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Blast From the Past: Stories of FHN Alumni

Published: February 19, 2020

Read about the stories of former FHN students, and the lives they went on to lead after graduation.

After Graduating from FHN Connor Cronin Enrolled in ROTC at Mizzou

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Graduating from FHN in 2019, Connor Cronin, now a freshman at Mizzou, pursues his interests in the military by joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program on campus.

“I enrolled in [ROTC] because I had wanted to be in the army pretty much my whole life,” Cronin said. “Getting an education out of it and being able to go in as a second lieutenant is pretty high, so I get better pay and more leadership opportunities.”

ROTC is a program for the U.S. Army for college students looking to join the army after finishing college. The program expedites the process of getting promoted in the army. After graduating, members serve for four years.

“I have to do four years of active service, then I’ll probably continue my military career,” Cronin said. “Then after that, I’ll have to decide whether or not to go into business, which is my current major.”

For his participation in ROTC, Cronin must attend physical training three times a week, go to one class a week and go to one lab a week. Other than ROTC, Cronin participates in flag football at Mizzou. While at FHN, Cronin also participated in many physical activities, being a member of the football, baseball and rugby teams.

“The sports weren’t well-loved, but they certainly have their positives,” Cronin said. “They were a good leadership experience and fun.”

One of the biggest influences on him while at FHN was the teachers. Cronin believes they helped prepare him for college. Michael Green, engineering teacher at FHN, was one of his favorites. Cronin had classes with Green all four years.

“He liked to try things on his own, and he had an inventive spirit,” Green said. “He was a good student, and I know he’ll do good.”

Looking forward, Cronin is eager about his time in college and anticipates his service with the army. He reminisces about his time in high school with warm feelings and thankfulness for his teachers and the community at FHN.

“North was a great place to be, it was a good high school,” said Cronin. “[FHN] was pretty diverse, and I got to meet all different types of people.”

After Graduating from FHN Alumna Brianna Schroer Became a Designer for the Washington Post

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Growing up in St. Louis, alumna Brianna Schroer wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. She was a cross country runner, class secretary and a figure skater, yet she found her passion in FHN publications while on the yearbook staff. After graduating in 2012, Schroer still uses skills she learned in high school eight years later while designing for the Washington Post.

“Most of my friends knew what they wanted to do [while in highschool], but I really had no idea at all,” Schroer said. “Even when I got to college I didn’t really know. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life.”

Schroer went to the University of Missouri-Columbia, and when she first enrolled she only had a general idea of what career she wanted to pursue. With a major in journalism and an emphasis on design, Schroer decided that design was what she wanted to do. Schroer had her heart set on the Washington Post, and right after graduating in 2016, she headed for Washington D.C. and applied.

“[The Washington Post] was actually where I wanted to end up by the end of my career,” Schroer said. “So, I just put it all out there and reached out to the design director and applied for the job right out of college. I didn’t think it would actually happen but it all worked out.”

Schroer was accepted and began to work for the Washington Post’s newspaper, website and social media in February of 2017. At the Washington Post, Schroer works with writers, photographers, editors and other designers to work on the layout and display of stories on their site and paper. Schroer works mainly within sports and designs for sports reporters and athlete stories.

“I really like it, it’s always interesting working for the sports and news business,” Schroer said. “You can never predict it which I really like. It never gets boring.”

From a high school in Missouri to one of the staples in journalism history, Schroer still uses the skills she learned in FHN publications in her work today. Even though in high school she wasn’t sure what to do while it felt like her peers already had it all planned out, Schroer still found herself working a job doing something she enjoys.

“Dream big and don’t think anything’s out of reach,” Schroer said. “I applied for my dream job straight out of college and that might be scary to some people but you just have to go for it.”

FHN Alumna Jordyn Kiel Achieved Her Dream of Teaching at Her High School

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Jordyn Kiel’s dream was to be a teacher for practically her whole life. When she got to high school she knew she wanted to come back and teach high schoolers at FHN. According to Kiel, her teachers really helped shape her into becoming a high school teacher.

 “I really loved being a student at North,” Kiel said. “I genuinely felt that in 2009 the community at North was unlike any other school, I felt as a grade, the relationship between teachers and students was good. It was such a fun, spirited and uplifting place to be.”

 While at FHN, Kiel joined the journalism program where Aaron Manfull was her teacher. He introduced her to the journalism world and gave her tools that she needed to succeed, such as teaching her how to be a great and effective leader while being a solid human being. Kiel joined the newspaper staff her junior year and was the editor-in-chief her senior year. Similar to publications now, she went to conventions like students do nowadays. Journalism means the world to her and she wouldn’t be the person she is today without it, according to Kiel.

“As a student, Mrs. Kiel was very similar to how you see her today,” Manfull said. “She was always very friendly to everybody and she worked extremely hard.”

