Maren Stewart, Ilya Dovhalionok and Edward Zhang

Seniors graduate after year of adversity, joy


Hannah Graff, Alessia Velasquez Nitti and Viva Graff
Hannah Graff, Alessia Velasquez Nitti and Viva Graff

Chloe Hughes and Colleen Halleck
Chloe Hughes and Colleen Halleck

Alex Charles
Alex Charles



The class of 2021 persevered through almost three semesters of shifting between learning virtually, in person and a mix of both. They learned how to set schedules for themselves at home, stay motivated to complete school work and keep in touch with friends. 

After those semesters unlike any others, those who have graduated said they enjoyed having an in-person ceremony their family members could attend, and those who are about to graduate said they are looking forward to this, too.


‘Definitely a struggle, but I’m glad’

Cotter Schools graduate Maren Stewart attended the Catholic school system in Winona from kindergarten through 12th grade. She was most interested in science and math. Her mother, a dentist, helped inspire her enthusiasm about science. This past year, she also grew more interested in political science and social studies, in part due to the 2020 election cycle and her father, who has degrees in social studies and teaching. “It was fun getting to connect with him and talk about that more,” she said. 

She was a member of the varsity soccer team from seventh grade through senior year. She also participated in track and field, student council, National Honor Society (NHS) and choir.

Through soccer, she learned that putting in hard work ultimately pays off. One of her most memorable moments was her team winning sectionals this year after continually progressing over the past six years.

Stewart enjoyed choir concerts and trips, as well. On the student council, she served as a general member, secretary and treasurer. Though student council did not officially meet this school year because of the pandemic, she helped a staff member plan activities, including homecoming. “It was definitely a struggle, but I’m glad I was able to step up in that position,” she said.

Stewart loves public speaking, as well. She volunteered to speak at Mass and was one of the voices of the morning announcements this academic year.

Making connections and embracing the small moments were meaningful for Stewart. She is grateful for the fellow students she met when she was younger, with whom she still keeps in touch. During the pandemic, she appreciated engaging with international students at Cotter virtually. “I’ve always really valued the in between, too: the bus rides to things, waiting around for games to start or for concerts to start or small talk after student council meetings,” she said.

She plans to attend the University of Wisconsin - Madison, as an honors student majoring in biology. She is considering attending medical school after completing her undergraduate work. She looks forward to taking part in service and leadership groups at the University of Wisconsin, in addition to club or intramural sports.


Cherishing ‘my favorite moments’

Cotter Schools graduate Hannah Graff was a student in the Catholic school system in Winona from kindergarten through senior year. Math, political science, band, and choir were the subjects that interested her the most.

She enjoyed how her math classes built upon one another and how applicable political science was to life today. She also appreciated the community that formed from performing music in a group.

Graff took part in theater and was a member of the tennis team from seventh through 12th grade. “With musicals, my favorite moments are when everyone is backstage before the show starts,” she said.

Moments that remain with Graff from tennis include warming up as a team. It was wonderful to head out to the court and get into the swing of playing with whomever was there, whether they were a senior when she was a seventh grader or a seventh grader when she was a senior, she said. She is thankful that her experiences with the team centered on enjoying the sport and getting better rather than winning.

The first day back at school during the pandemic was Graff’s favorite moment in the classroom. “[It] was a really great day,” she said, and though there were some nerves, it was valuable to see others’ faces and learn from teachers in person again.

She plans to double major in math and musical theater at Creighton University.


‘Some of the best times of my life’

Winona Senior High School (WSHS) senior Alex Charles came to Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) in eighth grade after transferring from the Cochrane-Fountain City School District. He particularly enjoyed his classes in the biological sciences. He is grateful for the strong connections he forged with some of the teachers of those classes. A moment from these science classes that he will never forget was collaborating with his classmates and learning about organs in a hands-on way while completing a dissection. “My experience with that was nothing but the best … It felt like we were really learning. We weren’t just sitting and studying the textbooks the whole time,” he said. 

Charles was also passionate about playing saxophone in band, including pep band during football games at Paul Giel Field. “Those are some of the best times of my life,” he said. 

Charles was the host of a video series, as well. In the series, he covered the latest news at the high school and made some funnier videos, too. In one news video he looks back on fondly, he spoke with children at an athletics tournament at a local university. In his favorite funnier video, he interviewed a staff member in a recreated late night show environment in the high school’s auditorium. During the staff member’s responses, the video team would occasionally ring a gong. He also kept making videos at home during the pandemic. “Those are some of our best ones,” he said, adding that they kept the group members feeling positive. 

Charles plans to attend Winona State University (WSU) as a pre-med major and go on to medical school. He is looking forward to making new friends and considering whether to play in the WSU band and participate in a university newscast. 


‘I’ve learned to push myself more’

WSHS senior Colleen Halleck arrived at WAPS in ninth grade. She attended Bluffview Montessori School from kindergarten through eighth grade. Throughout her time in high school, she was especially interested in English. Her father majored in English, and reading has long been a staple in her household. She also gained an interest in government this school year. Overall, she enjoyed every subject, she said. 

Halleck was enthusiastic about playing the flute in band, as well, having started to learn the ins and outs of the instrument in fifth grade. She ultimately became a drum major in high school. 

Halleck was also a member of the cross country team from seventh grade through 12th grade. “I’ve made some really close friends in that sport. And also, just, I’ve learned to push myself more than I ever thought I’d be able to,” she said. “And I learned to be happy for other people’s successes.” In one of her favorite moments throughout high school, she and other seniors on the team spoke with those just joining it this school year about all they would learn from the sport while at a socially distanced, outdoor meal the night before a meet. “And it was really great … feeling like we were just making a difference for these girls,” she said. 

Halleck also participated in National Honor Society (NHS) and was elected president of that society this academic year. “That really helped develop my leadership skills,” she said. Volunteering to hand out meals on Christmas was an NHS experience that will stick with her, she said. “We didn’t have vaccines yet so everybody was a lot more isolated at that point. And that was the first time I was really able to get back together with people,” she said. “And it was really great seeing everybody talk about their lives and talk about what they’d been doing.” 

One of the most memorable moments for Halleck during high school was meeting three fellow students on her first day who would become her best friends. 

Halleck plans to attend Dartmouth College and is considering majoring in anthropology or government. She is excited about making new friends, finding new interests and gaining new perspectives.


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