2012 Valedictorians: Jeff Anderson, Dylan Berger, Joelle Stangler, Brian Prigmore
Zimmerman High School: Jeff Anderson
Imaginative student makes learning adventurous
by Bruce Strand
Jeff Anderson is already developing into the proverbial mad scientist.
Among the independent projects the Zimmerman valedictorian has taken up are:
•Turning a satellite dish into a concave mirror solar cooker. (“We couldn’t get it warm enough in May so I’ll try again in July.”)
•Assembling a geodesic sphere from toothpicks. (“To demonstrate how to build a sphere with triangular shapes.”)
•Duct-taping four two-liter bottles together to make a rocket. (“The launch didn’t go well because the silicone wasn’t dried all the way, so I’ll try again this summer.)”
Physics teacher Jason Doherty chuckles, “Jeff has a ridiculous mind,” meaning that in a nice way. “The way he connects and applies physics to all his other subjects. He comes up with all those projects on his own.”
Most mornings, Doherty says, Anderson brings up “some article he saw in Popular Mechanics or Scientific American, and they’re usually way beyond me.”
Doherty adds that Anderson is “just a regular kid otherwise, and gets along with everyone,” although the class sometimes grouses about his tendency to raise the curve for grading.
Anderson plans to become a biochemist. He’ll attend St. John’s and double-major with biology and chemistry.
“I can see myself doing research in a lab, projects like engineering viruses to carry drugs to the body to target specific cells that are sick, or something related to that.”
Anderson’s ambition is such that he’s taken AP tests for subjects they don’t even have at ZHS: AP physics C electricity and magnetism, and AP physics C mechanics, studying textbooks borrowed from Doherty.
Anderson said his favorite class was AP physics, as he thrived on Doherty’s experiments and projects. “I will dearly miss his class,” said Anderson. “Chemistry, biology, and calculus were also a ton of fun because they provided me with a wealth of concrete information.”
Anderson, whose GPA of 4.097 (at last report) led 139 ZHS graduates, got all A’s except one A-minus in AP English language and composition as a junior.
“English classes have always been my most challenging, but they have always seemed to make me think harder than I normally would need to.”
To achieve all those A’s, Anderson says, he just tries to “stay attentive and do my homework as soon as possible so I never have an overload.” Which is sometimes easier said than done. “Avoiding procrastination,” he adds, “has taken constant vigilance.”
Anderson was student council president, competed with Knowledge Bowl, served as prom crew treasurer, and contributed to the ISD 728 Core Planning Team.
Athletically, he has played hockey since age 4 and was a captain and defenseman of the Black team in the Elk River Junior Gold program this year. Placing fifth in the state tournament this year is one of the two high school highlights he lists, along with getting Student of the Year for 12th grade.
Anderson is the oldest of three children of Mark and Carrie Anderson. His sibs are Jarret and Kelsi.
While excited to be moving on to Phase Two of his life, Anderson reflects, “Of course, I will never forget the wonderful experiences, influential people, and just the place that I will be leaving forever.”
Elk River High School: Dylan Berger
Science nerd leads class, and helps tennis team win state title
by Bruce Strand
Talk about your grand exits. When Dylan Berger gave the valedictory address at Elk River on Friday evening it was only the second-most exciting event of his final week of high school.
That’s because Berger, who leads a class of 389 with a 4.137 GPA, also plays No. 2 doubles for the Elk tennis team that captured the state championship Wednesday, beating Wayzata in the championship match to finish unbeaten.
“Playing on the Elk River tennis team for all these years has definitely been my favorite high school memory,” said Berger, one of three captains. “These four years of going to state have been a blast with this awesome group of guys.”
He savored the state crown as “a first for ERHS in tennis and a definite shock to all those big schools out there.”
Berger had 29-3 record in tennis this year, mostly at No. 2 doubles with Jesse Bragg, and 87 career wins, but even better stats in the classroom.
“Dylan is very thoughtful in his choice of goals, the destination, and he path it takes to achieve them,” observed Randy Ronning, his tennis coach. “That’s why you know he will be a big success in his career and life.”
Ronning cited long-range quests Dylan targeted as a freshman — being a four-year starter, a team captain, an all-conference player, making some money, and being valedictorian — that have all come true.
