Breaking out of your shell
Editor's note: This story is part of a series highlighting outstanding graduating seniors. Find more profiles here.
CANNON FALLS — During one of the various spirit week celebrations at Cannon Falls High School, James Watson was hard to miss.
The senior took the time to show his true self, a sort of artistic expression.
Watson dressed up as Darth Maul, a character from the film "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace" as part of the school's red and black dress-up day. Watson donned red and black face paint, including Darth Maul's signature horns and even a toilet paper crafted lightsaber.
During winter, Watson dressed up as the Grinch in full green body paint. He dressed up as Buddy the Elf from the film "Elf" and on a separate occasion wore 200 mini-candy canes on a sweater.
There's not a lot of inbetween for the self described "flamboyant" senior at Cannon Falls High School. Watson graduated Friday, June 1, from the school and plans on attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall.
But Watson wasn't always the animated and confident young man that he's become. In fact, it took awhile for Watson to become who he is today.
Watson and his family moved to the area when he was in first grade from Eagan, Minn., where he had a hard time fitting in.
Watson said when he was young, he experienced frequent bullying and would try to avoid torment by going home sick from school when he wasn't sick at all.
As he grew older, Watson was reclusive, avoiding activities in the school district. However, after a knee injury forced him to have surgery in seventh grade, after some recovery time, Watson decided to give cross-country a try.
"Terrible experience for an eighth-grader to pick up running that way," Watson said. "Running is one of my favorite things now."
Watson said that he joined cross-country because he was "sick of" himself and his shy tendencies. So he thought, why not try running?
"I wasn't doing much of anything," Watson said. "I felt like I was wasting my childhood experiences. I didn't have many friends. I just wanted to break out of that. I wanted to see what my self was."
Since then, Watson has joined almost every club or group that Cannon Falls offers. Between becoming a three-sport athlete, playing in various bands, acting in the school play and participating in math league, just to name a few, Watson said he was "making up for lost time" as he ambitiously traversed the school's offerings.
"I wanted to see what opportunities I still had, so I tried out for everything I could that seemed even remotely interesting to me," Watson said.
Watson joined robotics, but just for a month. He realized he had too many activities going on in his life.
Watson said speech is his favorite. Watson competes in the creative expression category.
Shortly after starting cross-country, Watson felt a shooting pain during competition. He and his family initially feared it was appendicitis, but found that Watson had stage two scoliosis.
"Usually when you find out that you have scoliosis, it's not too happy," Watson said. "But in that instance I was pretty happy."
The diagnosis has inspired Watson to pursue a career as a chiropractor. After he obtains his bachelor's degree, Watson will continue with his doctorate studies.
Changing from a shy boy to an outgoing young man has been a worthwhile shift for Watson, who said if he didn't change, he wouldn't have been able to meet as many people as he has.
"I'm very happy I broke out of my shell," Watson said. "I kind of see it as a learning experience. Something that I can tell other kids about where it's good to break out, branch out, meet other friends."
At the school, Watson started "The Lunchroom Challenge," where he would sit with a different group of students at a different table each day.
Watson was able to achieve this goal, but got some strange looks along the way.
"Every time it was always the same," Watson said. "I'd sit down for a (second), they'd stare at me, they'd go back to talking and I'd join in. I had a lot of fun."
When he reflects on his high school career, Watson said he'll miss the relationships he's established with faculty and students.
But he isn't worried about meeting people next year in Duluth.
Maybe he'll even apply the red and black face paint and put the horns back in as a ice breaker his first week. Just to show people who he really is.