Kaitlyn Chappel’s first visit to Garden City High School was overwhelming. As a seventh-grader, she came to watch a volleyball game at the brand new campus, and the place was so massive she got lost on her way to the bathroom.

She fell in love with it.

“I kept telling my mom, I said ‘Mom, I’m going to be on that court one day. I’m going to be here one day. I’m excited for this.’ And it just stayed with me. And every time I went to a football game or a volleyball game or a basketball game, I just got even more excited. Just, ‘This is going to be my school one day,’” Chappel said.

More than five years later, Chappel graduated as one of six 4.0 students in GCHS’ class of 2018, a big achievement for her, she said. An avid volleyball and basketball player, swimmer and student council member, Chappel lived up to her middle school aspirations to make the high school her own. Her driving force, however, was academics.

Chappel said she’s always known, and her parents have always made it known, that school should be her first priority. She constantly pushed herself, taking dual credit and courses at Garden City Community College she could transfer to a four-year university.

Emily Hamlin, counselor for the GCHS health academy, advised Chappel for three years and said she was always impressed by her motivation.

“What was such a joy with Kaitlyn is she is very, truly driven. I mean, I’m not even saying that as a cliché. She has always been very focused and goal-oriented. It’s almost like she always has the pro/con list running in her mind with what she’s doing. She’s just very conscientious and ... moving forward to the future,” Hamlin said.

This focus on the future and goal of getting all A’s often came with sacrifices, Chappel said. She had to distance herself from friends who made bad choices and missed or arrived late to games or competitions when she felt her classes needed her attention.

When she struggled with physics her junior year, she had to make the difficult decision not to swim that season rather than risk getting a B in the class.

GCHS swim coach Jennifer Meng said it was a hard decision and not one every student would have made. Chappel knew her limits, Meng said, and her decision was ultimately a testament to her persistent determination.

“When she goes after something, she wants to go after it with all of her heart,” Meng said.

Limits or no limits, Chappel said she likes being busy and staying involved in what the school had to offer.

Meng said Chappel was a mature and naturally kind presence on the team, running to help teammates without thinking twice. Hamlin mentioned her affinity for school spirit.

One of Chappel’s favorite high school memories was the spring dance the student council organized her sophomore year. The council decided to invite students from high schools throughout the region, from Lakin and Deerfield and Scott City. She said the group was unsure of how successful the dance would be. When the night came, they had to push back tables to make more room on the packed dance floor.

A lifelong Garden City resident, Chappel said she’s blessed to live in a city that’s growing into itself and to go to a school where resources abound and there are teachers who are eager to help. At GCHS, she said, she’s become a better writer because of teachers willing to give harsh feedback. She was able to succeed in areas she was struggling in because teachers made themselves available to her.

As an athlete, she’s been to high schools in Wichita, Topeka and Lawrence, to name a few. To her, Garden City’s beats them all.

“(GCHS) was so much better and had so many more things that were offered for the students than other schools … (GCHS) always will be home, and you want to move on but you can’t help but miss it. I’m definitely going to miss the things we have here and the people that are always willing to help,” Chappel said.

Chappel will go to Kansas State University in the fall and is keeping her options open. She wants to rush and get involved on campus, but plans to meet the clubs in person first. She may pursue a career in optometry, but is considering other paths, like veterinarianism. Whatever she chooses, she has people rooting for her.

“I’m so excited for her. She’s going to strive at K-State…” Hamlin said. “I think it’s awesome for our female students from southwest Kansas. She took the science, the math classes, the health science. She pushed to get a higher ACT. And I think that’s just a really positive role model for other female students.”

When Chappel does get to KSU, she’s confident she’ll be happy there. She said she’s wanted to go to the school ever since she went to one of the college’s home football games with a friend several years ago. The campus was beautiful and the people welcoming, she said.

She fell in love with it.

“I told my mom when I got back. I said ‘Mom, I know I want to go there…’” Chappel said. “It’s like a home away from home.”


Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.