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Whitewater High graduates get happy

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Neil Johnson
Sunday, June 7, 2015

JANESVILLE—Whitewater High School co-valedictorian Wentao Guo delivered an address to his classmates Sunday that stripped away the usual graduation-day themes of goals and the ripple effect of achievement.

Guo, who is heading this fall to Pomona College in Claremont, California, to study computer science and literature, knows about goals and achievement. He was one of dozens of Whitewater High School students who received a share of the 200 academic grants and scholarships the school district awarded this year.

But Guo didn't instruct his 128 Whippet classmates to spring forth from their red gowns and caps and leave the high school gymnasium as glowing fireballs of future accomplishment.

His advice: Find what makes you happy. Then embrace it.

“We all have different ideas of happiness,” Guo said. “Ask yourself what have you learned about what brings you happiness. There are endless ways to find it. When you do find it, don't let it go.”

For a few students interviewed Sunday, happiness is the idea of working under their own creative steam, whether that involves upper-level education or simply moving ahead with their interests until they learn where they lead. 


George Diaz let his creativity and self-described penchant for the “creepy” steer his choice of graduation accessories: two-inch-long silver woodscrews run through both his pierced earlobes.

The otherwise clean-cut Diaz is an aspiring cartoonist who likes to write and illustrate horror fiction, mainly in the subgenre of zombie apocalypse. He plans to take some time off school to drill down on his interests.

Diaz, who says he spends all his free time drawing and writing, is in the middle of penning a tale about a woman who fights a legion of zombies, one of which includes her husband.

In an entertainment market that now seems dominated by zombie tales, Diaz's chosen path of creepy-creative might remain a launchpad for his art.

A Whitewater High School teacher marshaling the procession cut in and straightened the collar of Diaz's white checked shirt. He smiled and thanked the teacher, then shrugged.

“I guess I'm just into zombies mainly,” he said.


Three lifelong buddies, Andres Navejas, Wade Ohrwall and Jacob Niemuth, are going separate ways for now, but they all plan to study digital design and animation. The three hope to reunite and start a video game production company together.

They shared personal philosophies—or at least tidbits of advice they've picked up—that they claim they'll carry through life.

Navejas plans to enroll at Herzing University. His motto is purely pragmatic.

“Always dress for the occasion,” Navejas said.  

Navejas' footwear, a pair of highly polished black oxford shoes, seemed wholly appropriate for Sunday's graduation.

Ohrwall, said he's taking a doctrine of excitement to Madison Area Technical College and beyond.

“Do whatever. Just don't die bored,” he said.

Niemuth, who plans to enroll in the UW System, lives by a credo of constant, head-on-a-swivel vigilance.

“You've got to be ready for everything,” Niemuth said.

Everything? Like what, specifically?

“I don't know. Whatever. Everything.”

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