Q&A: An Interview with Cudahy High School Class of 2011 Co-Valedictorians and Salutatorian
The School District of Cudahy is pleased to announce the selection of Emily Junger and Zachary Plachinski as class Co-Valedictorian and Sarah Kepper as Salutatorian for Cudahy High School Class 2011.
Both Emily and Zach were announced as co-valedictorians based on the criterion set by the Cudahy school board. Both students had the same overall GPA after seven semesters of high school and they both were at the top of their entire class. Sarah was announced as salutatorian because her overall GPA after seven semesters of high school was second to Emily and Zach.
“On behalf of the Board and the Administration” Superintendent Jim Heiden States “I want to personally congratulate these three fine young people. They truly are an inspiration to us all. I am confident that they will take what they have learned here and make us all very proud that we were are part of their success.
The commencement speech will be delivered by both Co-Valedictorians and Salutatorian at the graduation ceremony on June 9th. The ceremony will be held in the Cudahy High School Field House beginning at 7pm.
Q: Have you spent your entire educational career in the School District of Cudahy? Y or N
Q: What Elementary school did you attend? If not in Cudahy please note city and state.
Zachary: J.E Jones Elementary School
Emily: Park View Elementary
Sarah: General Mitchell
Q: Were you always a high achieving student academically. Explain...and if not what was the defining moment that changed that. If so what kept your goals high.
Zachary: Yes, I have always been successful academically. My parents taught me early on the importance of doing well in school. Throughout high school I have been very self-motivated and I am always willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.
Emily: In elementary school I got pretty good grades (A, A-, B+) because I could. It was natural. In middle school they were a little better (A, A-). That’s when I first found out how GPA worked, and what it meant. By 8th grade I had a 4.0 and I liked that. By then I knew it’s what I would strive for in high school.
Sarah: I always did well in school; it was just my goal to get A’s. My grandpa used to give me a dollar for every one I got on my report card, but other than that, I’ve just been internally motivated to be a high achiever and have always been grateful of the support from my schools.
Q: Did you find your academic career thru the School District of Cudahy challenging, in what way?
Zachary: Yes, I do think my academic career at Cudahy was challenging. I always had a tough school schedule, full of Honors and Advanced Placement classes. In addition I have been involved in extracurricular activities (sports) year round, so the toughest part was managing my time. I had to spend many, many late nights studying and doing homework to maintain my academic success.
Emily: I think I was the one who made it challenging for the most part. I challenged myself with perfection. Even if I knew I could get a 100% on a test, I would do more to see if I could get any extra credit. It didn’t have to be challenging. I could have accepted average grades, but I wanted a 100% or more in every class.
Sarah: This is hard to answer, I’ve never known any differently, but I would say I’ve been challenged academically through-out my journey in this school district. Why else would every math test, from 5th grade fractions to 12th grade calculus, make me cry?
Q: Who or what experience at the elementary school level help to focus your future goals into CHS? Explain.
Zachary: I have to set the stage for this answer a bit. Right now I am a rather decent runner, I am a two time state qualifier in both cross country and track, and just recently was the Woodland Conference Champ in the mile run. However, this was not always the case. The elementary school experience that made me realize the importance of setting and achieving goals, took place in fifth grade gym class. During the spring Physical Fitness Testing, I was unable to complete the mile run without walking, and was really disappointed in myself. The next day, I went back to the J.E. Jones playground and tried again to finish the mile run, and once again I failed. That day I made it my goal, that someday I would be able to finish the mile. I didn’t care how fast I ran it, or even how many days of practice it would require, I just wanted to do it. Eventually, after many days of practice, I finally was able to run the mile without stopping to walk. I went on to continue running even after I accomplished this feat, and have reached the successes mentioned above. However, this experience in fifth grade goes far beyond my athletic career, and has been a significant part of my academic success as well. This experience taught me the importance of setting goals, remaining dedicated to that goal, and working as hard as possible to achieve that goal. At the time, I was not in the best physical shape, so completing a mile run was a simple, yet very difficult goal. However I believed in myself and knew I could do it. I still have that same mindset today; I feel that I can be successful at anything, because I always know that I will work as hard as I can and remain dedicated to whatever task lies before me.
Emily: If I had any motivation like I have now back in elementary school, it would have been from my older brothers who knew the importance of doing your best and getting good grades.
Sarah: My entire elementary school experience has shaped my goals, tremendously. It was there that I first learned what it meant to be a team player, where I was inspired to be a volunteer and active part of society, and in 5th grade, is where I was first introduced to a big part of my life: playing saxophone.
Q: What types of community service have you participated in at CHS? What did you learn from that experience? How has it benefited you as a person and/or shaped your future.
