JEFFERSON — The Jefferson Optimist Club on Wednesday honored seven students from area schools as “Optimists of the Year.”
The students were selected by their teachers and administration as exemplifying the ideals set out in the Optimist Creed. Honorees include:
Addison Houston, the daughter of Brady and Kendra Houston, From East Elementary School; Maddie Dehnert, daughter of Tom and Melanie Dehnert, Sullivan Elementary School; Olivia Miller, daughter of Kevin and Jessica Miller, West Elementary School; Kena Eighmy, daughter of Jason and Tricia Eighmy, St. John the Baptist Catholic School; Jacob Danielson, son of Eric and Linda Danielson, St. Peter’s Lutheran School in Helenville; Daniel Germundson, son of Brian and Laryssa Germundson, St. John’s Lutheran School in Jefferson; Abigail Moreno, daughter of Lucia Pedraza, Jefferson Middle School; and Logan Dzielinski, son of Richard and Sandra Dzielinski, Jefferson High School.
Nick Skretta, Sullivan Elementary School principal and a former recipient of the student Optimist award back in 1999, served as master of ceremonies for the event, while Mark Rollefson, superintendent of the School District of Jefferson, did the honors as guest speaker.
Rollefson said it was an honor to address students and families who exemplify the Optimist Creed, which states:
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind;
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet;
To make all your friends feel that there is something (worthwhile) in them;
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true;
To think only of the best, to work only for the best and expect only the best;
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own;
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future;
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile;
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others;
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
Instead of heading right into a speech, Rollefson led an interactive activity that got students and family members talking around their tables about the meaning of optimism, how they represent that trait, whether they’ll always be an optimist, and what the opposite of optimism is.
Rollefson commended the student honorees for the attitudes that had earned them this award. However, he said, along with the gifts they had been given come great expectations, and the responsibility to be positive leaders.
He then offered his answers to a few of those questions. He noted that optimism is not automatic — that it must be practiced, and their natural optimism will face challenges over the years.
And he spoke to the “opposite” of optimism, which Rollefson defined not as “pessimism,” but, rather, the downside of the positive trait.
In other words, people who exhibit optimism must be careful that their positive attitude is not seen as complacency, aloofness or superiority, the superintendent said.
Besides looking on the bright side, they always must be careful to cultivate their empathy and compassion and to truly engage with others.
Principals and teachers representing the seven schools then introduced their schools’ honorees.
Skretta, introducing Maddie Dehnert, commended the Sullivan fifth-grader’s positive nature and attitude toward her teachers and all of her peers.
He said she puts herself before others, helps others see the best in any situation and helps find solutions to problems.
Her teacher, Greg Jeffries, called Dehnert a great student and friend in and out of the classroom, someone who leads by example and always puts forth her best effort.
Jake Wichman, East Elementary School principal, introduced his school’s honoree, Addison Houston.
The principal said he actually sought comments from Houston’s teachers from throughout her school years.
Her kindergarten teacher called her a “ray of sunshine,” willing to participate in anything.
Her first-grade teacher commended her super-positive attitude and “heart of gold.”
Her second-grade teacher said Houston is the student every teacher would like to have in class, calling her a role model and a “spark who ignites others to follow their passions.”
Her third-grade teacher said Houston exhibits respect for everyone and a helpful demeanor.
The student’s fourth-grade teacher noted that the honoree is willing to praise the successes of others as much as her own.
And her fifth-grade teacher said that Houston could double as the school mascot, the Sun, as “East is where the Sun Comes Up.”
She does her best work and leaves past mistakes behind, pressing on to do better in the future, “even through fractions,” the teacher said with a smile.
“The Optimist Creed could have been written for her,” the teacher said. “She works to make everything around her better every day.”
West Elementary School principal Mike Howard introduced Olivia Miller, commending her vivacious attitude and involvement in numerous activities, including Stained Glass Club and Chess Club.
Recently, due to a shortage of substitutes, Howard said, he’d had the honor of serving as Miller’s classroom teacher for a short time, and he urged Miller to “continue being that girl who keeps raising her hand.
“I am really proud of her,” the principal said. Then addressing the honoree, he went on to say, “Stay engaged. Keep that energy going. You are going to be something special.”
St. John the Baptist Catholic School principal Bill Bare said that before he even came to the school, he had heard amazing stories about his school’s honoree, Kena Eighmy.
She never complains no matter how she feels physically, and always pitches in, the principal said.
He said Eighmy is loved by her classmates and looked up to by younger students, serving as a great role model.
“Thank you for representing St. John the Baptist Catholic,” he said.
Craig Winkler, principal of St. Peter’s Lutheran School, introduced Jacob Danielson, opening his comments with the tale of how the honoree had gotten a big shiner and goose egg the day before and still had gone about his day with a smile, saying, “This is not so bad.”
Then today, Winkler said, Danielson turned his injury to a source of merriment, coming to school sporting a pair of mirrored shades.
“He always brings his best to school,” Winkler said of the St. Peter’s honoree. “He has a real can-do attitude.”
If he doesn’t understand something right away, he noted, Danielson doesn’t stress over it, but just tries another way.
The principal called Danielson “a good teammate, whether he’s on the softball field or in math class,” and commended his willingness to try forensics last year and the mirth he stirred among younger students as he constantly added something new to his presentation.
“He’s a real team player, and I’m proud to have him represent St. Peter’s,” Winkler said.
Teacher Megan Troeber of St. John Lutheran said it had been a honor to get to know her school’s honoree, Daniel Germundson.
She called him kind, respectful, and a quiet leader who makes good choices and serves as a role model for others.
Despite personal challenges this year, Germundson continued to be a positive influence on his eighth-grade class, the teacher said.
“I hope and pray he continues to lead by example as he goes on to high school next year,” she said.
Substitute principal Larry Gierach introduced the Jefferson Middle School honoree, Abigail Moreno. He cited her teachers as commending her energy, her commitment to standing up for other students, her independence, her advocacy and her determination.
A rare female on the wrestling team, Moreno has worked hard to break down barriers in athletics and to excel as she represents her school, her gender and herself.
A positive student who works well with anyone, she values education and takes pride in her work, Gierach said.
He described Moreno as a natural leader who is personable and kind, someone whom other students seek out when they have been bullied.
Jefferson High School principal Steve Dinkel said that after 30 years in the field of education, he has gotten to know thousands of students, but Logan Dzielinski really stands out in a positive way.
The high school principal called Dzielinski a quiet leader who gets the job done, day in and day out.
The student has a positive attitude, a great work ethic and is trusted with the technology education department’s “Fab Lab” keys, where it’s possible he spends even more time than the teacher, the principal said.
Dzielinski was recently recognized as the Technology Education Department’s Outstanding Student of the Year.
Dinkel said he researched in vain trying to find some “dirt” on Dzielinski, but the word that kept coming up was “nice.”
The high school honoree is an asset in the classroom and out, the principal said, citing Dzielinski’s involvement in track and cross-country and noting that even though the student originally was not going to go out for track, he wound up being the “go-to” guy when it came to filling slots in distance races this year when others were out with injuries.
And, for full disclosure’s sake, Dinkel noted that this honoree has to be brave — and well-behaved — to date the principal’s daughter.
Capping off the evening, the Optimist Club announced Dzielinski as the recipient of the 2019 Student Optimist of the Year Scholarship, in the amount of $1,000. That scholarship will be presented during the school’s Senior Awards Assembly at the end of the month.