Even in its senior year, Fremont High School’s Class of 2018 has been full of accomplishments, according to student Chase Cate, who spoke at this year’s commencement ceremony.
“Cross Country kept our 17-year conference win streak, the football team made the state playoffs, the musical was exceptional, Jake Sellon set a school record in the pole vault,” he said.
During Saturday’s commencement at Midland University, as 288 members of the class of 2018 prepared to take their final steps as students at Fremont High School, Cate hoped they would view the day as the base of the mountain — not the peak.
“When I was growing up, my dad always told me that the biggest room in the house is the room for improvement,” Cate said. “He also told me to be a work horse and not a show pony. That’s what stays on my mind as I stand in front of you today, that we should not stop where we are, but keep going, taking time to celebrate our victories, but not becoming satisfied, or not becoming complacent.”
Indeed, while the Class of 2018 should be looking to their futures, Saturday provided an opportunity for students, faculty and family to reflect on the past, and also recognize the large number of students who received awards and honors.
At least 95 students from this year’s senior class were awarded scholarships, according to Fremont Public Schools Superintendent Mark Shepard. All together, “when carried to their full potential,” that amounted to $4.3 million worth of scholarship dollars awarded to Fremont students.
“We believe this is a fantastic accomplishment by the class of 2018,” Shepard said.
There were also 113 seniors who were enrolled in at least one dual-credit course and 121 students in at least one Advanced Placement course, Shepard added.
In addition to a slew of departmental honors and other awards, Fremont High School Principal Scott Jensen awarded five graduating seniors selected by faculty to receive distinct honors. Sarah Qualsett received the honor for “Best Girl Citizen,” whose honors include graduating cum laude, homecoming queen and the NSAA and U.S. Bank Believer and Achiever Award. The “Best Boy Citizen” award went to Riley Harms, for graduating cum laude high distinction, his athletic contributions on varsity football and other sports, his participation in the Fremont Area Chamber Community Leadership Academy and more.
The citizen awards aim to honor students who embody “scholarship, exemplary conduct and assumption of citizenship responsibility,” Jensen said.
The award for “Best All-Around Girl” went to Paige Schroeder, who is a member of the National Honor Society, graduated cum laude with high distinction, participating in student council and many other extracurriculars, and receiving several scholarships. The “Best All-Around Boy” went to Hector Villagomez, who is a member of the National Honor Society, graduated cum laude with high distinction and is a three-time all academic award winner, among other things.
The awards for Best All-Around Boy and Girl emphasize “scholarship and participation in a variety of activities,” Jensen said.
The last award, the “Honor Key Award” emphasizes “scholarship, loyalty, leadership and achievement,” Jensen said, and was awarded to Nathan Grimm, whose honors include an academic achievement award, cum laude with high distinction, National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, the UNK Regents Scholarship and more.
Shepard said most students’ path to graduating “did not begin with your senior or even freshman year in high school,” but is a culmination of the entire school experience, going all the way back to preschool. He also added that students often require help from adults — whether it be family or faculty.
“My challenge to you is in the next couple of days or couple of weeks, find an individual that had an influence on you and thank them,” Shepard said.
Student Gabrielle Keaton, in her introductory statements to her classmates, had a similar message, quoting poet Maya Angelou, who once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“So maybe we will not remember how to solve a polynomial function 10 years down the road, or even every single detail from ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens,” she said. “But we will remember the way the teachers of Fremont High School have impacted us over the last four years.”
The Wikert Event Center was standing room only as more than 200 Midland graduates received their diplomas at the school’s commencement ceremony on Saturday.
Before finally walking across the stage and receiving the degrees they worked so hard to attain during the past four years, the Midland Class of 2018 heard encouraging words from one of their fellow classmates and from a fellow alumnus who attended the school more than 20 years ago.
Along with receiving her bachelor’s degree in arts management on Saturday, Midland student Michaela Milliken also addressed her classmates about perspective.
