Saluting The Academic All-Stars: Future Leaders

June 5, 2013

By Peter Wagner  | N’West Iowa review, Sheldon, IA

Parents stop us on the street to say ‘Thank you!’

“We’ve published hundreds of pages about N’West Iowa’s football teams, basketball champions and even some of the high school bands,” my son Jay told me, “but we’ve never done anything to honor the top high school graduates.”

That was 27 years ago and Jay, who later moved on to work on papers in Sioux Falls, SD, and Des Moines, IA, was then editor of our N’West Iowa REVIEW. His vision was to start a special section featuring detailed profiles on each of the selected Valedictorians at all 17 high schools in the paper’s distribution area.

Those profiles, complete with one of the student’s graduation photos, would include information on their high school accomplishments, favorite subjects, extra-curricular activities, favorite school memory and plans for the future. The students were also asked to comment on a current topic of regional or national interest.

From the beginning we’ve included an evening banquet, provided by Hy-Vee, a regional grocery chain, at Northwest Iowa Community College. Hy-Vee and NCC are co-sponsors of the event with Iowa Information Inc., the REVIEW’s corporate organization.

The evening of the banquet the students, who were all nominated by their local high school principals, gather with their parents, grandparents, a few aunts, uncles and even some siblings at NCC. There the honorees are whisked off for a group picture in some unique area of the college while the adults are invited to sit and visit at selected tables. The group photo appears the following Saturday on the front page of the annual Academic All-Stars section.

When the students return to the dining room they’re also seated together, away from their parents. This gives them an opportunity to visit with equally accomplished scholars from other communities while their parents share thoughts and reflections with their peers.

Once the buffet banquet is finished the president of NCC and I begin the program.

One at a time, the area’s best students with their parents and any others in their support group are invited to the front of the room. There each is confronted with a friendly peppering of questions about their favorite teacher, least favorite subject, activities outside the classroom, unique school memory, special reason for their scholastic success and their hopes and plans for the future.

Their parents, grandparents and others in their support group are also given an opportunity to share whatever they’d like to say about the honoree.

At the end of the interview the student is presented with a framed certificate and a hardy handshake.

Over the years I’ve had many parents come up to me, following the program, or on the street, to say thank you. Many have commented that it was the only time their child was ever acknowledged, outside of school programs, for his or her scholastic achievements.

But The N’West Iowa REVIEW’s Academic All-Star program does more than just bring attention to the honorees and our newspaper. It is also an excellent source of revenue.

The back page of the broadsheet section carries a full-page, process-color ad from Northwest Iowa Community College, featuring a different picture from their graduation package and congratulating them on their academic success.

Hy-Vee, along with donating the evening banquet buys a half-page, process color ad, congratulating the All-Stars and featuring photographs of the meal provided by their catering department.

The last few years we’ve greatly increased the advertising revenue by adding quarter-page, black and white ads sponsored by businesses from each of the student’s school districts offering their best wishes.

Newspapers in Education can be approached from many directions: Draw-An-Ad contests for young readers, Honor Roll page ads, strong scholastic sports sections, monthly student-written grade school and high school newspapers printed within your community paper and specific school district tabloids are a few that we embrace. But for a hands-down winner, we think our N’West Iowa REVIEW Academic All-Stars is our best and most successful effort.

Three years after his untimely death from cancer at the age of 45, I think it is a continuing memorial to our one-time exceptional writer, demanding editor and youngest son, Jay P. Wagner.


Peter W. Wagner is publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW, Sheldon, IA, and president of Creative House Print Media Consultants. He is a regular presenter at newspaper conferences and conventions as well as a new revenue consultant and trainer for independent newspapers and groups. He can be reached at or on his cell at 712-348-3550.


Web Design LVSYS - Copyright © 2017