Zachary: I have taken part in community service throughout high school as a member of the National Honor Society. However, the community service project that I’m most proud was not apart of NHS, and was just recently completed. At the beginning of the second semester of this school year, my Environmental Science teacher, Ms. Geibel, explained that each student in the class would have to organize a project that would help the community. For the project, a few of my friends and I, decided to organize a 5K Run/Walk to benefit the local charity, Project Concern. At first, we thought organizing a charity race would be really easy and not very time consuming, boy were we wrong. We spent many hours working with school administrators, the Milwaukee County Park System, Milwaukee County Officials, as well as owners of many local businesses. Dealing with all these different people to organize the race was a great experience that taught me much about the real world outside of school, but most importantly it taught me how to be a leader in an effort to give back to the community. The 5K Run/Walk did turn out to be a great success, as we raised over $2,000 for Project Concern. I feel very proud of being able to help the Cudahy community through this event, and would really like to see our 5K Run/Walk continue for years to come.
Emily: I did community service through the National Honor Society. I volunteered around the school district and project concern, as well as at Froedtert Hospital. Volunteering at Froedtert Hospital was my favorite because I got to deliver flowers to children in the hospital and to new parents. I learned how easy it is to make someone’s day and what kind of satisfaction helping others can give you.
Sarah: I’ve volunteered at countless school functions through organizations like National Honor Society and Tri-M Music Honor Society, and on my own because I take pride in helping out my school. This has enabled me to find my strengths; I’ve realized that I like working with parents and students so I’m planning on pursuing a career in education.
Q: What curricular programs at Cudahy benefited you the most? and Why
What Subjects benefited you the most? least?
Zachary: The class that benefited me the most during High School was probably AP United States History (APUSH). I took this class during my junior year, and it was the first AP (Advanced Placement) class I had taken. Previously, I was able to get straight A’s in my classes relatively easily, without too much studying or extra effort. AP U.S History was the first class that actually challenged me and forced me to change my study habits in order to better prepare myself for the tests, which were very difficult by the way. Looking back on this class from today, I would definitely say that APUSH was easier than some of my classes I’ve taken over my senior year, however I believe that APUSH prepared me very well for all my classes this year and for all my future courses in college.
Emily: I hated history until I took a few classes here at the high school. I just liked the teaching style better because it was more independent. I think it’s really important to learn about the history of the nation and of humanity. It’s easier to make sense of the world when you know where it came from.
Sarah: Music and History have, personally, benefited me the most. Band has taught me more about self-discipline, leadership and problem solving than any other activity/class I’ve ever been a part of. History, whether it’s in the form of U.S., European, or studying humanities and literature, is just a wonderful passion of mine that I value because of its ability to teach, through experiences and stories, what it means to be human.
I do wish that certain subjects were not required for graduation. I was in a varsity sport every year of high school so I value being physically active, but gym class was always a very frustrating concept to me. I wish I could’ve been taking more academic classes that would’ve better prepare me for college and my career, but there is only so much one can take on when they have certain mandatory classes.
Q: What extra-curricular programs at Cudahy benefited you the most? and Why
Zachary: I have participated on the Varsity Cross Country and Track teams all four years of high school. These two sports have taught me much about hard work and commitment to achieving my goals. As a freshmen and sophomore participating in varsity track and cross country, I can honestly say that it was very disheartening to finish way behind all the junior and senior runners every race. However, I continued to train hard and remain dedicated to my goals. I earned my share of success, qualifying for the WIAA State meets, in both cross country and track, in my junior and senior years. I went from finishing in last place in the 1600 meter run at the Woodland Conference Track Championships during my freshmen year, to the Conference Champion in the 1600 meter run at the Conference Meet just a few weeks ago. Both cross country and track have been a very important part of my high school career, and have helped me become who I am today.
Emily: I learned so much through the band program at Cudahy. Back when I started in 5th grade I was very shy and kept to myself. As I got better, I got more confident with my playing and that made me more confident overall as a person. By high school, I was section leader and couldn’t be more proud of myself and of my section. I grew substantially through music.
Sarah: Being a part of the Girls Swim Team taught me how to really dig down deep inside myself and push through pain and fatigue. It made me strong, both physically and mentally, and taught me a lot about compromise and
Q: Describe a skill, principle or concept learned in class that you will use in your future?
Zachary: I think the essay writing skills that I’ve learned during my English and history classes will help me most in the future. It is really important to be able to communicate and organize your thoughts on paper, and is an essential skill for college and almost all future careers.
Emily: Of course you learn countless skills at school. I think one that is really important to practice while young is to speak in front of your peers. In the beginning you always feel really vulnerable in front of a crowd giving a presentation, but when you do it over and over in school, the comfort level starts to rise really fast. It’s a great skill to have.