“I truly believe that the choices we make after today will determine who excels at life and who remains mediocre,” she said. “And I believe one of the most important choices you can make is your perspective on life.”
In her senior year at Midland, Milliken served as President of Performing Arts Leadership Council and President of Phi Omega Society. She was also the Midland Senior Homecoming Queen, the recipient of the 2018 Who’s Who Award, and the overall performing arts MVP of the year.
Milliken spoke about the whirlwind that was her first semester at Midland. Her exciting new classes, work study, and all of the new friends she made when she came to campus.
She also spoke of a moment during that time that would change her life, and perspective, forever.
“Around that time we discovered that my mom had Stage 4 cancer, it was inoperable and there was nothing we could do,” she said. “My world was crushed, the woman who was my best friend for 20 years was sick and I mean really sick. At first I couldn’t tell anything was different and was in denial and continued living my college dream. I was busy all of the time making every single moment at Midland count with my mom supporting me every step of the way.”
But as her mother’s condition worsened, Milliken began to question whether she had been focused on what really matters in life.
“So what happened? Was I too busy to notice or pay attention to the things that really mattered?” she asked. “I thought that I had been doing what I was supposed to be doing, making my time at Midland count, but in that moment I was questioning everything.”
As Milliken began to really talk to her mother about what the future would hold for both of them, she gained perspective from her mother’s courage and attitude as she was facing the illness that would ultimately take her life.
“I started talking to my mom about death,” she said. “It wasn’t anything I thought I would have to do in my 20s, but I was and it was very real. The thing is, and the whole point of this story, is that my mom was joyful throughout that entire period.”
Although Milliken’s mother passed away last fall, she relayed to her classmates the importance of what her mom taught her.
“Even though she is gone I can still feel her joyful perspective with me daily, and that is the legacy that everyone should aspire to leave on this earth,” she said. “Please don’t let a 52-year-old woman dying of cancer show you up on how joyful and motivated you can be in this life. So as you move through this next phase of life, don’t waste it.”
Following Milliken’s inspiring speech about perseverance and perspective, guest speaker and Midland alumnus Rico Munn started his speech on more of a comedic note before ending with a similar message.
Munn is a 1993 graduate from Midland Lutheran College who received the Midland Lutheran College Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 1999. He also served on the Colorado State Board of Education from 2002-2017 and currently works as the superintendent of the Aurora Public School system in Aurora, Colo. He is also the Chair of the Board for the Colorado State University system.
Munn opened his address to the graduates with an interactive activity as he asked every student to put their hand on their neighbors shoulder.
“Then turn to that person and say to neighbor, ‘You have been touched,’” he said.
He then went on to explain exactly why he had each graduate touch each other’s shoulder.
“I will tell you that I myself have sat in a graduation three different times from high school, from Midland here, and then from law school, and I can’t for the life of me tell you who the speakers were or weren’t or what they said,” he said. “But many years from now when you reflect back on this moment, on this day, you will say, ‘I don’t remember who my graduation speaker was, I don’t remember what that guy had to say, but I remember when he spoke I was touched.’ That moment is my gift to you.”
The crowd erupted in laughter and then Munn proceeded to give a more serious message to the graduates as he focused on what it means to have a “warrior spirit.”
“The warrior spirit is that feeling we have, the sense, of taking action when inaction is an option,” he said. “I believe the warrior spirit has three essential components, the first is that willingness, that decision, to fight for others. The second component is the adoption of a warrior’s code or a warrior’s creed. The third component of the warrior spirit is the willingness to fight for yourself.”
Munn’s most resounding message was to implore the graduates to fight for the life they want to live.
“I have chosen to fight as I implore you to fight, but also wanted you to know that all of that started here in this place as a Midland Warrior,” he said. “Those choices to fight for others, adopting a creed or code to live by and fighting for myself and my future have led me to where I am, and they can lead you, too. Congratulations Class of 2018, now go fight for your life.”
