Rolla Public Schools’ Board of Education recognized two student reporters for ECHO, the newsmagazine of Rolla High School, and welcomed the new student representative to serve on the board of education for 2020.

The Board of Education recognized Lauren Ulrich and Genevieve Huber, who received awards in November of 2019 at the National Scholastic Press Association and Journalism Education Association’s National Convention in Washington D.C. 

Ulrich, a senior at Rolla High School, competed in the feature writing category and earned an excellent award for her story featuring a young entrepreneur who opened a chain of successful donut shops. Huber, a junior at Rolla High School, competed in the editorial writing category and earned a superior award for her editorial about the national student debt crisis. 

Each student was provided material through either presentation or written material and had 90 minutes to compose a story adhering to the guidelines of their category. A total of 2,126 high school journalists competed in the on-site competition and over 6,000 students attended the convention with 48 states represented, as well as London and China. The superior award was reserved for less than 7 percent of the contestants. The excellent award represented only 12 percent of the contestants.

Board members then gathered for the send-off for Ulrich, who served as student advisor to the board during the 2019 school year. Ulrich shared what she had gained from her experience serving on the board over the past year, before the board swore in the new student advisor to represent the student body for the 2020 school year, Pearl Duagaard.

Ulrich said: “The story starts about a year ago today, and I was standing before this very podium preparing to be sworn in as the next student representative to the Rolla Board of Education, and I was absolutely terrified.

“I should have been so excited to begin this amazing opportunity, but all I could think of was what if I forget what to say. Am I supposed to raise my hand when I get sworn in?

Looking back now, I can see how trivial those concerns were. More important, was that I had the courage to go out of my comfort zone to learn more about myself and how I can better myself and my school.

“That first meeting, I’m sure I stumbled over my words. I remember I told you all that serving in this position wasn’t something I typically do, but I hoped that I could make a positive impact on my school and community.

“Before I joined the board, I never could have imagined being in such a prominent leadership position. But over the past year, I’ve had to push myself out of my comfort zone. And in the process, I discovered so many new interests, passions and capabilities that I didn’t know I had a year ago.

“And because of the experiences this position has given me the courage to seek out, I’ve learned that I am a leader. And by learning to appreciate my own voice, I've been able to share the voices of others through my work with the school newspaper, on the school board, and in my day to day life as a student. 

“I’ve sought to represent my peers who don’t have the same outlets or opportunities as I do. And while my voice may still be soft, now I can share my voice and perhaps, more importantly, the voices of others clearly and confidently.

“This personal transformation that I’ve had this past year has given me so many insights into my school, the school board the position of student advisor and within my community. So with my newfound voice, I’d like to share a few of these things I’ve learned.

“First, I learned how to truly and authentically love my school and all of its students. I've never been the loudest one cheering at pep assemblies or football games, but I've learned that this is not what defines school spirit. School spirit is the spirit of love of compassion of service. School spirit is not defined by your peppiness or your bulldog apparel. School spirit is the fundamental love and care that I hold for the wellbeing of my peers and is what allows me to fulfill my duties as student representative.

“And I've also learned how truly special all of our students are. My peers are not just my classmates, but they're my friends my role models my inspiration. They inspire me every single day with their kindness, their compassion, their curiosity and their passion for making their school, community and world a better place.

“But despite the hope that I see reflected amongst my peers. I've also learned that no young person is without their challenges. I’ve seen so many students struggle with their mental health, family life, and an array of other circumstances impeding their personal and academic success that we can only begin to understand. But in many cases, their school district can be the difference in these students leading a happy and healthy life.

“And this is the purpose of the school board. It's not about items on the agenda; it’s about the lives of the students. Beyond the seamlessly endless pages of agendas and our occasional tedious committee meetings. We are the entity responsible for the wellbeing and success of Rolla students.

“We exist for the band kids and the star athletes. We exist for the 4.0 students and those just trying their best to graduate. We exist for the kids in Star Wars Club in Anime Club. We exist for students who love coming to school every day, and for those who may struggle just getting out of bed in the morning. And in the simplest form, the words of Dr. Zalis, ‘we exist for our students.’

“And with this in mind, we now must consider not only who we are as a district, but who we will be. We have an amazing school system here in Rolla, and I've been lucky to be a part of it. However, what makes a good school great is that it never stops working to be better. We have the capacity to define our role as a catalyst for positive change in students’ lives. The only question is, will we?

“I believe we already have; however, we must continue to redefine our role as the needs of our students are sure to continue evolving. We must adopt a mission that is never complacent. One that holds students and all their unique perspectives, challenges and voices at its center.

“One that holds school spirit, compassion and love at its core. A mission in which each individual, every parent, school board member, administrator, secretary, reporter, community member, no matter their perceived limitations or weaknesses, realizes the potential they have to make a positive impact on the district we all love. 

“And with this in mind, Pearl, I encourage you to first and foremost know the value of your voice. Speaking out for students is not an inconvenience but a duty that you now hold. I have the utmost confidence in you, and it’s my absolute privilege and honor to yield my position as student representative to such a competent and compassionate young woman.

“And now, to all of you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for providing this experience for me. And thank you for the tireless care and dedication you exhibit each day while serving our students. Thank you again for this opportunity.”