I was at the Bemidji Woolen Mills last Saturday doing a book signing. During that time people stopped in from Texas, Arizona, Missouri, California, Badger, Minn., and other nearby towns. No, they didn’t stop to buy a book but they did stop to visit and shop at one of Bemidji’s landmarks. Virtually all of the people commented on how they enjoyed Bemidji. It was a consensus, Bemidji is a nice place to live.
I visited with most of the people and I had a chance to tell them about Beltrami County’s initiative to graduate 100% of our students. All of them were impressed with our efforts and wished us good will. I wish I had space in this column to mention all 412 supporters. I will, however, mention a few in the order when they first came on board.
1. Red Lake Tribal Council
2. Bemidji City Council
3. Beltrami County Commissioners
4. Blackduck City Council
5. Kelliher City Council
6. Minnesota Commissioner of Education (2018)
7. Bemidji Lions Club
8. Bemidji Sunrise Rotary
9. Bemidji Noon Rotary
10. Red Lake Indian Health Service
Although it has been more than 10 years since I first began advocating for a 100% graduation rate in area schools, it wasn’t until 2017 that I realized that unless the community was totally engaged in this initiative, it would never happen. I say this because schools, largely by themselves, have been trying to graduate all students ever since the Boston Latin School was established in 1635.
The Red Lake Tribal Council took a bold step in 2017 when they agreed to pass a resolution in support of a 100% graduation rate goal for all Red Lake students regardless of where they went to school. Lest we forget, we believe all students are capable of graduating.
Consequently, Project Graduate focuses on all students regardless of ethnicity. As you see all of the area city councils and county commissioners also support the initiative. You should also know that we are not advocating handing out diplomas without students meeting the graduation standards.
100. Red Lake Nation College
101. Paul Bunyan Sub Shop
102. Clearbrook City Council
103. Nature’s Image Taxidermy
104. Clearbrook Board of Education
105. Kelliher B’z Floral & Gifts
106. Hills Plumbing and Heating
107. Trinity Lutheran Church
108. Bemidji Locker and Fish Co.
109. Thrivent Financial -- Samantha Pond
110. The Bunkhouse
Two of our biggest challenges are first, everyone may not take the 100% goal seriously nor are they aware of the tremendous positive impact it would have on nearly all aspects of society if every young person graduated from high school.
It’s kind of like the COVID crisis where there were many people initially who did not want to wear a mask. When they learned that mask wearing reduced one’s chances of contracting the virus, their mindset changed. When more people realize the amount of good that would result when every young person graduates and graduation from high school becomes part of our culture, we will accomplish our goal.
The second challenge has to do with the 412 contacts. Some of the initial contacts of businesses are no longer in operation due to a variety of reasons. Plus, many of the individual businesses and groups who were contacted have probably forgotten their commitment to tell employees and young people of the need to graduate.
This is why posters, PSA announcements, my column in the paper, handing out flyers and stickers are so important. Keeping the goal in front of the people is a must. We can’t let the momentum die. How many meetings have you attended over the years where a good idea was met with initial fervor but later died on the vine? We can’t allow this to happen with 100%. It’s much too important.
290. Buena Vista Ski Area
291. Wallace Upholstery
292. Turtle River Chophouse
293. Stittsworth Meats
294. Country Kitchen
295. Girl Scouts -- Lakes and Pines
296. Lumberjack Shack
297. Big River Scoop
298. TM Autosports
299. Kip Reinarz -- Firewood
300. Ironhide Equipment
From small businesses to large organizations, people have said a 100% graduation rate is good for the community, good for the county and good for the state. International Rotary District 5580, which has 60-some clubs and thousands of members, recently passed a resolution in support of Project Graduate and its goal of 100%. This is a significant development. Rotary is a wonderful organization that likes to take on unique challenges. More information on this new development will come soon.
400. EAPC -- Craig Clark
401. Red Zest Design
402. Your Mom’s Tattoo Atelier
403. MC Custom Construction of Tenstrike
404. Bemidji Driving School
405. Northern Bait of Gonvick
406. Richards Publishing
407. Main Street Service of Gonvick
408. Country Side Pest Control
409. Jim Bensen (former BSU president)
410. Four Pines Bookstore
411. Portable Welding Co.
412. BSU Advising Success Center
Every school district, along with BSU and NTC, needs to more fervently embrace the goal of a 100% graduation rate for their students and engage the total community to help them. Along with our goal of keeping the word out front, efforts will be made to show more explicitly how schools can achieve a 100% graduation rate.
In the meantime we will continue to work with groups like Rotary and Lions and Sanford Health, Lueken's, Keith’s Pizza, Red Lake Boys and Girls Club, Red Lake Tribal Council and the Chamber of Commerce, as well Beltrami County, city councils, Bemidji Woolen Mills and other businesses and organizations to strengthen the 100% movement and ensure that the word, indeed, is getting out there to all people and all youth.
As I have said over and over and over again, this is an achievable goal if we all work at it. If you are not sure if your business or organization is listed among our 412, contact me. We need your support. Young people need your support. Guess what? It doesn’t cost anything.
Riddle: What did King George think of the American colonists? (Answer: He thought they were revolting. The 100% graduation rate initiative is kind of like a revolution. Like the American colonists, everyone needs to get on board to make it happen.)
Thanks to Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince for making the 100% graduation rate part of his Fourth of July parade entry. Thanks to my granddaughter, Alicia, for riding her tricycle almost the entire way on that 90-degree day. That’s the kind of tenacity we need.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.