Addie Lathers plans to wring every last molecule of knowledge out of her professors at UW-Madison.
Every last atom, every last modicum and every last scintilla—there’s a word Addie would like—of information will be taken from their unwary brains and then analyzed, questioned, rearranged and considered carefully.
This is the way she’s pursued her academic career to this point, and her teachers don’t think she’ll change.
Last week, Lathers graduated from ARISE, the Janesville School District’s online charter school, and her teachers picked her as their standout senior.
She started her academic career at Beloit Turner High School.
Unlike many of the students at ARISE who dislike the traditional high school setting, Addie enjoyed herself.
“I was in band, in marching band, in theater, mock trial, and I was doing everything,” Addie said.
Ken Watkins was her favorite teacher.
“I was a good writer before I took his English class, and he made me a great writer,” Addie said.
He did it by letting Addie be Addie.
She recalled when Watkins assigned his class to write about Mitch Albom’s best seller, “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
Albom’s observations on relationships, death and dying were too close to cliché for Addie, and she expressed her opinions in a crisply worded two-page critique.
“He let me do that,” Addie said. “I think that’s when we clicked.”
Watkins remembers Addie and her essay.
“As a teacher, you get a student (like Addie) only a few times in your career,” Watkins said. “She was already a good writer when she came to me.”
Addie was so engaged in learning that it was a delight to have her in class, he said.
Some time in her sophomore year, Addie decided it was “time to buckle down.”
“Two years were enough for me,” Addie said. “It was enough for me to know what football games were like, what basketball games were like, what all of it was like.”
And stuff like dances and socializing?
She went back for prom after she was already a student at ARISE.
“We took pictures in front of a waterfall,” Addie said with a verbal shrug.
She picked ARISE because she wanted to do Youth Options, a program that allows high school students to earn college credits at post-secondary institutions such as Blackhawk Technical College or UW-Whitewater at Rock County.
In addition, she wanted to have “four years of everything” because that’s what UW-Madison requires.
So she took a ton of classes her junior year and continued to work into the summer months.
Her senior year, she started at UW-Rock County.
The collegiate atmosphere suited her perfectly.
She immediately “clicked” with Richard Hanson, a senior lecturer in philosophy.
“He was ridiculously real,” Addie said. “He introduced us to the concept of meaningful debate, not just ‘my feelings are better than your feelings.’”
She understood that philosophy gave her real-world skills.
“We studied David Hume, we studied Nietzsche, but it was more about how to reason,” Addie said. “He also taught us about logical fallacies, and that’s something I’ll be able to use for years to come.”
Hanson was impressed by her, too.
“Addison stood out right away,” Hanson said. “She had no compunction about asking questions. She presented herself with this cool intelligence.”
Hanson had the feeling she was always evaluating him as a teacher, listening to his answers carefully.
She was engaged because of her own interest, but she also had respect for her peers, Hanson said.
“When we (the class) would get stuck on something, she could offer a helpful window into the discussion,” Hanson said.
It was her curious mind that impressed him the most.
“She has a naturally critical sensibility and a beautifully analytical mind,” Hanson said.
Her sensibility and skills aren’t just used for “negative acumen”—negative or pessimistic judgments about the world, Hanson said.
Instead, the process of study and critical thinking seemed to feed her curiosity about the world and increase her desire to learn.
That’s something she’ll never lose.