In what was likely a first for Parker High School, graduating seniors were allowed to decorate their mortarboards for Friday’s commencement.
The Class of 2018 had to jump through a lot of hoops to make it happen.
The first hoop was a presentation to Principal Christopher Laue, laying out their case.
They included comments from interviews of principals of Milton and other local high schools, graduate Susanna Bucklin said.
Laue said yes, but he kept firm control of what could be on those caps.
The next hoop: Students had to submit a sketch of their designs. Then, those that were approved had to get their decorations done and turn in their caps two weeks before the ceremony. The caps were returned to them Friday night, teacher Angela Zarnowski said.
The mortarboard sentiments ranged from poignant to flippant:
And one had just logos: Those of the Chicago Bears, Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks and Chevrolet.
Graduates Brianna and Tyler Garey are twins, so they made complementary mortarboard decorations, expanding on a line from the cartoon feature “Finding Nemo.”
Brianna’s said, “Do you have your exit buddy?”
Tyler’s replies: “Yes, I have my exit buddy.”
The night’s theme was “A Million Dreams,” taken from a song of that name from the 2017 movie “The Greatest Showman.” The song was part of a choir recital earlier this year. Students liked the song and its sentiment and adopted it for graduation, choir teacher Jan Knutson said.
Lyrics include these: “They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy/They can say, they can say I’ve lost my mind/I don’t care, I don’t care, so call me crazy/We can live in a world that we design.”
Proud parents included Janet Applebee and Doug Jonuska, parents of Addison Jonuska, who is headed to UW-Madison to study business.
Addison set her sights on Bucky Badger’s school, and when she got the email confirming it, she was so emotional that her mother didn’t know what she was saying, but she eventually made herself understood. Lots of hugging, crying and kissing followed.
“I’m very proud. She really did this all on her own, set her goals, went after them,” her mother said. “I never had to prod her or anything.”
Addison’s next dream: to work for Disney.
Not everyone gets his dream, said Rei Bezat, one of the eight valedictorians who each gave a mini-speech about dreams.
“I dreamed of going to Yale, but it didn’t work out that way,” Bezat said.
But he’s going to UW-Madison, and he’s proud of that, he added.
“It may be difficult to leave a dream behind, but that’s an unavoidable part of life,” he said.
Valedictorian Emily Newmark told of deciding to go to Parker even though her classmates at St. John Vianney School were all going to crosstown rival Craig and even though she lived in the Milton School District.
“I just have to say that I could not be more proud to be graduating in green and gold today,” she said.
Let’s face it, the awarding of diplomas is boring, so students like to distract themselves and break out those forbidden beach balls.
Teachers stationed around the grads tried to nab the balls to keep the focus on the grads and keep the parents’ sightlines to their children clear.
One teacher nabbed a beach ball and stabbed it with a nail file.
But a beach ball gave the crowd its biggest rise.
A beach ball bounced out of the students’ reach, and a teacher was about to grab it when a student returning to his seat reached out and batted it back to his classmates, just as it was about to touch the teacher’s outstretched fingertips.
The music played at graduations is often traditional, but incidental music played by the Parker band included the immortal 1980 hit “Funkytown.”
In another musical moment, the recording that played as graduates shot confetti into the air was the hip-hop classic well known to Badgers fans, “Jump Around.”
School resource officer Todd Bailey was in charge of making sure the fireworks exploded just as the celebration began. He hit his cue perfectly, the blasts going off as the confetti, caps and Silly String started flying.
Heart, backbone, vision and brains.
Those four qualities, in that order, have made Gisela Sarabia Sandoval a success.
Loss, grief and loneliness have accompanied her every step of the way.
When Gisela walked across the stage at Parker High School’s graduation ceremony Friday, few people who saw her had any sense of what she carries.
It’s not surprising that the staff at Parker High school chose her as their standout senior.
Gisela was born in the United States and lived here until she was 10 years old. Her family then returned to Mexico.
“It was a great change,” Gisela said. “The educational system isn’t good for low- and middle-class students.”
When she was 16, she was given a choice: work in Mexico or pursue education in the United States.
“I was made to decide if I wanted to keep living with my family and stay comfortable or get an education,” she said.
If she chose education, she would have to bring along her two younger sisters, who were 8 and 11 years old.
Keep in mind that Gisela comes from a culture in which family plays an important role.
