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GMHS valedictorian Zezulka talks inspiration and future following horticulture passion

Maia Zezulka, the valedictorian of the graduating class of 2024 at George McDougall High School, is nearly done with an educational journey that started 13 years ago.
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George McDougall High School valedictorian Maia Zezulka addresses students, parents and faculty at a graduation ceremony on May 23 at the Genesis Field House.

Maia Zezulka, the valedictorian of the graduating class of 2024 at George McDougall High School, is nearly done with an educational journey that started 13 years ago. 

“It is kind of a surreal feeling,” she said, looking back on what has amounted to a large portion of her life. “For the past thirteen years of my life, everything has been scheduled and predetermined and now it's kind of like, 'you're left to your own devices to go and be free,' it's kind of nice to have that freedom at the same time.”

Zezulka and her classmates had their graduation ceremony last month, and since then school has been mostly diploma exams. 

For many high school graduates the transition from the end of grade school to whatever comes after can be tumultuous and uncertain. However, Zezulka has already secured a coveted apprenticeship with the Calgary Zoo where she is working towards an education in landscape horticulture.

“I'm very excited,” she said of her Zoo apprenticeship. “It's such a cool opportunity and I never ever thought I'd be working for [the Zoo]. Right now I'm working in the Conservatory and every single day I learn something new and it's a completely unique environment … I'm learning things I probably wouldn't learn elsewhere, and the people there are so amazing.”

Eventually, Zezulka will continue her schooling at Olds College, where the formal education of her landscape horticulture apprenticeship will be completed. After that, Zazulka said she’s looking to complete a Bachelors in Applied Science in Horticulture and potentially pursue a career in sustainability. 

Zezulka’s passion for plants and horticulture found its genesis in her grandmother's vegetable garden. Spurred on by COVID, Zezulka took an interest in the care of her own house plants and found it was something she enjoyed doing and was passionate about. 

It helps that George McDougall has a horticulture program, a program that she credits with furthering her education in plant biology. Zezulka said she also credits two teachers for encouraging her to pursue her passions. 

Ms. Wiebe, the school’s construction teacher, nominated Zezulka for valedictorian.

“She has been incredible and just so encouraging to all the women in the trades,” Zezulka said of Wiebe. “It's so rare to have a female shop teacher and she has been really encouraging to go into the trades, she was a massive help and continues to be so inspiring.”

The other teacher that Zezulka credits runs the schools horticulture program, Mr. Casey.

“If he wasn't running this program and if he wasn't passionate about it himself I wouldn't have been able to go to the school and meet all the incredible people and have this job,” she said. 

Looking back on her high school journey, Zezulka admitted that she has had a great time. 

“A lot of people say, 'I really didn't like high school,' but looking back at all the studying for tests and all that, I mean it's stressful, but also it's the people there that make it so much better,” she said.

“I have a very broad group of people that I'm on good terms with and they have made all the difference and hearing their stories and being able to be close with so many different people has really made the high school experience a lot more enjoyable.”   

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