Meet the valedictorians of the Palliser Class of 2014

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Photos not available for Shauna Bezooyen, PASS+; Jacqueline Nash, Brant Christian School; and Aaron Mann, Heritage Christian Academy.

Congratulations to all of Palliser’s graduating students from the Class of 2014. Touching base with Palliser’s valedictorians, we discover an outstanding group of young people who have their eyes firmly set on the future, several planning to pursue engineering degrees, and one young man who is the first high school graduate in the family. Congratulations and best wishes to them all. Unfortunately, Jacqueline Nash, the co-valedictorian from Brant Christian School, could not be reached for this feature. The remaining valedictorians of Palliser are presented here, alphabetically by school.

Scott Webber, Brant Christian School, Brant

Brant Christian School, nestled in the tiny hamlet of Brant, off the beaten path northwest of Vulcan, has been home to a second family for Scott Webber since he entered the school in kindergarten.

This year, he joined Jacqueline Nash as co-valedictorians for their school, with just a sliver of a percentage point separating the top students in their class.

With just over 100 students in kindergarten through Grade 12, and just 11 students in the graduating class, Scott says the school offered a very personal touch with many students having known each other since they were just five years old.

“It is a safe environment to learn in,” he says.

The academic program is infused with faith.

“It’s helped teach me morals, to be honest, and to carry that on with me for the rest of my life,” he says. “They put into their students honesty and good morals, while maintaining academic rigour.”

With such a small school, some courses were taken through Alberta Distance Learning or through videoconferencing with other Palliser teachers and students in Calgary.

“It makes you an independent learner, which is a good skill to have,” Scott says.

He played on the school’s volleyball and basketball teams and more recently joined the golf team, and he says he enjoyed playing guitar in the school band.

This summer, he expects to work on the family farm before heading to the University of Calgary where he’ll pursue an engineering degree.

Nicole Bowal, Calgary Christian Secondary School, Calgary

Like one-in-three of her peers from the Calgary Christian Class of 2014, Nicole Bowal attended the faith-based school from Grade 1-12. She says it will be “pretty tough to get used to” being apart from this core group of people.

“It’s definitely been really comfortable for a long time,” she says, as she looks forward to starting this fall at the University of Calgary engineering program.

Choosing engineering was tough for Nicole, whose interests are so varied.

“I personally love everything. . . It’s tough to think of one specific career. I loved every single subject.”

Nicole participated in student council this past year, planning school dances and banquets and helping with the Marit Cup, a fundraising hockey game that’s played by students and staff in memory of a former student who passed away suddenly of an embolism.

Outside of school, Nicole has her third degree black belt in tae kwon do. She teaches adult and children in the art three hours a week..

“I enjoy teaching,” she says. “I really enjoy creating a bond and I grew as a leader.”

She also volunteers at a Calgary pool to teach children how to swim.

She says she treasured being part of a Christian school community where she could openly express her faith every day.

“I grew to love the community at Calgary Christian School, all of my friends, of course, and all of the teachers,” she says. “It provided a really supportive and faithful foundation for me.”

This summer, Nicole is travelling across Canada by car on her way to a federal government-sponsored French Immersion program at Université Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia. She briefly studied French in junior high school, so this summer’s program should be quite a challenge.

“I think the biggest thing is I just can’t let an opportunity as wonderful as this go by without taking a shot,” she says, of the daunting prospect of being immersed in a foreign language.

Henry Schmith, Carmangay Outreach School, Carmangay

Henry Schmith is the first person in his family to graduate from high school, and he hopes not to be the last.

Henry is the second eldest of seven children in his Low German-speaking Mennonite family, part of a culture that places high value on hard work and traditionally lesser value on education. Henry watched an older sister and many of his peers walk away from school without a diploma, but he was determined to finish.

“I am the first in my family to do that,” he says. “I wanted to be a role model for my little brothers.

“(A diploma) opens up a lot of different doors.”

While friends and coworkers at the feedlot where he works say high school was “a waste of time, I do know it wasn’t.”

He hopes to work a couple of years before pursuing training in a trade, perhaps mechanics.

“I’ve always had a thing for cars,” Henry says.

A fellow who lives near Carmangay Outreach School taught Henry and his fellow Carmangay graduate Tony Penner how to rebuild the engine of a 1980 El Camino.

Henry says the outreach school offered the flexibility he needed to continue his studies while maintaining a job. His parents wanted Henry to work so he'd “know where the money came from.”

He says his school experience gave him the gift of a love of reading, now a favourite pastime, and a skill he knows he’ll also put to good use wherever life takes him.

“You read thousands of words a day and everything is in English,” he says.

