Senior Spotlights - Abby Owen, Christian Renk, Miriam Ellis, Connor Walechka, Ben Windley-Daoust

Our remarkable senior students will be graduating in a little over a week. As their time at Cotter comes to an end, we want to highlight their achievements and ask them “What’s next?”

Our final segment features five remarkable seniors, Abby Owen, Christian Renk, Miriam Ellis, Connor Walechka, and Ben Windley-Daoust.

Abby Owen is headed south to warm weather. Spending part of her youth in Dallas, Texas, it isn’t surprising that she chose to attend the University of Texas- Austin in the fall. Abby said she really wanted to “leave the nest” after graduation, so her criteria for colleges included somewhere “really warm and really far away.” She was also accepted to University of California- San Diego, University of Minnesota, DePaul University in Chicago, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and the University of North Carolina- Wilmington. 

With a GPA of 3.9 and an ACT score of 30, Abby was offered the Presidential Scholarship at DePaul University and the Women in STEM Scholarship at Southern Methodist University, so it wasn’t all about the money. What set the University of Texas apart from the others is that it is a renowned research university. Abby plans to major in molecular biology and one day she would like to be a medical researcher for a major hospital. Since the University of Texas is a research school, she hopes to stay there to attend graduate school after she earns her Bachelor of Science.

One other draw to the University of Texas is that Abby will have the opportunity to study abroad. She has been a world traveler since she was young. Besides Minnesota and Texas, Abby has lived in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Mexico, and Panama. Abby said that of all the places she has lived, her favorite was Mexico. She spent her 2nd through 4th grade years in school in Monterrey. She said that is where she developed a love for Spanish and began speaking it. She is still fluent today, however, she said she knows she isn’t grammatically correct. She would love to travel back to Monterrey one day and study abroad in Spain. She is hoping she will be able to minor in Spanish. She said that she believes being bi-lingual will help her “stand out in a pool of job applicants.”

During her time at Cotter, Abby’s favorite classes were political science, all of the biology classes, chemistry, and Spanish. She was also involved in speech, Nordic skiing, and volunteered at the Cotter Connect Academy which helps welcome new international students to the school. She said that some of her favorite memories included debates in class. Small class sizes allowed for fun debates. Abby said she likes to educate herself on politics and world events. She likes discussing those things in class.

Her favorite thing to do though is work at the Blue Heron Coffee House as a barista. Her best friend, Kylie Modjeski, also works there and they have a lot of fun together. She is also really into music. She said that Winona has a really cool music scene where you can see artists in small, intimate settings. She and friends do road trip to shows in Chicago and Minneapolis as well. She laughed as she said, “We’re groupies! Not really, but kinda.”

After graduation, Abby said she will miss all the little things with her friends. She doesn’t have one significant memory, but tons of small, meaningful moments. She said she will miss driving around with her friends and all of their inside jokes.

Abby had advice for our graduating seniors and our underclassmen. She wants to make sure her fellow seniors remember that “we will all be able to vote next year. Know what you agree with or don’t agree with before you vote. Just be aware of what is happening in your world.” And in her advice for underclassmen she said, “Form a relationship with your teachers. Being comfortable around them will help you get a lot more out of the class. It takes your education to the next level. It is easy to do it here because we have small classes. Everyone knows each other. Also, don’t wait to tour and apply or take your ACT. It is a really long process, so if you want to go to a bigger school you need to prepare. It takes a lot of preparation to get into college. You can’t wait until the last minute and expect to get in.”

Stay warm and stay in touch, Abby!

Unlike Abby who is headed south, Christian Renk is headed north. Christian will be attending the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall. He was accepted to Iowa State University in Ames, IA and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities as well, but said that he really likes the feel of the UMD campus and the size of the school. He also heard positive feedback from other people who went there or are currently attending UMD. Christian was also offered two academic-based scholarships based on his 3.8+ G.P.A.

As the middle child in a family of five, Christian had the advantage of learning from the experiences of his sister, Lauren ’13, and brother, Jake ’16, who preceded him as Cotter graduates. And now as the oldest Renk sibling at Cotter, he is setting a tremendous example for Joey ’20 and Grace ’23. Christian has succeeded in the classroom and on the field. He participated in football, basketball, and tennis. He was also a member of the choir, show choir, and National Honor Society. Christian lists being inducted into the National Honor Society was his most memorable moment. Christian’s other honors included being named All-District, Academic All-District, and Defensive Most Valuable Player (MVP) in football.

