Valedictorians 2011

by Bruce Strand
Arts editor

Rogers High School

Rogers’ Chris Thompson is physical and cerebral standout
Chris Thompson has been a frequent entry in the sports pages as a soccer and tennis athlete, but his primary achievement at Rogers High School has been earning the valedictorian honor for 2011.
Thompson will graduate with a 4.105 grade-point-average, tops among 290 students in the RHS class of 2011.
“My goal was to do the best I could in the classes I was in at the time,” Thompson said. “Once I realized that I was where I was in the class rank, I knew that if I kept up with my work ethic and commitment that I could finish high school as valedictorian.”
Asked if he was competitive in the classroom as in sports, he said, “I didn’t let the others’ grades affect my own.  I focused on what I could do and I knew that if I gave it my best, then I would be where I wanted to be in the end.”
Chris Miller, who had Thompson in pre-calculus class and coached him in soccer, said this student-athlete “makes it look easy to get good grades … He has a lot of natural ability.”
Miller added: “But he does a lot of hard work outside of school, too, with his homework. He definitely will be good at whatever he does, because of how smart he is, and his drive.”
A valedictorian on the field is a pleasure to coach, too.
“He’s able to calculate what’s going on and read people,” said Miller. “And has always been one of our hardest workers.”
Almost as physical as he is cerebral, Thompson is a fine athlete, too. He started four years in soccer and made all-conference this year at center midfield, and helped the Royals win the Mississippi 8 title. He is also a two-year starter in tennis, and this year has a 7-10 record at No. 3 singles.
Thompson, son of Joy and Brian Thompson, has one sibling, his twin sister, Sam.
He never had less than an “A” in school.
“I set time aside for homework and I am committed to doing my best in school,” he explained. “I don’t have an specific process, I just study as much as I need to feel comfortable with whatever test is coming up.”
Being valedictorian is “pretty sweet, and definitely will be one of my best memories of high school.”
He regards AP biology and Spanish as his favorite classes. “The teachers and other students in these classes made them two of the more exciting and memorable classes I’ve taken.”
His toughest ones, he said, were AP calculus and AP physics, but he aced them as well.
Thompson’s favorite academic project was writing a paper about the role genetics plays in sports, for his final AP biology paper.
“It was a big project —we had to use 40 sources,” said Thompson, who started with a Sports Illustrated article on the subject. “It was about how certain genes help you in sports, make you run faster and jump higher and things like that … and how genetics in the future could influence sports even more.”
Outside the classroom, his favorite RHS memories will be the conference soccer championship, homecoming, and prom.
Thompson will attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison, majoring in math or science fields. He plans to play club soccer. “I am looking forward to the challenges that college presents,” he stated.
He hasn’t chosen a specific occupation goal yet and looks forward to seeing what’s out there in four years.
“New jobs and occupations are being created every day,” he said.

