”We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” - John F. Kennedy
There is something to be said about perseverance—the unyielding desire to push oneself beyond the status quo in pursuit of the extraordinary. Chasing after the unknown with ambitious grit is an important part of the American spirit, and has been throughout our nation’s history. From the American cowboys pushing westward into the new frontier in the 1800s to Apollo 11 astronauts meeting Kennedy’s challenge and walking on the moon in 1969 to conceptualizing and putting the internet into effect in the 1980s—going beyond predetermined boundaries and reaching for the stars is ingrained in the American DNA. Inspired by our nation’s ability to keep dreaming, we partnered with four rising stars in their own right who all embody the heart of the cowboy as they stop at nothing to obtain their dreams.
Caitlyn Smith, Nashville Rising Star and Country Music Singer-Songwriter
Can you talk about your journey to becoming one of Nashville’s most celebrated songwriters?
“I’ve been writing songs in Music City for over a decade. Growing up in Cannon Falls, MN, I used to sing at church and started writing little songs at eight-years old. I cut my teeth in Minneapolis playing shows at all the bars and college venues and continued writing and releasing music independently. I then made my way to Nashville and saw that you can have the best voice ever, but if you want to have a career in music, you need the songs. So I started writing as much as I could with whoever would sit in a room with me, and landed my first publishing deal a few years later. Within a year of signing, other artists started recording my songs—which was, and still is, mind blowing. It has taken years and years of perseverance. And even though I’ve written well over 1,000 songs, I’m still learning. And I still think it’s incredible every time you go from nothing to a brand new little song.”
Can you describe your journey as an up-and-coming country music artist, wife, mom, and songwriter? “It’s a circus, to say the least. My husband, Rollie, plays in my band and we tour together. It’s so lovely to be able to travel and do what you love with your best friend. We have a four-year-old named Tom and a two-year-old named Louie, and we bring them on the road as well. It’s a wild time trying to balance it all. But we do our best to make room for what’s most important. Different seasons can be harder than others, but I’m grateful I’m in a position to make my own rules.”
What inspired the titles for both of your albums, Starfire and Supernova? “I’m a big fan of the cosmos and the cosmic aesthetic. It’s pretty much the most outrageous thing in existence. When I stand underneath a sky full of stars, I feel my deepest connection with God and my humanity. Living within something so magical and massive makes me feel grateful to be alive. I use a lot of imagery and talk a lot about the stars because it’s one of my favorite places to be. My first album, Starfire, is actually named after my old Guild guitar. When we went to take photos for the album artwork, my stylist, Tiffany Gifford, designed a custom nebula cape for the album cover shoot and I grew pretty attached to the theme. I then named the following record SUPERNOVA after a song I wrote about time flying by. A supernova is the fullest, brightest expression of a star in its final moments, and a colorful and incredible example of how we should be living our lives—as full and as bright as we possibly can.”
Martin Sensmeier, Rising Star, Actor, and Model
What challenges have you faced while chasing your dream?
“They’re constant. I deal with the everyday challenges of being an artist, but I am also a part of an underrepresented demographic. So I know that there are fewer opportunities. Instead of using that as an excuse, I try to be on the same page with my team. We like to think outside of the box as to what kind of characters I’ll play. It’s always nice when I get to play a character where the race doesn’t matter; when I just happen to be a guy who is in a particular situation, and his race is never specified. Those are the roles that help us to be seen in a modern light.”
How has that transpired within your acting career? “It has been exciting to see the amount of original Native content being created today, compared to even five years ago. I’ve turned down several offers to do projects simply because they were too stereotypical and unoriginal. I am not quite sure about all of the challenges that I’ve been able to overcome because I was always taught to think that I have equal opportunity to pursue anything in life. True or not, that is my mindset. I try to tell myself that I am only going to be limited by the choices I make. I work hard to get myself out there, and I’ve had some wonderful opportunities, but I’m really just getting my career started as well too, so I understand the patience required to succeed as well. Failure is not the opposite of success, but simply a part of it. I take everything in stride, and I’m grinding every day to make my dreams become my reality. If you take your foot off of the gas in this business, you get left behind. It might be one of the most competitive jobs in the world, but I approach it as a competition with myself and not others. To be a better version of myself every day—that is what keeps me going. That and I have a family I have to provide for, which is built-in motivation.”
Can you describe what it was like growing up in Yakutat, Alaska, and the tribe traditions you participated in?
“Life in the village can be slow and laid back, but it definitely has its challenges like anywhere. I miss it every day. We have a strong culture that revolves around subsistence from the land and our traditional ways are kept alive through songs, the dances, and language. Fish and wild game are staples for a lot of people, and there are a few grocery stores in town to find whatever else you need. Anything you can’t find at the stores, you have to order online. It’s a bit isolated, which is a good thing. No roads in or out. You can only travel there by plane or on a seasonal ferry. Really an awesome place. “
Marlon Humphrey, NFL Rising Star
How do you stay motivated daily to continue chasing your dream? “I've always been self-motivated, but it's all about my family. I have the best family that I can lean on and they help me stay on this path.”
What challenges have you faced in your journey to become a rising NFL star? “Being a 1st round pick and not starting my rookie year was challenging, but it taught me to be patient and continue honing my craft. Just like anything else, you have to put in the hard work to see the results.”
What mentality does it take to succeed in the NFL? “Staying grounded. There are so many games in an NFL season and you want to play well in them all, but in order to do that you need to stay humble. Every game won't be perfect, but another one is coming.”
Can you describe your connection to the Western world? “I've always loved horses and dreamed of owning one. Right now, I’m taking riding lessons and I’m really turning into a huge horse guy. I've always been intrigued by the Western world and am excited to continue growing in this space.”
Alyssa Carson, Mars Astronaut Trainee
Can you describe the perseverance it took to attend every NASA space camp and graduate from the Advanced Space Academy as the youngest person in history to do so? “I was always interested in space and wanted to make the most out of any opportunities that I could find. Attending all of the space camps and joining Project PoSSUM was very busy but I was able to really get an idea as to what I was interested in and what I wanted to do in the future. It was always what I was interested in doing so it didn't feel like hard work; it was all fun.”
What is your motivation for pursuing a mission to Mars? And do you feel you share the same spirit as the pioneering cowboy in your pursuits? “I think that in general humans have a need and a want to explore. Whether that was the American frontier or space. We are super curious and always wanting to learn more. I think going to Mars is important because it leads to so many advantages. The technology we will invent to make the mission possible, the resources that will be available for future generations, and the science that will be learned are all essential to continuing our path as humans.”
Can you touch on the similarities between the American explorers from our past and the "Mars generation" who are striving to be the first to step on the red planet? “There are a lot of similarities between the way cowboys moved westward and the idea of moving to Mars. In both cases, there is a lot of uncertainty but without taking the first step in doing something crazy like moving westward or going to Mars, we won't be able to reap the benefits of it. Moving westward led to many opportunities for future generations that we still use and the mission to Mars is planned to have the same kind of outcome. It is all about actually doing it when no one else has.”
What motivates you, day in and day out, to continue pursuing your dream? “There is a lot that has motivated me to continue pursuing my interest in space. Firstly, space was what I was passionate about and I knew I wanted to contribute to the space industry in some way. Secondly, keeping a balanced life was really important. I was able to keep my interest in space because I wasn't always talking about space, so when I got an opportunity I was super excited to do it. Thirdly, learning about all of the benefits of space has made me want to do this even more. There is so much we can gain from going to space and I would like to be a part of that in any way that I can.”