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2008 Graduates: Looking towards the future, but will miss HHS

These students are among the more than 400 who have successfully completed their educations at Hudson High School. They recently shared some thoughts on the experiences that brought them to this point and what they think the future might hold.

Dan Dodge

Dan Dodge, 18, has attended Hudson schools since the second grade. There are lots of things he will miss about school and his hometown but he is looking forward to life after high school.

Dodge said maturity is the biggest thing he has gained in his four years at HHS. "When I was a freshman and sophomore I didn't really take the work too seriously, but I get it now." He believes HHS is a good school, "better than most around the state, with solid teachers."

The teachers he will miss include choir director Kari Heisler and English teacher Craig Lewis. He experiences as a member of the HHS choir are among the highlights of his time at HHS. "I love music but I'm not really a musician. Singing with the group makes me better. You can express a lot of feelings through music." Especially memorable was the choir's recent trip to Costa Rica. "It was like traveling with family."

Dodge is politically active and supports Barack Obama in the upcoming election. He heard him speak in Madison earlier this year and likes his plans for the future. He said his social studies teachers have been a help in understanding how politics works in the U.S. and the importance of staying informed.

He is concerned about the country's involvement in Iraq. He is not actively protesting the war but says "it doesn't make much sense." He would like to see things change there but believes in the military serving there. "They have good intentions and are trying to do the right thing."

Dodge said he will miss his friends and teachers at HHS. He likes the sense of community he has now and knows it will be different at college. "I will miss recognizing faces."

Dodge said the majority of those faces at HHS are well-behaved and respectful but he admits there is a pretty vocal element that can paint a different picture to those outside of the school.

"There are a few who give the school a bad name when it comes to intolerance about things like race and being gay. Most kids don't feel that way but the ones that do make a lot of noise."

Dodge said there are lots of things both in and outside of school that he will miss including hikes with his dad along the Willow River, swing dancing and his theater experiences.

When asked what adults don't seem to get about his age group, Dodge said, "We know what's going on. Adults don't think so but we do. We have opinions with reasons behind them. We are intelligent despite what some of us might do."

Dodge will attend Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania on an ROTC scholarship to major in history and international studies. He hopes to work for the U.S. State Department one day. He is the son of Delbert Dodge and Debbie LaVenture.

Sarah Branson

Sarah Branson said she's used high school to figure out who she is. She also learned not to take a lot of what her fellow students say too seriously but rather with a grain of salt.

Her fond memories of high school will include the three musicals she was in, being one of the editors of the yearbook and her involvement in Student to Student, a group that works with students with special needs. "It was really wonderful and so much fun spending time together."

Branson said HHS has changed over the years and she has found it interesting to experience. While she has attended, an older brother has graduated and a younger brother came on board. And both of her parents work at the school, a fact that she says hasn't cramped her style. "Actually I like it. It's very handy when it comes to things I forget or getting quick permission for something."

Branson said she isn't political and wishes she knew more about the current landscape. She plans on getting more familiar with the candidates and issues before the fall election. She said she is concerned about the environment. "I do everything I can on a personal level. If we all do that, it will be better for the next people."

Branson said she likes to think the student body at HHS is overall tolerant especially as she has seen the school's diversity increase in her years there. "I think we all know that discrimination of any kind, whether it's racial or sexist or whatever, is bad. I think there are kids that feel it but they are ashamed of it at the same time." She said clubs like the Diversity Club and the Gay/Straight Alliance are evidence that kids are trying to do the right thing.

Branson said the biggest influences in her life come from her parents and brothers. Her older brother attends UW-Madison and she looks up to him. She said she and her younger brother are maturing as well, talking more and fighting less.

Branson will attend UW-La Crosse in the fall. She is the daughter of Bob and Jane Branson of Hudson.

Becca and Nick Radle

Like they have from the very beginning, twins Becca and Nick Radle, 18, requested that they be together for their interview about their years at HHS.

Being twins has always intrigued people including their classmates over the years. They always get asked the typical questions. "Can you feel it when the other one is in pain? Do you have your own language?"

Even, "Are you identical?" "I always tell them it depends on my mood. But really, are they serious?" said Nick.

The most important thing to know about the Radle twins is that they are best friends.

As for how they have changed over the four years in high school, brother and sister both agree their work ethic has improved and the result has been better grades. They also say they have grown more comfortable at school as well.

Nick said he has grown to care less and less about image and what other people think about him and as a result has earned a reputation for being a pretty funny guy around school.

Becca, who shares her brother's philosophy, said it is a lesson they learned from their dad early on.

"He taught us some pretty big life lessons. He used to do things to embarrass us all the time, like in the grocery store, and then ask us if we survived which, of course, we did. He taught us not to care what other people think and that you can learn something from every experience. Plus it can be fun," said Becca.