“Family is a value in our culture,” Gisela said. “It’s a social value. It’s so important.”
Whatever choice she made, she would lose. If she stayed in Mexico, she would lose her chance at a bright future. If she went to the United States, she would lose part of her family.
She chose education, and she and her sisters Natalie and Stephanie came to live with her aunt in Janesville.
Gisela’s mother planned to follow them within a year and was working with a lawyer to get into the United States.
Gisela became her sisters’ de facto mother while they waited for their real one to arrive.
“They kept on saying, ‘When is the year going to be up?’ and ‘When is she coming?’” Gisela said.
There were times when Gisela regretted her choice.
“Some nights, I would get so torn up inside,” she said.
Managing her schoolwork, being a strong role model for her sisters and helping her aunt the best she could—all of that left her emotionally drained.
“It was so hard for me to tell my sisters everything is going to be all right when I had no idea if anything was going to be all right,” she said.
Her mother’s attempt to move to the United States stretched from one year into two.
Eventually, Gisela had the painful duty of telling her sisters that Mom wasn’t going to come, and they didn’t have the money to go see her.
When they finally did travel home, Gisela faced another tough decision: Should she return to the States without her sisters?
It was becoming more and more difficult to support them, both financially and emotionally, she said.
“It was hard to leave them, but it was kind of a relief, too,” she said. “I only had to take care of myself.”
Her English teacher, Julie Grandeffo, told Gisela she could live with her during her senior year.
Next year, Gisela plans to go to Beloit College and major in international relations. She wants to work in public diplomacy, a field that involves working on social programs through the U.S. government. Public diplomats also work on public policy in developing countries.
“My main goal as a foreign service officer would be to promote the United States abroad,” Gisela explained.
She is grateful for everyone who supported her, especially her Aunt Guadalupe and Grandeffo—her English teacher—who gave her shelter when she needed it.
Edna Feldman-Schultz, one of Gisela’s teachers, said she’s an example of “empowerment by actions, not by words.”
Despite everything Gisela has endured, she keeps a “positive and happy attitude,” Feldman-Schultz said.
When asked where she got her strength, Gisela named her parents, Alfredo Royas and Acaceli Sandoval-Jiménez.
“My parents didn’t have the chances I did,” she said.
She will take on the opportunities they were denied.
local • 3A, 8A
City debuts outdoor fitness court
The city of Janesville on Friday unveiled its new outdoor fitness court, a free, public gym at the corner of Court and River streets. The new workout venue has stations for pushups, pullups, squats and lunges. Users can access exercise demonstration videos by downloading the app advertised on the main equipment wall. The city, SSM Health and the National Fitness Campaign all helped fund the project.
state • 2A
Milwaukee cop dies in pursuit
A 23-year-old Milwaukee police officer died and his partner was injured when their squad car rolled over near an overpass during a high-speed chase with a motorist who had been driving recklessly, the department’s chief said Friday. Officer Charles Irvine Jr. is the first Milwaukee police officer killed in the line of duty since 1996.
Nation/world • 6B
Trump: Reinstate Russia to G-7
Amid an escalating confrontation with American allies, President Donald Trump said Friday that Russia should be reinstated into the Group of 7 nations as he left the White House to attend the summit of the major economic powers in Canada.
A new report by a national think tank identifies Janesville as a “vulnerable” industrial city based on its track record of economic growth spanning the last few decades.
According to a new report by Washington, D.C., analyst Brookings Institute, Janesville lags in growth and prosperity behind Milwaukee and Racine—two other Wisconsin communities the report identifies as “older industrial cities.”
A local business leader pointed out the report examines Janesville’s darkest economic time—the closure of the GM plant—and said the local economy now is more diversified.
The Brookings report comes at a time when the national economy continues to grow. But the report identifies 70 counties in the United States with cities of at least 50,000—Janesville included—as historical manufacturing hubs that have shown middling recent economic performance and a lag in overall prosperity.
The 70 are among 185 counties Brookings designated as having a heavy “industrial heritage,” meaning that in 1970 at least 20 percent of their jobs were rooted in manufacturing.
Things have changed.
Brookings lists the industrial hub of Milwaukee County as “emerging,” and Racine as “stabilizing” in growth and prosperity between 2000 and 2016, while its report labels Janesville as “vulnerable.”
