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Valedictorian McKay achieves 4.0

PROUD MOM — Jennifer McKay, left, gets a hug from her mom, Michelle Muff, during NRHEG’s 2017 graduation commencement. (Star Eagle photo by Chris Schlaak)

By MELANIE PILTINGSRUD
Contributing Writer

Eighteen-year-old Jennifer McKay, who won Valedictorian at NRHEG this year, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, grew up in New Richland, and now lives in Waseca with her mom, Michelle Muff. She also has a little sister, Lily, who is five, and an older sister, Kristen, who is 20.

McKay’s school activities included student council, FFA/PALS, Knowledge Bowl, soccer (club and high school), golf (10th grade) and track (11th grade), National Honor Society, choir (9th, 10th, and 11th grades), and she started the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Huddle. In her community, she has been a Fellowship of Christian Athletes volunteer, she packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, she volunteered at Mayo Clinic in Waseca last year, as well as at Ecumen during 10th and 11th grades. She also found time for waitressing at Applebee's in Owatonna and Red Leaf Café in New Richland.

McKay says she feels proud of herself for achieving a 4.0. Her family is proud, too. McKay says, “I asked Mom what she thought about my accomplishment and she yelled, "Whoo- hoo!" She claims she doesn't know where I got my brains from, but she couldn't be prouder of what I've worked hard to achieve. The rest of my family is really proud of me and has shown it in many ways.”

What are McKay’s tips for excelling in school? “Learn to manage your time and always stay organized. If you can get your work done in a timely manner, you have plenty of time for hanging out with friends or working! Also, never be afraid to ask questions.”

McKay didn’t expect to become Valedictorian. She says, “Maci Surat, Sam Prigge, and I have all had a 4.0 GPA throughout most of high school. I always imagined one of them winning this award or some of us tying.”

McKay says she will miss her classmates and teachers. “I've attended NRHEG all my life and I've grown and developed into who I am today with a bulk of my peers,” she says. “They will all hold a special place in my heart. Since we are such a small class, we were able to build close relationships with our teachers. They became more like our friends and I have always been comfortable coming to them for advice or questions.”

“Some of my favorite memories of high school are the small moments,” says McKay. “I will never forget when we were cheering at the girls’ basketball playoff game and I was in the front row with the seniors. We were doing the "keep on trucking all the way" cheer where the guys shove us really hard. Somehow I ended up getting pushed over the seats and landed on the row in front of us where a caution sign was; everyone above me was staring and laughing. It was embarrassing but really funny. I'll always remember the first day of golf practice when my friends and I all teed off at the same time, most of us not even hitting the ball. Churchill will never forget it. I am still laughing at the fact that Oakley Baker fell off our senior homecoming float during the parade. Also [I remember] our float during sophomore year when it was so windy and everything we built fell apart, so we just sat on an empty float with some funny signs. My trip to Costa Rica as a sophomore was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I made numerous friendships and memories. Of course, playing soccer throughout high school was definitely something I'll never forget. My love for the game was the reason I played, but the friendships I built are why it was one of the best experiences in high school.’

McKay’s favorite subject in school was Spanish: “I really love learning a different language and culture.”

Her least favorite was college literature.

McKay shares some memories of her favorite teachers in school: “I can remember being a sophomore in advanced algebra with Mr. Ellerbusch. For some reason, Ellerbusch liked to do what we claimed was "throwing us in the deep end and laugh at us as we drown." For almost the entire year, he refused to offer assistance on homework questions. I would raise my hand and he would walk away smiling saying that I am smart enough to figure it out; just give it some time and think about it. While I was definitely annoyed at the time, this strategy developed me into the independent student I am today. I learned to think for myself and overcome difficulties. I again had him as a teacher when I was in college calculus. His sarcasm and jokes made enduring a difficult upper-level course more bearable. Ellerbusch never makes his students feel bad about not understanding a concept.

“I have been in Senora Olson's classroom since I was a freshman and I have been her teacher's assistant for two years. Senora is not only a fun, upbeat, and understanding teacher, she also is extremely [good] at what she does. She teaches us verb conjugation and vocabulary by doing games or anything interactive. Spanish has always been my favorite part of my day. We are almost always laughing in Senora's room.

“Mrs. Bently is one of the most intelligent people I know. She is an English teacher but can fluently speak German and easily hold conversations about scientific topics. Mrs. Bently is always kind and willing to help all her students. She pushed me to research difficult topics for every paper. When it was time to apply to college, she helped edit all my essays. I'll forever be grateful to her for her support and guidance.”

McKay plans to do a lot of traveling to different countries with study abroad and medical trips. “I'm looking forward to exploring and hopefully making a difference,” she says. “I'm excited to go off on my own and live in the Cities. In 10 years, I see myself working as a physical therapist or some type of doctor. I'll probably be living in a major city by a large hospital. Maybe somewhere warm because I am always cold and hate winter.”

Her advice to herself as a freshman? “Have fun, but work hard. Keep your priorities straight.”

“I was blessed to grow up in New Richland with the people who are in my grade,” says McKay. “We became a small family and it amazes me that after 13 years, we still aren't ready to leave each other.”

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