Illustration by Brian Britigan, special to the Star Tribune

Reading, writing and reassurance

In another transitional year, graduating high school seniors thank the special people who taught them about math, music and meeting deadlines, but also about resilience and the courage to launch big dreams.

Nan Wang and Wyatte Nissen

Mandarin teacherCretin-Derham Hall

I met Nan Wang four years ago when I started studying Mandarin. I had always been interested in studying this language but she made me happy that I chose it. She has been a great teacher and educator on China. During my freshman year, she took her students on little field trips, introducing us to Chinese festivals, great restaurants and stores. She has inspired me to take a trip to China one day and maybe keep studying the language. I will always remember her positive way of teaching us about her language and culture. She is amazing and will remain in my memory forever!

Daniel Amborn and Isa Li

Newspaper adviserEdina High School

Mr. Amborn was my sophomore English teacher, but he has also been the staff adviser for the Edina High School newspaper, Zephyrus, for the past three years. As I've gotten to know Mr. Amborn, I've seen how he has redefined what it means to be a teacher. He sees each of his students as people and acknowledges the complexities of their lives. He takes time to teach us about journalism, even though he's still figuring it all out, too. He's never afraid to be candid about life. I'm in awe of the care he puts into lessons and activities. If I am going through something or have to get something off my chest, he will listen without judgment. To that end, he's been an awesome ally to the Asian American community. I truly would not be the person I am today without Mr. Amborn's example of how to be a genuine and compassionate teacher and human being.

Natalia Romero Arbeláez and Erin Tetter

Choir directorHarding High School

I've been in choir with Ms. Romero since my freshman year. She has been like an at-school mom to me! She's never given up on me, is always supportive, and she motivates me to get through the toughest of days. One time, for example, I was very stressed about what college to go to and how I was going to pay for it. That led to an anxiety attack. She helped me through it, and reassured me that it was OK not to have it all figured out yet, and that I'm incredible, talented and smart enough to do anything I put my mind to. She showed humanity and allowed me to be human in her classroom. Seeing an amazing POC [person of color] teacher who cares about her kids has motivated me to become an educator as well!

Tracy Burke and Zoey Bruffett

counselor, Indian EducationAll Nations Program at South High School

I've known Ms. Burke since middle school. She helped me through dark things then. I was fighting all the time and I'd go to her office and that was my safe spot. She followed my class to South High and that's where I turned it around right away. I was enrolled in the All Nations Program at South which connected me with other Native kids. I would see Ms. Burke every Friday and she would tell me that I was a good kid. She helped me with scholarships and applying for FAFSA. Now I'm a Wallin Scholar heading to the University of Minnesota to pursue a degree in Native American studies. I have her phone number and plan to stay connected. She helped me understand that I could do anything I put my mind to.

Shannon Pettipiece and Max Rouillard-Horne

Math team coachHarding High School

I've been on the math team for five years. My middle school didn't have enough students to offer a team so we'd take a bus to Harding every Tuesday and Thursday and I always looked forward to it. I was the runt of the team, but everyone was so nice, especially Ms. Pettipiece. She was always the person I went to when I was confused about something or needed help. This year, she became my home room teacher and I saw her every day. When I was recently dealing with a difficult personal issue, she just listened and said, "That is really tough." And, "Hey, if you need anything, let me know." She made me feel safe at school. She still checks in with me to make sure I'm doing OK. I'm going to St. Olaf in the fall to pursue physics, which is very math-heavy. She was definitely a huge help in getting me there. She's just kind to people, always willing to help kids. She's a good person.

Barbara Bursack and Hailey Highland

Language arts teacherWhite Bear Lake Area High School

In October of 2021, I was in the midst of filling out scholarship applications. I had been accepted into my dream school, North Dakota State University, and one of the available scholarships was for full tuition for an incoming engineering student. I crafted my essays and I knew that if there was anyone I could trust to help me edit such an important statement, it would be Ms. Bursack. Being a compassionate, dedicated and phenomenal teacher, Ms. Bursack spent hours revising my essays with me, and it paid off. In early March, I received an e-mail informing me that I had received the full tuition scholarship. This changed my future. I can now go to college without the fear of student debt and the confidence to focus solely on my studies. But she taught me another important lesson: Yes, work hard but also take care of myself and talk to people when I need help. Putting myself first was a huge lesson she taught me that I will carry into college.

Christo Alex and Christine Alexander

Mounds View High SchoolCreative writing teacher

Ms. Alexander teaches my senior creative writing class. She is the nicest, most caring teacher I have ever had. She always takes time out of her day to come up to every student and just talk to us. Even when she had skin cancer and had to receive chemo treatments, she continued to come to school. She is also very fair with the work she assigns and cares more about quality over quantity. She does not pressure us too much. She is the best teacher ever!