Burlington High School softball team seniors (from left) Josie Klein, Jenna Schmalfeldt, Kaya Kafar, Jaina Westphal and Ashley Schmalfeldt snap a selfie at the entrance to the state Assembly chambers at the state capitol in Madison Friday. The students, whose state tournament softball game Friday night conflicted with the schools regular commencement ceremony, had the distinction of being the first high school students to graduate in the chamber. (Photo by Joe Koshollek/Wisconsin State Legislature)

Vos hosts graduation ceremony for softball seniors at capitol

By Ed Nadolski

Editor in Chief

Graduation ceremonies are typically rife with platitudes about how adversity brings out the best in people and teaches valuable life lessons.

Sometimes, as members of the state runner-up Burlington softball team learned Friday, those platitudes ring true with tear-jerking results.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos watches as five Burlington High School graduates toss their caps after a ceremony in the state capitol. (Photo by Joe Koshollek/Wisconsin State Legislature)


The decision facing the team’s senior members was, some would say, unfair – stay in Madison and miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to graduate with their classmates in Burlington or head back home and miss a rare chance to play for a shot at the state championship game.

Thanks to a confluence of factors – a quick-thinking principal, a well-intentioned mayor and a distinguished alum in a high place – the students had a one-of-a-kind graduation and won their chance to play for the state championship.

Adversity really did bring out the best in people, according to BHS Principal Eric Burling.

“When the girls won the quarterfinal (on Thursday), we knew they’d have to play on Friday night and face a difficult decision,” he said.

Organizers got busy

So Burling and Activities Director Eric Plitzuweit started knocking around ideas about how to award the players their diplomas prior to Friday’s game should they decide to remain with the team. Plitzuweit suggested rolling a red carpet onto the field and allowing the girls to collect their diplomas in front of the team’s fans.

Burling then hit on the idea of contacting state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a BHS grad, about possibly using the state capitol as a commencement venue.

“I’ve contacted him before on education issues and he’s always been responsive no matter what side I was coming from,” Burling said.

Not long after he received a phone call from Mayor Jeannie Hefty offering assistance. Burling shared his idea and Hefty embraced it.

“Jeannie took it and ran,” Burling said. “You know it’s a small town when you can still talk to the mayor without an appointment.”

Hefty made some phone calls and the wheels were set in motion.

Vos and his staff cleared his schedule and reserved the Assembly chamber for its first-ever high school graduation.

“It was just a whim,” Burling said, “and the next thing I knew Robin was calling us back.”

The special graduation ceremony was set.

To read the full story, see the June 14 edition of the Burlington Standard Press.