by Bruce Strand
Grant Tesdahl set his sights on being valedictorian at age 12 but never let his pursuit of this prize curtail his full enjoyment of high school.
Tesdahl, who led Elk River’s senior class of 408 students with a 4.151 GPA, also served as senior class president, (“Tes for Pres” was his campaign slogan), played in two state soccer tournaments and learned about the business world via participation in DECA, among other activities.
“Valedictorian was always a goal for me,” said Tesdahl, “ever since sixth grade. I’ve always paid close attention to it. As soon as I got the No. 1 spot, I knew that I was going to stay there. … I’ve been very, very lucky and very well-mentored by parents and teachers.”
Tesdahl never went the PSEO route of taking college classes on a college campus during high school to get a head start on college credits, which is fairly common among ambitious students.
“No, I enjoyed the social aspect of high school too much,” Tesdahl said. “And I knew I could get the credits here (at ERHS) without being away from my friends and spending all that money on gas.”
Tesdahl plans to major in engineering at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Specifically what field of engineering he doesn’t know yet; at UW you can take a year exploring all the options, he said.
While he doesn’t plan to go into business, one of his favorite experiences was a Hockey Day Minnesota project through DECA as part of a four-person team setting up a clothing stand at this major state event hosted by Elk River in January.
“We did market research to determine what type of clothing would sell and pricing and what vendors to use,” he said, “and did promotions though the school and outlets in the city. On Hockey Day, we set up a tent and worked 12 hours each. Then we wrote up a big 30-page analysis of the project.”
The group must have done well, considering all the Hockey Day apparel seen around town in January.
“Grant is a well-rounded student, taking both elective and AP courses, appreciating what both areas had to offer,” said Sonja Weiler, DECA teacher. “He is a natural salesman and driven to achieve. He relates to and is respected by all peer groups within the school. It has been a privilege to work with Grant and watch him grow as a young professional over the past two years.”
Tesdahl never had less than an “A” in high school, although it wasn’t until he took his final test, in economics, on Tuesday that the principal’s office could officially declare him valedictorian. As usual, there was a tight race.
Advanced marketing and three Advanced Placement classes — chemistry, calculus, and physics — are listed as favorite classes for Tesdahl, who simply enjoys almost everything he studies.
Asked if he had a least favorite class he couldn’t name one, but listed AP computer science as the hardest.
“It’s a different way of thinking that is challenging. Totally different than math,” Tesdahl said. To help better understand the subject and get his customary “A,” he teamed with a friend to make a program for translating words and phrases into 16 languages quickly.
A one-sport athlete, Tesdahl had a rich experience as an Elk soccer player. He played in state tournaments in ninth grade as a substitute and 12th grade as a senior co-captain. Stationed at center midfield, he had three goals and helped the Elks post a 13-4-3 record his senior year.
Tesdahl went to Boys State last summer. Activities also include National Honor Society, TIES (mentoring struggling freshmen, traffic safety) and DECA (vice president for communications).
Tesdahl, son of Brad and Jennifer, said there was one previous valedictorian in the family tree, a great-grandfather in a small Iowa town.
Valedictorians are often asked how they can keep getting all those A’s, despite the challenges. In Tesdahl’s case, studying is so second-nature that he had to think about that for a moment. But he came up with two basic tenets.
“For one, I always take notes in class, and when I go home, I read through those notes, so I can retain the material the next day. Also, whenever the teacher suggests reading, say, 20 pages in the textbook, I always read the whole thing. … I need the information right in front of me like that. This is time-consuming, but it pays off.”