JEFFERSON — Jefferson High School graduates on Sunday walked out of a school full of opportunity into a world rich with even more possibilities.
The 155 members of the Class of 2019 officially commenced their adult life Sunday afternoon before a packed house of family members, friends and supporters at Jefferson High School.
Serving as the keynote speaker for the event was Diane Erdman, an alumna of the school from the Class of 1990.
Erdman, a doctor of pharmacy, said she doesn’t remember who served as speaker for her graduation 29 years ago, but she does recall the excitement of her fellow graduates and the pride on the faces of her parents and grandparents.
She noted that current school Superintendent Mark Rollefson, principal Steve Dinkel, and teacher Joan Fitzgerald were all starting their careers about that time, while current teacher Greg Fetherston was one of her classmates.
Having achieved success in her career as a pharmacist, supervisor and leader in her state’s pharmacy system, Erdman shared some advice that had helped her along the way and which could help current graduates build the futures they want.
First, she said, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
In pharmacy school, she learned to say, “I’ll look it up and get back to you,” rather than remaining uninformed for fear of looking dumb.
“Life is about trial and error,” she said.
As a leader, when she doesn’t have the answer, that provides a great opportunity to engage members of her team and show she values their opinions and input.
Secondly, Erdman advised making as many friends as possible —- in the business sense, to “network.”
She said she believes networking led to her jobs at an Army clinic at Fort McPherson and with Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta, Ga.
By nature, Erdman admitted to being an introvert, and she said she had to develop extrovert characteristics, as well as to “embrace to complex diversity of the people around me.”
Third, Erdman advised the graduates to be open to new experiences, and in so doing, to plan for change and to have goals.
“I never thought I’d be a pharmacy manager overseeing other pharmacists taking care of patients, nor being a leader charged with implementing new ambulatory care pharmacy services across a statewide health system,” she said.
Finally, Erdman said, “Brace yourself for the future. Think on your feet and learn to adapt. You career path may become obsolete, or some gadget will transform your field forever.
“Be ready for change, but ... set goals. You may take a different course, but never stop moving forward,” she said.
Also taking the podium was Logan Wegner, Class of 2019 president, who offered the welcome speech.
Wegner recognized all of the families, teachers and other supporters in the audience who were there for the students over the years.
“We thank you for not only being there when we stole that pass, or rocked that choir solo, or aced that test, but more importantly, for the moments when we missed the final shot, bombed that quiz or when every cell in our bodies was crippled by chronic senioritis.
“It’s your support that has pushed us to being right here on this stage,” he said.
Valedictorian Mariah Linse, top-ranked student in terms of academics, centered her remarks on how most days are not actually extraordinary, but we should strive to recognize the extraordinary in every day and to celebrate it.
Talking with friends on the track team, Linse said, she and her friends latched onto that idea and decided to start each track practice talking about a moment that brought them joy.
Their warm-up laps started with the question, “What was your moment?”
She challenged the soon-to-be graduates to seek out and recognize their own “moments,” whether it’s Mr. Gotto convincing them “swiggy dogs” are a real breed or when Mr. Lehman enthusiastically yelled ‘Go Eagles’ over the announcements for the hundredth time.
“What about when Braden (Howard) was voted prom king? How about when you looked through your photos from freshman year and wondered why you had to go through the neon phase?” she asked.
She quoted Paulo Coelho in his book “The Alchemist” as saying, “When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day the sun rises.”
If you spend your life waiting for the next big thing — the bell to ring, the class to end, walking out the doors — you are missing out on the little moments.
“Time goes by no matter how you decide to spend it. Spent it well. Spend it in the present moment. Spend it finding the positives in each moment,” she said. “Spent it with people you love, doing things you love. Spend it by not just merely living, but by feeling truly alive.”
Salutatorian Lucas Bauer, second-ranked in the class in terms of academics, urged the soon-to-be graduates to find what they are passionate about and do it to the best of their ability.
High school has been full of opportunities, from sports to clubs to “passion projects” to extracurriculars of all kinds, he pointed out.
“I know personally there have been times when I have spent more time at school than outside of it,” he said. All of these experiences, in school and out, have made today’s graduates who they are and prepared them for the future.”
He quoted a Japanese philosopher as saying, “If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things.”
