Applauding excellence

MARQUETTE – West Marquette County Partners For Education honored 200 students and eight teachers from four school districts in Marquette County’s west end Friday as part of its 25th annual Excellence in Education Day.

The partnership is made up of Cliffs Natural Resources and the Ishpeming, Negaunee, NICE and Republic-Michigamme school districts.

The event recognized students from the four districts who received all A’s during the first semester of the school year and teachers for their excellent work and service.

The event began with a breakfast at Lakeview School in Negaunee, followed by tours at Cliffs’ Empire and Tilden mines, its Lake Superior & Ishpeming Eagle Mills rail yard and overall transportation division and the Michigan Iron Industry Museum. It concluded with an awards luncheon at the Holiday Inn, where the students were given certificates and gifts of a Cliffs duffel bag and water bottle.

“It was fun,” said Sydney Dorow, a freshman at Ishpeming High School. “We toured the (Empire) mine, and it was a good experience.”

Kathryn Kulju, a senior at Westwood High School, agreed.

“I thought it was great,” she said.

Junior Sara DuMoulin, of Republic-Michigamme Schools said “it was really nice … getting out of school and seeing new things.”

Don Ryan was the keynote speaker at the event and the Marquette City Commission member – who, during his 26 years working for Cliffs, created the Excellence in Education program – asked the students several funny questions about pop culture and their use of technology before offering some advice.

For example, more girls hands went up when he asked how many knew the first names of the members of boy band One Direction than the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and more boys hands went up when he asked how many knew the name of the Green Bay Packers quarterback than the name of Michigan’s attorney general.

“I’m not sure what that says for your priorities,” he joked. “But clearly athletes and performers rank above politicians – maybe that’s a good thing.”

Ryan also said that although many of the students probably felt they were starting to get life figured out, he told them not to get too comfortable. He talked about how much life has changed in his lifetime, saying how he was their age when television came to Marquette County for the first time.

“My purpose in making this point is not to have you think I’m ancient, and from the dark ages,” he said. “(But because) we not only need to ask what comes next, we need to ask how we can prepare ourselves to live in this world.”

He talked about the importance of having a job you like, and how when the students get to be his age, they’ll look back at the things they’ve done and ask themselves what kind of difference they’ve made. He said his role in creating Excellence in Education Day is one of his proudest accomplishments.

“That’s something I feel really good about, when I look back at my achievement,” he said.

He added that the Excellence in Education funds are now permanently endowed – meaning that there is enough money to hold the annual event for perpetuity.

“It was really cool to hear about the tradition (of Excellence in Education), the 25th year and all,” said Aaron Carlson, a junior at Negaunee High School. “It’s really cool to see these people are giving time and they’re investing in something that the students can remember, and it really just shows that hard work pays off.”

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401. His email address is