Written by John Plestina
The lieutenant governor, state school superintendent and local officials delivered a resounding message to Wolf Point High School students to stay in school and graduate Monday, March 24, just 62 days before the next WPHS graduation.
Graduation Matters Montana Wolf Point launch event was part of a statewide effort to offset Montana’s high dropout rate.
Montana Superintendent of Schools Denise Juneau, who founded and designed the Graduation Matters Montana program, and Lt. Governor Angela McLean were the featured speakers.
Every Wolf Point High School and junior high student signed the Graduation Matters Montana pledge Nov. 26, 2013, that reads: “I will graduate from high school. No matter what it takes, how long it takes, or how hard it gets, I can do this and I will not give up.”
Students were asked to sign the pledge and to state why they think it is important to graduate.
All the K-12 students recited the pledge at the launch event.
“Today, we have the opportunity to hear several individuals and how they became educational leaders,” school superintendent Joe Paine said.
“Today, the difference between a high school graduate and a high school dropout in Montana is roughly $330,000 in lifetime earnings,” he said.
Paine asked all seniors to stand.
“I hope you don’t expect me to hand you a check for $330,000 when you graduate. You have to earn that in your lifetime,” he said.
Juneau asked students how many plan to graduate and why.
After hands were raised, she asked, “It’s important to know the why of graduating from high school.
She also stressed that graduates should go on to college.
“Soon, each one of you will be walking across the stage to get your diplomas,” Juneau said. “I know each one of you has the ability and the smarts to graduate from high school
She added that last year, 1,500 students dropped out of high school in Montana.
In 2008, Juneau was elected to her first term as state superintendent and became the first Native American woman elected to a statewide executive office in Montana.
“Many doors will open and it’s up to you to see what’s on the other side of those doors,” Juneau said. “You’ll be a better person.” “I wouldn’t be where I am today without a Browning High School diploma,” she said.
Browning is a small community on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
McLean is a former teacher at Anaconda High School and a Graduation Matters teacher. She resigned her teaching position about six weeks ago, after Gov. Steve Bullock appointed her to replace John Walsh as lieutenant governor. He appointed Walsh to finish Max Baucus’ United States Senate term when Baucus accepted a presidential appointment as U.S. ambassador to China.
McLean told students every one of them should have a plan, and those who do are more likely to graduate and go on to college.
“Once you make a plan, stick to it,” she said.
“I firmly believe the tassel is worth the hassle,” McLean said.
Wolf Point Mayor Chris Dschaak, himself a WPHS graduate, told students of the importance of graduating.
“All of this hinges on one important piece of paper. Twenty years ago, I didn’t understand that,” Dschaak said of the time when he was a senior in 1994.
“That moment when my name was called, I walked onto the stage with all my family and friends watching,” he said.
Dschaak told the students he was asked if he was a high school graduate when he applied for his mortgage.
“Write the story of your life that people will enjoy to read,” Dschaak said.
Student council president Sarah Hafner encouraged her peers to stay in school and graduate.
“One thing that I know is, no one in this school system wants to see a student fail,” she said and added that she is proud to be graduating from WPHS in May.
The launch event was originally scheduled for Dec. 5, 2013, but was postponed due to weather.
The WPHS dropout rate for the 2012-2013 school year was 7.4 percent, a statistic the Wolf Point School District considers too high. It is hoped that participation in the Graduation Matters program will increase the graduation rate.
Local participation in the statewide initiative is a community-wide movement that involves parents, students and educators, as well as community members and businesses. All are asked to he on board in encouraging and providing opportunities for students to graduate from high school.
Other speakers included Fort Peck Community College president Haven Gourneau, school board chairman Martin DeWitt and Jerald Petersen, representing the Wolf Point Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture. Paine emceed the event.