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New chapter, new perspectives

Red Wing senior Calli Hughes was named the Class of 2017 All Star Student. She will intern with the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce this summer before attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Samantha Bengs / RiverTown Multimedia

Like most high school students, Calli Hughes is readily equipped with a smartphone.

Teens utilize the constant connection to snap, 'gram and text details of their daily life.

In the hands of Hughes, however, the Red Wing senior uses her phone as a problem solver.

"I love to find issues in systems and try to solve them as best I can and connect with others to figure out how to make issues disappear," Hughes said.

Hughes is a people person — a trait evident within seconds of meeting her.

"People and building connections — those are my core values," Hughes said. "It gives me the type of mentality to follow-through."

In the course of a brief hallway walk with Hughes, she connected a person with a question to a person with the answer in a quick text message, all without pause.

Although an impossible feat, Hughes comes dexterously close to being in two places at once. Through her high school career, she has been active in close to a dozen clubs and activities including Circle of Friends, Interact, Math League, Robotics, SOAR, SkillsUSA, National Honor Society, Ovation, Solo and Ensemble, and school musicals. Every fall, Hughes was also on the soccer field, serving as captain of the Winger varsity squad her senior season.

"Getting into high school, there are so many opportunities to get involved," Hughes said. "I guess I jumped at the most that I could."

She said the most formative activity for her was Youth in Government.

The Winger senior will begin studying community and nonprofit leadership at the University of Wisconsin in Madison this fall.

With encouragement from social studies teacher Scott Bender, an eighth-grade Hughes joined the local Youth in Government delegation and never looked back.

"Calli was always brave enough to ask questions in class and she really paid attention — her answers reflected a good deal of thought even in eighth grade," Bender said.

"She almost always was the driving force in any partner or group work. It's one of the reasons she did so well with Youth in Government."

Youth in Government offers students the opportunity to participate in model assembly sessions, model United Nations and YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs. Hughes served as the president of several committee and Senate programs, leading activities at the state Capitol building.

"It was neat to watch her mature through that program, and to pretty much be the head of it for the Red Wing delegation the last few years," Bender said. "The last time I visited the Youth in Government conference, it didn't surprise me in the least to see Calli bustling about and saying hello to practically everyone she saw and addressing them by name."

This summer, Hughes will be travelling to North Carolina to participate in a national Youth in Government conference where she will be taking an educational stance at the youth conference on national affairs.

Stemming from her Youth in Government experiences, Hughes has an idea of her dream job.

"Some form of nonprofit work aimed towards education," she said. In addition to her community and nonprofit leadership studies, Hughes may also pursue some education coursework. "Possibly a math or special education focus," she said.

"My entire strive is to gain diversity and to gain new perspectives," Hughes said.

"Youth in Government, as well as the Red Wing community, allows me to do that."

Leaving a legacy

Each year, the RWHS athletic banquet recognizes one-, two- and three-sport athletes for their sporting and academic accomplishments. While Hughes has been repeatedly recognized for soccer, she realized that herself and many of her peers were involved in the community through much more than sports.

During her senior year, Hughes orchestrated and executed an idea for the school to host an activities banquet to recognize students' work beyond athletics and academics. With backing from Every Hand Joined, Hughes got to work contacting many community members to create awareness and support for her event — the first of its kind. On Feb. 28, over 300 students, teachers and community members filled Hovda Hall to recognize the extracurricular work of Red Wing students.

"To have the Red Wing community showing its support really told us that our activities and clubs are important and valued," Hughes said. "It made us students really appreciate and recognize all the opportunities we have at Red Wing High School."

Hughes' efforts towards creating the inaugural activities banquet did not go unnoticed. At the annual senior award and scholarship program, she took home the night's biggest honor of All Star Student.

"The All Star Student Award recognizes a student whose leadership, actions, perseverance, sense of civic responsibility and their desire to do good for others has made Red Wing High School a better place," Red Wing High School Principal Todd Herber said before presenting Hughes with the award.

"I must admit that I am envious of her ability to persevere through obstacles, not taking no for an answer, rather asking why or why not," he said.

Herber called Hughes "a mover and a shaker" during her years at RWHS.

"Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised at all if she becomes president of the United States."

Before the Oval Office, Hughes has lined up an internship with the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce. She will assist chamber staff with day-to-day functions and events, and help plan their biggest undertaking: River City Days.

"I am excited to get my hands dirty with River City Days and see all the organization and communication that it takes working with others to plan and produce this big event," Hughes said.

Chamber President Patty Brown said the office is excited to have Hughes interning over the summer.

"Calli's interest in nonprofits and marketing are the perfect combination for the skills needed at the chamber," Brown said. "Her positive attitude is a real asset to our office and she does well in our fast-paced environment."

Hughes will continue to work with the chamber over breaks from college.

"Getting to work hands-on and see what a nonprofit does, and how it influences different people and businesses will be such a learning experience for me," she said.

Hughes, self-admittingly, likes to keep busy. Between school, her barista job at Mandy's Coffee and her new internship, Hughes said she likes to find time to relax with family and friends and enjoy the occasional Barn Bluff climb.

As she begins her collegiate career, Hughes said the close knit community in Red Wing has taught her valuable lessons about her favorite subject: people.

"Growing up here, where we all know everyone, I've learned that it is important to recognize that people do change throughout their experiences," Hughes said. "There are new personalities that get brought up and you need to go out and find those and converse and educate."

The class of 2017 All Star Student shows maturity and sense well beyond her years.

"By getting new perspectives, you learn new things, you challenge your own views," Hughes said. "That's important in any situation."