Monticello High School Class of 2017 valedictorians recall academic efforts

The six students chosen this year as Monticello High School Class of 2017 valedictorians – Becca Olson, Emily Vetsch, Emily Dahlke, Mackenzie Turner, Josie Warmka, and Kayla Juntunen – all have perfect 4.0 grade point averages, an impressive academic accomplishment.

The group is also well-rounded when it comes to taking a quick tally of their involvement in numerous community, club, and extra-curricular activities.

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” a book written and illustrated by children’s author Dr. Seuss, concerns the journey of life and its challenges. It’s a wonderful tome to consult each year around graduation time.

After speaking with the six valedictorians from the Class of 2017, this quote from the book comes directly to mind:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

This year’s valedictorians agreed that teachers at Little Mountain Elementary School and Pinewood Elementary played huge roles during the early parts of their academic careers.

Making friends was a critical part of those early school years, Warmka said in an interview with the Monticello Times. “I kept blooming from this little seed who didn’t say a word, Warmka said.

“Going to the middle school was terrifying. I was so afraid of all of you guys.”
But by the time time the studetns reached high school, they were all friends, Olson agreed.

“One prominent memory from elementary school for me was going to Junior Achievement Biztown for a field trip in fifth grade,” Juntunen said. “Also, I remember getting stuck in my jacket in first grade so the janitor had to come, and he used a plier, but ended up breaking my zipper. Another memory I have of elementary school is walking down the hallway in two lines behind the teacher and everyone wanted to be the one to hold the teacher’s hand.”

In middle school, this year’s group of valedictorians was still trying to figure out where they were going to fit in and who their friends were going to be, Olson said.

“Coming to the high school, we had to go through it all over again,” Olson said. “We did it together. That’s what’s so unique about our class. We are all together and having a good time, In my opinion, there never were huge separations between anybody. We’re just here. We have groups of friends, but if you throw us all together, we’ll have a good time. That’s what I loved the most.”

Olson played volleyball and softball, and was a weightlifter the past two years. She was crowned Monticello Homecoming Queen last fall.

“I was really honored by that,” she said. Olson was also involved the Interact Club, and did volunteer work. “It showed me how to be a leader and help others,” she said. Olson was also involved in the recently established ninth grade mentorship program and is a National Honor Society member.

Vetsch played soccer all four years at Monticello High School. She said she was was lucky enough to be captain senior year. “That was really a fun experience,” she said. “I also did track ninth grade.” Vetsch is also a National Honor Society member, math team member, played in the MHS wind ensemble, and is in Teens Against Tobacco Use, and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) “This year I also joined student council,” Vetsch said.

Dahlke played volleyball in ninth grade, but gave up that sport and others to pursue dance. “I was honored to be captain last year and this year,” she said. It was a really fun experience to watch the team grow.” Dahlke joined student council in ninth grade, and has been involved in the ninth grade mentorship program. She played in wind ensemble. and is a National Honor Society member.

Turner participated in gymnastics for 12 years, and competed five years on the high school team. She started as seventh grader. “I didn’t continue with it this year,” she said. “Twelve years is too many, I did track this year as a pole vaulter; it’s kind of a subcommunity on the track team.”

Turner also participated in diving, was involved with Teens Against Tobacco Use, SADD, and served as a ninth grade mentor.

Two years ago, Turner was commissioned by the MHS English Department to paint a mural. “That was a very fun experience,” she said.

Warmka didn’t continue with track and field after seventh grade. She joined the golf team in eighth grade. “I like to ski and hike,” she said. Warmka was also involved in Interact and traveled to Germany as a Rotary exchange student. In Germany she played in three different orchestras, and has played violin since she was age 5. “I was an active member in Rotary when in Germany, and we did a lot of projects,” she said. “My proudest moment was when I did a project to help out Syrian refugees.”

Juntunen took band for four years, and was in running club for a couple years in elementary school. “I was not super involved at the high school because I did Post Secondary for junior and senior year at St. Cloud State University,” she said.

All six valedictorians had high praise for their teachers and advisers at Monticello High School.

“I love every teacher here,” Olson said. “They are so good at teaching,” Warmka agreed, pointing out that MHS teachers go the extra mile with students. “They have been great people who have done great things for us.” Olson added the teachers at MHS get to know students as people, and help in any way they can. “If you are having trouble with your home life, they are there to help you,” she said.

Olson specifically credited Spanish teachers Allison Coalwell and Andrea Hogg.

Vetsch said her high school teachers made the last four years fun and memorable. Olson added, “Since we are all in a language, the beauty about being in one of those classes, and everyone should take a language, not only does it give you an exposure to a culture, and it’s amazing to learn a new language and diversify yourself, but it helps you break out of your shell and explore the unknown things you are not comfortable with. I was a pretty loud kid when I was younger. Language took that to a new level. I’m more outgoing than before.”

