Zimmerman: Cassie Ortberg, star athlete, puts classes first
by Bruce Strand
For Cassie Ortberg, earning the valedictorian award was just the final plum in a most fruitful high school experience at Zimmerman.
Ortberg, daughter of Janet and John Ortberg, notched a 4.017 grade-point-average, tops in a class of 135 students. She’s a star athlete, earning the school’s Athena award. She was homecoming queen. Just as important, she was a student with a positive impact on peers.
“What you hope for in the small-school experience is the well-rounded kid who is good at everything,” said Jason Savage, assistant principal, “and Cassie exemplifies that as well as anyone I’ve seen in my 15 years in this position. She is obviously a phenomenal student, she is a great person whom younger kids seek out as a mentor and a tutor, she is one of the best female track athletes in the state, and she is always a person who leads with her presence and her kindness.”
Valedictorian was not a specific goal, Ortberg said.
“No, I simply wanted to do the best that I could do, wherever that got me.”
Her goals were to “have fun and enjoy it but also work hard in everything that I do.”
Ortberg’s final days of school will include giving the valedictory address and competing in her fourth state track meet, taking place yesterday today at Hamline. She was state runner-up in the 300 hurdles last year and qualified in that event and high jump this year.
“Cassie is a very humble person,” Savage said. “If you talk to her after she’s won a race, you wouldn’t know if she placed first or was middle of the pack.”
Ortberg said her favorite classes have been physics and AP calculus, and her favorite school project was “building rockets in Mr. Koenig’s physical science class.”
Her report cards had all A’s except one A-minus in Mr. Heinecke’s pre-AP English class in 10th grade, which she regards as her most challenging course at ZHS. “He really pushed us,” Ortberg said, “but I’ve never learned so much in an English class.”
Her system for straight A’s has always been “study and do the homework to learn the material, not just to get it done.”
Asked if academics and sports have been equal priority, Ortberg said, “Academics have always been first. But sports have been a big part of my life since third grade, playing basketball, volleyball and then track. They’ve taken up an equal amount of time. They’ve gotten me most of the friends that I have. They’ve made me learn how to manage my time and to prioritize.”
Along with track-and-field, she helped the volleyball team reach the section finals last fall and serves in prom committee, peer tutoring and TIES. She played basketball through 11th grade. She was formerly in LINK and DECA.
Aside from school and sports, she lists some of her favorite things as Jodi Piccoult (author), “Big Bang Theory” and “How I Met Your Mother” (TV shows), “Footloose” (movie) and Barbados (place she’s visited).
Ortberg intends to major in chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and continue her track-and-field career.
“I will be extremely sad to leave high school,” she reflected. “I love this school, this town and all of the people here, but I am excited for college to meet new people.”
Elk River: Aaron Schwab is a triple-A kind of individual
by Bruce Strand
When Aaron Schwab started high school, he was just hoping to pass his first AP course, never mind finish first in his graduating class.
However, as the A’s started piling up, Schwab challenged himself a little more each year.
“Halfway through my junior year, I realized valedictorian was a possibility,” Schwab said, “and that only made me want to work harder and challenge myself more.”
Also a star swimmer amid a constellation of activities and achievements, Schwab did indeed capture Elk River High School’s valedictorian honor with a 4.177 grade-point-average, leading 395 students in the class of 2013.
Son of Scott and Wendy Schwab, he also received both the Excel Award as a junior and Triple-Award (arts, athletics, academics) as a senior, honors that go to well-rounded students who are good citizens.
“Aaron is just a great kid academically and athletically – one of the most amazing students that I’ve seen in all my years in education,” Assistant Principal Julie Odegard said. “It’s been an honor to have him come through Elk River High School and be our valedictorian. He is very focused academically but so well-rounded as well, and just very pleasant to be around.”
Schwab, who eyes a medical career, said his favorite classes have been Spanish, honors chemistry, and AP studio art. He has an artistic side as well. Ceramics class is his place to both relax and create.
“It has definitely been one of the most gratifying and enjoyable classes I have ever taken,” said Schwab, who captured a Gold Key award for ceramics at the Minneosta Scholastic Arts Awards in January.
His one A-minus came AP physics this year, which he regards as his most demanding class, both mathematically and logically.
Peers frequently turn to him for leadership. He’s been co-captain for the swimmers, president of National Honors Society, vice-president of Spanish Club and treasurer-secretary for SERVE. NHS service projects are also among his favorite high school projects.
