KILN -- With a full-tuition scholarship up for grabs -- and the guidelines open for interpretation -- a Hancock High School senior took a square and made it multi-dimensional.
Limiting himself to a space enclosed by four lines isn't how Trevor Ladner operates.
The 17-year-old, who is at the top of his class and is slated to be this year's salutatorian, knew he wanted to do something different when he applied Dec. 4 for the Tulane University Dean's Honors Scholarship.
The scholarship's guidelines were vague -- express yourself using just the outline of a square.
"The first thing I thought of was how society puts people into boxes, and I wanted to express that in a way that was creative and yet still got the message across," Ladner said Thursday, just before having his photo taken for "Most Unique" senior for the school's Who's Who.
Ladner, with the help of friend Mattlan Ladner, produced an eight-minute video that aims to challenge the boxes society puts people in. He focused on gender roles.
Trevor is a drag artist who enjoys makeup and the stage. With support from his family, he's participated in a few drag shows. He said he's saving the money he earns from the shows for college. And he's hoping his video performance will help him get into Tulane, one of his top three higher-education preferences.
"Growing up, I always thought it was weird that I was the only boy who liked dolls and who liked theater, and I always felt weird because of it.
"I couldn't hang out with my friends because they were all girls and I wasn't allowed to go to their houses. I was bullied a lot in elementary school because of it, a lot of physical bullying."
By the time he was in middle school, he said, he had to completely hide who he was. But that was five years ago.
"Now, I've realized that in order for people to change, you have to be open to who you are. This is who I am. You're going to have to accept it because I'm a human being just like you."
The video, which is posted on YouTube, shows Ladner's transformation on a visual platform.
"My concept was to start off with me looking like I do every day, like a boy, and to go through the process of getting into full-face drag," he said, "then reversing the video to show how society takes that away."
Rather than stay inside of the square's four lines, Ladner unpacked the box that contained his makeup, false eyelashes, contouring kit and an Elmer's Glue Stick.
The glue stick, he said, helps hold his natural eyebrows down so he can draw over them. His eyebrows for the video are deep green.
The script Ladner wrote talks about "gender roles and society puts people into boxes on how they should act according to the sex they're assigned at birth."
It took 2½ hours to shoot the video and three days to edit and produce it, he said.
"The final line is, 'Putting things into boxes is for moving out,'" he said. "'Unpack your places in the world.' I used that analogy because people tend to make you hide who you are, and you may be content with life, but you can't achieve those things that you want to achieve and be the person you want to be because society is telling you that person is wrong."
The video has been watched more than 1,700 times on YouTube. Ladner said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
"My dad told me that it really opened his eyes, and he learned a lot from it that he didn't think of before, about gender nonconformity and about me personally," he said. "My grandparents called my mom and said, 'We love Trevor no matter what.'"
Amanda Pidgeon, Ladner's advanced placement English professor, was excited to watch his scholarship-application video, which she praised as bold. She said he doesn't think inside of the box in the classroom.
"You don't get a lot of Trevors," she said. "He's truly gifted. He's smart, he's intelligent, he thinks. And that's truly rare."
Regarding the response from friends and family, Ladner said, "It was really unexpected, but I just put it out there and I'm going to let the world receive it as it is, and whatever happens, happens."
He will know Tuesday if he is accepted into Tulane. He'll know if he receives the scholarship in February.
He's also applied to the University of Southern California and the University of Mississippi.