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Kyle Markland

This year’s top two Rocky Point seniors had very close GPAs, but very different interests. 

Valedictorian Connor Middleton, who focused on government and politics, graduated with a 106.71 GPA. He received a perfect score of 800 on his SAT II U.S. History test; was a member of the varsity lacrosse team; a Human Rights Institute for High School Leaders presenter and facilitator; a Students Building Bridges Award recipient; garnered state, senate and assembly citations for community service; is a kempo jiujitsu black belt; and a Peer Networking facilitator with socially challenged students.

Rocky Point valedictorian Connor Middleton. Photo from Rocky Point school district

Beyond all that, he said his best experience was as the vice president of the school’s Human Rights Club, which has worked to spread knowledge on the subject and its abuse taking place all over the world.

“It’s something that we’ve built up over the years and it’s something I’m really passionate about,” Middleton said. “I’ve been fortunate to have good teachers in [history,] and they’ve just helped me gather interest in it. They made history come alive.”

Middleton will be attending Williams College in Massachusetts where he will be double majoring in political philosophy and economy with a concentration in global studies. He said he hopes to take that knowledge to the state department or the United Nations as a diplomat, an ambassador or an economic advisor. He said he’d like to travel to developing countries to work with nations on human trafficking, human rights abuses and natural disaster relief.

 “I think spending your first year or two getting involved and immersing yourself in activities both inside and outside of school, and sticking with it, is important,” Middleton said. “It was helpful for me.”

Salutatorian Kyle Markland was just edged out by Middleton, graduating with a 106.69 GPA, but heavily involved in robotics and engineering.

Rocky Point salutatorian Kyle Markland. Photo from Rocky Point school district

Markland was a member of the cross-country and field and track teams, played double bass in the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall and helped found Rocky Point’s robotics teams, all while running a YouTube channel that focuses on LEGO Mindstorms robot building. This year he published a book detailing how to build several quirky and complicated LEGO robots.

In May, Markland attended the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was attended by students from over 75 countries.

“I had what was probably the best week of my life,” Markland said of his experience in Pennsylvania. “I didn’t end up placing, but it was such an awesome experience because we had 1,800 kids about my age who were just as interested in research and technology as I was.”

Markland will attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he plans to study engineering on a robotics track. He said he hopes to open his own technology or robotics company, or would like to work with major car manufacturing companies on self-driving car technology.

Markland said those kids going into their first year of high school this September should make the most out of the next four years.

“Work hard now, because these four years are possibly the most pivotal four years of your life,” Markland said. “There’s nothing more powerful than somebody who plans their work and works their plan.”

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland, second from left, helps build a robot with his high school robotics team Quantum Chaos. Photo from Lori Markland

By Kyle Barr

Even at 17, Rocky Point High School senior Kyle Markland is a renaissance man.

Markland is a scientist and a musician, an engineer and an artist. This past year, he competed in several regional and national science fairs with his project on improving GPS technologies in autonomous cars. On May, 6 he played double bass for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall.

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland hoists up a championship trophies with his high school robotics team, Quantum Chaos. Photo from Lori Markland

“The balance of his technical skills and his creativity — how he’s able to excel in both areas at such a high level is tremendous,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susan Crossan said.

In 2013 Markland took a trip to the First LEGO League World Festival in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the first stops he made was to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit, where he saw pictures and models of the wondrous inventions of one of the world’s most famous engineers and painters. It inspired something within himself.

“It really took me back how intelligent he was — a lot of his engineering stuff, but also how he was an artist, with all his paintings like the Mona Lisa — he stands out in so many different areas,” Markland said. “It’s something that I want to do for myself — stand out and do the best I can in a lot of different arenas.”

Just like how da Vinci was an inventor and engineer, Markland too has a knack for understanding the way things work, and expressed his engineering skills through LEGO Mindstorms.

Mindstorms is a branch of LEGO where technic blocks are used to program robots that can perform any number of functions. The senior took an interest in robotics when he was in 5th grade, saving up birthday money for several years before buying his first Mindstorms kit.

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland performed with his bass at Carnegie Hall. Photo from Lori Markland

In 2014 he created the YouTube channel Builderdude35, where he regularly posts tutorials and videos of his LEGO creations. Markland has over 14,000 subscribers, and said he regularly receives questions and requests for help from people all over the world.

“The tutorials were a way of sharing my own experience that I learned through [school] or at home,” Markland said.

In April he published the book “Building Smart LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Robots,” in which he highlights six of his unique robotics projects — all of which he built and coded. One of his flagship creations is a quirky interactive robot named “Grunt” that will eat different colored LEGO blocks and react differently to each one. The robot will respond to when waved at, and even stick out a small LEGO claw to shake your hand.

Markland’s mother, Lori, recalled her son marveling at the way things worked even at a young age.

“His passion was cars, building, robotics, machinery,” she said. “When we brought him to a cotton candy machine, he was looking at all the moving parts underneath it.”

The senior does all this with an incredibly busy schedule. He spends most of his time travelling, whether for scientific research, music or robotics, and still finds the time for schoolwork. To Markland, music is his most calming influence. It helps to settle his mind. He said the music is also not only just for him.

“I want to feel like I’m using my time for something bigger than myself,” Markland said. “I want to feel accomplished. The channel is a way to teach people, the book is a way to teach people; my music is something that makes people happy.”

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland holds up a book he published on building robots. Photo from Rocky Point school district

Markland will graduate salutatorian of his class. He was accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and California Institute of Technology, and chose MIT not just because he sees it as the most prestigious, but because the admissions officer personally called to congratulate him.

“[It’s] crazy, because they don’t really do that,” Markland said.

Next week Markland will be travelling to participate at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he will face off against 1,800 students from over 75 different countries.

“From the get-go Kyle has been very self-motivated,” Markland’s science teacher and mentor at Nancy Hunter said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a student who matches his ability define a problem, figure out how he’s going to go about solving a problem, and does it all.”

While the science fair sounds daunting, the student has been methodical in his preparation. In times of stress, he said he thinks of something his cousin, a soldier in the U.S Marines, told him: “He told me, ‘there’s nothing more powerful than one who plans his work and works his plan.’”

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