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If each incarnation of the annual banquet to honor the top ten graduating seniors from Culver Comm. High School and the teachers they chose as most influential takes on a flavor of its own, this year's event seemed in many ways to be a night of engaging oration, from students and teacher alike.
In the case of Trent Elliott, son of Kyle and Lori Elliott, it was chosen teacher Andy Thomas, athletic director and football coach at the school, who took his speech in a creative direction.
After CCHS principal Albert Hanselman introduced Elliott as having participated in National Jr. Honor Society, band, the CAVS service club, basketball, football, golf, 4H, a mission trip to Mexico, and planning to attend Fairmont State University in West Virginia to major in Business, Elliott said Thomas "expects excellence and treats everyone the same. He expects each person to work hard in the classroom, and he helps kids who struggle."
Elliott added that Thomas' weight program enabled him to be where he is today and the school as a whole, to whose athletic championships in a variety of sports Elliott alluded.
Elliott also said Thomas inspired him to play football in addition to his original aspiration to play basketball, and thanked Thomas for preparing him for "the game of life."
For his part, Thomas, displaying several boxes with photos of Elliott at different stages of his accomplished athletic career, described him using an acronym spelling out his name.
Among traits Thomas ascribed to Elliott were his being resolute, a "nice guy" who is well-spoken and polite, full of smiles and laughter, talkative and emotionally invested in his endeavors. Thomas also praised Elliott's parents and grandparents and their influence on him, among other things.
Honoring chosen teacher Louis Posa was Michael Skiles, son of Patty and Loyd Herrell and Jack and Kelly Skiles. A participant in National Honor Society, Art Club, Calvacade, Chorus, Spanish Club, Student Council, the CAVS Club, and CYCO, Skiles was also vice president of his class during his freshman year and assisted with the baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, track, volleyball, and wrestling programs at CCHS. He plans to attend Trine University and major in Elementary Education.
Noting Posa has "an important role in my life," Skiles described Posa as "a really great teacher" and emphasized his ability to make learning fun and humorous and thanked him for "all the stuff he does in just making high school great."
Posa, thanking Skiles for selecting him, said he was humbled by the choice and described Skiles as "a fun, great young man and a great addition to any group you're involved with."
He also said Skiles' family went out of their way to make him feel welcome in Culver, and noted Posa's own alma mater is Skiles' choice of Trine. Both share math as a favorite subject and an interest in being educators. Posa said Skiles will be a "great addition" to his intention to coach volleyball, adding that Skiles just returned from a mission trip to Mexico.
"Thank you for being a quality student," said Posa.
Honoring health and physical education teacher Peggy Arquette was Emily Shidler, daughter of Kristy Shidler and sister of Olivia Weaver, who participated in National Jr. Honor Society, Art Club, Cornucopia, Drama Club, Science Club, Spanish Club, CAVS Club, basketball, soccer, softball, and volleyball. She plans to attend IUPUI and major in Nursing.
Noting Arquette has known her since she was a small child and was friends with Shidler's mother, Shidler said Arquette has been her teacher since middle school.
"She would always commend me for doing well on tests and participating in discussions," she said. She also described an incident when Shidler got in trouble in class.
"I was afraid I lost a very important person in my life, but we were as good as gold the next day," she said, adding she's been Arquette's teacher's assistant during the past year.
"I love and admire her for her strength," she added. "She always kept a smile on my face."
Arquette described Shidler as "one of the most hard working students I've seen in many, many years" and noted Shidler had perfect attendance since the 2nd grade. She also praised Shidler's involvement in school spirit and said the two "would share ups and downs, mistakes and compliments.
"We as adults didn't get where we are without people that really, really cared about us (as children)," said Arquette. "I like to do that with kids. It's the best job in the world. We get to care, teach, love, and I hope make a difference in somebody's life."
She also read lyrics from a song she described as one of Shidler's favorites, "I Hope You Dance."
Also honoring his health and physical education teacher -- in this case recent retiree Ron Stevens -- was Donald Clark, son of Anthony and Janeen Clark and a participant in National Honor Society, National Jr. Honor Society, Science Club, band, BPA, the CAVS Club, football, track, and wrestling.
Clark, who plans to attend Manchester University to study Business Administration, said he was "proud of those (students) who are here with me," and described the fun, responsive environment" of Stevens' health classes, noting some of Stevens' "words of wisdom and motivation helped me become the student and athlete I became."
Stevens initially joked that his smile might be bigger than the other 21 people at the honorees' tables "because I'm the only one who didn't go to school all day!"
He said he'd reflected, since retirement, on the power teachers have for good or ill among students and described the influence his own P.E. teacher had on him as a student, noting he himself had no idea of the impact he'd had on Clark.