He says he’s grateful to his teachers for their support and for pushing him forward.

“If you need help school-wise or otherwise, you can come to them,” he says.

Dylan Everson, Coalhurst High School, Coalhurst

Dylan Everson says it’s “pretty cool” his fellow graduates at Coalhurst High School had a say in choosing him as valedictorian. Sure, he had a strong academic record. What’s more, he made connections at the school with students and staff.

That wasn’t always the case. He says there was a time when he didn’t feel he was connecting at school, but in the last couple of years, something changed at his high school.

“It’s been awesome the last couple of years,” he says. “Everyone gets along. There’s always something happening. The teachers are really supportive and everyone’s talking and laughing.”

What was once “a pretty regular school,” has become something more. There's a family feel at the small school, yet Coalhurst High School offers a wide range of course offerings you might not expect from the school of its size.

Dylan played saxophone with the band, and had access to a wide array of options and activities from welding to sports to forensics and sports medicine.

He played on the school’s volleyball team, though he was sidelined by a recurring knee injury. He’s facing a summer as a couch potato as he recovers from knee surgery.

Dylan says he is a video game player and enjoys volunteering in the community, whether at the town’s youth centre, organizing Remembrance Day events or helping out at Miners Days.

This fall, he’s headed to the University of Lethbridge where he intends to major in chemistry.

Daine McNiven, County Central High School, Vulcan

For 13 years, from kindergarten through Grade 12, Daine McNiven has had the opportunity to work and learn with friends from Vulcan and area. This fall, he’ll be meeting a whole new crew as he heads to the University of Calgary to pursue a degree in engineering.

A strong student with a passion for math and science, McNiven says he especially enjoyed physics.

“I like knowing how everything works.”

In addition to strong academics, McNiven played on County Central’s volleyball and curling teams as well as playing guitar in the school’s rock band.

He also works part-time at a Vulcan fast food restaurant.

He looks back on his experience at a small high school as “positive.”

“I enjoyed it. It was fun. You know all the students and you know all the teachers better.”

Aaron Mann, Heritage Christian Academy, Calgary

Although his strong suits of sciences and math will eventually lead him to pursue an engineering degree, what Aaron Mann loved most about his 13 years at Heritage Christian Academy was the school’s renowned music program.

A member of choir, band and the jazz band, Aaron had the opportunity to perform and compete at music festivals in Orlando, Fla., and Vancouver at high profile festivals at which HCA collected loads of awards.

“I enjoyed the trips because they were generally awesome,” he says. “I enjoy singing music and making music.”

The saxophone player says he expects music will always be a part of his life.

Before he heads to university in either Calgary or Edmonton, he’s off to England for a six-month Bible study program through Capernwray Bible Centre.

The faith program at Heritage Christian Academy was important, he says, because “teachers care about not just your academics but your spiritual growth as well.”

Aaron says he had a strong connection with many of his teachers. After all, his father was a former principal of HCA, and many teachers were family friends. That connection was strengthened by the small school feel at Heritage.

“You get to know your teachers really well,” he says, and as they get to know individual students, individual attention follows.

“The school is a very friendly learning environment with a lot of opportunities.”

Lindey Felske, Kate Andrews High School, Coaldale

Lindey Felske, valedictorian of Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale, will continue her education this fall at the University of Lethbridge, where she plans to pursue a Bachelor of Science with a major in chemistry. This will likely be her first step toward medical school and what may be a specialty in anesthesiology.

“I’ve always been headed in that direction, ever since I was little,” Lindey says. “I like to help people.”

Lindey, who attended Jennie Emery Elementary and R.I. Baker Middle School before Kate Andrews, says she enjoyed being part of student council and her school years left her with many fun memories.

“I’ve probably spoken to every single student in my graduating class,” she says. “You get to know everyone. Teachers get to know you.”

A strong academic student with a love of sciences, especially chemistry, Lindey says her favourite subject was band, something she enjoyed through Grade 11. The French horn player had to forgo band in her senior year in order to fit all her 30-level courses into a busy schedule.

Outside of school, she dances three or four days a week whether jazz, ballet or, her favourite, tap.

For the past three years, she’s also managed a part-time job at the northside Canadian Tire, where she’s enjoyed a flexible work schedule she plans to maintain even as a university student.

Before she heads off to post-secondary, Lindey is looking forward to three weeks in Mexico this summer.

Sabrina Chehade, Master’s College, Calgary

Sabrina Chehade says Master's College provided the support she needed and mentorship she valued to pursue her many varied interests.

A talented pianist and violinst, Chehade often practices four to five hours a day. She has performed with four different orchestras, including being the lone youth among adult musicians. She also teaches piano and will begin offering violin lessons this fall.

