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

    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

    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. Grace

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

  4. Nordy Nordstrom

    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.

  5. Julie Fortin

    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!

  6. Alessia Fortin

    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!!

  7. Sonya Schell

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

  8. Simone

    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 🙂

  9. Jennifer Christensen

    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 🙂

  10. Lexie Massey

    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!

  11. Jo Barrett

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

  12. Amanda Andujar

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

  13. DH

    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”.

  14. Nathan DeVine

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

  15. Tiffany Hengel

    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!

  16. Austin Gross

    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!

  17. Dodi Poulos

    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!

  18. Marcia Graziosa

    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.

  19. Tammy

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

  20. Jessica Aden

    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!!

  21. Rheanna Bryson

    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.

  22. Paula Brubaker

    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!

  23. Madisen Frie

    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!

  24. Juan

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

  25. Apoorva Prakash

    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.

  26. Scott

    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

      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!!!!

  27. Dr. Morganne Patterson

    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!

  28. Kim Dagg

    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!

  29. Kristen Koske

    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.

  30. Jonnie

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

  31. Sami Schaefer

    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!!

  32. Andrea

    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.

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