Where the best and the brightest go next after the last word of the speech

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Brent Bloyer Chrissie Alioto Kristine Pettis

By Rachel Mergen

 

As area high school graduations are done for another year, past graduates reflect on their own experiences. Valedictorians, especially, have important connections with their commencement ceremonies, as they addressed the audiences and represented the best and brightest of the school. But, once the diploma is accepted and the graduates walk out of their schools, what comes next for the top of the class? 

Kristine Pettis

Kristine Pettis achieved the honor of Valedictorian in 2008 at Seneca High School. 

After her high school graduation, she attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to complete a bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine technology with minors in chemistry, biology and interpersonal communication. She then participated in a yearlong nuclear medicine internship at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa and the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. 

Currently, she finds herself working as a nuclear medicine and molecular imaging specialist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. 

“Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty that uses radiopharmaceuticals to assess bodily functions and to diagnose and treat diseases,” Kristine explained. “I didn’t necessarily expect to find myself working in the field that I currently do, but I always knew I wanted to work in health care and I think I’ve found a good fit. This career allows me to work one on one with patient’s on a daily basis, as well as continuing to learn new innovative techniques, and still have a life outside of work.”

She now calls Dane (Wis.) home, where she lives with her husband and their two dogs. They chose Dane because of her small-town roots and since “the town and the people who live there remind me of home.”

Growing up in Seneca, according to Kristine, helped her learn it is important to slow down and just enjoy life.

Looking back on her high school experience, she said, “When a lot of people think about high school, they say they’d never go back. I fall in the minority on that one; I personally really enjoyed high school. The only thing I would have done differently about my high school experience is to not care as much about what other people think. It’s a hard thing to do in that situation, but ten years from now, no one will care what shirt you wore or what ‘group’ you belonged to. Advice I would give to current high school students is to not take the experience for granted and be involved. As a former three sport athlete, I miss the days of playing sports and bonding with my teammates. You will likely never have the experience again, so cherish it while you can.”

“Life after graduation was definitely different than I expected. One thing I learned was that college is hard. It took much more time and effort to get good grades compared to high school, but I eventually figured it out. Graduating from college and having my family and friends so proud of me was one of the best moments,” Kristine added.

“I truly believe it’s the little things in life that make things beautiful. Whether it’s going out of your way to make someone smile, traveling to a new destination or simply just having a relaxing weekend with family, it’s little things like this that make life worth living.”

Brianna Jentz Kirschbaum

Brianna Jentz Kirschbaum, a native of Bloomington, was named the River Ridge High School Class of 2008 valedictorian. 

She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s College of Liberal Arts and Education summa cum laude in December 2012, with a double major in history and English literature, a minor in international studies and a writing certificate. She continued on to University of Houston-Victoria to earn a Master of Science in publishing in 2016. 

Now, she works in Dubuque, Iowa, as a content licensing specialist for McGraw-Hill Education. She lives in Platteville with her husband and cat.

“I am blessed with a wonderful partner who studied abroad with me in Scotland and traveled to Washington, D. C. when I was completing research as part of UW–Platteville’s Pioneer Undergraduate Research Fellowship on the 23rd Special Headquarters in WWII. Nearly every weekend, we have friends, family and places to visit, so I would have to say that giving into wanderlust has given me some of my favorite memories,” Brianna mentioned. 

Since graduating high school, she is proud to have become more comfortable with using her voice and being herself. Looking back on high school leads her to conclude, “My time at River Ridge taught me many lessons, but one of the ones that has stuck with me the most is that educational funding is not a given. 

“During middle school and high school, I became aware of the financial struggles that River Ridge and other school districts in Wisconsin face as state funding dwindles. I was one of the last students at River Ridge given the opportunity to take French in person, as opposed to taking it through the Distance Learning lab, and I was very privileged to travel to England and France as a member of the River Ridge French Club. I also participated in the drama program. Unfortunately, French, drama, and many other programs have been significantly hurt or eliminated due to budget constraints in the last decade. 

“River Ridge has many caring teachers who still give students a quality education, but as a society, we need to place a much greater emphasis on funding for educational opportunities, including foreign language, civics, music and art classes. High schools, like colleges, must continue to value and promote liberal arts education that seeks to create a well-rounded, critical thinkers, but this will not happen without adequate federal and state funding.”

Brianna continued, “I now recognize I had not fully developed the ability to be empathetic, although I considered myself to be a sympathetic individual. 

“In high school, I sought out experiences that were reflective of the community in which I lived and opportunities that matched the expectations placed upon me. I was very naive, and I did not understand the complexity nor the severity of difficulties that many individuals face nationally and globally. I saw too much of the world as dichotomies instead of interconnected pieces. 

