Brian Roebke photo
Mary Ladwig receives her Kaukauna Elks “Student of the Year” award from Jerry Brien for being valedictorian of the Wrightstown Class of 2020 at last week’s 56th annual Top 10 banquet at Van Abel’s of Hollandtown. Note: Traditional group photos were not taken to comply with CDC guidelines of six feet social distancing.
By Brian Roebke
The Kaukauna Elks Club feels so strongly about education that they just could not cancel its 56th annual Top 10 banquet.
Thus, the banquet was postponed from its normal May date to last week, with social distancing and mask wearing, at Van Abel’s of Hollandtown, where the Elks feted the top 10 students from the Heart of the Valley high schools in Wrightstown, Kaukauna, Kim-berly, Little Chute and Freedom.
Jerry Brien, a member of the Kaukauna lodge and state president, was the master of ceremonies for the event. He was disappointed none of the students will be studying speech pathology, which was his college major. He annually jokes that those who are get extra chicken, and also green beans if they are headed to his alma mater, UW-Stevens Point.
Brien also presented certificates to the valedictorians from each school, who were recognized as Kaukauna Elks students of the year.
Principals from four of the high schools spoke about their students, but Wrightstown Principal Scott Thompson sent a message since he was ironically quarantined before a surgerical procedure later in the week.
Thompson wrote about two teachers from high school and college that he mentions every year at this banquet.
• Mr. Barmann; High school Russian history – Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great and Rasputin
• Tim Sewall; Undergrad internship in psychology and working with at-risk kids
“Both of the teachers that I referenced had a significant impact on me,” he wrote. “One for the passion that he displayed in teaching his subject matter and the other for helping me to see the opportunities that existed, by encouraging me to seek out experiences that challenged me, and forcing me to question my goals and educational path.”
Thompson noted neither of them used “traditional” teaching methods and their assessment methods were authentic and relevant to what they were trying to teach.
“They both challenged me and showed me how much more that I had to learn,” he wrote. “I considered both of them to be experts, but they would be the first to tell you that they knew a lot about narrowly defined topics and were both quick to point out that there was so much more to learn.”
Thompson noted we are all students — the more that we learn, the more we understand that we know how little we really know. The depth of knowledge available on any one topic is staggering. He added a quote from Noam Chomsky, “It doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what you discover.”
Thompson told students as they move forward, think about what they want to discover. “Now that you are leaving high school behind it will be less about what we cover and more about what you discover,” he said.
Both of the individuals he referenced helped him to appreciate that choosing a career path can be about finding a passion and learning as much as you can.
“I have continued to do that I hope that all of you do the same,” he said. “As we move through life there will be peaks and valleys on your learning trajectory, but always remember how much more there is to know.”
Thompson noted the Wrightstown Top 10 are all leaders, whether the most outgoing and verbal individual or the quiet one who leads by example.
“They lead in the classroom, on athletic fields and in the community,” he said. “They lead by what they stand for and the choices they make. They are all highly dedicated individuals who provide stability in the school and inspire their teachers with their work ethic and constant quest for knowledge.”
Kaukauna High School Principal Corey Baumgartner told the parents they are the reason why everyone was at this banquet, supporting and guiding their children to excel at the highest level academically.
“There’s a lot that goes into it, and much like other roles, there’s a lot behind the scenes,” he said, noting kids must not only learn information but to overcome and take on obstacles.
Acknowledging the Class of 2020 nationwide has gone through so much this past six months, and every adult in the room feels for them.
“You’ve lost so much,” he said.
However, Baumgartner wanted them to take away the positives of the experience including the life lessons they’re getting going through something that’s unprecedented in our time.
“You’re going through these experiences learning to be flexible, learning to adjust, perseverance, resilience, all of it, to overcome and finish out your senior year and take a look at the next level of your education that you’re going to go on to, which is going to look very different from what even I experienced,” he said. “Maybe even what your older siblings experienced.”
Jackie DePeau from Kimberly High School said Baumgartner combined everyone’s speeches, so they didn’t have a lot left to say but thanked the Elks.
“Now more than ever we need to come together to continue to support our community and our students, so thank you for that,” she said. “Also to Van Abel’s for hosting and making this happen tonight.”
Little Chute High School Tony Bird was very blunt.
“You guys have been ripped off,” he said, noting the Class of 2020 overcame it, learned a lot, and their resiliency will serve them very well in the future.
Freedom High School Principal Kurt Erickson thanked the Elks for continuing the tradition of honoring the local academic talent and Van Abel’s for the delicious food.
“Seniors, in 2020, your resolve has been tested,” he said while noting this year’s banquet is has a different energy that it would have had were it to be held in May.
“This has changed us all a little bit,” he said.
He said the students missed out on a lot of things but they were just things and they will be stronger because of what they missed.
Brien lauded the principals for getting their students through the pandemic from March through the end of the school year. He also believes this group of seniors will be more advanced technologically than previous groups.
“I had to ask my 8-year old grandson to help me through the computer sometimes,” he said. “I think we’re going to see some fantastic things coming through the technology area just because you’ve experienced it.”
He recommended that when the students were down or confused to talk to their parents and some of their teachers because they always want to help.
Brien also had all of the students recognized give a standing ovation to their parents for all the support they have given them.