Meet Palliser's 2013 valedictorians

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Valedictorians from Palliser's high schools aren't only academically strong. They excel in other areas, including athletics, the arts and leadership.

Here's a look at the cream of the crop of the Class of 2013, introduced alphabetically by school.

Congratulations to all of our graduates!

Cassandra Wasik, Brant Christian School

Cassandra Wasik remembers joining the Brant Christian School community and feeling a bit in awe of the older students at the K-12 school.

As a newcomer to Brant in Grade 5, she remembers the day a Grade 8 student introduced herself and made an offer of friendship.

“She was a mentor to me throughout,” Wasik says. “Pretty soon, you’ve made friends with everyone.”

She says she realizes as a high school student, she’s become that role model for others.

“You just develop relationships with people,” she says. “The relationships you have with even the Grade 1-2s is dynamic and wonderful. . . I just love them. They make your day.”

Wasik’s family spent her early years living and doing mission work in Africa, before settling in High River. As the school year came to a close, the family was forced from their home by the worst flooding in Alberta history.

“Things are just things. You get so used to that, in the morning they’re there, in the afternoon they’re gone. . . It makes you thankful for the simple things, like a toothbrush.”

Wasik says one of her favourite courses was math, and she had the same math teacher since Grade 5.

“He understood how I learn and he made it fun for me,” she says.

She calls her teachers “mentors in faith.”

“They’re here to help you in your walk with God,” she says. “It’s so wonderful.”

Wasik plans to take a year off after high school to work before attending Mount Royal University to pursue her degree in nursing. Her hope is to travel, giving access to nursing care to people who might otherwise not have it.

“As soon as I got into high school, I knew I was called to help people.” 

McKenna DeWyn, Calgary Christian Secondary School

This year’s valedictorian at Calgary Christian Secondary School loved her high school so much, she stayed two years after she completed her diploma exams just to soak in more of the faith-infused programming.

DeWyn was skipped ahead two grades, to Grade 9 from Grade 7.

DeWyn says her elementary teachers offered her special projects and encouraged her to push herself academically, but by Grade 7, she was feeling her work was repetitive.

“I was bored in class and I was looking for more,” she says.

The leap to Grade 9 was “tough to get started, but I’m really glad I did it.”

With her diploma exams completed two years ago, she had the choice to graduate at age 15 or stay in school with with her same-age peers.

“I chose to stay,” she says. “I love the school so much.

“I don’t know a place that so welcoming and so intimate.”

She used the time to explore all kinds of options, including forensic sciences, psychology and Spanish. She performed in the school’s main stage production four years in a row. She captained the volleyball team this year and served on student council. On student council, she helped organize the Marit Cup, a staff versus student hockey game in memory of former student Marit McKenzie. The event raised money for a Palliser scholarship for students with a passion for the arts.

“That definitely made an impact,” she says.

DeWyn says she will miss the people of Calgary Christian.

“They really care about you and they take the time to take the time to take an interest in you,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed amazing relationships with students and faculty.”

This fall, she’ll follow in the footsteps of her parents and siblings, enrolling at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“Since I was 8 or 9, that was my plan,” she says.

The liberal arts school will give DeWyn an opportunity to explore a number of areas before she has to decide her major. Her interests range from medicine to teaching to theatre. 

Barbra Entz, Coalhurst High School

The valedictorian of Coalhurst High School was so impressed by the teachers she had at Coalhurst High School that this fall, she’ll head to the University of Lethbridge, in pursuit of a career teaching English.

“My English teachers, Diane Pommen and Arlene Purcell, have such a love of literature,” says Barbra Entz, crediting “all the teachers I’ve had, even though I didn’t like some of the subjects.”

Entz, whose sister Naomi was CHS valedictorian last year, says she’s wanted to be a teacher “for as long as I can remember.”

She says her graduating class was a tight-knit group of friends.

“Our class is amazing. It’s just great to spend time with them.”

She spent countless hours with classmates during preparation for and production of “Firedamp,” a play written by Purcell and performed in May in Lethbridge to sellout crowds. The play centres on Coalhurst’s mining history and the deadly explosion that led to closure of the mine.

