For students of the graduating class of 2023, it’s their ability to adapt that’s propelled them forward. From a two-year-long “spring break” to distance learning, plexiglass barriers and cancelled events, these students have had a high school experience like no other. I admire their strength, resilience and courage—and for that, I say congratulations on your well-deserved success to the entire class of 2023.
Stillwater Area High School
Ava Roots says there’s always more that can be done. “Through my experience at my high school, I felt like we could be doing more to help students in different ways,” the Stillwater Area High School senior says. “Whether we’re framing education or the availability of resources in school differently … It’s really pushed me to become a voice for change.”
And change she’s created. Ava led the student discussion on what the future of the school looks like and how to address issues of inequity, mental health and what students would like to see in the incoming superintendent. “It was exciting to hear feedback from students,” she says. “And that’s why it’s so fun to hear and speak with others and create these platforms of change.”
She’s passionate about being a voice for change, which she’s expressed during her time on the student leadership council and the speech team. “[The Minnesota Youth Council] has been online the past year … But I’ve had an amazing time so far,” she says. “Being able to offer advice on issues in legislature, advocate for change and increase the number of teachers of color, being able to dive into more of that work and coming back as a returner and not a ‘newbie’ will be a lot of fun.”
Though Ava has certainly discovered her passion, she says she came into high school not knowing what she wanted to do. “My challenge has been myself … Through getting to know people on my teams, it’s helped me to challenge this idea that there’s only one thing I can do or that I’m confined to things. Now, I think it’s fun to try random things,” she says. Baking and sewing are a few of those “random” activities that she’s tried—and loved!
Ava would recommend incoming students to try new things, much like she has. “Find ways to engage with people around you,” she says. “There’s so much of this idea that young people can’t make change or can’t create these meaningful and powerful movements, but when you look at the wonderful things that young people have done in our state, it proves that it’s possible.”
Though she doesn’t have a specific university in mind, Ava is hoping to study political science and “the legislative side of it,” she says.
What is her advice to her peers and incoming students? “Enjoy it all, and do the things you love to do,” Ava says. “And the rest will follow.”
More About Ava Roots:
Favorite song: Anything from Living Room by AJR
Favorite TV show/movie: Star Trek: Discovery and Picard. My favorite movie is the Creed series.
Favorite hangout spot: The library. It’s a pleasant space to be.
Extracurricular activities: Student leadership council, speech team, United States Senate youth program, moderator of Voices of Change, Minnesota Youth Council
Stillwater Area High School
“I’ve been playing sports since I can remember,” says Stillwater Area High School’s Max Shikenjanski. The senior plays football and basketball for the high school, baseball until his 11th grade year, AAU basketball for Minnesota Fury and St. Croix Valley Athletic Association football.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Max’s high points in high school is breaking sports records—11 records, to be exact. “It feels amazing, knowing your hard work is paying off in many different ways,” he says. “It all comes together, and it doesn’t [get] any better.” Meeting new friends as well as continuing long-term friendships are also high points.
Though he’s a sports star, Max says balancing everything can be difficult. “Balancing basketball and school or leaving [to go] out of town for a week and missing school/getting caught up … That is all tough,” he says. “[Also] a big challenge for many people is fans talking to you or the opposing team talking smack to you, but I think that’s the best part of sports. It’s what makes it fun …”
Max says he’s grateful and inspired by his parents, who have been his biggest supporters. “They have got me to where I’m at right now … I can’t thank them enough. I love them with everything I have in me,” he says, noting that post-graduation, he hopes to play college basketball or football, where he wants to give back to his parents for the tremendous support.
Looking toward his senior year, Max says he’s excited to play one last year of high school sports, trying to get the coveted state titles and making the most of his last year in high school. For students who are just coming into high school, Max says, “Just be yourself … Meet as many friends as you can, and make memories because it will be one of the fastest four years of your life you’ll ever have … Go hang with friends. Go have fun because it will fly by like you don’t even remember it.”
More About Max Shikenjanski:
Favorite song: In A Minute by Lil Baby, Martin & Gina or Partin Ways by Polo G, Young, Wild and Free by Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa
Favorite TV show/movie: The Simpsons or iCarly. (Call me weird, but iCarly is one of the funniest shows I’ve watched.) My favorite movie is either Step Brothers or Grown Ups.
Favorite hangout spot: Stillwater Bowl, downtown Stillwater to walk around and eat or the high school because you can do anything there. My friends and I play basketball, throw the football around [and] play spike ball.
Extracurricular activities: AAU basketball for Minnesota Fury and high school basketball, St. Croix Valley Athletic Assocation football and high school football, baseball
St. Croix Preparatory Academy
St. Croix Preparatory Academy’s Violet Redstone has lived all over the world–from New York and Utah to the United Kingdom. However, even with the dreaded Midwest winters, Violet says Minnesota has been her favorite home.
“I love the people here. Everyone is so friendly, and I love how there are big cities nearby and small towns, too,” she says. Stillwater’s cozy setting sure fits the bill, and Violet has spent her years at St. Croix Prep enjoying a multitude of things. She’s a member of the Fine Arts Society (previously known as the National Arts Honor Society), works with Prep Quarterly, the school’s newspaper, and performs with St. Croix Ballet.
Earlier this year, Violet was selected to give a speech to her entire class on the topic of animal sentience and their ability to feel. “I’m pretty shy, and giving [the speech], which was about eight minutes, was challenging,” she says, noting that she’s experienced work in the veterinary field through her grandfather, who is one of the most influential people in her life. “I really enjoy researching animals and, unfortunately, the mistreatment of them. It was interesting to hear people’s reactions,” she says.
Violet says the most challenging part of high school thus far has been not realizing when she’s needed to ask for help. “This year, I was formally diagnosed with ADHD, but prior to this year, I never asked for help even though I couldn’t focus,” she says. In her senior year, she’s hoping to combat the diagnosis and become more comfortable with those around her, branch out and create relationships with her peers. “I’m excited to have more freedom with myself and explore what I may end up doing … [and] letting loose a little and focusing on my relationships with people,” she says.
When asked what people might not know about her, Violet says, “Maybe that I’m a Canadian. I have dual citizenship.” Though she’s never visited Canada, she’s interested in potentially attending the University of Toronto, other Canadian universities, Loyola University in Chicago and, of course, the University of Minnesota. “I plan on going to college, and right now my goal is to become a psychiatrist,” she says. “I would love to work in child psychology or as a forensic psychiatrist. That’s what intrigues me.”
For those coming into St. Croix Prep, Violet says, “Don’t be afraid to get involved, and don’t be afraid to branch out from your group. People want, for the most part, to be friends. And branching out, exploring clubs, getting involved in any way, would be my advice. That’s what I wish I did.”
More About Violet Redstone:
Favorite song: Me and Your Momma by Childish Gambino
Favorite TV show/movie: Gilmore Girls and Edward Scissorhands
Favorite hangout spot: In the summer, it’s a nearby beach. When it’s colder, downtown Main Street.
Extracurricular activities: Prep Quarterly, diversity and inclusion club, Fine Arts Society, classical ballet with St. Croix Ballet