For Ballard’s Grace Long, of Sheldahl, graduation has always been something that’s on the horizon. In a few days, the earth’s surface and the sky will meet, as Long will join classmates on Sunday to receive her diploma.
As she considers her extremely busy time as a student at Ballard, Long is thinking about the legacy she will leave.
“My activities have made me the person I am today, and if I could help leave a legacy that does that for someone else, it would be so fulfilling,” she said.
One of her biggest involvements has been with the student council, for which she’s helped run three committees. Her favorite committee that she has chaired is called Humans of Ballard, which is based on the Humans of New York project.
“For this committee, I interview and write articles about students and people in the community. It’s amazing that I can go to school with people for my entire life, but not see things that are such an important part of who they are,” she said. Her work on Humans of Ballard has totally changed her perspective and how she approaches everyday life.
She wants to see the committees she’s worked with while on student council continue. “Making sure underclassmen feel comfortable taking them over is something that is really important to me,” Long said. “After this year’s class of freshmen graduate…not many people will remember that Grace Long went to Ballard High School, and that’s OK. But I really hope some of the work I did with my extracurriculars lives on.”
It would take a huge amount of space to fully talk about all the extracurricular activities that Long has been a part of during her years in high school, so we’ll focus on her favorites. “First and foremost, there is FFA,” she said, sharing that the organization, which started just five years ago at Ballard, has “completely changed my life.”
Long said FFA has presented her with many opportunities and given her friends throughout the state, especially this past year as she served in a leadership role — district reporter — for the South Central District of FFA. “I was on a team with five other students from around our district and got to travel…(and) serve Iowa FFA.”
Also having to do with her writing, reporting skills, Long was recently chosen as a state winner of the Daughters of the Revolution writing scholarship award. She is now competing at the national level.
Other activities she’s loved include speech and drama, competing in both large group and individual speech, and taking part in every play for the past four years. She notes that she wasn’t “your typical drama student” when she joined as a freshman, but she grew as a person through the “amazingly supportive program.” That growth led to her first lead role this year as Dr. Fassbender in “Pink Panther.”
She’s also been heavily involved in art, and loves photography. In fact, she started her own photography business.
Outside of school, 4-H has been a big part of her life. For the past three years, she has served as president of the Palestine Peppy Pushers Club. “I also raise bantam chickens, quail and pigeons with my brother (Gage Long, a sophomore at Ballard) to show at the county fair and have participated in rabbit hopping for many years, as well as entering static projects at the fair each year,” she said. Along the same lines, Long has earned the right in the upcoming year to serve as Iowa Poultry Queen.
In all her experiences, Long has been surrounded by good people. When asked about teachers and district employees who have influenced her, the list is so long, it would be easier to report those she left out. “I could say amazing things about so many of my teachers… With a teacher for a mom, I’ve been raised to have so much respect for them,” she said.
Long’s mom, Julie, is a preschool teacher who has looked out for her daughter from a young age. “She has always been willing to listen when I need to talk and is always watching from the audience when I am competing in FFA events or performing for speech. My mom has been a great role model … She is one of the most kind-hearted, humble and service-driven people I know.”
Her dad, Daren, is also important to her and is, she admits, the “parent I am most similar to. We both have the same serious personality, stubbornness and competitive nature. When I was younger, my dad always helped me with my math homework when I got stuck, and I still think of him as the smartest person I know.” Her dad is also responsible, she added, for her passion for agriculture. “Mom tolerates all of our critters, but I have my chickens, rabbits and bees because of my dad.” She noted that fair time, both county and state, are special to her and her dad.
When it comes to what Long plans to do with her life, she admitted she doesn’t have a “specific” career goal yet. She blames that on her many interests.
“I’m excited to learn about some of these interests in college, and hopefully narrow down my prospects from there. I do think I’ll end up doing something that involves agriculture, whether that be agricultural communications, law or policy… Otherwise, I would love to travel or study abroad at some point to get a more global perspective…”
Whatever she ends up doing, her future will begin at Drake University, where she earned an all-academic full-tuition scholarship for all four years of her undergraduate studies.
Down the road, Long said, she’d like to have a family and a successful career in something that she enjoys. “I’d like to have a career that helps others and makes their lives better, either directly or indirectly.”
It’s not hard to imagine that Long will achieve all the goals she sets for herself. Being as busy as she’s been in high school, including volunteering for many years and eventually taking a job at the Slater Public Library along with all her other activities, she’s used to achieving what she sets out to do. Now, she offers advice to other students coming up through the grades.
“Find something you enjoy doing, whether that be sports, the arts, music, FFA or anything else and fully commit to it… The skills you learn and the relationships you form wouldn’t be possible without extracurriculars. That being said, it’s also important to know your limits and be able to say no to things. There were times I was completely overwhelmed, and although those times taught me how to manage my time and stress better, I didn’t realize for the longest time that it’s OK to say no and to not be involved in everything. Meaningful involvement is the key.”
When she receives her diploma this Sunday, there’s no doubt a wave of emotions will overcome her and many of her classmates. It’s the end of one era and the beginning of another. Many Ballard graduates, like Grace, will be thankful that they were able to live and learn at a place like Ballard.
“We are such a tight knit community and district that when something bad does happen, the student body and staff come together to support those affected. Although we hope bad things never happen, they do, and it’s reassuring to know how supportive the school district is and that there are so many people within the schools students can look to for a shoulder to lean on.
“I think there is a lot to be proud of (at Ballard).”