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Jose Rosas Jr, Ava Kleeberger, Nora Johnson, OHS, owatonna, mn
Owatonna High School students Jose Rosas, Jr., Ava Kleeberger and Nora Johnson smile for a photo. The three will give speeches at the Owatonna High School graduation this week. Staff photo by Roy Koenig
Huskies prepare grad speeches with heavy hearts
Roy Koenig, Sports Analyst
sports wrap, roy koenig, owatonna, sports

The first commencement speakers at the new Owatonna High School have gone through a rollercoaster of emotions while preparing for Friday, June 7, at Federated Field.

Ava Kleeberger and Nora Johnson are on the speech team and went to state this year. Jose Rosas, Jr. applied even though he doesn’t consider himself to be a public speaker.

He wants to connect with his audience through words of advice.

“Live in the moment and make sure you enjoy everything and the weight of the journey that you’re trying to achieve. If that’s telling one or two people that, ‘Hey, I’m really enjoying this moment,’ or just not taking it for granted. I think that’s a huge part of life,” said Rosas.

“Another big part of my theme is making sure that whatever you do, you put passion and commitment toward it. Whatever you do, you give a 100%. I’ve always thought that’s a big part of who I am and who our school body is,” he said.

“I am really grateful for the opportunity. I love speaking in front of people with the things that I do. My speech is about the big things that impacted us throughout the four years that we spent here, and the way that we can acclimate to change and accept it as it comes,” said Kleeberger.


Petition drive

Johnson said students led a petition drive to have seats at graduation for Olivia Flores, who was killed in a car crash in May, and for Dylan Lauwers, who was lost to suicide at a young age.

“Our entire class really wanted them, especially since Olivia was so close to graduation. I think it was 1,200 people, maybe more, who signed it. People, not just at the school, but outside of it, like alumni, or people that knew her or knew Dylan. It was good to come together,” said Johnson.

Her speech focuses on change.

“We started our high school career during the COVID-19 pandemic. So, we never really got a normal high school experience. And then a few years in the old high school and now we’re in the new one, so we’ve kind of always had to persevere and be on our toes,” she said.

Johnson said the lack of asbestos is a big plus at the new school amongst other upgrades.

“The fact that it’s definitely nicer. It’s bigger. I don’t have to pay $50 for parking. There are some things about it that are better than others. I think it is a really nice place to learn,” said Johnson.

She is a humorous speaker.

“I can’t really do anything serious in my life. It’s light-hearted. I’m obviously going to talk about Olivia and Dylan because they were our classmates, and we love them dearly. But, yeah, I’m definitely going to try to leave us with fewer tears and more laughs,” she said.

“Losing two students in our class was really, really hard for everybody. It makes it a lot more meaningful addressing our whole class knowing that that’s part of it. And I know for all of us, we want to include something for both of them in our speeches,” Kleeberger told Owatonna Live,

“For me, it shows again not to take anyone for granted because Olivia and Dylan were such a big part of OHS, such a big part of our student body. It’s such an unfortunate and unexpected event, where we’re like, ‘Wow, this really happened, and we have to go through it, and they won’t be able to.’ It gives us a new sense of not taking people for granted. And tell people that you enjoy being there because they left a mark on all of our lives, and we can’t ever tell them again how much they really meant to us,” said Rosas.


Let’s talk 

Kleeberger is used to competing with her speech duo partner Emma Green.

“The difference between us is that I’m always freaking out before every round and she’s very calm. I think for me the process is just like taking a deep breath and trying to get into the same mindset as Emma and just chilling out,” said Kleeberger.

Rosas said he is humbled to be a grad speaker alongside a pair of state speech participants. He found an ability to communicate with others through his many extracurriculars including The Magnet.

“Mrs. Jessica Wagner introduced me to the world of journalism and got me intrigued with it. It’s been an awesome experience being able to get the voice of OHS out and really learn things I never imagined even existed at OHS,” said Rosas.

Johnson encourages students to join speech to learn how to express themselves and make friends. She was recruited as a junior by coach Marcia Anderson and called it “one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” She added it looks good on a college application too.

She was thrilled to participate at state and said she almost cried during her funny speech because she was so happy to see her teammates there supporting her. She will try to “hold it together” during graduation.

Kleeberger was involved in the winter musical “Newsies”.

“It was such a great group of people. We all bonded especially toward the end of the show. We were doing the morning workouts together twice a week. So, that really helped with bonding since you were seeing everyone at their lowest,” he said.

Kleeberger plans to attend Carleton College in Northfield and study political science. Rosas is going to MIT for biomedical engineering. Johnson will head to UMD and may get into music education. You can find the complete conversation on


Surprise, surprise

Kyle Melcher (Class of ’09) is going into the Owatonna High School Athletic Hall of Fame this fall. The call from committee member Kevin Raney “caught me by surprise,” said Melcher.

“There’s many good athletes that have come out of Owatonna. Still being somewhat young, I didn’t quite expect it. It’s a pretty cool honor,” added Melcher.

Melcher’s list of accomplishments makes him an automatic bid. In football, basketball, and baseball he had 11 letters, 10 all-conference nods and was all-state in each.

The bigger surprise might be that he came back to Owatonna to teach.

“My first year in college I was a business major. I had always had it in the back of my mind. I knew I had always loved working with kids and teaching,” he said.

“When I was in Winona, I said I would never come back to Owatonna and here we are. It’s been a blessing in disguise. Knowing all the teachers. Having family close. A lot of the coaches I still coach with at the high school were my coaches when I played. It’s been awesome.” Melcher is about eight years into being a physical education teacher at McKinley.

He was promoted to offensive line coach for the Huskies last fall. He used to coach baseball too, but wanted a little more family time. Then came the opportunity to be the public address announcer at Dartt’s Park, where he works alongside his dad who runs the scoreboard.

Casey Dehn, a fellow ’09 grad and football teammate also enters the hall in September. Derek Skala (’06) was Melcher’s teammate for one season on the diamond. Other hall of fame inductees are Holly Noble, Glen Stoltz, and the 2004 state champion adapted floor hockey team. streaming schedule

Thursday, June 6
Downtown Thursday concerts, 5:30/7 p.m.
Owatonna Legion baseball vs. Mayo, 7 p.m.

Friday, June 7
OHS graduation, 7 p.m.

Saturday, June 8
Aces baseball vs. Stewartville, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, June 9
VFW baseball vs. Red Wing, 5/7 p.m.

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