Nick said if people wonder why he is the way he is, "Dad's the reason."

"I think as teenagers we worry too much about image. I tell people if they do something dumb or embarrassing, they will survive it. We all do it. That's part of an education too," said Nick.

The Radles are concerned what life will be like for them as adults as they watch the changes in the country and the economy. With a future planned in trucks, Nick said his plans could be directly impacted by gas prices. And both worry if Social Security will even be around when they retire.

The Radles also say the high school is slowly becoming more diverse. "It's getting to be more of a melting pot, and kids aren't about fitting in so much as they used to be. It's about being yourself and then you find people who are like you. But I like to mingle with a lot of different groups. It's more interesting," said Nick.

The Radles think their education at HHS has been a good one. Becca said she has learned over the years to question things, and the discussions that follow have been an important part of learning for her.

Becca said she will miss her friends when she leaves HHS and the security of a place she knows. "Being on your own can be kind of scary. It will be the first time we aren't in the same school."

Nick said he wonders what it will be like not to see the same people and have every day play out the same way. "That's going to be different but then again there will be all new people to embarrass."

Becca will attend UW-Stout in Menomonie in the fall and plans to major in human development and family studies. She would like to be a counselor. Nick will attend St. Paul Technical College to become a truck technician. He would eventually like to teach. They are the children of Bill Radle.

Ian McGinnis

Ian McGinnis, 18, started out high school as a pretty quiet person. As he has matured over the last four years, he has grown more comfortable talking with people and will graduate not quite the shy guy he was when he started.

McGinnis attributes the change to a variety of experiences he has had while at HHS. "I discovered how rewarding it is helping people and it can lead to other things, other ways to help, new people to meet. It puts you out there. I was kind of nervous at first but I've really come to enjoy it."

McGinnis earned the rank of Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts after spearheading a successful food drive in the Hudson area as well as other projects in and outside of school.

McGinnis said his interest in the environment and issues like hunger and poverty have been locally based but are global problems as well, and he believes he will stay interested and active wherever he is as a result. The college he will attend next year has a strong environmental program and also focuses on human rights issues and service. "The thing I've discovered is that service, whether it is to your own community or on a larger scale, is a great way to learn and discover things not just about other people but yourself as well."

McGinnis said the world has changed since he was born in 1990, things like the Internet, technology and science and communication tools like Facebook. "The ways people communicate, how easy it is to reach across the world or next door, are pretty amazing but the people are not that different. We're all still human beings."

McGinnis said high school will always have "drama" but he thinks things at HHS are pretty good overall. He does believe crowding at the school is an issue as well as the age of the building. "There's just too many kids for the space but there are also problems with the technology in the building. It wasn't built to handle what we have now and that affects learning."

McGinnis said his band teachers, Aaron Hilden and Ryan McCarthy, have both nurtured his passion for music, and science teacher Vickie McLaughlin has done the same in physics. Outside of school, former St. Paul's Episcopal pastor, Fr. John Rasmus, has been an important part of his life.

McGinnis will attend St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. He plans a career in physics and engineering. He is the son of Paul and Christine McGinnis of Hudson.

Cassandra Steenberg

Cassandra Steenberg, 18, said she had to adjust to life in Hudson when she came here from a larger city. "The biggest difference was in the people. It seemed there was only one kind of person here as compared to a lot of different types in a bigger city."

Steenberg said she has learned not to judge people over the past four years and she isn't the "rebel" she used to be. She used to be much more caught up in looks and image, something she picked up growing up around four older sisters.

"I think I act more as an individual now. I try to treat everybody with respect, not judging about how they look or what they believe. Everybody has a right to think and act as they see fit."

If HHS was a small-town school when she moved here, Steenberg has seen it change over her years here. "It's a small town going big. Kids say they hate certain things about kids here, but the truth is they envy them for what they have or where they live. They hate the people they want to be like."

Steenberg credits a lot of the positive changes she has made over the last four years to her mentor, Sue Curtis. She began working with Curtis after having some truancy issues. "She's a big reason why things turned around for me. She was like a mom. She really believes in me."

Steenberg said she probably won't vote in the fall. "I'm not educated enough to vote and I won't do it just because I'm 18 and I can. Politics is my boyfriend's job."

She hopes that someday she will be running her own successful business. "I'm good at being in charge."

Steenberg plans to work for a year following graduation before attending school. She is the daughter of Mark Steenberg.

Coulter Dennison

Coulter Dennison, 18, said he will leave high school smarter, wiser and stronger and more aware of the world he lives in.

Among his concerns in that world are racism and the effects of the war on terrorism and the Middle East.

"I am critical of the way things are being handled in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have a tendency in this country to assume that all Muslims are terrorists when only a fraction of them are involved in terrorism. We need to find a way to make peace there and not just approach everything with a fight."