In his free time, Christian enjoyed lifting weights in the weight room in the John Nett Rec. That is something he will likely continue to do once he is at UMD. He also would like to sing in the choir. He said that singing in the Cotter concert choir and show choir were some of his favorite experiences.

Other than lifting and participating in choir, Christian is excited for all the new experiences he will have next year. He did say that he will miss the relationships he has built over the years with his friends and teachers, but he is looking forward to meeting new people once he is on campus.

Christian had these parting words for the underclassmen, including his siblings, “Don’t take your time in high school for granted. You are only here for four years at the most, so you might as well make them count.”

Best of luck, Christian!

There are some high school students who take advantage of every high school opportunity. Miriam Ellis is one of those students. Miriam transferred to Cotter in 8th grade from a smaller school in Independence, WI. She was looking for more educational opportunities and a more challenging curriculum. She found it. Miriam, who boasts a 3.8+ G.P.A., has excelled in the classroom and all of her extracurricular activities.

She has participated in Speech, History Day, Student Council, and National Honor Society. She was a senior mentor, a member of the book club, coordinated the blood drive and the food drive through student council. She also helped plan the Pepfest, Homecoming dance, and Winterfest dance, and traveled with Cross Cultural Ministry Project (CCMP). Whew!

As part of the Speech team, Miriam eared All-State honors in 2018. She was also the recipient of the Rambler Award two years in a row. If that isn’t impressive enough, she was named Girl of the Year her sophomore and junior years as well!

In the fall, Miriam will take her impressive resume to Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth. She was also accepted to Montana State University in Bozeman, the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, St. Catherine University in St. Paul, the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, and Minnesota State University – Mankato. TCU won Miriam’s heart, partly because she visited in the middle of winter. She said it was “freezing cold and snowing in Winona, but sunny and beautiful in Texas.” She wanted to be warm. Besides the climate change, TCU also has a strong communications program and a vibrant campus atmosphere. Miriam intends to major in Strategic Communications and minor in Energy Technology, and if her track record at Cotter is any indication she will take full advantage of a busy and active campus.

During her time at Cotter, Miriam’s favorite classes were political science and English.  She really enjoys drinking coffee, so naturally studying at coffee houses is one of her favorite things to do. She also likes going to movies with her friends, and then after, going out for more coffee. Miriam also plays polo near Hudson, WI when she has free time.

Miriam’s favorite memory of Cotter was during the summer before her freshman year. She traveled to Japan through a program at Cotter. She said she “met a whole bunch of new people on the trip.” As a newer student, she was grateful for being able to meet new friends on that trip. She said she also really loved going to the cities with the CCMP group for an Urban Plunge trip this past year. She remembered that there were only three seniors on the trip, and it was “super fun” getting to know the underclassmen. She said “they’re hilarious. They’re crazy and light hearted. Still very open minded. It reminded me of when I wasn’t stressed out about college. They were still having fun with no worries.”

Other things that Miriam really liked about her time at Cotter was leading the student body via student council. Her favorite part was planning events and dances. She liked planning games for the other students. She also said that, “starting something and seeing it through is a big deal. I like seeing people enjoy the event we created.”

As a very busy and involved student, Miriam had some advice for our underclassmen, “Get a planner and use it. Or Google calendar. Write your stuff down because there is no way to remember it all. Get involved, but not over involved. I don’t know how to differentiate, but find the line. Go to the sporting events. It’s fun to support your classmates. Apply early to colleges. Try to get in on Early Action. Don’t worry if you don’t get into the college of your choice. Don’t it take it personally. Sometimes it seems like it is just what they were looking for on the day they read your application. It isn’t you.”

Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication, Miriam! Good luck next year!

Connor Walechka has a plan. He applied to one college. He has one goal in mind. He wants to be an architect. In the fall, Connor will attend Iowa State University (ISU) in Ames, IA. He chose ISU because they have an outstanding College of Design which houses their architecture program. The program is five years long, but Connor will graduate as a licensed architect. With his degree, he will be able to design buildings for private and public use.

Like Miriam, Connor was very involved while in high school. He played football and basketball, he ran track, and he participated in band, speech, and National Honor Society. He earned All-Conference honors with the speech team. Connor is also a member of the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts Jazz Band and he is an Eagle Scout. For his Eagle Scout project, Connor fixed a sidewalk at St. John’s Church. The boulevard in front of the church was broken and covered in old asphalt. Connor spent several days tearing it up and he then laid down brick.  The sidewalk was made level and safer for the elderly congregation.

Football is one of Connor’s favorite things. He plays for fun a lot with family and friends. He said that being part of the change in Cotter football culture was awesome. Even though he broke his ankle and could not play, he was happy to be part of the team during this momentous season. He was awarded Academic All-District. Since ISU has a Division I football team, Connor is looking forward to attending games next fall.

Connor is also looking forward to a change. He is excited to get out of town and have new experiences. He said he knows that he will miss the small school atmosphere of Cotter because ISU is enormous, but he is looking forward to something new. He said the thing he will miss the most is “playing competitive sports,” mainly football. He is hoping to join an intramural team or two, as well as, tryout for the ISU pepband.

Like the rest of our seniors, Connor has some quality advice for our underclassmen. “Be involved. Do as many things as possible. It is encouraged to try as many things as you can and you will eventually find something you’re really good at. It makes high school a lot more fun if you’re doing stuff.”

Good luck, Connor! Let us know when you design your first major building!

Ben Windley-Daoust is a very intelligent young man. As a National Merit Scholar with an SAT score of 1490, he is a sought after student. Carleton College in Northfield, MN is the lucky school to get him.

Ben said that Carleton is the “perfect school” for him. The school will allow him to have a broad focus and offers both subjects of his intended double major. He plans to major in linguistics and mathematics. He said that those two fields are not related, but he finds both concepts intriguing. What Ben finds captivating about linguistics is that it is the “study of human culture and how language shapes culture and how culture shapes language.” Languages can show the diversity of the culture and of  humanity. Ben believes that “we can learn a lot about cultures from their languages.”

Ben said his love of language stemmed from reading “The Lord of the Rings.” He was fascinated by the creation of the Elvish language for the story, so he decided to look into how to create a new language. Ben read several books about it and realized that creating a language is hard, but linguistics is very interesting. He laughed as he described the all the times when he would stop his friends as they were telling him something just so he could explain to them how what they just said was linguistically unique. He said there are different ways of looking at things based on words. He finds it fascinating that each language has its own unique phrasing and he always thought about how different languages have different words for the same object. He enjoyed sharing that information with his friends.

In addition to creating new languages, Ben wants to preserve old languages. He said there are a lot of languages that “die out because languages are being pushed out by other more normative languages.”

Mathematics is studying patterns. Ben said that “as humans we love to find patterns. We want to figure out how to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and figure out what that path tells us.”  Ben’s favorite classes were math classes. He loves math so much that he self-taught himself Algebra I and Calculus 2 for fun in addition to his Cotter curriculum.  

Besides math, Ben said that his favorite classes were “all of his classes” during his junior year which were several Advanced Placement (AP) courses. He took AP US History, AP Calculus 2, AP English, Honors Chemistry, religion with Mrs. Lofte, and Differential Equations at Winona State University.

Ben named Mr. Steven Stevenson and Mrs. Elizabeth Stevenson as his favorite teachers. He said that they have been “very impactful” in his life and that he feels he “really has a connection” with them. Ben really appreciated their sense of humor and their genuine interest to make sure “everyone learns.” He really likes that they can relate to his personal experiences. Ben said that the Stevensons are “really good at pushing you, but also supporting you when you’re struggling.” AP History was the hardest class, and Mrs. Stevenson really helped everyone stay on track. Ben said he feels like he really learned a lot during that class.

Ben was a National Honor Society captain and a member of Student Council for two years. He was also involved in Cross Cultural Ministry Project, the Math Team, Youth and Government through the YMCA, and the St. Mary’s University chamber orchestra. Ben’s favorite memory was going to the State Math Meet three years in a row. He said that they finished 2018 ranked #10 in the state. He was also connected to our international student body through Connect and Chat sessions and the Cotter Connect Academy.

Besides teaching himself math, in his free time he enjoys researching academic topics online such as linguistics, creating a new language, philosophy, cryptography, and history. He also enjoys playing video games and walking around the lake.

A bit of advice from Ben to our underclassmen, “Don’t stress yourself out too much. Don’t be jerks. Learn to be civil with people that you may disagree with. You aren’t better or worse than anyone else. Ultimately, you need to have your actions stand for who you are. You may be a good person internally, but your actions show who you really are. Take actions that you believe are moral and just. Focus on being an agent of your version of morality. Always examine your life. Look for what you can do to continuously improve. All humans are people. No one is perfect. It is easy to be a good person if you try to apply yourself and it is easy to be a bad person if you don’t.”

We wish you the best, Ben! You will do great things for our world one day!