“It was a lot of work, and sometimes we drove each other crazy, but everything was worth it,” says Entz.

“I remember coming to school and the first class I went to,” says Entz. “At graduation, I looked at so many of the same faces. I built so many relationships. The people just made it special.” 

Coleman Kettenbach, County Central High School, Vulcan

Coleman Kettenbach plans to parlay his interests in biology, chemistry and the environment into a career in alternative energy.

The County Central High School valedictorian will enrol in Dalhousie University in Halifax this fall in the institution’s esteemed Environment, Sustainability and Society program. He was drawn to the program after meeting with Dalhousie representatives at a career fair last fall in Lethbridge.

“I’ve always been interested in the environment and it’s a passion of mine,” he says. “It’s a relevant issue at this time.”

In Grade 11, he took an environmental stewardship course at his school, and a Vulcan-based expert in renewable energy, Matt Orr, visited County Central, further fuelling Kettenbach’s interest.

He will spend this summer working for a company that specializes in creating artificial wetlands in urban neighbourhoods.

Aside from the environment, Kettenbach is also passionate about sports, having played volleyball and basketball for the Hawks.

“That taught me the value of teamwork and co-operation,” he says.

He says he appreciated County Central’s teachers, coaching staff and principal.

“They become like good friends with you,” he says. “They really care about you and your success.”

Allison Burnett, Heritage Christian Academy, Calgary

Without even realizing it, the valedictorian at Heritage Christian Academy endorsed Palliser Regional Schools’ philosophy that the safe and caring culture of a school is foundational to student learning.

Allison Burnett joined HCA in Grade 8, moving from a much larger secular school.

“It was really good,” Burnett says of the change. “They were so friendly and really welcoming. It just helped me focus on my school work. I wasn’t worried as much about the social part of school.”

A strong academic, Burnett says her favourite classes were the sciences and math. She also loved the HCA music program and was part of the choir every year.

Highlights included gold medal performances at festivals in Vancouver last year and Chicago in 2011. This year the choir’s trip was mission-based, not competitive, with the choir performing at seniors homes in Lethbridge.

She says attending a K-12 school was initially intimidating. She now sees the wide age range of students a plus because the high school students serve as role models.

A member of student council, Burnett says she joined the rest of the Grade 12 class in visiting younger students’ classrooms to  lead devotions two days a month.

“The culture is just all about kindness, respecting people and showing Christ’s love,” she says.

Burnett plans to spend the next year at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, Calif.

The year there is intended to “grow in my relationship with God and just to find my identity.” The future may see her pursuing a career as a paramedic or as a doctor.

Courteney Rickert, Kate Andrews High School, Coaldale

Courteney Rickert doesn’t need any time at all to answer a question about the highlight of her time at Kate Andrews High School. Two words spring to her mind: Hockey Academy.

“It really brought a new aspect to school for me,” she says. “I’m very grateful I could do that.”

Rickert took part in the high school hockey program for three years through Grade 11, in addition to playing competitive hockey. Her team, the Lethbridge Barracudas, won silver in the Hockey Alberta Midget Female Provincials for the past two years.

She says the KAHS hockey program, with its morning ice time, kick-started her school day.

“It woke me up,” she says. “I definitely think it helped (in other areas). You focus on teamwork. It helps you communicate with everyone.”

Rickert excelled at academics and athletics, playing volleyball in Grades 9-10 and soccer on a community team, in addition to coaching a soccer team. She also served as president of the Leo Club, a service organization for young people affiliated with the West Lethbridge Lions Club.

Her love of sports also plays into her future plans. She’s been accepted to the University of Alberta where she plans to major in political science with a minor in economics. Her long-term goal is to become a lawyer, and her dream job would be corporate law as it pertains to sports.

“It would be the best of both worlds because I’d still be involved in sports,” she says.

She says she loved her time at Kate Andrews High School, in part because of the positive relationships she formed with teachers.

“The teachers really help and they encourage you. They’re always there if you need help.”