 Once Kiel took journalism, she knew she wanted to be a journalism teacher. Since she wanted to come back to high school to teach and journalism jobs are hard to find, she stayed in contact with the teachers she was close with in high school.

 “I look forward to so many things because every day is different,” Kiel said. “I love experiencing every new moment with different students and the new moments I have throughout the day and the building of relationships. That’s why I wanted to become a teacher.”

 At FHN, Kiel now teaches Intro to Journalism and Photojournalism, and she is an adviser for the yearbook staff.

 “I would say what makes it all worth it is the process and the growth throughout,” Kiel said. “It’s pretty much unbeatable to watch a yearbook staff see the yearbook that they worked on all year for the first time in the summer. There’s something about seeing what you’ve put your whole heart into and it come to life.”

FHN graduate Braxton Martinez Continues his Passion for Baseball as he Signs with the Los Angeles Angels

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Driving home from work in his car late on a Monday night, Braxton Martinez gets a call that could change not only his baseball career, but his life. 25-year-old Braxton Martinez graduated from FHN in 2012 hoping to continue his baseball career from high school into college. In the first week of December of 2019, he got an important call from a Major League Baseball team, the Los Angeles Angels, offering him a contract to play with them starting this upcoming 2020 season.

“It’s always been a lifelong goal of mine,” Martinez said.  “I haven’t ever had the opportunity to play affiliated baseball. It’s a pretty unorthodox route to take, being 25 and getting my chance, but everybody kind of has their own story, no matter what it is. I’m just really excited and want to make the most of this opportunity.”

After four years at FHN, Martinez attended college at St. Louis University for four years and continued playing baseball. After his senior year in college, Martinez decided he wanted to keep pursuing his love for baseball into the independent league. He found himself in a dilemma, trying out for teams for months, yet not finding any openings due to their seasons already starting. As Martinez began to realize he couldn’t travel around the country looking for a team to play with, The River City Rascals, located in O’Fallon, MO, had a few opportunities open. After trying out for the Rascals, Martinez made the team and played from 2016-2019.

“That was a big struggle for me just because being an athlete, you get so used to being successful and then you kind of get a slap in the mouth,” Martinez said. “You have to learn how to grow up and kind of deal with those hardships. But I look back at it and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Deciding to take a break from playing, Martinez started coaching baseball. Martinez coached the fall of 2019 at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, MO. Though he wasn’t the one playing, Martinez still put his all into coaching baseball, always believing in the players.

“He’s really good at encouraging people,” Martinez’s close friend Maggie Jasper said. “That’s why I think he was so good at beingna coach. He saw kids acting goofy like he was in high school and he could relate to them.”

FHN prepared Martinez for what his future would hold, specifically how the baseball community works. At FHN, he was able to meet people from different places with different stories, allowing him to create bonds with students from the community. Martinez found that he went through this same process with all of his past and present teammates from around the country. FHN gave Martinez a very strong support system, letting him experience what every team should feel like.

“It didn’t really matter what team you’re on, what club you’re associated with, everybody’s pulling for each other,” Martinez said. “It’s like your brand. You’re wearing Howell North stuff. You want everybody to succeed. You want everyone to do well.”

Ever since Martinez was in high school, he was someone that made you smile. People found him so passionate about things he enjoyed doing. Martinez was, and still is, someone who puts his whole heart into whatever he is doing.

“He could make you laugh,” Jasper said. “He could make people smile and that was kind of like his thing that he likes to do. I think because of his love for the game and the respect for other people that he will be an amazing teammate. He really cares about how others are doing and it’s not just about him.”

Martinez travels to Tempe, Arizona for the 2020 spring training on March 12. Through the past eight years, he has learned to put faith and trust in what is meant to happen in his life. He is excited to start this new chapter of his life and see where it takes him.

“Things are going to happen when you least expect it,” Martinez said. “I never expected to get a call to play for the Angels at nine o’clock at night on a Monday coming home from work. I always try to live in the moment and just be present on what I’m doing. Just live life, have fun and things are going to work out.”

Chase Usry is a Freelance Specialist Engineer Who Works Behind the Scenes at Concert

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Behind every Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber or Brendon Urie is a tech crew making their performances sound amazing to the audience. Chase Usry, a 2013 Francis Howell North alumnus, is the performer in the shadows, ensuring a great show for everyone involved.

Usry is currently in the United Kingdom working with the heavy metal band Slipknot, a popular band from Iowa formed in 1995. Throughout his time as a specialist engineer he has traveled around the world and encountered a life not many get to experience.

“It’s hard to describe what it’s like until two months in a bus have flashed by,” Usry said. “You hear and you see these pop stars and you think, ‘Life is kinda weird.’ Like they just want to have a good time.”

Before starting his career, he was a North student, working in the backgrounds of drama club performances here at school. As part of the tech crew for the shows he was as proud as the cast members to show off the final product.

