“I Want to Give Back”

Olivia Tourtlotte has her sights set on helping others

Editor’s Note: Olivia Tourtlotte is the winner of YVW’s Empowered Women Scholarship. The scholarship sought out a student who shines scholastically and has character, leadership and community spirit. Olivia qualified on all counts. She received a $1,000 scholarship to start her freshman year at University of Colorado Boulder.  

Few 18-year-olds have a laser focus on their future, but most 18-year-olds aren’t Olivia Tourtlotte. Sitting down with this new high school graduate, you see she’s wise beyond her years. It shows when she shares her pastimes. It shows when she talks about her passions. And, it shows by the company she keeps.

As the daughter of Shanna Tourtlotte, a woman who owns a string of senior home health care businesses, Olivia grew up around those in their golden years. She learned how to listen and says she took great joy in hearing the stories of those who’d lived a long and full life.

Colonel Frank Borman, a 94-year-old retired NASA astronaut, veteran, former USAF pilot and airline CEO, is one of them.

“He’s very wise,” Olivia says. “We both love literature.” It’s why Barnes and Noble has been a favorite spot and why they’ve had numerous chats about poetry.

“He actually doesn’t put as much emphasis on his service at NASA or in the military,” Olivia says. “He puts a lot of it on his family and his wife, Susan. His NASA adventures are crazy. He was telling me about all the rigorous training they had to go through and how he wasn’t nervous so much for himself. He was nervous about his wife back on Earth as he was circling the moon.”

As Olivia gets ready to venture off into the world, she holds Borman’s words of wisdom close to her heart. “He told me, ‘You can change the world if you pursue your passions humbly and selflessly.” She adds, “He always tells me, ‘Press on. Whatever you do, do it 100 percent.’”

If you look at Olivia’s high school career, it’s clear she’s followed that advice for years. From being the goalkeeper for Central High School’s state championship soccer team to helping launch a club for future medical professionals, to the Environmental Club and the group Kids Connecting Kids to being on the Student Council and playing in the pep band, Olivia has lived a life of deep involvement.

Of all her passions, music speaks to her the most.

“I play four instruments proficiently and I play another three on the side,” she says. Viola might be her top instrument, but she also dabbles in guitar, piano and violin.  “I think music transports me to a different world. I forget where I am in the moment and I really attach a lot of my emotions to the individual notes and the melodies they create.” She says she’s so in tune, “My heart seems to match the rhythm and I can feel the beat flowing through me. It’s a really cool sensation.”

Over the years, she’s used her love of music to mentor younger musicians, to play for charity events and for those in senior care facilities.

“We would go visit my great-grandma (in senior living) and that’s something that I would do when I was there,” Olivia says. “She really enjoyed that. It was a little while later when I realized she wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it. There were others who were sitting on the outskirts or walking by. Music brings people together.”

If you drive downtown, you’ll have the chance to see another mark of Olivia’s successful high school career. After her senior class voted her to be the artist for the citywide War of the Walls contest put on by Master Lube, Olivia created a larger-than-life mural depicting a contemporary drawing of her school’s mascot – the ram. Bold splashes of green and white stand in high contrast to the black background. Surrounded by friends and family, she spent a night tracing her image onto the brick “canvas” and two full days with the help of three friends painting in all the detail. At the end of it all, Olivia held the trophy as the contest winner.

“I walked in one night after work and my mom and dad were sitting at the kitchen table kind of looking at me funny. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ They said, ‘You won.’ ‘Won what?’ ‘The War of the Walls, and not only that, but you got 50 percent of the vote,’” Olivia says.

Even today, knowing she took the top prize is a bit surreal. She started playing with the design as a junior in high school and was stunned when the senior class picked her art to represent the school. “Even the little mistakes on the mural, I think it just gives it character,” she says. “The memories that we made are what I see when I look back at the painting.”

In the fall, Olivia will head off to the University of Colorado Boulder.

“After four years of undergrad, I am going to dental school,” she says. “After those four years, I am going to do a specialized dental school and hopefully become an endodontist.” Then she laughs and adds, “I’ve always loved going to the dentist. That’s a weird little fact about me.”

She goes on to share that while she hopes to open a family-based dental practice, she’d love to one day use her skills to be a part of Doctors Without Borders, to provide dental care to people in other countries who lack access to basic healthcare.

When she’s told she has a selfless nature, she quickly deflects.

“It all comes back to my mom and what she’s taught me and how she’s helped me become who I am today,” Olivia says. “She lived in Forsyth, Montana, in a single-wide trailer and her family lived from paycheck to paycheck. She put herself through college and she would go back every weekend to help her dad at the grocery store.” Oliva adds, “She always told me that if you commit to something, make sure you follow through with it.”

As she looks at her mom’s work ethic and dedication to her family, Olivia says she wants to leave a similar legacy. 

“I want to leave something special behind,” she says, “whether it’s for one person or many. I want to give back.” 


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