Submitted by Minarets Press Staff
Though Minarets is known for having multiple valedictorians at each graduation, this year’s group is one of the largest the school has ever seen. The graduating class of 2021 will have the following six valedictorians: Justin Bowe, Briley Dahlem, Lillian Kier, Jessica McGrail, Francine Soliz, and Johanna Ziegler. Each valedictorian has been selected based on their cumulative high school GPA and will be honored at this year’s ceremony on June 3. Honoring graduation tradition, the ceremony will feature two valedictorian speeches, each speech featuring three of the valedictorians.
Justin Bowe has woven himself into the fabric of the Minarets community through many outlets, including football, the Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter, and other clubs like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), the National Honor Society (NHS), and the California Scholarship Federation (CSF). Especially within the FFA, Bowe has found great success, taking home a state title with his parliamentary procedure team. “I was very happy with my performance in high school,” Bowe reflects. “To me, this was a combination of my high GPA, leadership positions, and winnings in competitions like parliamentary procedure.”
Three weeks after graduation, Bowe will be packing his bags and heading to boot camp to prepare for his career in the army at the West Point military academy. There, he plans to study either medicine or aeronautics, hoping to find a more direct path while at college.
When asked who his greatest mentors and influences were throughout high school, Bowe answered, “Mainly my parents…they were so successful despite starting from nothing. They were there for me when I needed them most and even when I did not want them.” Bowe went on to add, “Also people like my youth leaders and pastors kept me focused on the right track the whole way.”
Bowe has developed a reputation of hard work and dedication for himself, helping him earn many of the awards he’s receiving now. Bowe explains his mentality behind his work. “I have always loved using the 40% rule by David Gogins, a retired Navy Seal, for motivation. ‘When your mind is telling you that you’re done, that you’re exhausted, that you cannot possibly go any further, you’re only actually 40% done.’”
And yet, despite all the good that has come from his work ethic, Bowe recognizes what he has had to sacrifice to become valedictorian. “It is a great accomplishment and something I always strived for,” admits Bowe, “but now that I achieved it, I have come to reflect on all the time I missed with friends and family to study in order to keep my grades so high.”
Though the moment is bittersweet, Bowe still is honored to be named a 2021 Valedictorian.
In addition to keeping up with a rigorous class schedule, Briley Dahlem has also been an award-winning competitor in high school rodeo circuits and makes time to tend to her many horses in addition to scoring high marks in her AP courses. But for Dahlem, the sense of accomplishment comes from her personal growth. Highlights include, “…making friends, talking about wild conspiracy theories in class, getting all As every year, taking and passing challenging classes, and growing as a person overall.”
Dahlem says that earning the title of valedictorian consistently demanded a lot of her all four years, but, in hindsight, it was worth it. “…all those years of writing essays, doing presentations, worksheets, daily writes, agriscience projects, math quizzes, posters, infographics, and so on paid off,” she says. “…while most of my high school life was spent inside my room doing schoolwork, it felt really amazing to be at the top of the class. It is something I can always look back at and be proud of.”
Dedicating her time to become a high achiever is now paying off for Dahlem. This fall, she will be attending UC Davis as a psychology major with the possibility of attending medical school in the future. The end goal is to become a psychiatrist, says Dahlem, ideally working with either abused women, children, criminals, or in a psychiatric hospital setting. “I really just hope to find a career where I enjoy my job and do something different each day,” she says. “I would like to be a psychiatrist because it just interests me. I love learning about psychology.”
Dahlem says she is grateful for her parents for pushing her to be the best she could be in her studies, as well as for her teachers for creating an engaging environment with fun project ideas to challenge her creativity. She also included a couple of personal shoutouts. “I would also like to thank Joh for answering every single question I had. And lastly, I want to thank my friends Gracie, Kaitlyn, Ariana, and Kayla, for always being there for me and always letting me beat them in Spoons or UNO at the lunch table.”
Moving forward, Dahlem says, her mantra is simply to just trust herself. She explains her persistent struggles with self-doubt but says, “When I trust myself, I feel more confident in my work and become less stressed. It is really simple, but just saying ‘I trust myself’ stops my overthinking and doubt.”
All doubts aside, Dahlem has rightfully earned herself a spot on the graduation stage as one of the 2021 valedictorians.
Similar to Dahlem, Lillian Kier is a passionate equestrian who has taken her experience in the corral and elevated it to a new level of achievement as a member of the FFA Horse Judging and Minarets Equestrian teams, as well as actively participating in events hosted by the Interscholastic Equestrian Association. Kier has also been a part of CSF, NHS, the Minarets Cheer team, and the local 4-H club where she has held multiple officer positions.
Her passion for horses and studying the agriculture industry has led her to commit to Fresno State this fall where she will be majoring in Agricultural Business. “…I’ve always been [involved] in agriculture, and to me, it’s an interesting field that will have a promising future.”
Kier explains how becoming valedictorian has been like a marathon, not a sprint. “Fake it till you make it,” she says. “…this has always been my motto because no matter what, you just have to keep moving on until you reach your goals.”
Kier would like to thank her parents for all the ways they have helped her in her accomplishments, teaching her to manage her time and to always persevere. “I’d also like to thank my friends for being supportive and helping me stay on track, especially Lizzy Robertson for pushing me to be my best,” says Kier.
As she prepares for graduation, Kier is grateful for the recognition she and the other valedictorians will be receiving. “…[it] means that all of the work we’ve done shows,” she says. “Our perseverance and determination don’t go unrecognized.”