“I know the teachers would say he is not afraid to ask questions, not afraid to help the student next to him if they are struggling,” Odegard said. “He’s the kind of kid I would like my own kids to be friends with if I had the choice.”
Asked how he keeps his GPA so high, Schwab gives himself credit for good time management and for utilizing “an excellent support system” in achieving feats he once thought beyond his reach.
“I actually met my best friends through a study group for honors chemistry,” Schwab said. “We all continued to have classes together, and this consistency enabled us to use studying as an excuse to get together and form lifelong friendships.”
That was quite a round table: Emma Hohlen, Nate Webster, Jake Schroeder and Molly Vail, all of whom, he notes proudly, made the top 20 in the class.
The broad-shouldered, 6-foot-2 Schwab is a five-time state entrant in swimming. He holds school records in the 200 individual medley, 100 backstroke and 400 freestyle relay and appears in the Elks top 10 in every swimming event. He placed as high as eighth at state in backstroke and ninth in the individual medley.
Outside school, he’s a Sherburne County TIES member, student liaison to the school board, a Sunday school teacher (Central Lutheran) and volunteer at Mercy Hospital.
Schwab lists “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling as a personal hero, with Stephen King another favorite author. Other favorites are Matt Grevers (athlete), Ron Pope (music), Natalie Portman (movies), “How I Met Your Mother” (TV show), Minnesota Wild, “Pan’s Labyrinth” (movie) and New Hampshire (the best place he’s visited).
His to-do list all along has been topped by achieving good grades and having fun — “goals which were somewhat inversely proportional!” — along with artistic and athletic success and “getting a handle on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
Schwab’s long-range goals are to become a pediatric neurologist and travel extensively. He’ll attend Carleton College and continue his swimming career there, too.
He finds it “bittersweet” to be approaching the first major crossroads of life.
“It’s exciting to be moving on to college, pursuing subjects that I’m passionate about,” Schwab said, “but it will be sad to part with my friends and teachers whom I have grown very close to over the past four years. I’m eager to form new relationships in Northfield and see what life outside of Elk River has to offer.”
Rogers: Tyler Pinter gets a head start on a life of service
by Bruce Strand
When Tyler Pinter took breaks from knocking down straight A’s at Rogers High School, he spent much of his summer time in recent years on church mission trips with youth groups.
The 2013 valedictorian has helped with a food shelf and day care center in Omaha, a vacation Bible School for Sudanese refugees in Nebraska, cleanup and moral support in impoverished Detroit neighborhoods and Washington, D.C., city parks, and removing invasive plants in Boulder, Colo., where they also picked seeds from plants for replanting in fire-ravaged areas.
“All of these service projects have taught me much about how to help other people, no matter what their background or where they live,” he reflected.
If Pinter sounds a little like an Eagle Scout, that’s because he is. His project to achieve the Eagle (in February 2012) was also service oriented: building a tool storage shed for a community garden club at his church, Valley Community Presbyterian in Golden Valley. The garden club provides free plots to anyone desiring to grow their own fresh produce.
He procured funds from the garden club and the church’s endowment fund, along with gravel from a church member, and spent three months on the project, with 352 hours (his count) of volunteer help from family, fellow scouts, and kids and adults from church.
“I wanted to give back to my church,” said Pinter, very active in church since sixth grade, “and at the same time, the community.”
The son of Mike and Camille Pinter, he led the RHS class of 291 with a 4.101 GPA. His dad was a valedictorian, too, in Abbotsford, Wis.
Pinter will major in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin.
“I hope to work for a progressive company that works towards innovation,” said Pinter, adding that he’d like to help design renewable energy resources and develop machines that process materials into products.
His favorite classes have been math, science, Spanish, guitar and foods. He had all A’s until one A-minus this semester in AP calculus. English classes were his most difficult (“I am not the fastest reader or greatest writer”), but he still aced them.
His favorite school projects have all involved building – toothpick bridges in precalculus, a mini golf hole in geometry, Rube Goldberg machines in science in ninth and 12th grades.
“Tyler’s work ethic and determination set him apart,” said Brian Harapat, his Spanish teacher. “He comes from a fantastic family that values education. He is super respectful. He always pays attention, and he never takes a day off in class. He’s everything you could ask for in a student.”
