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At the top of their class

Salutatorian Emily Kukacka (left) and valedictorian Alex Wheeler are both student-athletes at New Richmond High School and have also been part of the music and drama departments throughout their high school careers. (Photo by Jordan Willi)

For two hardworking, multi-activi­ty, New Richmond High School stu­dent athletes, being named valedicto­rian and salutatorian didn’t exactly come as a surprise, but it wasn’t some­thing either Alex Wheeler or Emily Kukacka were really expecting either.

“It was always a goal of mine to be at the top of my class, but I wasn’t expecting it,” Wheeler said. “I was more so just trying to work my hardest and trying to do as well as I could in all my classes. It is really rewarding to know that all my hard work has paid off. It is a big honor.”

Wheeler was named valedictorian for the Class of 2014, while Kukacka received salutatorian honors.

“Making one of the two top spots in my class was more of a ‘if it happens it happens’ kind of thing for me,” Kukacka said. “I always tried to get good grades, so it was one of those things that I would be happy if it hap­pened, but not disappointed if it did­n’t.”

Both students kept themselves busy during high school with a wide variety of sports and activities. Wheeler is a four-time state participant for the New Richmond girls golf team, while Kukacka played volleyball for the Tigers and participated high jump, discus and shot put for the New Richmond track and field team. Both girls were part of the National Honors Society, Spark and mentoring while they were in high school.

“My high school experience was a lot of fun, but really busy too,” Kukacka said. “There was a lot of stuff that I liked to do and be a part of. I am involved in NHS, Spark, mentor­ing, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and marching band in the summer.”

For Wheeler, her plan after high school is to attend Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., where she will study business, at least to start with, while also playing for the school’s women’s golf team.

“Going into college, I am thinking about a business degree, but it can always change,” Wheeler said. “I don’t really have a set plan, but I am going to play golf in college at Lindenwood University in Missouri. They do have a business school there, but that isn’t the main reason I wanted to go there, it was just a plus. ” As for Kukacka, she will be attend­ing Bethel College in St. Paul.

“I plan on going to Bethel College to play volleyball there and study nursing,” Kukacka said. “I really liked the atmosphere that they had there and everyone was super nice. The school itself had good academics, which was something I was looking for in a col­lege.”

Even though Wheeler and Kukacka are both excited to move on to the next parts of their lives after high school, they will both remember their time at New Richmond High School fondly, even if if did go by a little too fast.

“My four years of high school were really fun and it went by so fast which I wasn’t expecting it to coming into high school,” Wheeler said. “I made a lot of new friends and it was just over­all better than I expected. My senior year was really busy, but it was really exciting and I was never bored. There was always something for me to do, which was good.”

Of all the fun times both girls had during their senior year, they both agreed that without the help and understanding of their teachers their final year of high school wouldn’t have been as fun or gone as smoothly as it did.

“The teachers will be one of the things that I remember most about my senior year,” Kukacka said. “They were really cool and always willing to help us out when we needed it.”

Although Wheeler and Kukacka are still in the planning stages of their graduation speeches they both have the general idea of what they want to say to help prepare the Class of 2014 for life after high school.

“I’m really excited to talk to my class as a whole and I’m really lucky to represent them in the actual speech­es,” Wheeler said. “It is going to be sad saying goodbye to everyone, but I’m really excited to see where every­one goes and what they end up doing. We are planning on connecting our two speeches as valedictorian and salutatorian for graduation.”

With graduation just a few short months away, Wheeler and Kukacka know that they have very little time left to enjoy being seniors in high school and they both plan to use that time at NRHS to have fun and take in the better parts of being in high school.

“It will be exciting as the last few weeks of school go by, but it will also be strange,” Wheeler said. “Our high school careers are coming to an end, but it is also a beginning. It will kind of be a relief to be done with high school and move on to the next part of our lives.”

When the final speech is given and all the names have been called at grad­uation, both Wheeler and Kukacka know there will be some tears shed, but there will be fond memories to be shared as well.

“It is going to be sad when every­thing is over and graduation is done,” Kukacka said. “It was so much fun here and there are a lot of good mem­ories.”

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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