This winter Berger worked 30 hours a week at two jobs, at Daytona Country Club (giving tennis lessons) and Nike Factory Store in Albertville, while playing tennis, serving as National Honor Society vice president, and continuing to rack up straight A’s.
“He is an excellent time manager,” the coach assessed.
Calling himself a “definite science nerd,” Berger especially enjoys chemistry, ever since Carolyn Mitzuk turned him on to the subject in honors chem in 10th grade. “She’s an awesome teacher and I think that’s a major reason why I liked the material so much,” said Berger.
Asked if he had trouble with any classes, he listed history because “learning what already happened just kind of bores me” and social studies because “I wasn’t very good at it.” Then again, he aced them both like all the rest.
Berger is the youngest of three sons of Kim and Bill Berger of Ramsey, following Jake and Taylor.
He is currently enrolled in College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota as a PSEO student. He’ll major there in chemistry with a goal of pharmacy school.
“My biggest goal is to get a Ph.D. I really want to get the best education I can in order to most effectively help patients. Also, I’d really like to work in a hospital setting rather than the commercial setting because it gives me a better chance to personally work with those in need.”
Along with tennis, Berger is involved in Yellow Ribbon and National Honor Society. His love of tennis extended to serving as student manager for the excellent girls’ team.
Asked how he manages to get straight A’s, Berger professes to be “one of those overachievers that people like to make fun of,” always going above and beyond what is expected.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m really good at time management. That’s why my over-the-top attitude when it comes to school isn’t too overwhelming.”
Berger won the Cretex Co. Senior Scholarship recently, a tangible reward that he ranks just behind tennis as a high school thrill.
“It feels really good that someone recognized my hard work. I’m really grateful to receive that scholarship. It’s a really big opportunity.”
Looking back, Berger reflects that after “so many ups and downs throughout these four years, I’m so grateful for those who have stood by my side for the whole thing … It’s crazy to think that it’s finally over.”
Looking ahead, the ERHS valedictorian feels nothing but excitement.
“I’m so ready to move on with my life. High school has been an experience, but I’m really ready for the next step in life.”
Rogers High School: Joelle Stangler
Multi-tasker exudes humor, confidence, compassion
by Bruce Strand
Among many qualities that made Joelle Stangler the valedictorian in Rogers is her ability to keep things light.
Describing how she racked up all those A’s, she said:
“Asking questions in class, lots of group study sessions at Caribou, and plenty of Facebook breaks while studying, to break it up.”
If she had to pick a least favorite class, she said, it would have to be multimedia creations.
“But on the bright side, now I know how to change the color of a border on a table in a PowerPoint, which might come in handy some day.”
Did she ever get less than an “A?”
“Yes, an A-minus in AP English. Curse you, Gail Weber, and your ridiculous research papers.”
Is she anxious to get out in the world, or would she like to stay at RHS another year?
“I’d like to stay another year for the sole purpose of getting on Mr. Harapat’s Spanish Wall of Fame. Otherwise, I’m excited for next year and everything it’ll bring.”
Stangler is the second of four kids, with three brothers, Jordan, Judson and Jaxon. Her parents are Joe and Cassie.
“My dad was No. 2 in his class, so I felt like I had to one-up him,” she quipped.
Stangler, who led Rogers’ 307 seniors with a 4.12 grade-point-average, is actually the second valedictorian in her family tree.
“My grandmother told me to be sure to mention that my great-grandma was one, too,” said Stangler. “Her name was Marie Johner. She was valedictorian in Towner, North Dakota.”
Stangler said finishing first in her class was “always my goal, since sixth grade.”
She allowed that her two top rivals, Matt Schaeffer and Trevor Springer, were “awesome students, probably smarter than me,” but neither minded when she took a pass-fail class this year that bumped up her GPA a little.
“I asked them, will that bother you? They were like, ‘We don’t want to be No. 1 and have to make that speech! We just want to be top five.’ “
It will surprise no one who knows this outgoing, energetic, wise-cracking youth that she relishes the chance to give that speech. She revealed only that its title is “The Element of Surprise” and would be “a little unconventional.”
Stangler stayed busy outside the classroom, too, playing varsity volleyball (her position was defensive specialist), competing in Knowledge Bowl, managing the concessions stand as a National Honor Society activity, and serving on student council, LINK crew and news crew, for which she wrote scripts and operated the camera for the closed-circuit weekly broadcasts.
