Minnetonka Student Steps Up to the Podium

Student Spotlight: Haley Gunderson will take the microphone as class speaker at Minnetonka High School’s graduation.

When Haley Gunderson signed up for Speech class on a whim, she didn’t know it would lead to her delivering the graduation speech to the Class of 2012.

“I’ll definitely have the jitters, being in front of five thousand people,” said Gunderson, who is graduating cum laude from on June 7. To accommodate the crowd, will be held at Grace Church in Eden Prairie.

It all started in Speech class. “I joined Speech completely on a whim,” she said.   

Speech teacher Charley Barniskis required his students to write and deliver a graduation speech. “I have students vote on them,” said Barniskis. “Haley’s was deemed the best graduation speech by her classmates.” 

Gunderson’s friends then encouraged her to try out for the school’s graduation speaker position. 

“Any senior can audition,” explained Barniskis. Twenty-one seniors delivered their speeches in front of a panel of teachers. Gunderson was the last student to audition.

“She had to wait over an hour and a half while everyone one else went ahead of her,” said Barniskis. “The hardest part of the speech is to give personal reflections that can be applied to the graduating class as a whole. She seemed to do that best.”

Gunderson memorized her five-minute speech through multiple practices. “The first time I practiced in front of my parents, my mom cried,” she said.

Gunderson shares her tips for public speaking. “Practice, be confident, and talk slowly,” she said. “Delivery is important.”

Gunderson’s speech revolves around change and experiencing “firsts” and “lasts.”

One first for Gunderson was joining the track team this spring. She competes in the 800-meter race and the high jump.

Gunderson enjoys the camaraderie of the team. “There are about 130 people, and we’re very supportive of each other,” she said.

Though she is new to the team, running isn’t new to Gunderson. “We used to go on family runs on the trail near our house,” she said. 

Gunderson is also on the Minnetonka varsity soccer team. She started playing soccer at age four. “My dad coached me,” she said. “Through the years, my parents have been at all my sporting events.”

At school, Gunderson participates in the First Mate program, a group of seniors helping freshmen make the transition into high school. 

“I love the idea of welcoming students and building a small community,” she said. “High school is such an insane place, coming from middle school.”

Her advice for freshmen?  “Try new things,” she said. “Step outside of what people perceive you as.” 

Though Gunderson is on the honor roll at Minnetonka, she learned that it can be a challenge to balance schoolwork with sports and activities.  “School always comes first,” she said.  “I’m pretty driven.”

This fall, Gunderson will attend University of Wisconsin-Madison.  “I got into the honors program, so the class sizes will be smaller,” she explained. “Also, I love big sports events.”

She has not declared a major. “Maybe English,” she said.  “I am thinking about eventually becoming a dermatologist.”  Whatever her future career, Gunderson said, “I like being able to talk to people.”

Gunderson will take fond family memories with her to college.

She will particularly miss spending time with her brother, a sophomore at Minnetonka.  Does he feel the same?  “If he does, he hasn’t admitted it yet,” she laughed.

Another family member that she is close to is her cousin. “MacKenna is a year older than me and we’re best friends,” she said. “Even though she lives in Colorado, we see each other every Christmas and for a week in the summer.  I can always call her and she has great advice.”  Gunderson called her cousin for advice on writing her graduation speech.

Though she will miss her family, “Writing the speech helped me accept that I’m moving on,” Gunderson said.  “It got me ready.”

Gunderson will celebrate her graduation with a party. 

“We’re going to have a fro-yo bar,” she said, referring to a variety of frozen yogurt flavors and toppings that will be served, including her personal favorite, chocolate-vanilla twist.

After graduation, Gunderson will be busy balancing three summer jobs: youth soccer referee, banquet server at the Lafayette Club, and nanny for a local family.

In her free time, Gunderson enjoys painting and crafts. “I like art, even though I’m not that good at it,” she said.  “My dad influenced me.”

She also enjoys movies, and her favorite film is What Happens in Vegas.  “My friend and I have it memorized,” she said.

She is an avid reader, and reflected on the essay books Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist as she was preparing her graduation speech.  “Shauna Niequist says that change is not a function of life’s cruelty, but a function of graciousness,” she quoted.

As Gunderson prepares for the next phase of her life, she isn't afaid of a challenge. 

“I'm pretty adventurous, and I love mountains,” she said. “My cousin and I went backpacking out west and jumped off a 70-foot cliff.”

“I told my parents about it later,” she added.


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