“I love working with little kids,” she says.

The demands of her music often required some flexibility in her school schedule, something Master's supportively encouraged.

In her teachers, she found mentors and friends, she says. Sabrina served as vice-president of Master’s student council this past year and served as lead violinist in school productions.

This fall, her attention turns toward a career in law. She'll be studying at the University of Calgary, majoring in political science with a minor in economics. 

She says Alexa McDonough, the former leader of the federal New Democrats, is a particular role model. 

"This leader became the first woman to lead a major political party in Canada and has exemplified the qualities of handwork and perseverance, becoming a powerful female figure in our country," she says. "I admire how she has carried herself with class and pursued her ambitions with a confident attitude and I aspire to exemplify these same qualities."

This summer, Chehade is heading to London and Paris. While in Great Britain, she’s looking at law schools that might become home for her four years from now.

Nathan Kooy, Noble Central School, Nobleford

When Nathan Kooy earned his spot as valedictorian of Noble Central School’s Class of 2014, you could say it was a family thing. The youngest of four children, Nathan watched as all three of his sisters served as valedictorians of their respective graduating classes.

Coming from a long-time farm family in the Nobleford area, Nathan will spend his summer helping out at the farm before heading to Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. this fall for a year of general studies, during which he hopes to find a focus for the future. Heading to Trinity Western means following his sisters’ footsteps yet again.

In school, his favourite subject was social studies, where learning about history meant discovering “what has made the world the way it is.”

Having attended one of the few kindergarten through Grade 12 schools around, Nathan says he enjoyed opportunities to interact with the younger students, helping out with their track and field, or taking part in the Big Buddies program that saw Grade 9 students helping with kindergarten students.

The experience gave him a certain empathy for his teachers.

Nathan played school volleyball and basketball and in a community soccer league. A highlight was last year’s basketball provincial tournament that saw the Noble Blades finish fifth in the province in 1A action.

Shauna Bezooyen, PASS+, Coaldale

Shauna Bezooyen says her years of home schooling left a mark, first in the incredibly strong bond she has with her family and, second, her ability to self-motivate and learn independently.

The latter made her a natural fit at PASS+, a Coaldale outreach high school.

“The community and the atmosphere at PASS+ is really open,” she says, adding the teachers were always there to talk, not just about school work but about anything.

“They cared about me as a person,” she says.

While she often took a blended program between the outreach and nearby Kate Andrews High School, by the time second semester of Grade 12 rolled around, she was only heading to the traditional high school for one thing: choir.

“I love singing,” she says. “Our house is full of singing.”

Recently Shauna began working at Chinook Regional Hospital in food services, something to keep her busy while she waits for an opening in the respiratory therapy program at SAIT in Calgary.

“Ever since I was little, as long as I could remember, I wanted to be a nurse,” she says.

She began considering respiratory therapy because of the many different ways she could help people, perhaps in the stressful environment of hospital critical care, or helping people manage chronic diseases, maybe at an asthma clinic.

“I think I’d like to be hands-on working with people,” she says.

Shauna enjoys cycling, camping, crochet and cooking. 

Melissa Bexte, Picture Butte High School, Picture Butte

With the ink on her final exams barely dry, Melissa Bexte was on the move into Lethbridge with friends from Picture Butte High School in preparation for a summer and fall spent at the University of Lethbridge.

Melissa plans to enter the U of L Chartered Professional Accountants Bridging program, although she’s not certain yet where an accounting background might lead her, whether business, the energy sector or some other practice.

Accounting may not seem the obvious choice for Bexte, who also has an interest in science. For the second summer in a row, she’s working as what she calls “a lab lackey” in the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience at the U of L, feeding, weighing and administering medications to rats.

Physics, she says, was her favourite subject in high school, and she served as the trainer for the boys’ basketball and volleyball teams in Grades 11 and 12, treating sore muscles and sprains based on her Sports Medicine course training.

So accounting?

Melissa says she thought about the future from a practical standpoint. Her career opportunities are better with an accounting designation, rather than a science degree. She also wants a family so she needs “a job that won’t get in the way of family.”

Outside of school, Melissa spent years in swim club and dance. More recently, she took up aerial acrobatics, and this year she choreographed a musical featuring children at her church.

She says the best part of being a student at Picture Butte High School was the tremendous sense of safety and security. Grade 12 students get to know Grade 7 students, and the older students serve as role models for younger ones. Students don’t even lock their lockers because there’s such a high level of trust in the building.

“You aspire to be a role model for the others,” she says. “You know the younger students are looking at you so you better set a good example.”