MIHS student speakers offer farewells

Out of 77 graduates, many also have associate’s degrees in hand
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Farewells to Menominee Indian High School were common among the student speakers at the school’s graduation on May 24, while school district officials’ messages were focused on future education.

The Class of 2023 saw 77 students get their high school diplomas, and a handful of them are venturing forth with associate degrees from the College of Menominee Nation, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and other places of higher learning at the same time.

Jazzlynn Oshkosh, one of two class valedictorians, noted that the title was simply that, a title, and was not going to be the defining factor of what she became. She noted that, once upon a time, she wanted to be a chef. Then she wanted to be a teacher. Amid all that, Oshkosh wanted to be successful.

“High school has provided us the opportunity to create our own unique paths,” Oshkosh said.

The question of what students wanted to be when they grew up got more complicated, according to Oshkosh, as the requirements for being in certain careers became obvious — and sometimes frightening.

“Instead of asking what you want to be growing up, ask yourself who you want to be when you grow up,” she said.

The other valedictorian, Alamea Pyawasay, paid tribute to her parents for helping her to get to the commencement stage.

“My mother played a significant role in encouraging me to search for more opportunities,” Pyawasay said. “Similarly, my father has been an unwavering pillar of strength who reminds me that there is hope, even in the darkest of times.”

Pyawasay said that, in her freshman year, she didn’t care about her grades, or in school, for that matter. That changed when she took part in the 4X4 program with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College to get her associate’s degree.

“I never dreamed that I would graduate high school with an associate’s degree and a 4.0 grade-point average, Pyawasay said.

Salutatorian Ashlee Corn said she had no idea what to come up with for a commencement speech until a friend suggested focusing on her class and what they went through, as the Class of 2023 saw their freshman year upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Corn said her freshman year saw her with low self-esteem, and it took a lot of work to get herself to where she was today.

“The thought of where I was five years ago, and even three years ago, made me sad,” Corn said. “It made me wonder, why am I here, and not there? Why is it like this, and not that?”

As a result of the pandemic, Corn feels like she lost out on many opportunities and memories. However, she said that even if she’d been able to go through her high school education in-person all four years, the end result would have been the same.

“It took me a little while to realize that, even if things had turned out a little differently, I still would have ended up where I did, and I’d still be proud today,” Corn said. “I still would have taken college classes, I still would have graduated with an associate’s degree, and I would still be here giving a speech. Despite all the changes and hardships I’ve gone through over the years, I still somehow managed to accomplish all that I did.”

Wendell Waukau, Menominee Indian School District superintendent, noted that the school board’s task is to work with the community to provide the best education possible for students.

“They ensure that each of our students has a pathway to success,” Waukau said.

Waukau said that, since the first graduating class for MIHS in 1977, there have been 2,509 people that have received their diplomas and ventured forth into the world, with 146 of them serving in the military, 21 who are now Menominee language teachers, 240 who received associate degrees, 205 who received bachelor’s degrees, 68 with master’s degrees and eight with doctorates.

“These numbers, they’ve got to mean something. They can’t just be numbers,” Waukau said. “You might ask, why are these important? Sometimes, in our daily communities, we tend to focus on the negative versus the positive. It’s important because these numbers show our district and tribe in the community are resilient, especially because we live in a divided America.”

School board president David Miller brought up the new high school facility that will begin construction in June and how it will foster many more graduates.

“We’re looking toward the future,” Miller said. “We’re looking after the children first and providing them with the services they didn’t have, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job with it.”

Miller also reflected on how the current graduating class is everything that the people came before could have hoped for.

“These children today are the prayers of our ancestors,” Miller said.