“It makes my mom embarrassed, but I remember telling her, you gotta check [this performance] out,” Usry said. “My mom didn’t get it. She came up to me afterwards and told me, ‘Well, can you tell me when you’re in the play.’ It’s fun to go from that to the touring side of it.”

Even then his teachers could tell that he was meant to be in the technology field. He worked hard on the drama performances and pushed himself towards success. This showed itself inside and outside of the classroom.

“Chase was a very mature and likeable kid,” English teacher Shelly Parks said. “He was into and good with technology, even though we didn’t have Chromebooks back then. He liked to mess with computers.”

His teachers and peers may have seen the potential even then, but it was hard for Chase to look at himself objectively, and see what he would best be able to do for the rest of his life.

“I got lucky,” Usry said. “I didn’t have any idea [what I wanted to do]. I knew I would succeed with whatever I tried, but I was aimless.”

To Usry, FHN was simply a stepping stone to the future and not necessarily the college preparation it is for many current high school students.

“At the very least I was pushing myself out of having good friends,“ Usry said. “[FHN] prepared me to get out of high school. [I was] only thinking about the future and not my high school career.”

As a sound engineer, Usry has worked for many artists’ shows before. But it’s not all glamorous. He still has to get up early, check the sound, time delays, just like any other job.

“You hear the big name and assume it’s cool, but 60 percent of my day is pulling dirty cables out of dirty boxes,” Usry said. “It’s not all that flashy. Now I see shows as just happening. It’s like going to work.”

FHN Graduate JT Thomas Received a Kidney from Class Mate Niki Borgeson

JT Thomas was like any other FHN student. He sat in Jani Wilken’s classroom. He won Mr. FHN his senior year. He graduated from FHN the summer of 2010.

Niki Borgeson was like any other FHN student.

She learned to speak Spanish from Brian Santos. She ran track. She graduated from FHN the summer of 2010.

What set the two apart from the rest of their class is the fact that Borgeson donated one of her kidneys to Thomas in the summer of 2014.

Two years after graduating from FHN, Thomas was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), the scarring of the kidneys. After suffering from cold-like symptoms for around two months, Thomas went to the doctor where he was tested and diagnosed. It was obvious. Thomas needed a kidney. While undergoing dialysis, a substitution for the normal function of the kidney, Thomas, his friends and his family were continuously searching for a kidney donor.

“If I told you the story, you wouldn’t believe me,” Thomas said.

With none of Thomas’ friends and family able to donate one of their kidneys, they were constantly using social media in hopes to find a possible donor. After seeing a Facebook post all the way in Spokane, WA., Borgeson had this feeling that she needed to help give Thomas his life back. After being tested, she found out she was a match. Borgeson could donate one of her kidneys to Thomas.

“I continued to see it on Facebook that he wasn’t getting help,” Borgeson said. “You can’t remove social media from the equation. Without it I would have been totally able to separate myself from the situation. After reading about JT’s illness, I understood he was in pain, he was stuck to a machine. My conscience drove me to do something.”

Thomas and Borgeson’s friend groups overlapped in high school. They saw each other at football games, dances and in the hallways. They may have had a class or two together, but the two weren’t the best of friends. They were acquaintances, school friends. The two hadn’t been in contact for years when Borgeson reached out to Thomas about the transplant, characterizing Borgeson’s selflessness and kindness.

“If I had treated her any differently in high school, I could still be on dialysis,” Thomas said. “I may not be having this conversation right now. It just goes to show how important it is that you are kind to other people.”

Five and a half years post transplant, Borgeson is healthy, happy and married in Spokane, WA. She works as a manager at Enterprise Car Rental. Borgeson encourages anyone she can into organ donation, knowing that the life long outcome is worth the two week recovery time.

“If you’re considering donating an organ, just do it,” Borgeson said. “People say, ‘I don’t know anybody.’ Just look online. You can save someone’s life.”

With health becoming a main priority, it took Thomas nine years, but he recently graduated from the University of Missouri. He works as a patient ambassador for a pharmaceutical company that manufactures immunosuppressants that are necessary to take once you receive a transplant.  Immunosupressants weaken the body’s immune system, so that the human body doesn’t reject a donated organ. Thomas has been able to work on legislation to protect organ donors and recipients that are in need of these drugs. Thomas expresses interest in becoming a lobbyist for those in the transplant community. He would even like to run for office one day.

“I don’t know where I’ll be, but I know what I’ll be doing,” Thomas said. “I see myself helping people. I see myself making a change for the better in people’s lives.”

Each time Thomas hits a big landmark in his life, like a career goal or a big life change, he’ll call Borgeson. He thanks her over and over again, yet he always feels like it is never enough. His experience with his transplant and with Niki has forever changed his view of his impact in other people’s lives and how he treats people.

“Don’t underestimate your presence in another person’s life,” Thomas said. “They say that high school is the best four years of your life, but the best years of your life are ahead of you. It’s the people who you meet now that can impact that. So, treat people nicely. They may end up saving your life.”

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