He recalled Clark as a student he often mistook for being older than he actually was, and a participant in Stevens' weights class who would invest in the work whether the teacher was watching or not. He noted Clark congratulated his fellow students at the beginning of his speech, and added, "It was a pleasure to have taught him and for him to become my friend...I know you'll be very successful."
Kayla M. Shaffer, daughter of Don and Susan Shaffer and granddaughter of Nancy Strycker, was a participant Art, Science, and Spanish Clubs, band, BPA, the CAVS Club, and as class vice-president and secretary, as well as in softball, track, basketball, and soccer. With plans to attend Indiana University East and major in Business, Shaffer chose to honor elementary art teacher Joyce Lyman.
She described "exciting" art classes with Lyman making a variety of works in an array of mediums, and shared a story of gathering walnuts at Lyman's house with her brother and enjoying Lyman's fried mushrooms and plenty of laughs.
"She first inspired me in art," said Shaffer. "She always had a big smile on her face and taught me something new each day...I wish every class was like hers; she's the best teacher ever."
For her part, Lyman described the class of 2014 as a favorite of hers and said she was "honored to be chosen by this world-famous basketball star! I'm so proud to be remembered by a good kid."
She referenced Shaffer's grandfather, the late John Strycker, as a likely influence along with Shaffer's parents in particularly instilling a strong work ethic.
Lyman also elicited laughter in not only noting Shaffer picked up more walnuts during the aforementioned day than the three boys working at it at the same time, but adding, "I think tossing them into her container helped make her that great basketball player!"
There were more laughs to follow as Kennedy Thomas, daughter of Randy Thomas, ribbed chosen teacher Shane Lowry, art teacher at CCHS.
Thomas, who participated in National Honor Society and Jr. National Honor Society, Science, Art, and Spanish Clubs, band, CAVS Club, soccer, and acted as a Girls State Delegate, has an undecided major at Purdue University planned.
Describing Lowry as "the most sarcastic, sassy teacher I've ever had," Thomas presented a list of humorous verbal interactions with Lowry over the course of her high school career, adding that Lowry's outright praise of her as one of his favorite students to have in class took place "when no one was around."
"I did learn a lot about art," she said, "even though I'm not that great at it. He loves it and loves teaching it; he's inspiring."
Joking that this might be his last speech as an educator after Thomas' laundry list of his tongue-in-cheek insults, Lowry congratulated all ten students presenting that evening, and said it was an honor to be chosen by Thomas.
Though admitting he regularly "kids" Thomas, Lowry acknowledged telling her she's one of his favorite students to have in class.
"She also mentally quit my class like 50 times," he quipped. "She would say, 'I should go to Guidance and quit this class' I'd say, 'Don't tease me!'
"It's been a pleasure to have you in class," he added, on a more serious note. "I really got to know you this year...I think we packed four years into one year. Your hard work is impressive to me."
The son of Michael and Bonnie Bennett, Dylan Bennett -- a participant in National Honor Society, band, chorus, Drama and Spanish Clubs, the CAVS Club, basketball, cross country, soccer, and track, and class vice president his junior year -- plans an Aviation Management major at Purdue University West Lafayette. He honored CCHS math teacher Michael Buschman.
Explaining Buschman had been "a big part of my life since 6th grade" and noting he'd had Buschman as a track coach through his junior year, Bennett said the teacher helped him become an athlete as well as in the classroom, where math is his favorite subject.
"Despite rumors in the hallways, he can make mistakes -- it's just rare," smiled Bennett, who added he credited Buschman "with a lot of where I've been and am going in my life."
Buschman began by thanking his wife Ashley, pointing out people are often unaware of the demands of being married to a coach and educator.
Bennett, said Buschman, has "a certain confidence that he knows he's going to be successful. It's the way he carries himself. Sometimes it doesn't turn out well, and he takes that; it's okay."
He also described Bennett as having "a quietness about him, but no fear of helping people out and coming up with ideas...it's interesting that he wants to be an air traffic controller. He's going into the most stressful job in the world, but this is the kind of person you want in that position. He's even-headed (and) can make decisions in crunch time."
Making speeches was a central theme in the speech of Timothy Wireman, son of David and Patty Ruhnow Wireman, as well as that of his chosen educator, speech coach and teacher Luke Biernacki.
Wireman plans to major in Business at Indiana University in Bloomington, and during his CCHS tenure took part in National Honor Society and Jr. National Honor Society, the Caval Crier, chorus, the French and Science Clubs, CAVS Club, CYCO, cross country and varsity track, and was class president, secretary-treasurer, and vice president (during various yeas) as well as being a Boys State Delegate.
Wireman said he chose to honor Biernacki for several reasons, including the pride and love he has in his work, his positive attitude and encouragement, and especially the skill of impromptu speaking Biernacki inspired in him.
While he used that skill in every class, said Wireman, it especially helped him after his brother Bruce died in a car accident. Wireman wanted to let people know who his brother was, and to say goodbye, he said, at his brother's funeral.