Before addressing the Bergan Class of 2018, the Rev. Dave Belt thought about his own high school graduation — 40 years ago.
It was 1978.
He remembered the psychedelic shirt and powder blue leisure suit he wore. He remembered having big hair. And he remembered Peppy, his Chihuahua, getting sick on the floor during the reception.
But more than all of that, Belt recalled how excited and anxious he was about the next chapter in his life—and the opportunity to fulfill his dream of being a teacher.
On Saturday night, Belt encouraged 23 graduates to pursue big, God-sized dreams.
Belt was the keynote speaker for the graduation ceremony at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, where families and friends filled the sanctuary.
The evening had touching moments — like one when graduates gave roses to parents and others who’d encouraged and supported them.
Graduating senior Kolby Boggs even gave Belt a rose and a hug.
“I was very honored,” Belt said later.
There were lighter moments, too, like when senior Nick Herink paused after getting his diploma and comically took a selfie on his phone with the Rev. Walter Nolte and Tad Dinkins, Bergan’s board of education president.
Much of the hourlong ceremony, however, consisted of adults sharing wisdom and soon-to-be graduates sharing memories.
Belt recalled his own graduation day memories.
“I really felt from the depths of my being that I was called to be a teacher and that was built on relationships I had with teachers — especially in high school,” Belt said. “I had great role models and mentors in my teachers. I really wanted to be like them and have the effect on young people’s lives that they’d had on my life.
“They challenged me to be my very best at everything.”
Belt said he realizes he is living his dream in a very special way.
“Forty years ago, I’d never in my wildest dreams thought that I’d be a priest,” he said. “That was the last thing that was on my mind. I wanted to be married and have a family and be an educator.”
But as he looked back, Belt said he recognized that while he had a dream—God had a plan.
“The challenge for me — and for all of us — is to let God’s plan unfold in our lives,” Belt said.
Belt said for many people the greatest obstacle for God’s plan unfolding is fear.
The priest — who served Bergan and St. Patrick’s from 2010-2017 — shared his own recent experiences.
“A little over a year ago, I had a feeling that God was calling me to something new,” he said. “I really resisted that feeling, because I loved it here. My seven years here at Archbishop Bergan Catholic Schools and the St. Patrick parish were some of the most sacred, joyful days of my life and my priesthood.”
But as he sat praying, one of his favorite Gospel stories came to mind.
In this story, the Apostles are out on the sea when a terrible storm arises quickly. The men are in the middle of the storm when they see someone walking toward the boat and they cry out to him.
It’s Jesus, and he says, “Do not be afraid. It is I.”
Peter says, “Lord if that’s you, then command me to come to you.”
Jesus tells him to come, so Peter steps out of the boat and is walking on the water. But once he sees the wind and waves, Peter starts to sink.
“As soon as he took his eyes off Jesus, the waves and chaos of life started to consume him,” Belt said. “And it was in that moment that Jesus reaches out and grabs him by the arm and pulls him into the boat — and Jesus says, ‘Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”
Belt had an image of Jesus pulling him out of the water and remembered comments from a book called, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.”
In the book, author John Ortberg tells how most people in the Bible responded with fear when God first asked them to do something.
Ortberg also shares a Henry Blackaby quote in which the internationally known pastor says the types of assignments God gives are “God-sized” — beyond what people can do, because he wants to demonstrate his nature, strength, provision and kindness by his people to a watching world.
“That’s the only way the world will come to know him.”
Belt asked graduates to think about ordinary people whose lives are extraordinary, because they let God’s strength and love work in their lives — and those who’ve taught them how to live, pray, serve, forgive, laugh, sacrifice, dream, believe and trust.
And to thank them.
Belt challenged graduates to dream big dreams, adding, “If you don’t follow your dream, who will?”
“Trust that God will provide strength, grace and guidance that you can’t even imagine,” Belt said.
