Lindsay O’Connell, valedictorian of Eagle Butte High School in Dunmore, not only excelled in basketball and volleyball and kept up her talent with the cello, but is also an almost fully licensed private airplane pilot upon the completion of her high school career.
O’Connell says the Dave Rozdeba South Alberta Flight Academy was the highlight of her high school years.
“I don’t get spares or options, I just go and do ground school at the airport,” said O’Connell. “I finished my flight test in December so I just have my exam to write and then I’ll have my full licence. The last two years have been crazy with sports, music and flying, but I love it. I couldn’t ask for a better school to do it all in.
“I have so much appreciation for our school and the opportunities I’ve been given. It’s crazy that I’ve learned to fly during high school, while also doing normal high school things.”
Jimi Ricci, who met O’Connell as her Grade 10 Science teacher three years ago, says “she was a feisty kid and a lot of fun to have in class, and she was very academically driven.”
Ricci is now the lead teacher for the flight academy program.
“Lindsay has been a real catalyst of the program over the two years; she’s quite friendly and she really contributes to the identity of the flight academy,” Ricci said.
He says the group is tight knit, that they look out for each other and help each other out; just last week O’Connell helped another student prepare for an exam.
“She really does take a leadership role in that program,” said Ricci. “I’m not involved with the instruction; there are certified pilots that do a lot of the instruction, but every Friday we go to Super T to build an airplane. It’s not a scale model, it’s not an ultralight, it’s the real deal. I was really impressed at the leadership role she takes there … she ate it up, she was one of our strongest participants in building the airplane.”
O’Connell was also heavily involved in sports, playing basketball and volleyball and participating in track, and has her Grade 7 certification in cello.
“She is really an accomplished kid and a hard worker … She really commits to what she’s doing and whatever she decides to do, she’s usually all in,” Ricci said. “She just decides she wants to do something and she makes it happen. I don’t know where she finds the time, I could never achieve all that she does but she is balanced.
“She has personality, she has spunk, she is a lot of fun to have around, she has a great sense of humour – she is a pretty special kid.”
O’Connell says she was surprised to learn she had earned the position of valedictorian, but is “so thankful for this opportunity.”
“My message is that now, especially through COVID, we’ve learned a lot of really valuable skills like resilience and perseverance that are going to help us in the real world,” O’Connell said of her valedictorian address. “A lot of kids in high school never would have experienced a pandemic like we did. It’s using those harder times to just help us in the future, because we did all make it out fine.
“We owe a lot of gratitude to our teachers and staff because throughout the transitions to online school, they were able to adapt and ensure that we were able to learn everything that we needed to.”
O’Connell is moving to Calgary to attend the U of C engineering program in the fall.
LARUEN THOMSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News