Though actively involved as a chapter officer in CSF, NHS, and FCA, as well as being an athlete in the Minarets volleyball program, Jessica McGrail takes the most pride in her achievements as one of Minarets’s brightest math students.
“One of my biggest accomplishments was receiving Best Underclass Mathematician (The Denominator) my sophomore year. I was nominated again junior year for Best Upperclass Mathematician,” she says, referencing Minarets’s annual Best of the Best awards.
McGrail’s passion and natural skill for mathematics first developed in junior high and was encouraged by her grandfather. “I have always loved math, since eighth grade year and even before that, but eighth grade was my realization point. So, I knew I wanted my career to involve math. My grandfather did finance for the United States Air Force for 20 years and always talked about how he loved it. Later on, he would do my whole family’s taxes, and when his eyesight got bad, I would help him.” Though her grandfather has since passed, McGrail will be honoring his legacy and pursuing her own passion for mathematics at Texas Christian University this fall as a major in finance.
“I live by what my grandfather would always tell me,” says McGrail. “‘Nothing in life is free.’ Work for what you want and don’t expect anything for free.”
McGrail would like to thank her entire family for seeing her through everything, good and bad. For teachers, she says, “I’d like to thank Mr. Hansen for furthering my love for math. I’d like to thank Ms. Morgan for believing in me and for all the memories in Europe [Minarets Abroad]. I’d like to thank Ortiz for giving me a great high school experience.”
McGrail also made special note of the gratitude she feels for school counselor Claudia vanDenBergh. “She has seen me through everything and has always believed in me,” McGrail explains. “She always made sure I was okay and doing good. She was always there for me.”
With a bright future ahead of her, McGrail is excited to graduate and leave her own legacy on the world.
Since her first day on campus, Francine Soliz has taken advantage of the variety of opportunities Minarets has to offer to explore her interests and expand her horizons. Throughout her time here, Soliz has done everything from joining the Minarets dance team, joining the FFA’s parliamentary procedure team, as well as become a member of CSF and student leadership. As Soliz says, “I will be leaving this school with no regrets because I put myself out there.”
Moving in and out of different circles has allowed Soliz to cross paths with many different types of people, something she has come to truly appreciate. “…the people who have come in and out of my life have offered gifts of love, pure joy, motivation, or support. Everyone who comes in your life has a purpose. Everyone I have met up until now in some way or another kept me going.”
Soliz’s passion for meeting and communicating with others, especially those new to her that come from different walks of life, is leading her towards the field of psychiatry, she says. “My interests and my best gifts reside in understanding people. Though I talk as much as anyone, I am keen on listening. I do believe everyone needs a friend,” she says in earnest. “Sometimes in life we aren’t gifted with too many listeners, so I decided to be one.”
Soliz admits her astonishment when she learned she would be one of this year’s valedictorians. “I was honestly surprised. I wasn’t working towards being one of the valedictorians. It just means my work has paid off…I am deeply humbled.”
Johanna “Joh” Ziegler has been an active and accomplished student since her freshman year, allowing her many opportunities and adventures, she explains. “I’ve kind of coined myself as a walking Liberal Arts degree, or like a jack of all trades,” says Ziegler. “I’ve experienced a little bit of everything in high school, and I feel I’m better off because of it.” Ziegler has established her legacy in all sorts of departments, ranging from FFA, Minarets Media, and Minarets Press, to NHS, CSF, and Drama Club. As president of four clubs and editor-in-chief of Minarets Press, Ziegler says, “I’ve done a lot of things through these clubs, and I am fortunate to have won several awards in many of these areas, but I have worked my tail off for every single one of them, and I think that my constant drive to outperform myself is what I am most proud of.”
Ziegler says she owes much of her success to the continuous support of her family. “Both my parents and my older sister are genuinely brilliant people, but they all also have a creative side, and they set an example for me on how to balance myself academically and spiritually…they get me.”
Ziegler would also like to thank Mr. Kelly, Ms. Morgan, Mr. Regonini, Mr. Ortiz, and Mrs. West for the roles they played in her high school experience. “They’re the kind of teachers you can’t help but miss after you’re gone,” she says.
After graduating, Ziegler will be attending the University of South Dakota (USD) on a full-ride academic scholarship as an English-Creative Writing major. She explained her choice to attend USD, saying, “…the university did a great job of making me feel recognized and appreciated for my skills, so I am more than happy to pack my bags and go on what I think will be my greatest adventure.” Ziegler is pursuing a writing/editing career after achieving a major milestone earlier this year, independently publishing her first novel.
When discussing how she motivates herself, Ziegler says she prefers to live by the motto, “Thy will be done.” As she explains, no matter how much she tries to prepare for the future, she recognizes the unpredictability of life, and she has come to enjoy it. “I like not knowing what will happen to me today, tomorrow, or 40 years down the road. I have ideas and goals, of course, but after being uptight for so long, I am trying to be more flexible. And at the end of the day, I know I will end up where I’m supposed to be. And that’s all a person can ever ask for.”
Echoing the sentiments of the other five when discussing the honor of being valedictorian, Ziegler says, “I think people have this misconception that earning such an achievement comes naturally to certain students, but I know all of us valedictorians have been swimming against the current since day one and have earned every last bit of honor being bestowed upon us now.”
“It was not handed to us on a silver platter,” she affirms. “We went and got that platter for ourselves.”
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