“To me, this means that if we know ourselves as we have come to in the last four years, then our paths will be clear and our lives full of happiness and fulfillment,” he said.
The foreign-exchange students spoke about their experiences during their year in the local community. These were Lara Belschner of Germany; Jael Detering, also of Germany; and Naphatsaphon “Yaya” Pimkhot of Thailand.
While in Jefferson, Belschner stayed with Jim and Barb van Lieshout, while the other two stayed with Rebekah and Brandon Kellogg.
Belschner recalled several memorable moments from the past year, from attending fieldtrips with classes she wasn’t in, to getting photo updates every week on Mr. Schwei’s son, to Mr. Buchholz “not supporting me in my dream of being the next president of the United States.”
She fondly remembered the various sporting events she attended, fish fry Fridays with her host parents (even though she doesn’t like fish that much) and all of the times she and friends went to Culver’s for mini Concrete Mixers with strawberries and peanutbutter cups.
“Of course, the trip to L.A. was really awesome,” she said.
“Since I am German, I am not really good at sentimental stuff, but I really want to say thank you to all the teachers who supported me, to all of the friends I have great memories with, and of course, special thanks to my host parents who supported me even when I didn’t want it — especially regarding all of the basketball games they shouldn’t have attended!”
Belschner said she has learned a lot during her time in Jefferson, meeting new friends and trying a lot of new things. And she finally has learned to find her way around and to bolt her food down within the abbreviated American lunch period.
Detering said that when she came to the U.S., her only knowledge of the country came from movies, and everything surprised her.
“I remember the first time I walked into the band room, expecting a regular concert band. What I didn’t expect was two hours of marching in the sun. Marching and playing!”
She said she tried cross country, finding the sport super-exhausting, but fun, and she made incredible friends on the team.
In the spring, she joined the softball team, which was like learning an entirely new language.
“I didn’t understand anything. I had never seen the game before and until I saw it, practice was for me just wild running in the gym. But the more I watched and learned, the more I understood, and I learned to love the game.
“I also learned how important sport is to Americans,” she said. “If you do a sport, it is really competitive and takes up all your time. Unbelievable how I managed to do more sport than I ever did in my life, but still gained so much weight.”
The winter provided another surprise with its deep freeze.
“It was so cold, Wisconsin made the news in Germany, and the local newspaper asked me to write an article about how to live in the cold,” she said.
Detering thanked her host family for supporting her in so many ways as she experienced Jefferson and America.
“This exchange year has changed me as a person,” she said. “I have learned a lot about America, but also about myself ... A part of me will always stay here in Jefferson.”
Pimkhot said she suffered from serious self-doubt on her way over to the U.S.
“I kept asking myself, ‘What did I do? Did I lose my mind? I can’t speak English at all. How could I even communicate with people?’ Also, 18 hours on the plane was just so painful.”
When she arrived, people had trouble with her name — no one could pronounce her given name, Naphatsaphon, so it’s fortunate she had a nickname, “Yaya,” which everyone can say.
But don’t ask her to speak Chinese, she noted. She’s not from that part of Asia!
Pimkhot, too, said that the Wisconsin winters took her by surprise.
“I thought I liked the cold, but now I’m not sure,” she said.
“I never saw snow before. When I saw snow for the first time, I went outside and started to walk on the snow without wearing any shoes and then I took a picture and sent it to everyone on Snapchat.
“Reese Gee sent me a message back,” the exchange student said. “She was worried I was going to get frostbite.
“One time the weather was so cold, my friends and I walked from Culver’s to the (Johnson Creek) cinema,” Pimkhot recalled. “I didn’t think it was going to make us feel so painful because of the cold. I felt like I was going to die.
“The guy that works at the cinema instantly asked us, ‘Are you OK?’ when he saw our faces.
But now all of the extreme cold stories and snow stories are filed with the rest of her American experience, alongside sports, AFS companions, and her supportive host family.
“I’m glad I get to meet and know everyone. For me, this is not just one year in my life — but another life in one year,” she said.
Principal Dinkel then officially presented the class and Superintendent Rollefson officially accepted the class.
Presenting diplomas were school board member Ron Bauer and Donna Bente, school board president.
Providing musical selections, the Jefferson High School combined choirs performed “Into the West,” while the high school’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble performed “Fields of Gold.”