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Trojan valedictorian to forgo college, focus on own business

Hillsboro valedictorian Jessi Dalke plans to build her dream business

Staff writer

Jessi Dalke has earned plenty of A’s at Hillsboro High School.

The valedictorian is one of four Kansas Honor Scholars at the high school along with co-valedictorians Dillon Bolt, Charles Major, Jessica Saunders — chosen for being in the top 10% of their class.

But instead of going to college, Dalke plans to build a photography business she started as a sophomore.

“A lot of people give me surprised looks when I tell them I am not going to college, because it seems like such a waste to get good grades and not use them to get scholarships to go to college.”

Dalke has earned credit in college courses just in case but says she has no desire to continue in school.

She already knows running a successful photography business is what she wants and Dalke is eager to go to work.

“My love for photography is inspired by the beauty of Creation,” she said. “Man, I just love being outside and exploring the risk/adventure of it all.”

Dalke learned to handle a film camera in 4-H, but admits she is mostly self taught.

She enjoys sessions for senior pictures that are a big part of her business, but she also gets plenty of bookings for engagements, and weddings — which are her favorite.

“I personally love couple’s shoots the most,” she said. “I love the connection that’s present between two people in love, and I love it when my couples are down for a good adventure or hike.”

She plans to grow in her craft through mentorships with other photographers like her first teacher Megan Hein.

She considered schools for photography, but would rather spend time and money gaining the knowledge she needs to build a business, not focus on fine art. Dalke invested in a course developed by Heart University owners Lindsey Roman and Evie Rupp aimed at coaching portrait professionals.

Word of mouth from past customers and social media have helped Dalke find clients, but cancellations because of COVID-19 taught her how to deal with setbacks, she said.

“Obviously not everything was fine, but things change,” she said. “That’s the way the world works. I had to decide to move on and be joyful, even when things didn’t go like I thought they should have.”

The hybrid learning model adopted at Hillsboro this past year turned out to be a mixed blessing as bookings recovered.

Dalke attended class until 11:30 a.m., but she still had to choose between homework and important client emails on many occasions.

“I made school a priority,” she said.

Graduation will give Dalke a new set of responsibilities to juggle.

Dalke will hold a full-time landscaping job at Yazel-Megli Funeral Homes and plans to help at Serenity Gardens, a nursery owned by parents Jana and Dale Dalke.

She is thankful for the influence of several teachers at Hillsboro who have “shown her how to be a light in someone’s life,” and for the priceless memories she has of friends.

But high school isn’t life or death. We all move on and graduate, she said.

Dalke is elated to finally finish school and start her life.

“I look forward to learning things in the real world, not in the classroom,” she said. “And I know that my graduation is the beginning of something really wild.

“I’ll pray that I’ll be able to be mature, wise, and walk in God’s calling for my life, not someone else’s.”

Last modified May 19, 2021

 

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