Spectrum High School

Spectrum’s Anna Cunningham intends to serve others, environment

Anna Cunningham has sailed through the first phase of her life with distinction, earning the valedictorian honor at Spectrum while embracing a constellation of activities, and looks ahead to what she plans as a life of purpose.
She  picked environmental engineering as her college major because it combines her top academic loves, math and science, and because the field is “all encompassing” with opportunity to travel the world in this field.
Cunningham envisions working as a missionary.
“I would like to be an environmental engineer as a missionary, advising people how to control their air, ground, and water pollution,” she said. “I think that people’s basic needs need to be fulfilled before you can help them spiritually. This could be a gateway for me to tell them about God and his love.”
Cunningham has been a PSEO student at Anoka-Ramsey the past two years and earned her associate of arts degree.  She will now attend North Dakota State University.
With a 4.115 grade-point-average, she leads Spectrum’s third graduating class of 62 students. She had all A’s except for one “this last semester in a silly one-credit class — long and tragic story.”
Her favorite subject is math: “Any math, calculus, and algebra are my favorites. I love to solve problems and see the final product of all the work I put into it.”
She regards calculus 1 and 2 and chemistry 1 and 2 as the toughest classes.
The valedictorian honor was “definitely” a goal of hers. “I think I am somewhat competitive but mainly with myself,” she said. “I didn’t want to compete with the people in my class, because all of the top-ranked people are my friends.”
Asked how she manages straight A’s, she admits to being a crammer when it comes to tests.
“I don’t do much until about a week before a test, and then I cram,” said Cunningham. “That’s probably not the best way to go about things, but I have tried to stay on track from the get-go, but that doesn’t work for me. Tests are my thing. I especially like standardized tests. I do work hard to get my grades, but a lot of it comes easy for me. It is a lot like being athletic! I am really grateful that God has given me the ability to do well in school.”
Deb Hoyt, who taught Cunningham’s U.S. history class at Spectrum and supervised her community service project, said this about the valedictorian:
“Anna is a very hard worker and dedicated to knowledge. She always pushes herself to the next level, whether it’s sports or organizations or scholastic. She is also a fun person, she’ll act silly and laugh and just have a good time with everyone, unusual for a person so book smart. She is very musical, too.”
Cunningham is very active physically, musically, academically and otherwise. She has run a Grandma’s Marathon and played varsity soccer for Spectrum. Her activities also include piano, choir, playing keyboard on her church worship team, and National Honor Society. She has worked as a server at Daddy-O’s Cafe in Elk River for 2.5 years.
The daughter of Russell and Wendy Cunningham, she attended Rivers Christian Academy through 10th grade, which was the last year the Elk River parochial school existed, with many of its students opting for the new charter school, Spectrum. Her brother, David, was a valedictorian at Rivers.
“It felt like a family, everyone cared about each other, and I will never forget my time spent there,” said Cunningham about her years at Rivers.
Her favorite school memories include making a hilarious video for a fictional product dressed in hick clothes (“We were called Terdski’s and we did lawn care services”), a Spectrum school dance on top of a building this year, and organizing a talent show fund raiser as her community service project for Spectrum.
That project, which she shared with Page Johnson, was called Rock Your Face Off, and it drew over 150 people and raised $1,100 for Cristo Vive International, a camp in Wisconsin for disabled children and adults. She also  sang in that event with a group of friends.
Her planned activities for this summer includes  a week at Cristo Vive as a one-on-one counselor.
“I went there a few years ago and it completely changed my life. It was an amazing experience,” she reflects. “It showed me how to love people and how love is important in every area of our lives.”


