Caitlyn Clinton’s best advice to the new kid at school?
“Smile, be friendly ... You don’t need to be nervous about what people think of you. Most people want to meet new people. They are generally kind and good-hearted.”
She should know. The busy O’Fallon Township High School senior has been the new kid eight times.
“My dad is in the military. I used to be the new kid eating by myself the first day of school. It was hard, especially in middle school and junior high. You move from a place with a big group of friends and have to start over and make a name for yourself. As hard as it is the first couple days, it gets easier when you smile and get to know people.”
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Caitlyn did just that three years ago when her family moved from Puerto Rico to O’Fallon.
My dad is in the military. I used to be the new kid eating by myself the first day of school. It was hard, especially in middle school and junior high. You move from a place with a big group of friends and have to start over and make a name for yourself.
Caitlyn Clinton, student at O’Fallon High School
She is now captain of the varsity cross country and track teams and an officer in HOPE (Helping Open People’s Eyes), a student-run peer-crisis intervention group. She teaches Spanish to grade-schoolers twice a week (fourth grade and kindergarten classes at Marie Schaefer and Estelle Kampmeyer elementary schools) and is team leader of the youth group at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in O’Fallon. At a recent meeting, they painted bowls for the Empty Bowl Project that raises money for food pantries. She is also busy writing college application essays that range from “tell us about yourself” to “if you had to choose three people you could bring to a planet, whom would you choose and why?”
“She is definitely an overachiever,” said Lara Hollenkamp, an O’Fallon High School math teacher and sponsor of HOPE. “In addition to her extracurriculars, she maintains a stellar GPA. She is very compassionate and really helps those students around her. ... On several occasions, she saw we had a new student. She sat with them, and took them around and showed them where classes are. She goes above and beyond. She notices the kid in the cafeteria looking like they don’t know where to sit, those that look a little lost.”
Caitlyn talks about how she gets things done.
Q: How do you break the ice with a new student or one sitting alone?
A: “I ask them about themselves. They know them self the best. I ask them what they have been up to. By asking questions, I get to know them. Even if I am only with them one time, I see them in hallways, smile and let them know there’s someone out there if they are having issues. If they’re feeling lonely, they can hang out with me.”
Q: What is it like moving so often?
A: “Before we found out we were moving to Puerto Rico, we were in New York visiting mom’s family. We saw the play ‘West Side Story.’ The day after, we found out we were moving to Puerto Rico. We like to get on the school’s website and see what’s going on. We look at the house online.”
Q: What do you remember about your first day at O’Fallon?
A: “I remember getting lost. This school was added onto. The hallways don’t always match up. I had no idea where I was going. I constantly asked for help. I ran cross country sophomore year. Before that, I did a summer camp. I got to know the girls. They showed me around. Some were in my lunch period. It was a comfort going in. ... With each move, I have gotten more skills of learning to adapt and change, skills to better prepare myself for the first day. Moving here, I knew some people from years past because of the military. It’s easy to get reacquainted.”
Q: What is an average day like for you?
A: “I get up about 6, have breakfast and get to school 45 minutes early to work on miscellaneous things or study before tests. After school, I work on homework or teach Spanish lessons. Track or cross country practice starts at 3. I do that from 3 to 5:30, go home, shower and eat dinner. On Mondays, I have a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. On Wednesdays, I’m at St. Nicholas. Lately on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ve been doing college essay writing and scholarship applications.”
Q: How do you find time for your family?
A: “This entire Christmas was family time. We make it a point as long as everyone is home to sit down and get dinner together every night. We talk about our day and what’s going on in our lives. We go to each other’s events. My sister is in show choir. We go to her concerts. They will come to my races. We’re good about supporting each other.”
Q: How did you get interested in HOPE?
A: “Mr. Norman Henry used to be the sponsor. I had him as a Spanish teacher. He made it sound like fun. I went on the HOPE retreat sophomore year. HOPE was created to get to know people you don’t typically meet in high school, to break down stereotypes of who you think your classmates are. On retreat, there are no phones. We do big group games. We talk about bullying, healthy relationships, family issues. We let our emotions out. It’s positive and healthy. With (sponsors Ms. Hollenkamp and Mrs. Schrader), we plan what happens from when we get on the bus to back to school. Teachers talk it up. There’s an application process. ...”
Q: How did you become a runner?
A: “I’ve run since I was little. My parents are both very athletic. Mom ran in college; dad through high school. It keeps you in shape. My sisters and brother run to keep in shape for soccer and other sports. Running is an individual thing. You don’t need to be on a team for 10 years to do well. You can run on your own.”
Q: What do you like about running?
A: “The people. It takes a very motivated person to run nine miles in 100-degree weather. Running taught me to have discipline through hard times. If you run three or four days a week, you will see results. The mental aspect is a huge deal. You have to convince yourself to run through bad times. It’s OK to feel like you are going to throw up at the end of the race.”
Q: How do you make yourself run when you’re not in the mood?
A: “I think about when it comes down to May, when I’m running races for state. I was a half-second away from qualifying for state last year (in the 800-meter. To make state, the time to qualify is 2 minutes, 20 seconds). I think about how much I want that. It’s a motivating factor. If I put in the effort now, it will pay off in May.”
Q: What do you do when you’re having a bad day?
A: “I go on a run. It’s the best thing to clear my mind. Every kind of exercise releases dopamines. It’s a stress reliever. It allows you to be in your own thoughts. Running is what does it for me.”
About Caitlyn Clinton
- Family: parents Philip, an Air Force pilot, and Jackie, a self-employed photographer; and siblings, Victoria, 15, a sophomore; Grace, 13, an 8th-grader; and Harry, 11, a 6th-grader. Jackie is originally from New York; Philip, from Houston, Texas.
- Favorite food: Mom’s Mexican dishes (“All of my mom’s cooking is great.”) or Dos Gorditos.
- Favorite subject: History. “It’s the teachers and their passion that make it so interesting.”
- Anything hard for you? “Math and science. I have to put a lot of effort into what I do. Honors biology was a great choice for me. It’s a lecture-based class. I take really careful notes.”
- What would you do if you had more free time? “When I was young, I used to do triathlons. I would do more of those. I really enjoy reading. Sometimes, I chill out and watch TV. I take a little break.”
- Last good book: “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio
- Favorite place you have lived: “London. You could travel all over Europe. Little Rock is where I have my best friends. We were there for 4 1/2 years. Every place is good for different reasons.”
- How friends and siblings describe you: “Talkative, friendly and outgoing.”
- What is next? “I plan on majoring in communications and Spanish in college.”