Knowledge Bowl, for some reason, is mostly male, but Stangler was unfazed.
“She was never intimidated,” said Harapat, also the KB coach. “She has an ability to quickly draw connections, a mature intuition, and an exceptional knowledge base.”
As her favorite class at RHS, Stangler picked history with Tom Olson because it was “never boring,” even the lectures.
Her overall school daze highlight? “Every day with my volleyball team.” She adds: “A shout out to the volleyball parents.”
Stangler will attend the University of Minnesota and major in sociology and political science.
There are several things she’d like to be. “In a perfect world,” she muses, “I would be a defense attorney, college professor and screenwriter hybrid.” But her main quest is law.
Stangler earned the affection and admiration of the faculty, Harapat said.
“Joelle brings a great deal of energy, drive, and excitement to anything she is a part of. She can be serious and intense, while simultaneously being inviting and charismatic.”
He listed the valedictorian’s qualities as an uncommon combo of innate intelligence, determination, and exceptional work ethic — along with “a rare balance of social awareness, competitiveness and genuine empathy.”
Spectrum High School: Brian Prigmore
Big-picture guy dives into every challenge
by Bruce Strand
When Brian Prigmore wants to take a break from his studies and get away from it all, he’s got the perfect place: under water.
Scuba diving is the family sport for this Rogers clan that includes Spectrum’s valedictorian. Parents Scott and Kathy take sons Michael and Brian on trips to such sites as the Cayman Islands and Cozumel, or, closer to home, to Orbegon in northern Minnesota.
“My parents decided to have it become a family thing,” said Prigmore. “We have a lot of fun exploring the wildlife, seeing the coral. There’s one up north which is basically a mine they flooded and turned into a dive site. The water’s pretty cold there! I like the warm water in the Caribbean.”
Prigmore keeps his head way above water as a student. He has compiled a 4.04 grade-point average, leading 57 students in the charter school’s class of 2012.
“My system for maintaining my grades is hard work and determination,” he said. “I spend a huge portion of my time studying and doing my school work.”
He favors math, English, and science “because they come more naturally to me and I have an interest in all of them.” Asked what his least favorite classes have been, he could not think of one. “There are parts I enjoy from all of them.”
Prigmore chose Spectrum because he previously attended Kaleidoscope charter school where many kids move on to Spectrum, including his brother. He will also follow Michael to Brigham Young University in Utah.
“I shadowed him at BYU for a week, attending classes,” said Brian. “It’s a really nice campus and they have programs I want.”
Prior to BYU, Prigmore will attend Anoka-Ramsey Community College on scholarship.
Amy Kinney is confident Prigmore will do very well, after teaching him in Spectrum’s college courses, reading and writing (basically, research papers), communications (requiring 15-minute speeches) and senior project (writing a high caliber paper).
“Brian will get the job done no matter what the cost, or how much time it takes, and he never complains,” said Kinney, who piles tons of homework on her charges. “He always goes the extra mile. He has a great ability for research, and has a very analytical mind. He’s good at seeing the big picture.”
Kinney was especially impressed with the scope of Prigmore’s speech on scuba diving.
“He lugged all that heavy equipment into the classroom and gave a real good demonstration of how to put on the pieces and how they work, without being in the water, within the time limit, 15 to 17 minutes, which was quite an achievement.”
The Spectrum valedictorian is looking at becoming either a clinical psychologist, specializing in drug and alcohol abuse with his own practice, or a family doctor.
Prigmore, who also enjoys jet-skiing and target shooting, lists his high school highlights as follows: making National Honor Society as a freshman, receiving the Presidential Star Scholarship from Anoka-Ramsey, and being valedictorian.
Prigmore participated in Yellow Ribbon and National Honor Society (he’s vice president). His favorite school assignment was doing a 30-second PSA on drinking and driving with partner Jesse Aguilar for a required senior project.
He heads the first class to graduate from Spectrum in its new permanent facility.
“I think it really made our class a lot more unified, and whole school, too, being in old building and experiencing the new building.”
Now that high school’s over, that’s fine with Prigmore.
“I am ready and excited for the new responsibilities and challenges that will come with it.”