Dowagiac’s 2023 valedictorians, salutatorian share Chieftains experiences

Published 1:43 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2023

DOWAGIAC — Six Dowagiac Union High School seniors will take the commencement stage as the top academic members of the 2023 graduating class.

Kaylee Brooks, Abraham Guernsey, Isabelle Deering, Cora Wegner and Olivia Stanger have earned the title of valedictorian with 4.0 grade point averages over the course of their academic careers. Sashenka Cruz earned the title of salutatorian with a GPA of 3.992. Five valedictorians is the most DUHS has had since the Class of 2013 had five.

Below, the six students shared their thoughts on graduation, their Dowagiac experience and more. (Note: This conversation has been edited for both length and clarity.)

How did you balance your academics, extracurriculars and even your social life?

Kaylee: I never really put any thought into it. I just did it all.

Abraham: I tried to do a lot of athletics and schooling at the same time and you can tell just with that, your social will go to the back burner and you might just stick with a couple friends that you have and I feel like that’s what happened with me and a lot of the people in my friend group. We just kind of stuck together and we didn’t really try to branch out with more people. It just stuck with us and we worried more about our schooling and working on what we could.

Sashenka: For me, it was more about balancing school and work and my parents always told me to always put school first, that’s what I always did. But I honestly keep a pretty good balance between the two. Sometimes it can get stressful but other than that I was okay.

Isabelle: I found it difficult at times to balance everything that I was doing but at the same time, I knew when to prioritize certain things. I spent a lot of time with my friends and that helped me get through my school work and my athletics. Overall it was difficult but at the same time worth balancing everything.

Cora: I always put school as my number one priority but all my other activities are really important to me. I try to make sure I can do it all.

Olivia: At some points, it was overwhelming. A lot of late nights and early mornings trying to fit everything in but it was worth it in the end being able to be a part of athletics, maintain good grades and have good friends.

What stands out most to you about your Dowagiac experience?

Kaylee: My friends, they’re all amazing. I really like my elective classes, they’re really fun, especially art.

Abraham: I’d say friends and just being able to build that bond people t and then being able to share all these experiences, especially with COVID. I feel like having those bonds and everything with that made it a lot easier to deal with that, just because you could talk and do things with people. When we came back, it was nice just to be able to do stuff with other people that you have been friends with for a while but you haven’t been able to see in person because yeah.

Sashenka: Being able to experience both high school and college at the same time. Branching out and making friends there and keeping my friends here. I feel like our class is pretty close, so I think that’s a really nice thing about being part of Dowagiac schools.

Isabelle: Something that I like about Dowagiac is how close everyone is here, especially our class. It’s quite small and I find myself having friendships with almost everybody in the class. I just love how tight-knit and funny Dowagiac is. I always have a good time here.

Cora: I like how close we all are to each other. Because it’s such a small class, everyone knows everybody, so it’s really easy to go out and get involved in stuff.

Olivia: I love our school spirit at Dowagiac. That’s always stuck out to me. We have homecoming, pep rallies and mock rock. It’s always fun working together as a class for those events.

What advice would you give to underclassmen right now?

Kaylee: Do your work and pay attention. You need to do that because doing that will get you good grades and can graduate. 

Abraham: Listen to the people who are giving you advice. Don’t shake it off and say, oh I’ll worry about it another day. Really take life by the rains and really focus on what you want to do after high school. Don’t just think you’ll decide senior year, really think about what you really want to do and start working towards it. Don’t just put it on the back burner until college, let it happen now.

Sashenka: Just do your work. That’s basically what got me through school. My parents were really a really big help with my academics. They were my cheerleaders.

Isabelle: I mentor freshmen and something I noticed with a lot of them is that they are just trying to get through and want freshman year to just fly by. But I find myself looking back and wishing that I had l lived in the moment more and cherished my freshman year more because it flew by after COVID. 

Cora: I recommend that they get involved with the things that they like and not things they think will look good on college applications. 

Olivia: I would tell underclassmen to stay on top of their grades, but also to get involved. There’s only four years so take advantage of all the opportunities.