Matthaeus Ware, Master’s College, Calgary

Being named valedictorian at Master’s College was a highlight of a homecoming year for Matthaeus Ware.

Ware left Master’s College for a self-directed Catholic high school for his Grade 11 year, making the change to accommodate a demanding schedule at the School of Alberta Ballet.

An injury forced Ware to reassess his aspirations of becoming a professional dancer, so he set his sights back on Master’s, the school he’d attended since Grade 5. That return supported him through a difficult transition.

“It made me appreciate a lot of things that are unique about Master’s,” Ware says of his year away. “It’s a small school with small classes and a real sense of community.”

There were no real cliques dividing students, and there were real connections between students and staff, he says.

The faith-based school is also unique in that its student body is diverse. Not everyone is Christian, and that’s OK, he says. The faith program creates a positive atmosphere that can be enjoyed by everyone.

No longer devoting all his time to dance, Ware served as vice-president of student council, served on the graduation planning committee, and helped start a mentorship program that paired Grade 11 and 12 students with buddies in the elementary grades. Ware’s buddy was an “inventive, creative” Grade 2 student.

Ware, who serves on the Mayor’s Youth Council and plays violin, will be moving to Montreal to attend McGill University’s architecture program. He says he’s always been interested in architecture for its combination of science and art.

Bennardo Anker, Noble Central School, Nobleford

Noble Central School’s valedictorian had only attended NCS for the past two years, but it seems he made an impression on the school, and it certainly made one on him.

Bennardo Anker, who spent most of his school years in the Netherlands at schools with thousands of students, said it was a big adjustment moving to Noble Central, but one he enjoyed.

With just 13 students in his graduating class, Anker says it took just a week for him to know everyone

“The guys in my class are my best friends now,” he says. “I’ve really enjoyed it, the people, the teachers, the atmosphere around the school and the sports.”

Anker played high school volleyball in Nobleford. He had less success finding an outlet for his water polo skills, something he played competitively in Holland.

He has been accepted at the University of Lethbridge where he intends to pursue a degree in psychology. His long-range goal is to become a lawyer, using his understanding of psychology to help him mount compelling legal arguments.

A legal studies course in high school, along with marketing and management courses, encouraged his interest in corporate law. He also did a job shadow, arranged through the high school, with a lawyer.

Anker has done mission work, spending a week in 2011 in Mexico building houses with his church.

“You realize we have it not too bad here,” he said, recalling how an entire family home there might be smaller than his bedroom.

This summer, a trip to Holland is in the plans, as well as working on a potato farm.

Nicole Desautels, Picture Butte High School, Picture Butte

The valedictorian for Picture Butte High School is going to have to shift gears at the end of August, as she transitions from her job as an event co-ordinator at the Prairie Tractor and Engine Museum, delving into the region’s agricultural past, to her continued studies at the University of Lethbridge delving into the latest developments in neuroscience.

Nicole Desautels isn’t sure where her studies will take her beyond that. She says her parents want her to be a doctor; if she followed their advice, she’d lean toward pediatrics. But she’s also keenly interested in research, something she discovered during high school Biology classes. She says she’s looking at next year at the U of L as “just a start.”

A strong student who enjoyed math and science far more than writing essays, Desautels says she never attended a large school and that suits her just fine.

At PBHS, she says she had access to a wide range of options, including sports medicine and media class.

Desautels joined PBHS in Grade 9, transferring over from St. Catherine’s School in Picture Butte. Until Grade 4, she attended a francophone school in the Northwest Territories, and she remembers struggling that first year with switching over to English.

A strong student, Desautels is also a strong athlete, although a serious injury kept her out of competitive hockey in her Grade 10 year. She also coached hockey in the community, building the skills of four- to six-year-olds.

She says her class of 42 students was a very close group, and students benefited from caring teachers.

“You could always ask your teacher for extra help,” she says. “And you’d see your teachers out watching sports games. You could talk to them about anything.”

Jeremy Van Hierden, PASS+, Coaldale

Congratulations to Jeremy Van Hierden, valedictorian at PASS+ in Coaldale. He could not be reached for this feature.