DUS Board of Education honors Class of 2021 Top 10

DOWAGIAC — A group of high school students was honored Monday for their efforts in the classroom the past four years.

The Dowagiac Union Schools Board of Education recognized Union High School’s Top 10 students of the Class of 2021 during its monthly meeting at Dowagiac Middle School.

Each year, the 10 graduating students with the highest GPAs in the high school are honored. Martha Schaller was honored as valedictorian, and Mason Dzakowic was recognized as salutatorian for the 2021 graduating class.

Tahneal Brooks, Gabrielle Munson, Anna Dobberstein, Emily Gonzalez, Kayla Trilling, Allie Conner, Emalee Foote and Jaleana Payne rounded out the top 10.

For Schaller, Dzakowic and the rest of the class, the ceremony was a culmination of four years of hard work both inside the classroom and out.

“It felt really good,” Schaller said. “It feels like a lot of the time, your work goes unnoticed, especially with the honors classes, dual enrollment classes, all while participating in sports. So, it’s nice to be able to say ‘yeah, I did that.’ Even with everything I’m doing, I still kept up with schoolwork.”

“I was a little nervous, but I was really honored up there,” Dzakowic said. “I felt like this is the one night throughout my academic career that I really get honored, so I’m going to enjoy it. I was very grateful for what happened today.”

The daughter of Sarah and David Schaller, Schaller earned a 4.0 GPA over her four years at Dowagiac Union High School. She is active in marching, jazz, pep and concert bands as well as pit orchestra, and solo and ensemble. Schaller is also editor of the school yearbook and participates in sports including soccer, basketball and cross country. She has been taking dual enrollment classes at Southwestern Michigan College with the intention of transferring those credits to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she plans to study English.

The role of yearbook editor was one Schaller especially enjoyed.

“I joined the second semester of my freshman year and was almost immediately on the editorial board,” Schaller said. “It’s just been amazing to be able to create stories and to be able to then see those stories actually fleshed out.”

Schaller was excited to oversee the production of this year’s yearbook due to its historical significance concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year has been crazy,” Schaller said. “We want to make sure we get all of the stories of the year solid so that we can look back in 20 years and see what happened.”

Dzakowic is graduating from Dowagiac Union with a GPA of 3.993. The son of Deb and Tim Masterman and Mark Dzakowic, Dzakowic is active in robotics, theater as well as concert, marching, jazz and pep bands. He has earned high marks in pep band and was named Best Drum Major at the Hastings Marching Band Invitational in 2019. After graduation, Dzakowic will be attending the University of Michigan-Dearborn and is currently undecided on his major.

“Joining the band was just a great experience,” Dzakowic said. “I was the drum major for two years, and I didn’t get to go do things this year sadly, but the one year I did get to go, I rocked it and had a lot of fun.”

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 made for a taxing last year and a half for the 2021 class. Splitting time between distance and in-person learning and the loss of extracurricular activities was mentally draining at times, but Schaller, Dzakowic and their classmates were able to overcome those obstacles.

“It’s been disheartening because so many things have been canceled,” Schaller said. “It was like one disappointment after another, but the challenge was finding motivation to do the schoolwork. When I was on sports teams and working with my classmates and stuff it helped me to find that motivation.”

While the high school chapter of their life is about to close, a brand-new chapter is set to begin when Schaller and Dzakowic set foot on their college campuses this fall.

“I’m excited to be around more people who are just as excited to learn as I am,” Schaller said. “Even though I do have friends here who are excited about their education and want to learn, it’s often harder to find a larger group. When I go to [UofM] I hope to find other people who think like me, work like me and have the same work ethic so I can bond with them, make new memories like I did here.”

“I’m just excited to figure out what I want to do,” Dzakowic said. “I’ve heard in college there are so many different things you can do. You can one day walk into a class and be like ‘I want to do this the rest of my life.’ That would be pretty exciting to just one day be like ‘I enjoy this.’ I’m looking forward to that.”


Dowagiac Union High School’s Top 10 Class of 2021

Valedictorian: Martha Schaller

Salutatorian: Mason Dzakowic

Third: Tahneal Brooks

  • 3.959 GPA
  • Academic Award of Excellence as a freshman, sophomore and junior
  • Plans to attend SMC to pursue a career in nursing

Fourth: Gabrielle Munson

  • 3.95 GPA
  • Active in tennis, golf, National Honors Society and Humanities Club; Academic All-State in golf
  • Plans to attend Grand Valley State University, undecided on major

Fifth: Anna Dobberstein

  • 3.906 GPA
  • Active in softball, volleyball, NHS and Chieftain Heart
  • Plans to attend Calvin University to pursue a career in speech pathology or special education and to play softball

Sixth: Emily Gonzalez

  • 3.889 GPA
  • Active in marching band, color guard, winter guard, jazz band, choir, NHS, Rotary Interact Club, student senate, humanities club and Chieftain Heart
  • Plans to continue her education at Central Michigan University

Seventh: Kayla Trilling

  • 3.834 GPA
  • Active in girls golf, tennis and NHS
  • Plans to finish her Associates degree and move to a university to complete her bachelor’s degree in accounting

Eighth: Allie Connor

  • 3.829 GPA
  • Active in NHS, volleyball basketball, soccer, youth coach and referee
  • Plans to attend U of M, GVSU or SMC to get her associate’s degree, undecided on major

Ninth: Emalee Foote

  • 3.809 GPA
  • Active in NHS, earned Academic Award of Excellence her freshman, sophomore and junior year
  • Plans to attend SMC to earn her associate’s degree and then transfer to a university to pursue a Master’s in psychology

10th: Jaleana Payne

  • 3.7 GPA
  • Active in basketball, track and field and NHS
  • Plans to earn associate’s degree at SMC and transfer to Wayne State University


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