Q: Describe a school experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
Zachary: I think my character was shaped simply by my desire to challenge myself. Each year I took a very difficult course schedule, and tried to balance it with my extra-curricular activities (sports). I always wanted to be successful both academically and athletically, and that has taught me to manage my time and work hard to succeed. I also learned to make the most of my opportunities, so that years from now I would have no regrets.
Emily: Many times in school I had the opportunity to help my classmates. I love to push myself and to do my best, but I love helping others to do so as well. It also helps me learn.
Q: If you could change anything about your education at CHS, what would it be? Why?
Zachary: Looking back, I don’t think there is anything I’d like to change about my education at CHS. I feel like I always gave my best effort in everything I did and made the most of my opportunities. I have no regrets.
Emily: I wish I had the opportunity to investigate different career paths. We have many electives available at CHS, but I just didn’t have the space in my schedule for them. Now I don’t know what I want to go to college for, so I’ll have to figure that out sometime in the next year or two.
Sarah: I wish my schedules would have worked out better. I wanted to take 4 years of Spanish, but I couldn’t because of my refusal to give up music. I also wanted to take more AP classes, but the most our school offered was 5, which I took all of.
Q: What teacher or teachers have influenced you the most in your tenure at CHS? Explain.
Zachary: The teacher who has influenced me the most is Mr. Chojnacki. I had Mr. Chojnacki for two years; chemistry during my junior year and physics this year. Mr. Chojnacki always tells us that his goal is to simply teach students how to think. It is one thing to learn all the laws and equations in a textbook, but it is another to see how they are applicable in our daily lives. Mr. Chojacki teaches us in a way that shows how aspects of chemistry and physics are present in all areas of our daily lives. I feel that Mr. Chojacki has best prepared me for college by teaching me to expand my way of thinking so I can solve problems and analyze information easier.
Emily: Mr. Plank (band) introduced me to a completely different outlook on the interaction and communications between people through the leadership program. Mr. Plath (math) also gave me the opportunity to really drive my education independently.
Sarah: Mr. Pat Boyle was my junior year AP U.S. History teacher, and was really a great influence on me. Academically, he taught us the importance of being able to make connections in our minds between facts and information, and this skill allowed me to do very well on the AP exam last year; I earned a 4 on it. Besides giving us lectures on history, he would frequently remind us that high school just a small part of a bigger picture that we needn’t get too troubled over. He always gave me great advice on “rollin’ with the punches” and taking each challenge as a blessing because of the character it builds along the way.
Q: What has been your school experience in working as a part of a team? How will you use this as you move into the next stages of your life?
Zachary: My most significant team experience during high school was the 5K Run/Walk for Project Concern I mentioned before, that I organized with my Environmental Science Class. We had to work together for months on different tasks, as well as with members from the community, to get everything accomplished. This experience taught me a lot about leadership and working with others to accomplish a goal.
Emily: It’s really important to know how to work well with others, and through group projects, class discussions, and band I have had a lot of practice with that. It will definitely be an essential skill in a working environment.
Q: Describe examples of your leadership experience in which you have significantly influenced other, help resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. Consider responsibilities to initiative take in or out of school.
Zachary: I have learned about leadership by being a captain of both the cross-country and track teams this year. These experiences have taught me how to motivate and inspire others, usually the underclassmen, while being able to accept responsibility for more people than just myself. Also my role in the organization of the 5K Run/Walk for Project Concern (mentioned above) taught me how to take charge to organize a large event in an effort to help out the community.
Emily: The most concrete leadership experience I’ve had is through the band program as a section leader. Otherwise, I practice leadership in the classroom by participating in discussion, answering questions, and helping others.
Sarah: I have had the honor of being a section leader and drum major for the high school band and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences ever. I love watching and helping scared, timid freshmen turn into involved, confident performers and friends.
Q: Pondering the future of education in Cudahy, what would you like to share with the school administrators, teachers and community about your experience, and how the School District of Cudahy can continue to or improve to provide education for future graduates.
Zachary: I think Cudahy really needs to expand their science program at the high school. I feel that the Science teachers are already some of the best in the school, but it would be really nice to see some Advanced Placement (AP) classes offered in the subject area (we currently have none). Science is probably one of the most relevant subjects in the world today, so I think it is very important to expand the programs and provide students with more opportunity in Science.
Emily: It's hard to watch as some students give up on their academic future. I think it's important for others to experience how fulfilling academic success can be and even though sometimes it can seem like it doesn't matter, the reward for doing well will come. Right now I'm experiencing all the benefits of working hard in school. I’m sure there will be even more benefits in the years ahead.