Dennison also has strong feelings when it comes to gas and oil prices, climate change and the ongoing worldwide food crisis. "I would like to do things that will affect these issues. A lot of kids care about these things but there are a lot who are just on the fence about them too."

Dennison said he believes he got an excellent education at HHS and found most of the experience very interesting. He points to what he calls integrated learning, where teachers use activities like puzzles, movies, the Internet and games to explore a subject.

Dennison said his favorite teacher at HHS is Alleyne Howe, whom he describes as very understanding. "She helped me understand the issues in what I read and how things work in the world, and she listens very well."

Dennison will attend UW-River Falls in the fall to study agriculture science and energy. He isn't sure what career path he will take but he looks forward to having graduation "off his mind." He is the son of Jim and Michelle Dennison.

Taylor Kolls

Taylor Kolls, 18, says he didn't take high school very seriously when he started out. As a freshman member of the varsity hockey team, he was around upper classmen a lot of the time and academics weren't his priority.

But as he approaches graduation and enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps, he is a bit more philosophical. "You get out what you put into it. I wish I would have taken it a bit more seriously. There are good teachers here and a great athletic department. It's funny how fast the four years have gone."

Kolls said he believes things around HHS have gotten too strict over the years and that the consequences for breaking the rules are too high. "Things like searching people's phones and stuff like that. But it's part of a small town, and gossip and drama is what they thrive on."

Kolls said he loves politics. He voted in the primary and will definitely vote in the fall election. He is an online Obama supporter. Once he is out of the Marines he would like to study political science and have a career in government. His interest was piqued on his eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C.

Kolls said he has been thinking of going into the military since he was 7 years old. "When I first told my dad that back then, he just laughed. When I was 17, I told him I was going to enlist. My parents don't exactly like the idea, but they support me."

Kolls said that Arlington National Cemetery was part of the D.C. trip back in eighth grade. "I remember feeling so guilty about the sacrifice all those men made and how small it made me feel. Then 9/11 happened and I've kind of been settled on it ever since."

Kolls is the son of Rebecca and Jay Kolls of Hudson. Both parents are Twin Cities media personalities and Rebecca is known nationally as a gardening expert. Their son has taken the family's celebrity status in stride. "I'm not complaining. It's great." His parents and his grandfather are among the most important influences in his life.

Kolls reports for basic training on July 28.

Brandon Bjornstad

According to Brandon Bjornstad, 17, when it comes to high school -- mission accomplished. "I got smarter and more mature."

He also overcame shyness and describes himself as more outgoing. He used to be intimidated by others but believes he now knows how to be his own person.

He believes Hudson High School is "one of the better schools around here." His technical education classes are among his favorites because he had the opportunity to learn about a lot of things and have fun doing it.

"I think the teachers in those classes treat students more like adults. Guys like Tom Klatt and (Bob) Smith teach outside the box and make you think."

Bjornstad is an avid outdoorsman and as a result is concerned about the environment. "I like to keep informed about what's going on and what we can do about it. I think our generation and our economy is so tied to oil that most of the decisions we make are tied to it. I think it will be interesting to see how that changes and what happens."

Bjornstad said he will miss being at HHS but is anxious to get on with his future.

Bjornstad will attend St. Paul Technical College in the fall and will study sheet metal fabrication. He is the son of Dennis and Tracy Bjornstad.

Amanda Kotlowski

Amanda Kotlowski, 18, says she has gotten more serious about school as the years have gone by. "I think my attitude has changed over the four years. I've gotten more work done and I think I'm prepared for college coming up."

It was because of a marketing class she took that she decided on her college major. "It was interesting and fun and it's something we all are exposed to so I decided it would make a good career."

Teachers have been an important part of Kotlowski's experience at HHS and she is especially grateful to senior class counselor Sarah Jamieson. "She's really helped me through the past four years and helped me to prepare for what's ahead."

Kotlowski said one of the things she has come to appreciate about HHS is the safety it provides students. "There are hall and campus monitors and some kids don't like it. But it doesn't bother me and it works. This is a safe school and I will miss coming here."

Kotlowski said the biggest misconception adults have about teenagers is that "we party all the time. For more of us, it's not just about that. We do other things like work and study and projects. There is more that we care about."

Kotlowski hopes that the war in Iraq ends soon and that the families affected can be reunited. She isn't certain that voting makes much of a difference but she is curious to see if an African American can be elected president.

When it comes to advice for underclassmen, Kotlowski says, "Really work for good grades and listen to your teachers. They are pretty much right most of the time."

Kotlowski will attend UW-Green Bay in the fall to study marketing (and to be closer to the Packers). She is the daughter of Ted and Sue Kotlowski.


The commencement ceremony is set for 7 p.m. at Newton Field. See separate story for details.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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