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A class act: 2003 valedictorians a busy bunch

They’re active, well-rounded kids who don’t know how to make excuses because they’re too busy getting on with life. They’re the dozen valedictorians of the class of 2003. From Carbondale to Parachute, these public school senior high school students are ready to step off into one of life’s rites of passage – graduation day.

Francisco “Cisco” Tharp and Dustin Berger like to climb and ride – that is, snowboard – together.

Marco Salmen is a track star when he’s not vying for national titles with Glenwood High’s mock trial team, and Chelsea Strautman is on varsity soccer, loves to run and with Cisco edits The Brimstone, the school paper.



Tess Jankovsky is on the Glenwood swim team and loves to dance, whether it’s jazz or tap, and Matt Young is an avid kayaker when he’s not playing hockey.

These 17- and 18-year-olds have busy, active lives, for sure. Despite that, they’ve still all managed to maintain 4.0 GPAs throughout their high school careers.



Glenwood Springs High School has six valedictorians in the class of 2003, which means that instead of one head of the class, there are half a dozen. It also means their speeches will be short and sweet – two minutes each – when they address their class at commencement at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 24, on the high school’s Stubler Memorial Field.

“These kids are all outstanding individuals,” said their principal, Mike Wells. “And these are just the kids with 4.0s. We have quite a few students this year with extremely high marks on their college entrance exams, and with all A’s and just one B for all four years of high school. Even the kids who aren’t valedictorians are outstanding.”

Tess was born in Vail and moved to Glenwood Springs with her family when she was 6 months old. She said being a valedictorian “doesn’t feel completely real,” but she is looking forward to finishing high school and moving on to Colorado College, where she’s receiving a full-tuition scholarship. She thinks she’ll likely major in biology, and she might go into medicine.

Dustin, too, thinks he might go into pre-med, but he hasn’t decided what he’ll major in. The son of Don and Janis Berger, Dustin is heading to the University of Colorado.

Like his son, Matt’s father James is a Glenwood High graduate. Matt’s dad and mom, Nancy, will be seeing their son off to the Air Force Academy this fall where he’ll major in aeronautical engineering. Earlier this year, Matt was deciding between a few schools, but decided to attend Air Force since he got a spot on the academy’s hockey team.

Marco, like his older brother, is headed for Duke University in North Carolina. He hasn’t declared a major but he’s another valedictorian who’s interested in health sciences. Marco’s father, Paul Salmen is a physician, and his mother is Nancy Reinisch.

Chelsea’s parents, Eric and Carolyn Strautman, are also Glenwood High alums, where Carolyn was the valedictorian for the class of 1984. Chelsea was born in Greeley and moved to Glenwood with her family in fourth grade. Chelsea’s headed for the West Coast, where she’ll attend the University of San Diego on USD and ROTC scholarships. She’ll major in English and may go on to law school.

Both Cisco and his dad, Carl Tharp, are leaving Glenwood High – Cisco’s graduating and his father is retiring from teaching. Cisco leaves for Colorado State University in the fall and has a full ride through a Monfort scholarship. Cisco hasn’t declared his major yet, but thinks he might be interested in English.

All of Glenwood’s valedictorians said their parents played important roles in their scholastic successes – through support and not through undue pressure. They all agreed they couldn’t have accomplished their high grades if they relied solely on their parents to push them into achieving.

“My parents motivated me, but they also let me know it’s OK not to be perfect,” Tess said of her mom and dad, Melissa and Rob Jankovsky. “You really have to be self-motivated to consistently do well.”

“I’ve had low pressure from my parents,” said Cisco of his mom and dad, Sheri Tonozzi and Carl Tharp.

“Chelsea has always been self-motivated,” said Carolyn Strautman. “She’s always been a high achiever, seeking out new challenges.”

Said Dustin, “What motivated me was after getting A’s for two straight years, I got on a roll and I felt like I wanted to keep up.”

Matt pointed out that achieving and maintaining a 4.0 isn’t easy, and the group nodded in agreement.

“I have trouble with some math,” said Cisco. “I do fine up to a certain level, but beyond that, it’s tough.”

When you see Chelsea Tiernan, Katie Stewart, Natalie Bassett and Jessi Rochel together, it’s easy to imagine them growing up as little girls in Carbondale and going through school.

Chelsea and Katie were born in Carbondale. Natalie and her family moved to Carbondale from Tulsa when she was 2, and when Jessi was 6, she and her family made the move from Minnesota to the Roaring Fork Valley.

Now, they’re sharing valedictorian honors at this Saturday’s commencement ceremonies, which will take place at 10 a.m. in the high school gym.

The girls are as comfortable around each other as close sisters, and said they are each other’s favorite people for working on school projects.

“These guys are great to do projects with, because we keep each other motivated,” said Natalie.

