DDHS grads ‘leave their shells’ as new journeys await

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DELAVAN — “I entered the doors of Delavan-Darien not knowing what to expect, and now I look back at those doors, and four years later, I realize anything I could have imagined would not have been like what I experienced.”

The experience of Class of 2014 graduation speaker Eli Nelson is much like that of probably any student, past and present, at DDHS.

Some come in expecting the worst. But after being at DDHS, they often have the best experience of their lives.

Others, like Nelson said he once was, come in lost, not knowing how to navigate the long and winding hallways of the sprawling one-story facility. But soon, students find their way: to great friends, to great teachers in meaningful classes, fun and exciting challenges that test their knowledge and prepare them for college and careers.

Now, for the 198 seniors in the Class of 2014 (185 walked at graduation), a new chapter, and new, unknown experiences await.

“The door to our high school career will close, but at the same time, we are going to receive a key that will unlock many new doors,” he said. “We will never know what’s behind any of these doors until we have the courage to open them.”

But Delavan-Darien High School has made all graduates prepared.

  • This year, more than 50 percent of the class finished with a grade point average over 3.0, placing them on the honor roll. Thirty-seven graduates finished with high honors and a GPA of 3.75 or above.
  • Fifty-four members of the class took 148 Advanced Placement exams in 12 testing areas, potentially earning more than 500 college credits. Through articulated classes offered at the school, many have already earned college credit without taking AP courses and exams.
  • A school record 37 students are Wisconsin Covenant Scholars, and one student, Alexandra Lewis, is a Herb Kohl Foundation Student Excellence Scholar.
  • Many members of the class have also overcome difficulties to graduate, often times juggling school, work and responsibilities at home. This year, there are 20 graduates who attended the Alternative High School in Elkhorn, or were a part of Delavan-Darien’s R.I.S.E. Program, an alternative school-within-the-school track.
  • Students in the class put in nearly 7,000 hours of community service this year, pitching in not to be rewarded with money, but instead rewarded with the satisfaction of doing good deeds for the Delavan-Darien community.

“This senior class has impressed me with their sense of spirit over the last four years — they work together well, they work hard, and they have fun doing it,” Principal Mark Schmitt said. “They are talented in many ways – athletically, artistically, and academically. Perhaps most outstanding is their service to the community. As a group, they have provided nearly 7,000 hours of service, almost 3,000 hours more than the last several graduating classes.”

For a class that has worked so hard, fellow graduation class speaker and Valedictorian Mikayla Severson encouraged her classmates to work harder in the future, no matter the door they choose.

“Each decision we make turns our lives in a new, exciting direction, and this means that we mold our lives into the way we want them to be,” Severson said. “This creates endless possibilities for our futures. Because the future is yet undefined, and not set in stone, it isn’t controlled by anyone but us. It is full of new experiences and memories that can be made, and can be transformed into whatever we want it to be.

“As Sheryl Sandberg once said, ‘…no matter where you started, as of today you are privileged. You are privileged in the most important sense of the word, which is that you have almost boundless opportunity in front of you. So, the question is, what are you going to do with it?’

“Build your future how you want it to be, and just go for it. Strive to achieve your dreams. Don’t hold yourself back, and never tell yourself you can’t do something. Be the person who never says never, and encourage others to do the same.”

Like Nelson, closing speaker and graduate Graciela Jaramillo was one of those nervous students upon entering DDHS more than four years ago. She announced the graduates with courage and confidence before her classmates tossed their mortarboard hats into the air.

As an incoming freshman, “I thought about how hard high school was going to be, and I was nervous for all the changes I would have to go through when I entered this mysterious building,” Jaramillo said. “Now, as I look back, my perspective about high school — about the classes, about the people who walk its halls — has changed.

“DDHS isn’t just a building. It’s a shell, which has nourished us and protected us for these past four years.

“Within these walls we found what we never expected; a united culture, a family, a home.

“As the author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer once said, ‘When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’ Tonight, we’ll leave our shell behind and embark on a journey that will take us who knows where. And we may not know all the answers, but one thing we know for sure; we are more than ready to begin.”



  • The class Valedictorian was Mikayla Severson, who had a grade point average of 4.624. The Salutatorian was Rose Wang, who finished with a GPA of 4.575.
  • In back-to-back years, a Severson finished at the top of the class. Last year’s valedictorian was Mikayla’s sister, Hayley.
  • Seven members of the Class of 2014 have enlisted for military service. They are: Brandon Bales, Army; Rachel Bies, National Guard; Kane Castel, Army; Christian Laureano, Marines; Daniel Loomer, Army; Devin Salas, Air Force; and Gavin Winkler, Marines.
  • The school’s top 52 academically-ranked students all got at least one scholarship award. The Delavan-Darien Foundation awarded $66,000 in scholarships to 62 students. The total local scholarship amount from 124 area scholarships, including Foundation awards, was $146,200. Including other awards and grants from outside the area, students were awarded more than $315,000 for their continuing educations for a total of more than $461,000.
  • The $1,000 Kohl Excellence Scholarship awarded to Alex Lewis is the first such award for a DDHS student since 2008. She is one of just seven DDHS alumni to have received the award in the school’s history Each year, just 100 Kohl Excellence Scholarships are awarded to Wisconsin high school seniors.

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