Sarah: I strongly urge the School District of Cudahy to not only keep its high standards of excellence, but to push them even further. Because of my involvement with band, I was able to go to many camps, including a drum major camp at UW-Whitewater where I met with high-achieving students from all over Wisconsin. This area is very competitive and the things going on at other schools are absolutely amazing, and I’ll admit, at times, intimidating, so I would just like to encourage this city to give its students as many opportunities at wonderful experiences as possible.
Q: If you could go any place in the world, where would it be and why?
Zachary: After this last winter, I would just like to go any place that is warm, preferably near an ocean!
Emily: I really want to travel Europe some day. I'm studying European History right now and there's so much to learn and so much to see there.
Sarah: I’ve always wanted to take a European tour, but after my AP Euro History class this year; it has become a life goal of mine. There is so much history and beautiful things and places that I’ve studied and I would love the chance to experience it in real life.
Q: What do you envision yourself doing 10 years from now?
Zachary: Well, ten years ago it was always my dream that one day I would become an NBA basketball player. If I could dream like than again, I would say that ten years from now I would like to be on the podium at the Olympics, receiving a gold medal for the 1500 meter run. In reality however, I honestly can’t say where I will be in ten years. My plan right now is to attend UW-Madison next fall, and then I’ll just have to take it year by year and see where I end up.
Emily: I hope I have a successful job by then. I'm more of a family person than a career person, but I definitely want to have a good income and a career I enjoy.
Sarah: Ten years from now seems like quite a long time, and I’d like to say that my plans won’t change, but the future always brings the crazy and unexpected. Whatever and wherever I end up, I hope I am making a difference in someone else’s life. That is what is truly important to me.
Q: If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Zachary: This is probably the easiest question here! If I could have dinner with anyone, I would pick Jon Bon Jovi. I am a big fan, and Bon Jovi’s music has been a big part of my high school career. I find his songs inspiring and uplifting and they have definitely helped me through a lot of tough times, such as motivating me to continue fighting through my piles of homework, even when the clock read 2:00 am. In addition his music inspired me through my long runs. Lately everyone has been talking about how Oprah Winfrey has been on TV for 25 years, but you have to remember, that Bon Jovi has been on the radio even longer, and he’s still going! On a personal note, Bon Jovi has taught me that there’s nothing wrong with “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and I think it’d be very cool if you could organize that dinner for me!
Emily: Albert Einstein-- he went about learning in a very unique way, and had an original attitude toward the intent to make progress.
Q: What are your future educational plans. What career do you see yourself in?
Zachary: My plan is to continue my education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am still not sure, about which career I want to choose, but am considering going into Pharmacy.
Emily: I honestly don't know what career I'm going to end up in. However, right now I find the most enjoyment out of math and science.
Sarah: I’ll be attending Saint Norbert College in De Pere in the fall. I plan on going into an educational career
Q: Do you think that you are ready for life after High School? Why? How has your family contributed to your educational needs?
Zachary: Yes, I definitely believe I am ready for life after High School. I am very determined and know that I will always be willing to do whatever it takes to be success, both in college and in a future career. My family has played a huge role in molding who I am today. My parents, early on, taught me the importance of education and to basically just always do the right thing. My whole family has always been there to support me in school and athletic events. I definitely wouldn’t have had a successful high school career without them.
Emily: My family is always there to encourage me. They know what I'm capable of and hold me to that. I’m fully confident that I'm ready to take my education further.
Sarah: I’ve always been a relatively independent person, so I believe that this next step in life will certainly be challenging, but a wonderful adventure I can’t wait to take on.
Q: What is your personal definition of success?
Zachary: My definition of success is simply knowing that I always tried my best at everything I did. The straight A’s in school and gold medal’s in track were not my main focus. I simply wanted to always give my very best effort and remain dedicated to achieving my goals. Sure, I would have loved to get perfect scores on every single test or win every single race, but that didn’t happen. However, I feel that I achieved success simply because I know I always worked hard and left nothing on the table. I always made the most of my opportunities and will graduate from high school with no regrets.
Emily: Achieving what you're after, or at least making progress toward doing so.
Sarah: I measure success in the amount of times my eyes tear up with happiness. After an amazing band concert, theater production, relay race in the pool, or at an induction ceremony where you remember all that you’ve accomplished that year. If I’m not so filled with pride that I burst out crying, I haven’t been fully successful.
Any last remarks, words of inspiration...
Sarah: I hope my responses to these questions will show how very grateful I am to the School District and City of Cudahy for allowing me the opportunity to grow up in a wonderful learning environment with incredible staff and over-flowing support from everywhere in the community. Thank you. Someday I will certainly repay the favor.
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