At the end of the ceremony, graduates moved the tassels from one side of their mortar boards to the other, signifying they were now alumni.
Then it was off to the narthex to greet family and friends — to continue making their own graduation day memories.
The Fremont Tribune won the General Excellence Award in the Associated Press Great Plains News and Photo Contest. The contest includes Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The General Excellence Award is given to the best overall newspaper in three divisions.
The Tribune earned 13 individual awards. Judges’ comments were included with some of the awards.
Brent Wasenius, Tammy Real-McKeighan, Sam Pimper and Colin Larson, representing the Tribune, earned awards.
“We are honored to be recognized by the Associated Press, but I can’t say that I’m surprised,” Tribune Managing Editor Tony Gray said. “We have a very talented group of reporters who produce quality work on a daily basis. They are passionate about journalism and strive to inform readers about the people, places and events in and around our community.”
Wasenius, sports editor, received a first place award in the Spot Sports and Sports Feature categories.
He won the top Spot Sports award for his story: “Lady Knights Punch Ticket to State.” The story detailed the Fremont Bergan volleyball team earning a postseason berth.
Judges’ comments included: “I really liked the ‘insider’ comments about what was going on during the match. Too many times, writers succumb to just giving the play by play.”
Wasenius won the top Sports Feature honors for his story: “Fremont Native Conrad Embraces Any Challenge.” The story was a profile about Bergan graduate Cole Conrad playing football at the University of Nebraska.
Judges’ comments were: “This is a great story made better by the great quotes from Conrad. It’s a fun read and tells a story that we all love to hear—from walk-on to vying for a starting position.”
He also earned a second place award in the Spot Sports category for his story: “Former MU Coach, AD Dies.”
The story shares remembrances of Midland University coach Don Watchhorn. The judges’ comment read: “This piece was well written, using a lot of sources, which is only fitting for a man who was as dearly loved as this coach. Good job!”
In the Sports Feature category, Wasenius earned a third place award for his work titled: “Gdowski Back for Mavs.”
The story talks about how former Fremont High volleyball player Gessica Gdowski battled back from injury as a member of the University of Nebraska-Omaha volleyball team. The judges’ comment read: “It’s a feel-good feature that is a fun and easy read.”
Wasenius also claimed the top two spots in the Sports Column category for his columns: “Family Approach Boosts Knights.” and “NU Fans Hoping for Best on Frost.”
In the Spot News and Spot News Photo categories, Real-McKeighan, news editor, received first place for her story and photo: “Blaze Claims House at Lake Timberwood.” Judges’ comments included: “Great photos to go with the story. Great mental visual of woman running out of her flip flops to save the pets. Great overall job.”
Real-McKeighan received a second place award in Personal Column for her piece: “Little Boy’s Donation Produced Heart-Warming Dividend.”
The column told the story of a little boy who donated 35 cents at a Cocoa & Carols fundraising show at Fremont’s First Lutheran Church.
Funds raised from the event are used for a free, weekly, communitywide dinner at the church. The column relayed the reaction of the show’s producer, Mike Spies, and compared the modern-day boy’s donation to the two fish and five loaves that a Bible times’ child gave, which Christ miraculously multiplied to feed a crowd of 5,000.
Judges’ comments were: “A valuable exploration of an ever-resonant parable.”
Former Tribune reporter, Sam Pimper, earned second place in the General News category for his story: “Recognizing a Modern-Day Atrocity.” The judges’ comments read: “Incredibly interesting topic. Well written and researched. Article sheds light on a global issue while giving it a local community angle.”
Pimper’s story “Arlington Teen Adjusting Her Stroke” about a swimmer who lost her arm in an accident and returned to the pool months later, placed third in the Feature category.
Reporter Colin Larson placed third in Spot News Photo for his photograph of the bank robbery scene on east Military Ave. The photo was a visual to the story, “Fremont Bank Robbed, Suspects in Custody.”