"If not for Mr. Biernacki's training, it would have been impossible. It was the hardest thing ever. I wouldn't have been able to do that without him. Thank you; I owe you a lot."
Biernacki, who described Wireman's as "a wonderful family," described Wireman as thoughtful, kind, and energetic, and cited his ability to unite a classroom with his sense of humor.
Biernacki also described Wireman's efforts at speech meets, where he said his primary objective was "to make the judge laugh at least one time. I probably should have said, 'No, Timmy,' but I said, 'Do it!' I would love to have seen the judges' faces!"
In fact, Biernacki read excerpts from several comment cards from judges at past speech meets -- to much laughter -- including, "You are a very pleasant fellow, but you just didn't know squat about the subject. To your credit, you said so up front. But you entertained me quite nicely."
"All kidding aside," concluded Biernacki, "he's truly genuine. If he's marching to a drummer, he is the most enthusiastic one out there. He made me a better teacher. It's truly awesome to get to teach a kid like that."
Also quite animated in his presentation was Caleb Dehning, son of Pastor K.C. and Terri Dehning, who honored 6th grade teacher Todd Shafer.
Dehning participated in National Honor Society and National Jr. Honor Society, French Club, chorus and band, CAVS Club, and golf, and was a Boys State Delegate and class president. He also served as baseball, soccer, and softball announced. Dehning will major in Music Performance at DePauw University this fall.
Dehning described a dislike of school, at the outset of his 6th grade year, so fierce that he literally had to be dragged to the car to attend, and didn't care what grades he earned.
Shafer, said Dehning, "changed the way I look at education (and) made it interesting for the first time in my life...he helped me find my calling."
Dehning explained Shafer used Dehning's interest -- especially that of music -- to Dehning's academic advantage as a motivator.
"It kind of created this effect that he taught me how to do things creatively," added Dehning, "not only to the best of my ability, but in the most creative way possible."
As a result, Dehning became excited to go to school and began breaking out of his comfort zone, including taking a lead role in Shafer's annual Shakespeare play and as a defense attorney in a mock trial staged during his class.
"I feel sorry for all the students who did not, or will not, go through Mr. Shaffer's class," concluded Dehning.
Shafer, noting he didn't feel he could follow Dehning's rousing, detailed speech, thanked Dehning's parents and recalled Dehning's arrival at the small Monterey Elementary School, and the pressure Shafer himself felt to do well by the new student.
"He is very energetic; it's neat to see," said Shafer. "No matter what we did, he was there; he was involved."
He also described Dehning as "one of the bright spots" in an otherwise "rough year" in many ways.
"Being chosen by a student like this -- it's knowing he remembers the positive and learned stuff that year. For me, that's one of the most important things as a teacher...no matter what he does, in music or anything, he has a very bright future. And all of our futures will be brighter because of him."
The daughter of Matt and Toni Lyczak, Megan Lyczak was a participant in National Honor Society and National Jr. Honor Society, as well as a Girls State Delegate. She took part in band, Science and Spanish Clubs, the CAVS Club and CYCO, and soccer, and plans to attend Purdue University to major in Psychology.
In honoring CCHS English teacher Vickie Benner, Lyczak said her interactions with Benner began when Lyczak was a freshman in the IGNITION program, which pairs freshmen with older students to help orient the newcomers to high school. But having Benner during her junior year, Lyczak said she was "amazed at the passion she had. She wanted everyone else to love what she loved -- to be a better writer (and) to care more about history. I wanted to study more to show her she was not wasting her time. I had never felt this way about a teacher before.
"I want to thank her for inspiring me and helping me to do better."
Benner made a point of recognizing colleagues not present at the event.
"I represent many other teachers who have played a significant role in the lives of these young adults," she said, adding she was "truly grateful to be standing next to Megan tonight."
She called Lyczak a "quiet leader" in the freshman IGNITION program who has gone on to be a mentor in the program herself. Lyczak, said Benner, also "excels in all aspects of English class. Writing seems to flow effortlessly from her, yet I know her dedication to her studies."
Emphasizing she was not "copying" Thomas' idea from earlier in the event, Benner used each letter of Lyczak's first name as an acronym to describe her, but using vocabulary words from class, including "munificent" (characterized by generosity), "erudite" (intelligent -- the top student in the senior class), "gregarious" (associating with others socially), "affable" (pleasant and gracious), and "notable" (having made her mark on Culver).
In describing the honored students and congratulating their honored teachers, CCHS principal Albert Hanselman described them as "a group of young people who are talented academically and athletically (who will be) very successful in the game of life."
He also lauded the parents in attendance.
"We as educators understand the importance of a good education, and we know that all of you as parents know that too...we have to stay on our game each and every day to stay ahead of your kids."View more articles in: