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WHS senior sets sights on advocating for others

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | May 30, 2022 12:00 AM

[Editor’s note: This is the second profile in a weeklong series spotlighting standout graduates in the Class of 2022.]

Even as a youngster Emma Trieweiler wanted to be a lawyer, but an experience in high school focused that goal into working toward becoming a civil rights attorney.

Part of a trio of Whitefish High School students who approached the Whitefish School Board in the summer of 2020 asking that the district boost the integration of diversity studies in the schools, Trieweiler became part of an advisory committee that made suggestions for improving the district's curriculum.

Trieweiler, who graduates Saturday with the school’s Class of 2022, says the pitch to the board came in the wake of the death of George Floyd and as the Black Lives Matter movement spread, including to protests in downtown Whitefish.

“A group of students I started talking with had been at a lot of the protests and all the things that were happening was opening their eyes to things they had never thought about partly because of where we live because there isn’t much diversity in our town and in our school,” she said. She noted that those conversations led students to notice what they saw as lacking in their school lessons in terms of presenting diverse perspectives in literature and history.

“I spoke about the experiences I had and the lack of sensitivity in knowing how to talk about these subjects because they’ve never needed to learn how to talk about these subjects appropriately,” she said. “But also what was missing in learning about different backgrounds and cultures. We took it to the school board and they thought it was a great idea.”

FOR HER the request was personal. Trieweiler says growing up she often struggled with seeing herself in the books she read. Her family has donated books to the school libraries that include Black authors and picture books featuring people of color.

“People are starting to see things that I’ve been knowing and seeing my entire life,” she said. “Growing up biracial in a town that is predominantly white, you feel the culture washing. This community has afforded me so many opportunities I wouldn’t change anything, but there isn’t much diversity.”

While her early career goal was inspired by her grandfather, Terry Trieweiler, a Whitefish attorney who served on the Montana Supreme Court, she says through the process of working to change the school curriculum she realized a goal of working on behalf of those who can’t fight for themselves.

“I’m a relatively argumentative person,” she says with a laugh, noting that she loved reading a set of law books given to her as a child.

“I want to defend people who aren’t able to defend themselves,” she said. “I’m leaning toward working to become a civil rights attorney. I’ve always been pretty passionate about civil inequities and civil rights issues in our country. I want to have the opportunity to defend people who need it and are at some sort of unfair disadvantage.”

THE DAUGHTER of Jason and Christina Schmidt, her grandmother Carol was a teacher for decades at Muldown Elementary and her mother is a speech pathologist in the district. Growing up in a family with deep roots in Whitefish, she says she was raised by the community noting many of her grandmother’s friends are like extra grandparents.

“It’s a special kind of experience getting to grow up in a community where you trust and know so many people,” she said.

During high school, Trieweiler says she looked to make connections by participating in as many activities as possible. She was on the volleyball, tennis and speech teams, on the student council, a member of DECA, part of the National Honor Society and participated in several band ensembles. She has also been in theater productions with Alpine Theatre Project and Whitefish Theatre Co, and tap dances with Feat x Feet.

“I’ve made some of my best friends through music and theater,” she said. “I’ve also made some great connections through sports.”

Now, Trieweiler is planning her next steps as she heads to Pomona College, a private liberal arts college in Claremont, California, this fall. She’s selected a major that combines politics, philosophy and economics intending to attend law school.

“I was looking for what major will help me most in where I want to go,” she said. “I’m excited for the path I have in my head.”

Whitefish High School will hold its commencement ceremony for the Class of 2022 on Saturday, June 4. Doors open at noon and the ceremony begins at 1 p.m. in the gymnasium of the high school at 1143 Fourth St., Whitefish. About 131 students are anticipated to graduate.

Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.

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