Elk River High School

ERHS’s Princeton-bound Theo Anderson had No. 1 among his many goals


by Bruce Strand
Arts editor
Theo Anderson thrives on setting high goals and going the extra miles to achieve them. He’s also abundantly smart.
In fact, Elk River’s valedictorian is the kind of blue-chip academic prospect whom Ivy League schools seek to enter into their hallowed halls. Indeed, he is headed for Princeton University, and he was accepted at Harvard, too.
Earning the No. 1 slot among 420 students in the ERHS class of 2011 was a quest he embraced early in his high school days, and he led from start to finish, posting a 4.20 grade-point-average, never less than an ‘’A” with the toughest class schedule he could muster. His lead over the salutatorian was .1, which is relatively sizable in a large school where the margin has been as close as .001 other years.
“I see the valedictorian title as a tremendous accomplishment,” reflected Anderson. “It is not necessarily an award for the smartest kid in class, though it often is given to the smartest kid. It’s simply a coveted academic achievement that takes four years of hard work and a high level of intelligence.”
“It was my goal to be valedictorian since freshman year. I planned my entire high school schedule around it; all said I’ve totaled 15 AP classes.”
One of them was AP computer science, which he originally took only because of the AP designation but wound up enjoying so much that he reconsidered his career goal and decided to major around it.
“One memorable project,” he said, “was when we made computer players for tic-tac-toe and two other students and I created unbeatable algorithms.”
John Peterson, teacher of that class, regards Anderson as a rare gem in the classroom.
“He is innately smart, sure, but he also questions everything, and always wants to know the ‘why,’ what makes things tick, and then he takes it to a new level, and explores all the concepts.”
When a key computer test was given that colleges would regard as crucial to admission, Anderson asked to take a higher level of that test.
“The harder one was the only one Princeton would accept anyway,” said Peterson, “so Theo had the foresight to request it. And he got a perfect 5.0 on that one, too. He did all the extra work on his own.”
A gentle, blonde youth who looks a couple of years younger than a senior, Anderson is an engaging type who bridges gaps between student groups, said Peterson. “The nerdy kids, and cool kids, they all like and respect him,” said Peterson.
Anderson, whose parents are Wayne Anderson and Kimberlie Hanning, is the youngest of seven kids.
Asked how he’s managed straight A’s, he said, “I have a sort of piecemeal approach to classes; I work harder when my grade starts to slip and spend less time on a class when my grade is high.”
His extracurricular activities have been Mock Trial for four years — he was captain this year and his team went to state — and Math Team, along with French Club, Chinese Club and National Honor Society.
“Mock Trial was a blast,” he said, “because our team was only about eight kids each year so we knew each other really well. Plus we were a very good team.”
His favorite class along with computers was AP chemistry. Each had only about 15 kids, most very smart, he said. “I will retain memories of my classmates in these classes far longer than I will remember the subject material.”
The valedictorian regards AP chemistry as the hardest class he ever took “because there was so much information to know, lots of memorization, lots of weird exceptions, difficult concepts, and grueling labs.”
Outside of class, one prized ERHS experience was representing the French Club in Snow Week royalty this year. He made a snow sculpture of the Eiffel Tower, sold Buffalo Wild Wings at lunch for a fund raiser, and participated in the school pep fest.
“It made me step out of my comfort zone a little bit and I thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Anderson.
Anderson, whose part-time jobs are cleaning at his church and doing yard work for neighbors, is eager to move on to the next phase of his life, which will be a major shake up, moving from a small midwestern town to New Jersey, and matriculating with top-notch students from around the world.
“I’m tremendously excited,” he said. “In high school, your choice of classes is limited, and everybody has the same schedule every day. Most (not all) teachers try to walk me through everything, giving plenty of homework, and the school nannies kids about attendance.
“I’d much rather be left alone and take responsibility for my learning, and I know I’ll have that independence next year at college.”

Zimmerman High School

Zimmerman’s Matt Milless keeps eye on the ball in the classroom, too

Being class valedictorian was not a particular goal for Matt Milless, but just by doing his best in every class through high school he wound up with that nice distinction for the Zimmerman class of 2011.
With a 4.01 grade-point-average, the Thunder baseball team’s right fielder leads the class of 161 graduates.
“I just tried to get the best grades I could,” he said. “I don’t think it was something any of us were really paying close attention to.”
Nonetheless, he reflects: “It is truly an honor to represent Zimmerman High School as the valedictorian. It also gives me a feeling of accomplishment.”
He got all A’s except for one B in metal shop the first semester.
“I was still learning at that point, and I did better the second semester,” Milless recounts.
The son of Jason Milless and Kris Metcalfe, he will attend Minnesota-Duluth and major in engineering or statistics.
“I have always enjoyed math classes. I think because I have always been pretty good at math,” said Milless.
He also regards German and history as fun and interesting classes, and especially enjoyed learning about World War II “because it was such a huge conflict that shaped the world we live in today.”
Asked what his toughest class was, he singled out English in 10th grade.
“We were really pushed to improve our writing, which was a challenge for me,” he said, “but that was one of the classes I learned the most in, and has really benefited me.”
Outside the classroom, his favorite ZHS activity has been lacing up the spikes and helping the Thunder win a lot of games the last two years. They missed state by one game last year.
“I would have to say baseball — not only all the games but the bus rides and practices as well where you just hang out with your teammates,” said Milless, who’s hitting .340 with 17 RBI.
Baseball coach Matt Kraus had Milless in his history class.
“Just like in baseball, he is a hard worker and knows what needs to be done,” said Kraus about Milless in the classroom. “He’s No. 1 in the class so definitely he is naturally smart, but he also pushes himself and takes hard classes, too, which is the mark of a true valedictorian. And he is a great kid, great personality, with good morals, all the things you’d want in a kid.”
Milless has a part-time job at White Bear Clothing in Big Lake. He plans to “play baseball and relax” this summer. As for next fall, he states: “I am definitely excited to start college and to have new challenges and a new lifestyle.”

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