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Red Lake valedictorian mulls teaching, DNR careers

Jalen Kelly will graduate from Red Lake High School today as the valedictorian. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

RED LAKE—Jalen Kelly is multifaceted.

He's Red Lake High School's valedictorian who'll take his 3.7 GPA to Minnesota State University Moorhead to study, at least for the moment, biology. But the 18-year-old is also a multi-position football star and basketball player for the Warriors.

"I'm a pretty mixed dude, I can be a jock if I want. I can be a nerd, too, every now and then," Kelly, wearing a Dragonball Z T-shirt, said. "I like to get jiggy with some anime."

Biology comes easily to Kelly, he said, and it's a subject that's long held his interest.

"I like dissecting stuff, learning about muscle groups, just the way our bodies work," Kelly, who's consistently been named to the high school's "A" or "B" honor roll and has exhausted all of the biology classes there and at nearby Red Lake Nation College, told the Pioneer. "I always thought it was pretty cool."

But Kelly isn't convinced he'll stick to that field. He said he might change majors, and is considering a teaching career after several of his own high school teachers said he'd be good at it.

"I'm a good leader," he said matter-of-factly. "I get that quite a bit."

The middle ground, he thinks, could be teaching high school biology—perhaps at his soon-to-be alma mater—or maybe a conservation officer career at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"I'm trying to be outside," Kelly said. "I don't want to be at a desk job...It's just the type of person I am, I guess. There's only like one time where I'll sit down and do something, and that's probably playing video games."

Kelly, a Red Lake Nation member, is an all-district football player for the Warriors, for whom he played quarterback, fullback, wide receiver and tight end.

"The joke is when we go through our plays, it's 24, 34, and then a QB sneak," he said, referring to fullback dives and quarterback runs—plays that would put the ball in Kelly's hands. But the 18-year-old isn't thinking beyond intramurals after high school because he doesn't want to balance his schooling against the demands of a full-on team.

Kelly will be one of about 30 students expected to graduate from the high school on Saturday.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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