Burnsville High School’s many hues will be on display at tonight’s commencement, among the rows of graduates and at the podium where three speakers will address fellow members of the Class of 2019.
They are Anna Cruz, Alyse Dees and Andrew Vixayvong.
“I think it was really important that we auditioned (for the speaker roles),” Cruz said. “We are people of color. Andrew and I, both of our parents are immigrants. Personally, I felt it was a way to represent and embrace.”
The three said in an interview this week that 2018-19 was a pivotal year for race relations at a school with slightly more than half students of color. A Dec. 13 “Speak Up” meeting hosted by the school’s increasingly influential Black Student Union set the stage for more open dialogue and understanding, they said. The meeting was arranged after racial slurs were discovered painted on the spirit boulder in the school parking lot.
“I don’t think it was so much about the rock. I think it was just the larger issue at hand that we never really took the time to properly address, and that was racism and discrimination in our school,” said Dees, who has been involved in the BSU and will begin architecture studies next year at Washington, D.C.’s Howard University, a historically black university. “It’s something we don’t talk about, even through we have such a diverse building and a diverse community. Like Anna said, it was an opportunity to just really start a good discussion about the issue.”
Because Burnsville is “such a unique school compared to other schools in the area,” students and teachers are better-equipped to tackle a topic like race, Vixayvong said.
“Even if we have our differences, we still want to learn from other people instead of just shutting them out,” he said.
The speakers are excellent students who loaded up on Advanced Placement and College in the Schools classes during their careers. Vixayvong sports a 3.88 grade point average and Dees a 3.85.
“I have a 4.0,” Cruz said when asked. “There’s 12 of us in the class.”
The Eagan resident has run track and cross country since seventh grade, is a senior class officer, has served as house manager with the Burnsville Theatre Guild and was a member of the National Honor Society and the Youth Service Advisory Council.
“Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to be a doctor,” said the University of Minnesota-bound Cruz, whose parents, Ben and Maria, immigrated from the Philippines. “I’m planning on studying both biology and Spanish on a pre-med track toward becoming a pediatrician.”
Vixayvong hesitates to typecast himself but admits he’s a theater kid. He’s also been a junior and senior class officer and member of #BurnsvilleStrong, the National Honor Society and DECA.
“At first glance I’m kind of introverted and shy,” said the son of Laotian immigrant parents Sith and Kat, of Burnsville. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to express my emotions, but through performing I just kind of let it all out, so it’s a good outlet for me.”
His roles this year included the Mayor of Whoville in the musical “Seussical,” the mention of which had Cruz giggling.
“I had this frizzy blue wig that I just absolutely hated,” said Vixayvong, who is headed to the University of Minnesota to study finance and international business and minor in Spanish.
Dees, also a Theatre Guild member, was in the ensemble in this year’s two musicals and played the mom in “Akeelah and the Bee.” She played violin in the Symphonic Orchestra, participated in Minnesota YMCA Youth in Government and Model United Nations, was a senior class officer and was a member of Women in STEM and the National Honor Society.
The daughter of Michael and Andriel, of Burnsville, was also one of 100 students nationwide selected to attend the Disney Dreamers Academy in March at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Vixayvong readily proclaims his love for Burnsville High School, from homecoming week activities to the entire math department to his favorite teacher — social studies teacher Colleen Coleman, who teaches the College in the Schools government class.
“I’m definitely ready to go,” he said before flashing back on great teachers and fun times.
Cruz said she clings to parts of the high school experience, turning wistful at the thought of her last track banquet and last choir concert.
“It’s the little, smaller groups I’m going to miss,” she said. “The high school as a whole, I’m kind of ready to move forward.”
Dees said her parents and many of her activities have prepared her for life outside the high school cocoon.
“I’m not a sappy person, so I’m really not sad at all about leaving,” she said. “I’m very much ready to move on. I’m not ready to move on because I’m disappointed, I’m ready to move on because it’s time. Burnsville High School has been a great time. I’ve enjoyed my experience to the fullest — but we are seniors, and graduation’s in three days.”