Growing to see what’s important



Sutton Landers-Carlyon laughs when he refers to himself as a “lousy” participant in UIL activities during his freshman year, but the senior, and Salutatorian for the Class of 2020, says he has learned a lot about what’s important in the last four years.

His dedication to UIL competitions grew along with his increased involvement in UIL clubs.

“Out of all the activities, it has been UIL that I committed to and stayed in all four years,” he said. “I’ve gone from being a lousy member at the beginning to now being a team captain. That’s been my favorite experience. The instructors are great and I have great memories from that.”

What Landers-Carlyon first saw as just another set of tests to take evolved into something special.

“It’s so much more than that,” he said. “There’s a lot of satisfaction you get from Saturdays with your buddies taking the tests, getting that competitive nature going, getting together with a bunch of different schools, it is really rewarding.”

But that initial impression came with being a high school freshman who didn’t really want to be involved.

“When I came freshman year I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, and as a freshman I was definitely guilty of being the kid who just wanted to get what I had to done and get it over with,” he said. “At first I was like ‘Wow, I have to study more for something that doesn’t even seem that rewarding?’”

It took a little time, but before long it grew from a casual involvement to something very important to him.

“I didn’t really feel like I was contributing at the beginning, but I think by my junior year I feel like I was making some contributions to the team,” he said. “It is a team effort. You can’t do it all alone.”

And having something special outside of class helped Landers-Carlyon learn an important life lesson.

“As I got more mature in high school I learned that things like this are important,” he said. “The more you continue to grow the more you learn those outside things are fulfilling and rewarding. If you really want to make a lasting impact it is about doing things outside of school and participating in these fulfilling experiences. I’m not going to remember all the tests I took. I’m going to remember the other stuff and the people that helped me grow.”

Along with his UIL experiences, Landers-Carlyon said his teachers and mentors helped him grow tremendously.

“I think the teachers here are the best part of the experience,” he said. “A lot of people I may not have been able to connect with, but the teachers are very good standout teachers who have changed who I have become.”

He had a particularly good experience with his teacher in a chemistry class, who not only helped him with the ins and outs of degree plans and career opportunities, but also developing a love for a certain subject.

“I came into high school unsure of what I wanted to do after high school,” he said. “I knew I wanted to go to college, but I had no clue what I wanted to study or what I was interested in. Mr. (Michael) Staton basically opened my eyes to the world of chemistry and thanks to him I’ve been encouraged to pursue chemistry in my life. He really helped me choose what I want to do after high school.”

Others on campus also had a big influence in his life, including Librarian Megan Claymon and Assistant Principal Anthony Escobar.

“They taught me how to look at the world in a different way, to become a better person, to discover myself and to just grow from where I started as a freshman to now,” he said. “They have all used the experience they have to influence the children they care about.”

There was never a question whether he would go in the general direction of math and science, but that experience with Staton helped him zero in on chemistry.

“It is basically a world of unknowns and you’re basically trying to solve those unknowns,” he said. “All chemistry is is stuff we can’t see, we can’t really look at and view, and I always found that interesting with all the conceptual things. It is everywhere and runs everything in this world and you learn that when you dive deep into it.”

Landers-Carlyon plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin to study chemical engineering, and is excited about one opportunity more than any other.

“Research,” he said. “Research, research, research. I just want to spend a lot of time in the lab, and that’s what I am looking forward to the most. It will be really good to be able to dive deep into whatever I’m particularly interested in at that time.”

He said he hasn’t thought a lot about life past college, but said he has traveled to Boston a few times and loves that part of the country, so moving up to the Northeast would be high on his list.

“In Texas, chemical engineers find themselves in the oil business really quickly because it’s accessible and it’s open, that’s just where a lot of people end up going,” he said. “I would like to leave Texas and go to other states and see what it is like.”

Still, it’s all part of the unknown as he grows into the next chapter of life and focuses on the future.

“I’m interested in looking into work in alternative energy sources,” he said. “I may find myself here in Texas working for an oil company, but I don’t want to be doing just oil, I want to help them with the alternative energy issues they’re looking into because that’s what the future is.”