[KHTS] – A Valencia High School student’s project called “Humans of Valencia” is drawing the attention of hundreds of Santa Clarita Valley residents who are following it on social media.
The project’s creator, 17-year-old Valencia High senior Hayden Rusk, takes pictures of other students and asks them thought-provoking questions about their life. Their pictures and accompanying stories are then posted on the project’s Instagram and Twitter accounts.
“I was inspired by Brandon Stanton. He started a Humans of New York project,” Rusk said. “I’ve seen that countless times and I’ve been really inspired by it. I wanted to bring that to Valencia so I picked up my camera. I bring it to school every day, and at lunch and in my open periods, I go around school and find kids who look interesting to me and I ask them a few questions.”
Launched on the first day of school last month, Humans of Valencia has garnered more than 1,000 followers on Twitter and more than 650 followers on Instagram.
“When I first started, it was a little weird,” Rusk said. “Not a lot of people respond well when you ask to take their picture. But as it grew, now when I go up to people they already know what it is and what it’s for and they’re really excited about it.”
Rusk has a broad spectrum of questions he tends to ask, including the happiest moment of their life, their biggest struggle and something they’re passionate about.
“I usually go for kids who are either by themselves or who separate themselves from the crowd in the way that they dress or the way that they act,” he said. “It’s usually kids who are not part of the norm, who have their own opinions and who are very passionate… Anything that they’re willing to share with me I’m willing to hear, and kids really tend to open up. That says a lot, how they can open up to a total stranger who walks up to them. I think it’s great.”
In addition to interviewing other students, Rusk also approaches teachers, school staff or people he sees around campus.
“Anything that’s really going on at school, I try to document through people,” he said.
The most recent post attributed to Valencia High student Angelo Padlan tells a story about Padlan’s grandparents:
“I had a hard time dealing with the death of my grandparents. They lived in the Philippines, and I very rarely saw them. One Christmas, they surprised us and showed up at the door. I had never felt emotions like that. They brought very cheap gifts, but I didn’t mind. All I could care about was seeing them.”
Dozens of other personal stories and accompanying pictures have been posted since the project’s creation in August.
Rusk is an award-winning filmmaker, whose short film “Child Abduction PSA” was named “Best PSA” at the All American High School Film Festival in New York last year.
His music video, “Sloppy Seconds,” which aims to raise awareness about the consequences of drug addiction, is an official selection of this year’s festival and is nominated for “Best Music Video,” he said.
Rusk is set to travel to New York at the end of October to participate in the festival.