Make graduation happen, education leaders tell Missoula County high school freshmen

2013-10-01T17:05:00Z 2014-10-07T19:36:08Z Make graduation happen, education leaders tell Missoula County high school freshmen

Standing near the 20-yard line at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Tuesday morning, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom faced 900 high school freshmen and challenged them to become the next Sandra Day O’Connor or Elon Musk.

One became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the other invented PayPal and Tesla Motors. They also finished high school, Engstrom noted, his voice playing over the stadium’s sound system.

“Sandra Day O’Connor and Elon Musk were both high school and college graduates,” Engstrom said. “Graduation will put you on a path of adventure and a life of contribution.”

Held in a brisk October wind, the third annual Graduation Matters Freshmen Rally drew a lineup of speakers ranging from Denise Juneau, the superintendent of the state Office of Public Instruction, to students, a professor and leaders of Missoula County Public Schools.

In a tone reminiscent of a college graduation, the speakers urged students from Hellgate, Sentinel, Big Sky and Seeley-Swan high schools to put their noses to the grindstone and earn their diploma.

“Our state needs scientists, economists, teachers, attorneys, nurses, welders, construction workers and business people,” Juneau told them. “You are the future of our state and you are now old enough to make choices for your life.”

Among those choices, Juneau said, students can play the passive victim of circumstance or the active hero in their lives.

Yet whichever path they choose, Juneau added, time will fly by and not all mistakes are easily undone. She asked students to live up to their expectations and make the best of their youth.

“You cannot wait for these things to happen,” Juneau said. “You have to make it happen.”

Juneau noted that roughly 1,700 Montana high school students failed to graduate with a diploma last year. Nationally, 1.3 million students dropped out of high school.

Alex Apostle, superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools, said the graduation rate in Missoula is at 90.3 percent. While it leads all other Class AA school districts in the state, he said, he wants to push the numbers to 100 percent.

Apostle urged them to go beyond and dream big.

“Graduating from high school is the real deal,” Apostle said. “Whatever you do or don’t do in high school will follow you. Work hard and your options after high school will be many.”

Engstrom encouraged the Class of 2017 to consider UM when selecting a college. The school has ramped up its recruiting efforts, though after Tuesday’s event, Engstrom said the rally was intended to recruit students to succeed.

“We’re recruiting them to graduate high school – we’re recruiting them to go on to college,” he said. “The most important thing is for these young people to see themselves as the leaders and champions of tomorrow.”

When asked before the rally, many students said they were undecided about where they would attend college. They still have four years to decide, though for many, the wheels are already turning.

They also knew the reason they were there on the football field for Thursday’s presentation.

“Graduating high school is a stepping stone to a better life almost,” said Sentinel student Jackson Petty. “If you graduate high school, you’re in position to go to college and get a career, a good life.”

Petty said he hadn’t decided yet on a college, though he knows he wants to become a physicist.

“In my math class, we look at different colleges for different majors,” he said. “I’d like to see what the student-to-faculty ratio is, what their majors are, what they’re known to be good at.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(11) Comments

  1. Nikki's Niece
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    Nikki's Niece - October 02, 2013 12:27 pm
    Pictures do speak a thousand words. The kids all look cold and bored, the same state in which the UM faculty and staff find themselves quite frequently. First, why put these kids in the cold? Doesn’t the university have an indoor facility? Second, why should Sandra Day O’Connor be the model of success? Why not a writer, a good professor, a first-rate scientist? This is a bad show organized by two bad showmen who also happen to be poor speakers. Perhaps among all the highly paid administrators he is hiring, Engstrom should also hire a speech writer. The most unconscionable thing about this is administrators at UM and at the MCPS using kids to promote themselves, and then telling us that they are doing something to earn their fat salaries.
  2. Realitychk
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    Realitychk - October 02, 2013 10:25 am
    Atheist educator, please refrain from suggesting that someone would stoop so low to listen to Fox news. that wasn't nice...after all Fox is anything but news.