“I wish that I had broadened my reading choices earlier to include more non-white, minority writers who explore life beyond the uniformity of small towns, although I do admit that I was somewhat unaware of poverty and other struggles that people in my own community also faced. Reading the works of more diverse authors and reading international news daily has significantly improved my ability to be empathetic, tolerant, and informed. I believe reading and traveling have made me a more progressive and understanding individual, and I now understand how important representation is and actively seek out diverse narratives in order to continue my own education outside of the classroom.”

For current high school students, she hopes they understand life will get better and they should move past their comfort zones. When eligible, she hopes they take the opportunity to vote. 

In Brianna’s eyes, with a view of the world much more developed since her high school days, she believes life is beautiful because of “stories—whether I am listening to a song, watching a movie, or reading, I am searching for someone’s story.”

Chrissie Alioto

Chrissie Alioto, Prairie du Chien valedictorian of 1988, stated, “(The biggest) life lesson I have learned, since graduating, is to cherish and enjoy every day because life goes by way too fast. I remember when I was in high school and college, I couldn’t wait to be done, but now, I wish that time would go slower. 

“My biggest struggles have been having a child who was born deaf and learning how to help navigate through the multitude of medical appointments and intervention services he needed. Then, more recently, getting diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, surgery and radiation while still working and parenting my children. Having no family history of deafness or breast cancer, I was not expecting to be dealing with either of these things. However, both of these things have made me a better person and a better clinician. 

“I also never thought I would end up living so close to Prairie du Chien or that I would be working in health care, but both of these things were invaluable when dealing with my struggles. 

“The best moments have been giving birth to my children and watching them grow into thoughtful and kind young men.”

She began to learn these lessons that only seem to come after leaving the high school classroom by attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire as an undecided student, and then transferring to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse after her freshman year to follow a degree path in physical therapy, graduating in 1992. 

Her decision to become a physical therapist surprised even her, as she knew nothing about the field until a family friend suggested it to her. 

Chrissie, who now lives in La Crescent, Minn., works as a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse. She is married with three sons. 

Along with patient care, Chrissie works with college to coordinate student physical therapist and physical therapist assistant clinical education. She is a member of the La Crescent Hokah School Board.

“High school can be full of drama, and in the moment, it can seem overwhelming.   High schoolers are not always so kind to one another. However, what happens in high school does not define your future,” Chrissie said.

“My advice would be to be kind to yourself and those around you and don’t wish time to move faster. It is okay to have failures because it gives you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes.  Change is inevitable so embrace it and find the positive in it. If I could go back, I would take the time to enjoy everything high school has to offer, while making sure to include everyone, and I would focus less on the future.

“I felt like I knew everyone in Prairie du Chien when I lived there which made me feel like I was part of the community. This positive experience definitely influenced me. I still feel that same sense of community now where I live and where I work. Due to this, I believe I tend to see the world in the same positive light, and I am optimistic about what the future holds,” she said.

Chrissie has decided, “enjoying what you do, having the support of family and friends and seeing others succeed makes life beautiful.”

Brent Bloyer

Brent Bloyer was named valedictorian of the Bloomington (now River Ridge) Class of 1998. At the time, he never imagined his life taking him where he calls home now.

Brent, a Bloomington native, resides in Pembroke Pines, Fla. and works as a physical therapist, which required him to also learn Spanish to accommodate the local clients. He graduated as part of the Class of 1992 at Northeast Missouri State University, completing undergraduate studies in exercise physiology and athletic training. He continued to graduate school at the University of Miami, finishing in 1995.

He hopes high school students will enjoy every single moment of their time within the education system. At that point in life, he remembers having very few cares and responsibilities. Nobody had as high of expectations as they do for him today. Brent hopes students will make sure they are “making memories.” 

During high school, Brent thoroughly enjoyed the sports and events that brought the student body and community together to rejoice with school pride. 

“I don’t think that I could do anything different,” Brent said, as the path he took in high school was the perfect one for him.

In his years since graduating high school, his hardest experience was losing his father, former River Ridge principal Vandy Bloyer. He said his greatest joy in life is being married to his wife Martha and a father to their three children. 

His hometown of Bloomington helped form who he is today, along with his mindset. He learned there that “hard work, family, friends and faith can get you through anything.” Growing up where he did, he was taught from a very young age the value of hard work, which made him never feel intimidated by having to put extra effort in to his career. 

“People of southwest Wisconsin are the best people in the country,” Brent laughed, declaring an opinion he holds close to his heart. 

Editor's note: Brianna Jentz Kirschbaum declined the use of a photo. 

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