On Saturday, the class of 2019 walked across the grounds of Jordan High School for the last time as students. In the coming months, many will travel to college, relocate for job opportunities or transition into professional life in Jordan.

Last week’s commencement ceremony was held to honor all Jordan graduates, but for a period the spotlight was on two particular students: valedictorian Claire Stocker and salutatorian Trace Shimek, who both gave speeches to the graduating class. Prior to graduation, Stocker and Shimek sat down with the Independent on their last day of school to look back at their academic career and talk about their futures.

Stocker will attend the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, where she plans to study conservation biology and pursue a minor in Spanish, with the possibility of double-majoring in journalism. Stocker’s environmental ambitions formed in her childhood, where she was raised next to the Mill Pond in Jordan.

“My whole childhood was spent on the pond and I fished a lot,” Stocker said. “I just love being outside and in nature. I’ve traveled to a couple national parks and we went to Seattle and Vancouver. That area, with all the mountains, made me fall in love with all the outdoors.”

Stocker is currently considering a career with the state Department of Natural Resources or National Parks Service, though she may decide to pursue a more policy-based career.

Shimek will study at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he plans to major in mathematics with a possible double major in education or psychology. His long-term goal is to become a mathematics professor.

“I’ve always liked mathematics, I had a rivalry with one of my friends for a long time,” Shimek said. “I’ve always loved it. There isn’t a lot of gray area; you’re either right or you’re wrong. I like to help people with stuff that I understand. I feel like mathematics is my way to do that.”

But Stocker and Shimek didn’t alway see themselves pursuing these current career paths. When he was younger, Shimek was interested in many careers, but they were all within the realm of math and science.

“For awhile I wanted to be something to do with space,” he said. “I wanted to be an astronaut or something like that. Then in high school I wanted to be an astrophysicist until I took physics and realized it’s really hard.”

Similarly, Shimek had several ideas, but they were all tied to the natural world.

“I’ve always wanted to work outside,” she said. ‘For awhile I wanted to be a meteorologist, but it was the same thing: I would’ve had to take computer science and physics.”

While both students earned good grades in elementary school, they weren’t aware of their strong academic drive until the stakes were raised in high school and they found out they were perfectionists.

“Getting less than an A I did not see as an option,” Shimek said. “If I felt myself getting close I was like ‘You need to get your act together, what are you doing?’”

“I would think ‘I can’t get anything less than an A or I’m a failure,’” Stocker added.

“I was always pretty hardcore and only now am I starting to loosen up and realize that friendships are very important too,” Shimek said. “It’s not all about school, I’ve realized that recently.”

As time went on, Stocker and Shimek found their academic success began fueling itself as they developed a reputation among their peers.

“I feel like for us, there is an expectation in our class. Even though I don’t think about it, it’s there,” Stocker said.

“It’s almost subconscious,” Shimek said. “When you’re in class and they’re like ‘Who’s going to do this, I need help, who’s going to help?’ Then you kind of feel like you need to be the one to do it, sometimes.”

That sense of expectations is one of the few things they’re excited to leave behind in Jordan when they enter college this fall.

“I am very curious,” Shimek said. “I have no idea what I’m going to do in college. I could be the most average student ever. I could be below average. Nobody knows. We’re going to learn about ourselves, I think, and how truly motivated we are.”

“And how much of it is internal, as opposed to external,” Stocker added. “It will be interesting to be free of all that pressure, not having the workload we have now. I’m worried about that because being busy has helped me to not procrastinate, because when I don’t have much to do that’s when I procrastinate. So I’m kind of worried for college since you don’t have that many classes.”

But when they look back and consider what they’re least excited to leave behind, one thing quickly comes to mind: the people.

“When I came from St. John’s everyone was super welcoming and at the end of seventh grade, my first year here, it felt like I had been with these guys forever. It was weird to think that I hadn’t,” Stocker said.

“I’m very, very scared of meeting new people,” Shimek said. “I’m going to miss the people. There are so many good people here.”

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