Ellie Seagraves was in seventh grade when she and her brother found their dad dead.
Although the experience was incredibly challenging, Seagraves, now age 18, still excelled at Stillwater Area High School (SAHS).
Seagraves graduated from SAHS along with about 660 peers on Saturday, June 1 at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. She will attend the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire this fall to study actuarial science, which will teach her to analyze potential financial consequences of business risks.
Seagraves was young when her family settled in Stillwater, where she attended Lily Lake Elementary School for third through sixth grade.
Seagraves later attended Stillwater Middle School, then a junior high, where she joined the district’s AVID program. AVID helps students prepare for college by learning study, organizational and note-taking skills.
In addition to college preparation, Seagraves said AVID became her biggest support system.
“Once I got to the high school, it became more family-based,” Seagraves said. “I made so many really good friends in that class.”
In addition to AVID, Seagraves played percussion in pep band and viola in orchestra. She was in National Honor Society and volunteered with LINK crew, a program that welcomes freshmen. Seagraves is working her third summer season at the Cherry Berry in downtown Stillwater. She previously worked at Applebees in Oak Park Heights and Five Below in Stillwater.
Erin Nickleby, a SAHS health and physical education teacher, was Seagraves’ AVID instructor. Nickleby said Seagraves is a diligent student who challenged herself academically. Nickleby also worked with Seagraves through SAHS’ LINK program.
“She has just bloomed into this wonderful leader,” Nickleby said. “She’s a phenomenal person — very kind, compassionate.”
Although Seagraves was an involved student, many of her peers were unaware of what she went through outside of school, she said.
Her dad’s death occurred during a six-year span of her life in which a family member died each year — grandparents, great aunts, an uncle and a close family friend.
Her brother who administered CPR when they found her dad also later attempted suicide after struggling with that experience, Seagraves said. She has two older brothers.
“[My dad] had had heart disease my entire life,” Seagraves said. “It was pretty hard but the school was really there for me honestly.”
While SAHS teachers and counselors supported her, it was tough to be a young person who knows what it’s like to lose a parent, she added.
“A lot of the kids in my school don’t know these kinds of things,” Seagraves said.
Seagraves said she also struggled to focus at school because a family member struggled with alcoholism.
“A lot of fighting at the house,” Seagraves recalled. “There were times when everything going on at home was just too much to handle.”
There were also times when school pushed Seagraves in a new direction, she said.
She participated in STRIVE, a Stillwater Sunrise Rotary program that connects SAHS students with community mentors. Seagraves’ tenth grade mentor encouraged her to pursue actuarial science.
“Being able to have the skills to put out those kinds of numbers sounds really cool,” she said.
Eric Anderson, Stillwater Area Public Schools coordinator of Equity and Integration and AVID district director, said Seagraves quickly became a classroom leader and part of the AVID family.
“She was what I would describe as a go-to,” Anderson said. “She’s going to be sorely missed.”
Anderson said Seagraves shows strength through her vulnerability. Her peers saw her as a trustworthy, empathetic listener, he added.
“She adopted what I call a by-any-means necessary approach to being academically successful and supporting her classmates,” he said. “I’m really excited to see where the next stage in life takes her.”
Losing her dad was one of the biggest challenges she faced, she said, but it’s not the most important thing to know about her. Seagraves enjoys softball, soccer, bonfires and spending time with family and friends, she said.
“It happened and it’s still affecting me,” she said. “I’m just trying to move on and make a good life for myself.”
Contact Kim Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org