Turner thanked Randy Stoick for prompting her interest in engineering as a college major, and Brett Krohn for teaching band and orchestra. All six of this year’s valedictorians have post-secondary education plans.

This fall, Olson said she will be attending the University of Montana, double-majoring in documentary film and photojournalism, with a minor in Spanish and cultural studies. “I just want to live my life out in the mountains. That’s my plan. I hope to join the Peace Corps, too.”

Vetsch will attend St. Olaf College in Northfield with a pre-med concentration and minor in Spanish. “Hopefully, I will be playing soccer for the varsity team. I want to be a surgeon.”

Dahlke will attend the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, with a major in mechanical engineering. “My goal is to live in a huge city, like Chicago or New York City, that’s my dream.”

Turner will be heading down Interstate 94 to the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, majoring in neuroscience and be enrolled in a pre-med track. “I want to be an orthopedic surgeon,” she said. “I’m looking at the University of Minnesota Medical School. I want to study abroad at some point. I want a Spanish minor as well.”

Warmka will also attend the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, “I’m interested in Political Science and Global Studies, with a focus on World Economics, and a minor in German,” Warmka said. “And I want a minor in another language and would like to pick up Arabic, and I’m planning to go to Morocco.”

Juntunen said she’s going to attend St. Cloud State University and study nursing.
All six valedictorians had messages of thanks for their parents, brothers, sisters, teachers, and friends.

“My parents have really shaped me into who I am,” Olson said. “They always taught me to get back up after being knocked down. Not everthing is going to go your way. You have to get up and keep going. I have three older brothers, and I would like to thank them, too, because they toughened me up a little. I owe a lot to them. Watching them grow has inspried me to be the best I can. I’ve been extremely blessed in my life. Thank you to all of my teachers. We are so lucky to be living in this community.”

Vetsch said she owed a huge thank you to her parents. “They’ve pushed me my entire life. I joined karate and they pushed me in that. I joined an amazing soccer club in the Twin Cities. They have done so much for me in my 17 years. My brother has always been there for me, and I owe him a huge thank you, even though we fight a lot.”

Dahlke said her parents and family have been hugely supportive. “They always push me to learn and grow more. My four siblings have influenced me too,” she said. “My older sister has shaped me, and my younger siblings, who are 14, 10, and age 8, even though they are smaller than me, they have influenced my life so much.”

Turner said her family meant everthing to her. “My parents have always been there for me,” she said. “They have always picked me up when I’m worked up over tests. They are always there for me. My older sister is a sophomore in college right now. I want to be like her. I want to be like that for younger sister, and I have a twin brother, and I’ll miss him, because I never had to show up anywhere alone at school functions.”

Warmka also thanks her parents, specifically, her Mom, “I’m independent to a fault, and she’s been so good about accepting that’s who I am, and encouraging me to do things and have opportunities,” she said. “She’s dealt with that really well. I think that my Dad likes to stress me on purpose. He sets my personal standard of what’s good. He gives me a reality check on the projects that I do. I have four younger siblings. They taught me patience and how to be a leader.”

Juntunen thanked her family, and her Dad. “A lot of what I’m doing is motivation to show him I can be independent and prove him wrong,” she said. “My twin sister and I compete a lot. My older brother has been there for me a lot, too.”

After graduation, all six valedictorians have travel plans. “I want to dedicate my life to travel,”Olson said. “I’m going to Costa Rica, this summer do a sea turtle conservation project, and immersing myself in the Spanish culture.”

Vetsch said she will be going on a trip to Chicago with her family. “I’m excited to go there,” she said. “I want to do as many things as possible, and go on day trips. I’m going to need to work a lot, because I’ll be poor paying for college.”

Dahlke said she is looking foward to joining Olson on the Costa Rica trip.
“I hope to experience a lot of things there. Between work and volunteering, there’s not going to be a lot of time for other stuff. I want to go to as many larger cities as possible,” she said.

Turner and her family are traveling to Europe this summer, “We are going to Italy for two weeks,” she said. “We are going to visit Rome, and Tuscany, and basically, we are going to see all the sites I’ve always wanted to see. That will take up half of July. I have two college orientations. One of them, I have to go up to Lake Itasca for a week for the College of Biological Sciences. I will be traveling for all of July.”

Warmka said she will be going camping with friends and family, and in July, will be taking a trip that she planned with friends from her foreign exchange. “We are going to go to Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. for a few weeks in July. I’m so excited. Then I will come back and have college orientations.”

Juntunen said this summer, she will be going to Alaska for two weeks on a church trip. “Other than that, I will be working a lot. And I’ll enjoy being out of school for a while.”

Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]