sharon Millett says:

    Very insightful and well written! I hope your ideas are heard!

  99. Andrea says:

    Great essay, I think that the author has an interesting take on life in Highlands Ranch and find that his essay conveyed this perspective in a clear and consise way.

  100. Kasey Helgoth says:

    Great essay!

  101. Sravani Katamaneni says:

    I totally agree with you.

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