“Vulnerable,” according to Brookings, means Janesville fell to the bottom 5 percent of all industrial counties on growth and prosperity trends measured between 2000 and 2016.
Overall, Brookings reports Janesville’s share of jobs in manufacturing fell from 37.8 percent in 1970 to 14.5 in 2016.
Racine in the same period saw its share of manufacturing jobs shrink from 42 percent to 23 percent.
John Beckord, who leads Forward Janesville, the city’s chamber of commerce, said he hadn’t seen the Brookings study.
Beckord called the report’s conclusions “interesting.”
He pointed out the 16-year time frame Brookings examines overlaps with some of the darkest economic years in Janesville’s history—the years of 2009 through 2012, when Janesville was reeling in the aftermath of GM’s closure.
Beckord doesn’t discount the hit Janesville’s economy and labor market took a decade ago, but he said the city’s economy has re-emerged in the past five years with a broader spectrum of jobs, including those in the logistics and distribution sector as well as in high-tech fields.
“There are so many variables to a conclusion about ‘vulnerability,’ starting with the window of time that is chosen,” Beckord said. “The first decade they look at, Janesville went from a really robust environment right into in the tank. ... But 2013 to 2018 we’ve really turned on the afterburners.”
He called Janesville’s economy “far more diversified” than in past decades, when the local economy was largely tied via GM to the fluctuations of one major sector—the automotive industry.
“It’s just common sense. A dominant sector played an inordinate outside role in the economy here. Now, we’ve become much more diversified. As far as ‘vulnerable’ goes? To me, we’re less vulnerable to a systemic shock because we don’t have as many eggs in one basket as we used to,” Beckord said.
Fourteen other industrial cities are identified in the Brookings report as “vulnerable,” including hard-hit auto towns of Detroit and Flint, Michigan.
The Brookings report is, in part, a look back to the more halcyon days of manufacturing in America, the 1970s, and a comparison of industrial communities with a focus on how they’ve fared in more recent years.
Janesville’s well-documented loss of General Motors as the city’s biggest employer in 2009 isn’t mentioned directly in the Brookings report, but the plant’s closure led directly to the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs here, both through the GM plant and related support industries.
The report looks at more recent trends in prosperity, including changes in per capita and median household income over the past two decades.
Since 2000, Janesville has seen a 7.5 percent dip in per capita income and a 20 percent dip in median household income, according to the report.
By comparison, the much more populous Milwaukee area during the same period saw a 10 percent dip in median household income, and Racine, a city with a population of about 77,000, saw a dip in median income of 16.8 percent.
One factor that set both Racine and Milwaukee apart from Janesville, according to Brookings, is that both cities have in recent years seen a greater proportion of growth in “dense job clusters” or related industries. Milwaukee’s economy has seen a significantly greater increase in scientific funding than Janesville.
However, despite Janesville not having the major universities and research institutions that more metropolitan Milwaukee has, Brookings shows Janesville has had significantly higher growth in the last two decades in “advanced industry” jobs.
Advanced industries are considered to rely on high levels of research and development and require more so-called STEM workers—those with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematical applications.
Overall, Janesville has seen a nearly 30 percent jump in jobs in advanced industries since 2010, while in the same period, Racine has seen advanced jobs grow at about 12 percent.
Milwaukee has actually lost higher-tech jobs at a rate of about 1 percent since 2010, according to the report.
Rock County Economic Development Manager James Otterstein said growth in Janesville’s high-tech sector has come as web developers and web-based service companies such as Foremost Media, SASid and startup electronic power supply equipment firm N1 Critical Technologies continue to grow. That’s in addition to the launch expected for medical radioisotope startup SHINE Medical Technologies.
Otterstein said he wasn’t criticizing Brookings’s findings or its methods, but he noted that in any national study, particularly one that relies on data over a long timeline, “broad brushstrokes can cover up important or underlying nuances within a diversifying, transitioning economy.”
The metric of high-tech job growth was one that another analyst’s study keyed in on earlier this year.
California analyst Milkin Institute showed in a report earlier this year that Janesville in the last few years has surged ahead of its peer cities in high-tech industry growth. The Milkin report showed Janesville has ranked among the top 40 best-performing small cities in the U.S. since 2015.
Milkin’s data showed Janesville ranked consistently high in job and wage gains in various sectors, including in advanced manufacturing, construction and health care.