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Today's Achievers, Tomorrow's Leaders: Flathead student is self-starter motivated by helping people in need

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | May 6, 2022 12:00 AM

Jillian Wynne is a self-starter when it comes to applying her talents to help out the community and take on leadership roles.

The Flathead High School senior was recently honored as a Today’s Achiever, Tomorrow’s Leader honoree.

“Truly exceptional in so many ways, Jillian is the kind of student you encounter only a few times in a career. She has incredible natural academic talent, and she is a gifted learner at all times and in all situations,” FHS Career Center Director Mike Kelly stated in his nomination letter.

Academically, he describes her as a strong writer, a creative and critical thinker and a talented communicator. He also noted how Wynne excels in math and currently takes calculus through the University of Montana. She is also an International Baccalaureate student and golfer.

“Jillian holds herself to an incredibly high standard,” Kelly continued.

This high standard has resulted in her achieving National Merit semifinalist status in 2021, among other accolades. Most recently, she was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar semifinalist.

The Today’s Achievers, Tomorrow’s Leaders program recognizes the academic achievement and community involvement of high school students who contribute to improving the lives of others. The award is sponsored by Logan Health in collaboration with the Daily Inter Lake.

In addition to the recognition, honorees choose a school club or activity to receive a $250 donation. Wynne has chosen to donate the money to the speech and debate team.

Debate is one of the reasons Wynne decided to attend Flathead.

She earned the state title in Lincoln-Douglas Debate as a sophmore, but made the switch to Policy Debate this year after being introduced to the event by Evan Sevaly, who became her partner.

“We actually ended up winning the state tournament which is surreal especially as a senior,” Wynne said.

Learning the ins and outs of Policy Debate was quite a learning curve.

“In Lincoln-Douglas, you’re by yourself. The style of argumentation is focused on logic and on-the-feet thinking. Policy Debate is almost like the opposite. It’s focused on research and it’s getting into the nitty-gritty details of this one topic that you’re with all year and the arguments are less logic-based and more fact-based, evidence-based, so it’s very different,” Wynne said, noting that there was a lot of jargon she had to learn.

USING PERSONAL talents to help others is an attribute instilled in her from a young age by her parents. Developing a strong work ethic was also important in her family.

“I was home-schooled up until third grade so most of my time was spent with my mom and my siblings so I’d say that’s where most of my natural traits were cultivated,” Wynne said.

“I think my mom has always been very adamant to use what we’ve been blessed with to help other people,” she said.

She also learned from the example her older sister set in what it takes to help others, lead and get involved in her community and school. She also admired her sister’s ability to handle life’s challenges.

“The person I’m closest to probably is my older sister Julia. We’ve lived our entire lives side-by-side. She struggles with a lot of issues with her health that I’ve never had to experience,” Wynne said.

“I think just watching the differences that certain disadvantages can make in your life — it made me want to use everything that I’ve been blessed with to help others that haven’t been as lucky as I have,” she added.

WYNNE STARTED her first project helping others as a Stillwater Christian School seventh-grader. At the time, she and classmate Faith Blackaby decided to raise money for the Northwest Montana Veterans Food Pantry by creating and selling desktop calendars. The pair interviewed local veterans and Wynne wrote stories to accompany portraits.

“We were looking for something to do. We thought something to benefit our community would be very rewarding,” Wynne said, and followed that up by creating another calendar to raise money for the Humane Society of Northwest Montana.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, speech and debate tournaments went virtual and Wynne decided to take the year off competing. With time freed up, she again looked at other possibilities of where her time and energy could be well spent. After the pandemic led to school closures and early-outs she realized families and students were struggling to keep up with their academics.

“I know a lot of parents were tasked with helping their kids with home school assignments and not every parent had time. They also had multiple kids, so it just wasn't consistent and I knew it would be hard for those kids to be caught up,” Wynne said.

With previous experience tutoring a couple of young students at Stillwater, she reached out to teachers there and recruited other high school volunteers to start a tutoring program that served elementary through ninth-graders in math and reading.

“We were consistently helping about 20 kids which was really cool,” she said.

Wynne said one of the most rewarding parts of the program was hearing teachers share about the relationships the other high school volunteers we’re building with the students they tutored.

The pandemic also taught her just how important communication is in a leadership role.

“That was a big challenge,” she said.

AS SHE sets her sights on graduating in June, Wynne reflected on her high school experiences when asked what traits she thought make a good leader.

“I think things I’ve noticed over my experiences, and extracurriculars and community service is that a big part of it is communication and being approachable. Then I also think a major goal is not just trying to accomplish whatever your goal is but also trying to instill that same desire in people you’re working with because in the end, you want your project not just to be a one-time thing. You want it to live on after,” she said.

Following graduation, Wynne plans to attend Fordham University in New York on a scholarship. She is currently undecided on a major, and while it’s unnerving to her, she has plenty of ideas that she is excited to explore.

“I’ve always been interested in science and math and medicine has been something that’s always been something that’s fascinated me ” Wynne said, “But then, after doing debate and everything I’ve become very interested in law. Then, I’ve also read a lot of books about economics which has intrigued me and I’ve always been fascinated by philosophy. So there’s a lot of things that I would like to study.”

As far as continuing any extracurriculars while in college, she has been eyeing one in particular.

“I know Fordham has a mock trial team that I’d love to participate in. We have a mock trial team here that I’ve done since 2020. I almost love that more than debate,” she said.

Her goals also include becoming fluent in another language and studying abroad.

“I definitely want to see as much of the world as I can,” she said.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 406-748-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

Learn More

Today’s Achievers, Tomorrow’s Leaders nomination criteria:

Eligibility: High school students in Flathead or Lake County.

Academics: Students who value their education by exhibiting academic responsibility (preferably have a 3.0 GPA or higher).

Character: Students who display integrity, compassion, service and excellence.

Citizenship: Students who nurture healthy communities through community service, volunteerism, or other contributions to their community and/or school.

Leadership: Students who take initiative and are role models for others.

Forms are available at https://www.logan.org.

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