Harapat adds: “He is an Eagle Scout, and you can see that in class, too. He is never late. He always turns in assignments on time — and always with good stuff.”
Pinter said his academic goals were to achieve at least a 4.0, which his brother, Ryan, two years older, had done, and to take AP/college courses to get a head start on college. His main study buddy has been Rocky Nelson. They took many of the same classes and were neck-and-neck academically four years.
Not a standout athlete but very interested in sports, he played freshman and sophomore basketball and junior varsity baseball, then continued in both with in-house teams. He also bowled with the RHS club team four years.
The son of two Wisconsin natives, he’s a devoted Packer and Badger fan (and Packer stockholder) and will soon be among like-minded folks.
“I will miss all my friends and all the great experience I had in high school, but I can’t wait to get to college and become a Badger!” said Pinter, who plans to buy season football tickets.
Other favorites are the Rocky Mountains as a place to visit, bacon cheeseburgers, the movie “Inception” (editor’s note: a flick so cerebral you almost have to be a valedictorian to follow the plot), and the TV show “Big Bang Theory.”
Spectrum: Shelby Eden welcomes challenges, and takes no short cuts
by Bruce Strand
Shelby Eden’s favorite experience at Spectrum High School was planning and hosting a five-day basketball camp for middle school girls. This endeavor combined two of her passions, basketball and organizing things.
“I called it Forever Fundamentals Basketball Camp,” said Eden about her Senior Project, an SHS graduation requirement. “It was extremely challenging at times, with the actual project, a paper and a final presentation.”
And it was a blast because “I was forced to do something out of my comfort zone, and I met some wonderful young girls, as well, many of whom attend Spectrum.”
Eden is valedictorian of the class of 46 with a 4.044 grade-point-average and, by the way, got the Best Senior Project award, too.
She’s also the record-holder for basketball points (639) at the 7-year-old charter school in Elk River and served as president of National Honor Society, organizing food drives and a dance and helping with a senior scholarship.
Eden, who’ll attend Northwestern in St. Paul, and has not picked a major yet, said the valedictorian honor was a specific goal.
“Yes, I was No. 2 in ninth grade, and I just could not settle for that,” related Eden, daughter of Cory and Jeanine Grupa, and Ernie Eden.
She was focused solely on academics for a while before realizing how beneficial extracurriculars could be and joined NHS and the soccer and basketball teams in 10th grade and the new softball team this year. “I grew as a person and made incredible new friends.”
Dedication is her key for good grades.
“I never like to take short cuts on my work, because then I feel guilty for my lack of effort. I try to never cram for tests. I study a little bit each night.”
Between work and sports, she sometimes has to choose one night to finish all her work and winds up with her mom yelling at her at 2:30 a.m. to get to bed already.
Favorite classes over the years have include Spanish, forensic science, biology, film, speech communications and college algebra. She had all A’s except one A-minus for photography in ninth grade.
“Shelby is the hardest-working student I know,” said Amy Kinney, English and speech teacher, praising Eden’s thorough treatment and attention to detail for every assignment. “She earned 100 percent in my concurrent enrollment college class at Spectrum through Anoka-Ramsey Community College. … That is no points deducted all term!”
Eden’s commencement speech (a peer-elected position) was a gem, said Kinney.
“She noted every landmark event, big or seemingly small, in the past four years, of her class’s experience at Spectrum. Audience members were laughing, smiling, wiping their eyes.”
Art comes hard for the straight-A student, Eden said art class because “painting, drawing, cutting and gluing” never came easy for her.
“I better express my creativity through writing. Photography in ninth grade and Theater Production this year kept me on my toes.”
Eden’s main study buddies have been best friend and cousin Emily, who sends hilarious late-night texts and cures her stress with encouragement, and her dog Libby, who is always there to cheer her up “with either a wagging tail or nose on my book.”
For personal favorites, she listed Agatha Christie, Justin Morneau, actress Melissa McCarthy, “The Office” and “Walker Texas Ranger” (TV), “Drop Dead Gorgeous” (movie), the Twins and Spectrum teams, and Cape Cod (best vacation trip).
Eden has thrived on the close-knit atmosphere at Spectrum where teachers “care for us like they are our own parents” and says she will miss that next year, along with not playing sports. But she can’t wait to see what’s next at Northwestern.
“I feel Spectrum has provided me with a stable foundation, and I know it’s time to move on.”