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Most people believe it is up to you to pick and choose your career. But for some, like Taft High School graduate BillyAnn Stempel, that career chooses you.

After graduating from Taft in 2015, Stempel enrolled in college at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, to pursue a degree in Education. It takes time for a lot of students to figure out what their area of study will be, but that was not the case for Stempel.

“I have been teaching as long as I can remember,” Stempel said. “My first classroom was my bedroom, where I would sit my younger brother, Jack, down and teach him everything I was learning at school. So, I can thank him for being my first student.”

Now as she nears the end of her four years at WOU, Stempel is preparing for the annual commencement ceremony on June 15. But unlike her fellow classmates, who only have to agonize about their long walk across the stage to receive their diploma, Stempel will be tasked with speaking to the large crowd of students, families and faculty members.

It’s an honor she has rightfully earned after receiving the Julia McCullough Smith Award by WOU, the highest honor bestowed upon a graduating senior. Stempel said every year the award is given to just one recipient and that student must fulfill a long list of criteria created by the selection committee.

Requirements include being able to represent their class, being a positive role model, achieving academic success, being diverse in co-curricular activities, making the most of the opportunities at WOU and more. And for anyone who knows Stempel, it’s safe to say she checked off each of the requirements and then some.

The Speech

As for her upcoming speech, Stempel said it is an absolute honor to have the opportunity to address her fellow classmates, but she admits it will be a bit nerve-wracking.

“I am overwhelmed at the idea of speaking, but I am also really looking forward to it,” Stempel said. “It is hard to decide what to say. I will have 2-3 minutes on stage and there are so many things that I want to include, but I will have to be selective.

“I have decided to speak on the theme of making mistakes. I want to leave my class and their loved ones with some inspiring words to remember on their special day.”

Stempel said she has been working with Dr. Molly Mayhead, a professor of Communications Studies at WOU, who has been helping her perfect her speech.

Her general theme of making mistakes will be personalized in her speech by her own experiences at WOU. Stempel said her journey through school has allowed her to grow not only as a student, but as a person as well.

The College Experience

“I was opened up to so many new opportunities that challenged my perspectives and forced me to see the world in a new light,” Stempel said of her college experience. “I have loved every moment here and it's very bittersweet to see it come to an end. I believe my time at Western prepared me for a bright future. I cannot express how thankful I am for the people I have met along the way that believed in me. They pushed me to try new things and become a better person.”

Throughout her time at WOU, Stempel has found new friends and mentors that she has remained close with all four years. She has created many long-lasting memories that she will cherish as she moves into a new chapter of life. But likewise, she won’t forget the challenges she had to overcome to get to where she is.

“I struggled with balancing my responsibilities between work, school, extra curriculars and social time,” Stempel said. “It took awhile for me to find a balance that was healthy. I also had times where I felt burnt out, but it was my friends and mentors that pushed me to keep going. I am so grateful for my memories with them, they honestly got me through some of the most challenging times I had as a student at WOU.”

Stempel will soon graduate summa cum laude (the highest distinction), with her Bachelors of Science Honors Degree in Education.

Living Out A Dream

Fresh out of college, Stempel will be taking on a new challenge this coming fall as the science teacher at Estacada Middle School, which she said she is thrilled about.

“As soon as I went to interview in Estacada, I knew I wanted to work there,” Stempel said. “The staff is passionate about their kids and excited for making positive change, plus the community reminded me of home in some ways. I am so excited to have my own classroom and begin my growth as a professional.”

Stempel said she might want to go to graduate school to pursue her Masters Degree, but for the time being she will be focused on her career.

“I want to work for awhile and find out what my passions are within the field of education so that when I return to school, it will be with a purpose,” Stempel said.

Stempel has expressed a great deal of gratitude to her parents and grandparents, saying that she would not have been able to achieve this feat without them. Because of that support, Stempel has done her best to make every opportunity count while at WOU.

“I could never repay my family for the sacrifices they made so that I could continue school, so I did my very best to make the most of every moment I had as a way to show my gratitude to them,” Stempel said. “Without their support, I wouldn't be half the person I am today.”

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