PdC’s 2020 val, sal rise above the challenges

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Valedictorian Zachary Mara and Salutatorian Jenna Holler

Zachary Mara is the valedictorian and Jenna Holler the salutatorian for the Prairie du Chien High School Class of 2020.

Zach is the son of Jeff and Jill Mara, of Prairie du Chien. He anticipates attending UW-La Crosse this fall for accounting and criminal justice.

During his high school career, Zach has excelled in academics as well as athletics. He is an Advanced Placement scholar with distinction. He has achieved five gold-medal finishes in the Southwest Conference math competition, including two individual recognition awards at the UW-Platteville math contest and one third-place team finish at the same contest. Zach played baseball as well as American Legion baseball all four years of high school. He also went out for football and basketball for one year each and was a gymnastics manager for a couple years. 

He’s been quite active in the community as well. He said he was honored to tutor a Bluff View student for a couple months this school year. He has been a member of the J-Walkers parish youth group for the past four years, through which he attended mission trips in Tennessee, Texas and Florida. Zach has volunteered for church dinners and visited residents at Prairie Maison. 

“From 2014-2019, I had the privilege of working with the PdC football program as the team statistician. During that same time, I also submitted weekly contributions to the Courier Press covering the team,” he noted. “More recently, I found myself covering the gymnastics team as well, thanks to an opportunity given to me by my sister, Tasha Buchheit, who is the assistant high school gymnastics coach.”

In the business community, Zach is a friendly face at Peoples State Bank, where he’s worked since June 2018. He also umpires baseball games and officiates football games in the surrounding communities.

A self-proclaimed quick learner, determined and goal-oriented student, Zach feels two teachers from his grade school years helped shape him into who he’s become today, his kindergarten and third grade teachers, Deb Mason and Gale Carlson, respectively. 

“Ms. Mason embraced my gift of knowledge from a very early age and encouraged me to work at my own increased pace to further develop those skills,” he stated. “Ms. Carlson invited me to join her third grade class for math in second grade, and after that I worked a year ahead in math for the rest of school. Without them, I don’t know if I ever would’ve realized the gifts I was given in a subject that doesn’t come easily to everyone.”

One of Zach’s major challenges in high school was having to learn from home and work harder than ever to perform well academically. 

“In 2019, I made a decision that cost me the ability to learn face-to-face from April through June, but I learned important lessons about consequences and accountability in the process,” he said. “Little did I know, a year later, I would find myself in a similar situation because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though he admits wanting the high school experience to move by quickly, he has recognized, now that the desire is nearly a reality, a sadness that “I didn’t appreciate everything that’s happened along the way.”

Zach said his greatest inspiration in life is his grandma Audrey.

“Her kind heart and love for everyone were shown to me every day growing up and are still present today. She has always cared for other people, teaching elementary school before raising a family of 9 children with my grandpa, he shared. “She has always been determined to put others first, even after suffering a stroke in the spring of 2018. After a month in the hospital and so many opportunities to give up, she persevered. I’ve learned so many things from her, but mostly importantly that a kind heart and a determined mind will take you farther in life than any amount of money or possessions ever could.”

Reflecting on the last four years, Zach said he’s going to miss sports, and seeing his friends and girlfriend every day. He’s looking forward to college though, where he’d like to pursue a career in law enforcement. Then, he plans to return to Prairie and start a family here.

Zach concluded with some advice to underclassmen: “Never let your mistakes define you. Admit when you’re wrong, but never let a mistake get in the way of your goals. Do sports, join a club, or find some other way to get involved. High school goes by too fast; you might as well make some lifelong memories along the way.”

Jenna is the daughter of Steven and Sarah Holler, of Prairie du Chien. She plans to attend UW-Madison this fall and major in biology and pre-veterinary.

Jenna has also been heavily engaged in extra-curriculars while keeping herself at the top of the class academically. 

She’s been named an AP scholar, the top junior among the National Honor Society and was on the presidential team for the student council. In addition, she’s invested time in the International Club, Key Club, Sources of Strength, FFA and the Political Science Club. She played percussion in the band, participated in soccer for four years and junior varsity basketball as well as golf, served as manager for the boys’ soccer team, and was a member of the J-Walkers church youth group.

Outside of school, Jenna also volunteered her time at the local blood drive, donating twice too. She’s made tie blankets for the needy, helped at multiple church dinners, went on a mission trip, helped out at Oktoberfest and the Monster Bash, read at church mass/brought up gifts, sang Christmas carols at the nursing home and more.

Jenna has worked at Southwest Veterinary Services previously but is currently employed at Walmart. 

Considering her personal strengths, she feels she’s dedicated and carries herself with integrity. Jenna is happy she has reached for her goals and always set her standards high. 

“I have stumbled along my path, but I persist and get back up to try again. I will not let myself give up; I have come all this way,” she said.

She remarked that she also stays true to herself and her values in all situations. She puts others’ needs above her own and she offers a hand to those in need. 

“It has always been like me to be kind to others, and I am someone who people can depend on,” she stated. “I own up to my mistakes, and I try to learn from them, though they do not define me. I strive to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be.”

Jenna said, looking back, she has grown into the person she is thanks to Mrs. Rabbitt. 

“She has taught some of my most difficult courses, including AP Calc, so a lot of my time was spent getting help from her, which then developed into a new friendship and a love for math jokes. She always encouraged me to do my best and to believe in myself; she showed me the importance of being able to laugh at my mistakes,” Jenna commented. “Because of her, I was inspired to take on harder classes and challenges that I would have otherwise been afraid to do with my fear of failure.”

Additionally, Jenna has been most inspired and motivated by her parents, saying they want her to do what makes her happiest. 

She shared, “They believed in me even when, at times, I didn’t believe in myself. They showed me that it is okay to make mistakes; just get back up and try again. They have inspired me to follow in their footsteps, leading me to the discovery of new passions and opportunities.”

Jenna expressed her pride in overcoming the stresses of her high school career as well as her battle with self-esteem and body image. She said she’s learned to take things one day at a time and that everything will work out. She said she often compared herself to others, didn’t feel good enough and was afraid to express herself. However, over time, she learned to deal with this fear, leading her “to discover more of who I am and what my values are.”

Would she change anything about her time at PdCHS? Jenna said she would bring homeroom back to the end of the school day.

“Homeroom gave students the opportunity to either work on homework while still having the motivation to do so or to socialize with friends; it was a time where we could unwind as the school day was coming to an end,” she commented. 

Looking back, Jenna will miss her friendships most but is also excited about making new, lasting friendships. She’s ready to take on the challenges of stepping outside her comfort zone in a larger city and discovering more of who she is and what brings her happiness.

Talking directly to her underclassmen, Jenna finished by saying, “Appreciate the little things as they come; don’t take them for granted.”

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