Billings high school graduates will claim 1,150 diplomas today. Those strolls across the stage are the latest step in educational journeys that began many years ago with their parents and families.
As Billings strives to improve its schools to better meet student needs, it is gratifying that members of the Class of 2013 understand that the path to graduation starts in long before graduation or high school. When the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools invited valedictorians from Central, Senior, Skyview and West to name the teachers who had the greatest positive impact on them, excellent high school teachers were listed. But several valedictorians reached back to primary grades.
Rob English, Treve Icenoggle, Tanner Nelson, Hannah Ulrichs and Megan Wellard met in first grade at Eagle Cliff Elementary. Tonight, they will give five of the six brief valedictory speeches at Skyview High’s commencement.
Asked to name the teacher who had the greatest positive influence on them, English and Icenoggle went back to elementary school where Travis Niemeyer taught them eighth-grade algebra in sixth grade. In fifth grade, Niemeyer started a class project in which students made and sold blankets and used the money to help needy people in Africa buy livestock. Niemeyer is now principal at Newman Elementary.
“His greatest lesson to me was to always do what I believe is right, even if no one else agrees,” Icenoggle said of his fifth- and sixth-grade teacher.
“He always challenged us and sent us off to middle school ready to succeed,” English said.
Central’s valedictorian, Kehley Ann Grosulak, says her fourth-grade teacher, Pat Lowthian, had the greatest impact on her.
“She taught me at an early age to stand up for what I believe in and to dream big,” Grosulak wrote. “She made a dent in my bad English habits and inspired my faith. Mrs. Lowthian formed me into the leader I would become.”
Kimberly Bray, one of 13 valedictorians in the Senior High Class of 2013, still praises her third grade teacher, Mrs. Bertelson, whose “encouragement is what first sparked my determination to succeed.”
Senior valedictorian Thomas Merchant plans to study history at Brown University. A fourth-grade teacher got him interested in reading and history. “Charlie Bokum at Poly Drive was the teacher who really made me enjoy learning, especially about history.”
Senior grad Paige Driscoll credits her kindergarten teacher, Karen Marcotte. “She made me happy to come to school to learn,” the valedictorian said.
Marcus Jolovich, another Senior valedictorian, remembers his third-grade teacher, Linda Auch, for encouraging him to advance a year in math.
Amanda Canan, one of 12 West High valedictorians, fondly remembers Mrs. Welch at Meadowlark Elementary. “I was new at the school and she made me so welcome. She taught so many fun and unique lessons, and I still remember it being so much fun.” Canan says that several of her teachers inspired her to pursue a teaching career.
West valedictorian Dustin Scheie recalls how his fifth-grade teacher, Janet Steinbeisser, challenged him to do his best in a difficult year. He’s had a 4.0 GPA ever since.
Some of today’s graduates will continue their education in Billings, many will leave their hometown to attend college, some will leave Montana. Others are looking for summer and permanent jobs.
We congratulate all 1,150 of them. Billings welcomes the Class of 2013 to participate fully in the life of our community. And for those whose plans take them away from home, we hope they will return to enjoy and work in our great and growing city. We will welcome them back any time.