Valedictorian dares to disturb the universe

Huegerich earns highest GPA ever at Port High, makes big announcement; salutatorian Hurley achieves second highest GPA in school history

Valedictorian Violet Huegerich (left) and salutatorian Alexander Hurley. Photos by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press Staff

Borrowing from a T.S. Eliot poem during her commencement address, Violet Huegerich urged her classmates to disturb the universe — to take risks, to strive for success, to contribute to society and, perhaps most importantly, be themselves.

“We don’t always have to know where we’re going, what we’re doing,” she said during Port Washington High School’s June 3 graduation ceremony. “There’s time for decisions and there’s time for revisions, and they don’t have to be permanent — we can go back. We can always give it another try, always give it another chance.

“There’s time to wonder if you dare to take that chance, if you dare to take a risk, if you dare to disturb the universe and change something for the better.”

Huegerich knows of what she spoke.

The valedictorian of Port Washington High School’s Class of 2018, Huegerich ran out of math classes to take at Port High by the end of her sophomore year, took every advanced placement course the school has to offer — and aced them, Principal Eric Burke said —and earned a cumulative grade-point average of 4.580 — the highest ever at Port High.

Then Huegerich had this to tell her classmates: “Time is the most precious thing we have, and with it we can do all these things and more.

“For instance, time gives me the chance to come out as a woman who happens to be transgender in front of my entire graduating class. If you didn’t catch it earlier, my name is Vi.

“Have I disturbed anyone’s universe yet?”

Until that moment on Al Urness Field, in front of 200 of her classmates and hundreds of their relatives, Violet, or Vi as she prefers, was Tommy Huegerich.

“I had only told about 10 to 15 people and my immediate family before the speech,” she said. “There was definitely some anxiety, some nervousness. It was a big moment for me.”

The first version of Huegerich’s speech made no mention of her announcement.

“It was a last-minute decision to include it in the speech,” she said. “I knew I was going to announce it at some point, so why not at graduation?”    

Two days before the ceremony, Huegerich emailed Burke a revised copy of the speech with the caveat, “I made some minor revisions.”

Burke, who had approved the initial version, apparently didn’t read the new one until the morning of graduation. 

“He responded Sunday morning and said, ‘Wait, these aren’t minor changes,’” Huegerich said.

Burke met with Huegerich and her parents, then helped Huegerich refine her speech in time for the ceremony Sunday afternoon.

“It was very well received,” Huegerich said. “A lot of people were very supportive.

“A few people asked, ‘Wait, was that a joke?’ 

Why would anyone joke about something like this?”

It wasn’t a joke, nor was her academic success and that of salutatorian Alex Hurley, whose cumulative grade-point average of 4.397 is the second highest in Port High history, Burke said.

As an incoming freshman, Hurley didn’t know exactly what to expect from high school. But after just one semester, he knew completing high school at the top of his class was a reasonable expectation.

“It became a goal for me after my first semester because I realized it was possible,” he said. “That added a little stress, but more than any thing it was motivational.”

Among the secrets to Hurley’s success were hard work and knowing when to put it in.

“Some things came easy for me, but others I definitely had to work harder at,” he said. 

Hurley, who describes himself as “a math and science sort of guy,” took 10 advanced placement courses. The most difficult class he took, he said, was calculus BC. He aced it.

Organization was also key for Hurley, who balanced academics with a host of extracurricular activities. He played four years of soccer and was a member of student council throughout his high school career. He was also president of the Spanish club and treasurer of Best Buddies.

“Soccer took a lot of time, so I had to work pretty hard,” he said. “I’m pretty organized. I like to keep a tight schedule.”

Hurley and Huegerich have academic success in common but took different approaches to achieving it. 

“It really wasn’t a goal of mine to be No. 1 in my class,” Huegerich said. “It just kind of happened.

“Some things, like math and science, were easier for me. Other classes, like history, I had to work harder at.”

Ironically, AP European History was her  favorite class, she said.

Ask Huegerich what grade she got in a particular class and chances are she doesn’t remember, although a good guess would be an A.

“I was never really super concerned about grades,” she said. “I just like learning.

“If the content of the class interested me, it came pretty easy. If it was something  that I didn’t find particularly interesting, I knew I had to work a little harder at it.”

Huegerich invested a lot of her time in the PiraTech robotics team and was a member of the swim team.

“I’m really not very organized at all, but I got it done somehow,” she said. 

Graduation was a particularly exciting for the Hurley family — Alex, who is a triplet, his parents Dave and Jane and his sisters Jordan and Payton. The graduates are going to different colleges, and for Alex, his decision was made the moment the acceptance letter from the University of Wisconsin-Madison arrived. 

“Once I got into Madison, it didn’t take very long for me to make my decision,” he said. “Madison was always my top choice.”

Hurley plans to study biochemestry and perhaps become a doctor.

“I enjoyed Port High a lot, but I’m definitely ready to move on,” he said. 

For Huegerich, whose parents are Amy and Greg Huegerich, choosing a college wasn’t quite as easy. She thought hard about attending the Milwaukee School of Engineering, but chose UW-Madison instead.

“I really didn’t want to limit myself to just engineering because I think I want to do more than that,” she said. “I don’t think I want to be just an engineer.”

She is considering enrolling in the university’s applied math, engineering and physics program.

Whatever she decides to study, Huegerich is looking forward to a new start at UW-Madison.

“I’m excited to be starting school as Vi,” she said.

Huegerich left her classmates with these words: “I implore you from the bottom of my heart to be unabashedly yourself in life and to be proud of it, and to make every effort to disturb the very fabric of the universe by doing so.”


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