    I guess according to Apostle...we graduate him/her.
    Perhaps we need programs not propaganda and slogans. I would agree with Walter12. We need strict discipline in the schools, teachers need support from administrators and administrators need to be held accountable. When was the last time that happened? Teachers hands are held behind their backs, while the administration places blame on the teacher. It is easy to graduate a student if the administration simply forces the ultimatum of Apostle. Where are the support personnel and programs for kids who fall through the cracks? Apostle cut programs such as theTeen Parent program, he has cut other programs that help kids who don't fit into his norm. Give the classrooms back to the teachers instead of pie in the sky trends that Apostle wishes to shove down the throats of teachers of mastery. He is after all only a P.E. teacher with a Doctorate who was booted out of one system, failed at real Estate speculation and landed in Missoula with his empty wallet and a bunch of one line promises. Poke blame at him and not those that oppose him.
  3. Atheist Educator
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    Atheist Educator - October 02, 2013 9:04 am
    walter12, how about learning what is actually taking place in local schools instead of mouthing what you hear on Fox News?

    You suggest "How about strict discipline in class. How about accountability in school."

    Share with us your solution for what we can do when a student refuses to do the work required to meet the standards.

  4. Realitychk
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    Realitychk - October 02, 2013 8:24 am
    Walter12 and everyday person. Are students deserve better and our community deserves better! The Missoulian is doing a disservice to this community by not thoroughly investigating the goings on of Apostle. He continues to elude any discussion of his leadership or lack there of. One would think that the taxpayers "right to know" would supersede anything else. It is time Apostle be held accountable be exposed for what he is. When he is gone, it will be crisis management. I am not advocating pure negativity towards him or the school but when was the last time there was ANYTHING published in the Missoulian that was negative about Apostle? If the only thing that can be dug up is his salary and benefits package them he truly does have the media in his back pocket. Missoula deserves better!
  5. Everyday person
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    Everyday person - October 02, 2013 7:46 am
    Realitychk put it well. The little pep rally is a farce and a spectacle for the Alex Opportunist Apostle's sake. The photo makes obvious that the students are not engaged and manipulating data to create a false impression for political gain is dishonest and disingenuous. Our kids deserve better.
  6. walter12
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    walter12 - October 02, 2013 7:11 am
    How about strict discipline in class. How about accountability in school. How about allowing them to fail in a subject, in order to learn. How about throwing away this cheap and false praise all the time. How about making them earn respect. And for God's sake, do not lower the standards anymore than they are, just to get some phony numbers.
  7. Realitychk
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    Realitychk - October 02, 2013 7:06 am
    Pictures are worth a thousand words, students are disconnected and Apostle is disconnected from students.Taking kids out of school to attend this event was not about kids it was all about Apostle. Truth be told, (and isn't it about time the Missoulian investigated the truth?) Graduation Matters is nothing more than political double speak. It forces grade inflation, it creates an illusion of success through manipulation of student data.It assumes that every student will go to college and this is an illusion. It is nothing more than another meaningless phrase concocted by Apostle to sell himself as the great leader. When he leaves with his inflated retirement and salary, he will leave this district in shambles, it will be riddled with debt and programs that are unsustainable and the taxpayers will be left paying the bill.
  8. KevinRobison
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    KevinRobison - October 01, 2013 9:29 pm
    Increasing graduation rates may increase the competition spirit among the students which will make them to study harder than before and hence results will be improved! But the graduation rates must be kept considering every student in a school! Thanks for the share...
  9. sonofbrutalbob
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    sonofbrutalbob - October 01, 2013 8:38 pm
    Apostles numbers are falsely inflated, investigate that Missoulian reporters, you know do you jobs. Expecting a dropout's parents to respond to a letter to declare them a dropout is ridiculous. If the parent does not respond the school district assumes they transferred to another school and they do not count them as drop out. Just plain manipulation of numbers. Liars figure an figures lie!
  10. sonofbrutalbob
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    sonofbrutalbob - October 01, 2013 8:28 pm
    One kid out of forty paying attention super job Engstrom!
  11. Buzz Feedback
    Report Abuse
    Buzz Feedback - October 01, 2013 5:17 pm
    Was the event held in the football stadium so there'd be room for Apostle's sense of entitlement?
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