The group agreed becoming valedictorians has more to do with perseverance than anything else.

“There are plenty of kids in our class who are smarter than us,” said Chelsea, whose parents are Ted Tiernan and Carrie Katsis, “but I think the difference is that we finish and follow through time after time.”

“It’s important to get your work done,” said Katie. “You need to do the work. You need to turn it in on time.”

“And you also need to be able to concentrate on multiple things at once,” said Jessi.

Multi-tasking is essential to these students. All of them have full plates of activities besides excelling at school.

“I am swamped,” said Natalie, the daughter of Marc and Erin Bassett. “Not many people realize we don’t just sit at home reading books. We’re teenagers. We like to do things teenagers do.”

For Natalie, like the other valedictorians, that’s a lot. She’s the senior class president, and is involved in Student Empowerment, speech, theater, volleyball, Asset-building, and Youth Partnership. She’s been accepted to the University of Denver.

“I haven’t declared my major yet because I’m interested in so many things,” she said. “One of the great things about D.U. is that you can double- and triple-major there.”

For Chelsea, that means student council, Student Empowerment, theater and varsity soccer. She’s played the piano since she was 3, and also plays the violin and sings. She’ll be attending Western State College in Gunnison, where she’s thinking about majoring in biology or music.

Katie, the daughter of Doug and Ellen Stewart, plays the flute with Symphony in the Valley and has played the piano since she was 6. She’s tutored with Project Star, played varsity soccer and is involved in the Church at Redstone. She is heading to Whitworth College in Spokane, a small private liberal arts college where she wants to study bilingual education, in preparation for an English/Spanish-language teaching career.

Jessi, besides working at River Valley Ranch and writing a book review column for the Post Independent, plays varsity basketball and volleyball, and participates in student council and Student Empowerment. She’ll attend Colorado State University in the fall, and wants to major in English or journalism.

“I want to be a book critic for The New York Times,” she said with a smile.

Jessi is the daughter of Rich and Deanna Rochel, and will be featured on Denver’s Channel 9 News in the next month as an outstanding high school senior.

Rifle’s valedictorian, Leah Silvieus, said one of the best things that happened to her academically during high school was getting a D on a literature essay.

“I was a sophomore, and it made me realize that I needed to work harder,” she said. “I realized I wasn’t putting as much effort into my work as I could.”

Leah has solidly learned that lesson. She moved to Rifle from Montana with her brothers and parents, David and Mary Silvieus, in October of her freshman year, and now stands at the top of her class at Rifle High School.

“I never really thought I’d be in this place,” she said of her valedictorian status. “Mostly, I’ve been doing what I love.”

What Leah loves to do is learn – even if it’s not always easy.

“I’m very mathematically challenged,” she said with a smile. “In many ways, it’s like a foreign language to me. But the teachers here have been so gracious and have helped me so much. So have my friends who are better at math than I am.”

Besides maintaining a 4.0 G.P.A., Leah’s been involved in drama club and student government. She has built on her musical background – she’s studied piano since she 12 – singing in varsity choir and playing the clarinet in the school band.

How have her parents, David and Mary, helped her achieve her goals?

“My parents always support me,” she said, “but even if I was an F student, they’d support me as long as I was trying my hardest.”

After working this summer in the public relations department for the Glenwood Springs Forest Service office, Leah is heading to Whitworth College in Spokane, like Katie Stewart of Roaring Fork High School. She wants to major in journalism or English.

“I love to write,” she said. “After undergrad, I’ll probably go on to graduate school in print journalism.”

Her love of writing is coming in handy as she readies her speech for graduation at 10 a.m. this Saturday, May 24, at the high school’s football field.

“I’m focusing on thanking people – my family, my friends and my teachers – for helping me along the way,” she said.

Christian Tegtmeier is not an easy senior to track down. Like other valedictorians, he’s got a packed schedule. A three-sport varsity athlete in football, baseball and basketball during his high school career, Christian has been involved in Future Business Leaders of America, the National Honor Society and student government – and still managed to maintain a 3.7 G.P.A., the highest in his class.

Sandy Hanson, the public information director at Garfield School District No. 16, said Christian is a “very nice young man” who “doesn’t seek attention.”

The son of Paul and Donna Tegtmeier, Christian grew up in Parachute after living in San Diego and Rifle, but will be heading out of state for college. He’s attending Doane College in Nebraska, and at this point is undecided about his major.

“I think I’d like to go into either law enforcement or secondary education,” he said. “I want to give back to the community.”

He’ll address his class at Grand Valley High’s graduation at 10 a.m. next Saturday, May 31, in the high school’s gymnasium, though he admits the thought of speaking at graduation is “scary.”

“It’s hard,” he said. “I think what I’ll focus on is giving a farewell to my class. I’ll talk about graduation and how we all got there.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

cclick@postindependent.com


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