Alumni Success Stories

  • Many students who graduated from District 742 have continued on to make significant contributions and achieve high recognition in a variety of fields. Below you will find some of our talented alumni who have generously shared their stories with us.

    Do you know a former student whose story is inspirational and a testament to the District 742 experience? Share it HERE!

  • Nicole Lavoi - Tech 1987

    Posted by Communications Department on 7/31/2018

    Barb Lavoi

    When it comes to young women in sports, St. Cloud Area School District 742has a robust history. Starting in 1972, Peg Brenden became the first girl in the state to earn a letter for competing on a boys’ tennis team after arguing her rights in court and with the school district. Later that year, Title IX of the Education Amendment Act prohibiting discrimination upon gender within educational institutions was enacted. Brenden was just the first trendsetter for women in sports from District 742. The torch has been carried on by 1987 Tech High School graduate Dr. Nicole LaVoi, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences of physical activity at the University of Minnesota, co-director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports, co-founder of the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium and published author of “Women in Sports Coaching.”

    LaVoi competed in tennis while attending Tech High School and played as a freshman at the state-level.

    Growing up, she didn’t have female athlete mentors. As an advocate of female coaches and players in sports, she now finds it ironic that she herself did not have a female to look up to.

    “My mentor was Jim Murphy, “Murph,” who later became the founder of the St. Cloud Tennis Foundation and was a retired professor from St. John’s University,” says LaVoi. “My other mentor was Larry Sundby, my high school coach in tennis.”

    LaVoi played any sport she could, but by high school her love turned to tennis and helped launch a successful collegiate career in the sport.

    “It has shaped everything I’ve done my whole life: my schools, friends and career,” says LaVoi.

    After graduation LaVoi, attended Gustavus Adolphus College where her tennis team won the NCAA National Championship in 1990. She graduated in 1991 and went on to obtain her Master’s Degree in Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota. She was the assistant women’s tennis coach at Carleton College during that same time. From 1994-1998, she was the head women’s tennis coach and assistant professor of physical education at Wellesley Collge. She then went back to school and finished her doctoral degree and became the director of sports programming for the Center of Ethical Education and The Mendelson Center for Sports, Character and Community at the University of Notre Dame. In 2005, she moved back to Minnesota and her current position.

    “I got really interested in coaching and women in sports when I coached at Wellesley,” says LaVoi. “I started wondering how sports intersected and make a difference in women’s lives. Sports were such a positive thing in my life.”

    For the past 13 years, LaVoi has been working with the Tucker Center doing research. Her primary passion is women coaches.

    “I feel strongly that girls and women should have more female role models,” explains LaVoi. “At the high school level, female head coaches are rare.”

    Using the research the Tucker Center gathers, she helps educate women and educational institutions to create social change in sports by encouraging more women to be involved, be role models and choose careers in sports. Each year, the University of Minnesota hosts the Women Coaches Symposium bringing together over 350 women coaches across all sports and levels. The research is used for networking, professional development, support and encouragement of young women in coaching.

    “We take the research and turn in into education and outreach which will create change,” says LaVoi.

    She is not stopping anytime too soon.

    “I will continue to do what I’m doing,” says LaVoi. “I just really think it is so important… My job is my passion. If you identify what you’re good at and find a career where they intersect, that is where the magic happens.”

    Although her job is her passion, she feels very strongly about balance in life. She does yoga, enjoys reading and painting rocks, anything outside including golf, walking and biking. And just maybe, you can find her on the tennis court as a reminder of where it all began.

    Interested in learning more about women in sports? Read LaVoi’s blog.

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  • Nate Nelson - Apollo 1998

    Posted by Communications Department on 6/26/2018

    Nate Nelson Nate Nelson, a 1998 Apollo High School graduate, majored in history and minored in ancient Greek while attending St. John’s University. He loved history, but after graduation realized he didn’t want to teach the subject. Instead, he turned to his other passion, debate, and attended law school at the University of Minnesota to obtain his law degree.

    “I’ve always been fascinated with politics,” explains Nelson. “I loved to argue with my dad (an attorney), but I didn’t want to be like him . . . apparently he was more influential than I thought!”

    Completing his law degree, Nelson began clerking for United States Federal Judge, Janis Graham Jack, in Texas. He enjoyed the work and continued on to the Federal Court of Appeals Third Circuit where he clerked for Judge Maryanne Trump Barry (President Trump’s sister). After moving back to Minnesota, Nelson clerked for Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Alan Page, Judge Wilhema Wright of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota and Judge Christopher Dietz.

    “Working for judges you handle all sorts of cases,” says Nelson. “Clerking really gives you a taste of all of it.”

    After working for a law firm for a number of years, Nelson became a federal prosecutor. He’s been an Assistant United States Attorney for the last three years. The majority of his prosecution cases have been drug, firearm or violent crimes.

    “Being a prosecutor is a duty to not just try cases but to do the right thing,” says Nelson. “I have discretion in who and how to prosecute.”

    He feels that his current job is challenging.

    “There are a lot of new things to learn,” he explains. “I still feel like I’m learning. In five years, I still hope to be doing this type of work. There is plenty of room to grow in this field.”

    He credits several of his District 742 teachers for his passion for law as well as his commitment in “doing the right thing.”

    His Madison Elementary teacher, Juel Dragland, was influential at an early age.

    “I loved the amount of personal care and attention that he gave students,” says Nelson. “I was new to the District. He always took the extra time to make sure that I was doing well.”

    He praises his semantics teacher, Mark Mortrude at Apollo, for instilling his love of learning, reading and literature.

    Of course his mock trial coach, John Wertz, also played a big role.

    “He got me interested in the courtroom setting,” says Nelson.

    To be an attorney, Nelson believes you need to be curious and have an open mind, enjoy the idea of exploring new ideas and viewpoints and love to read, read, read.

    “So much of law is reading,” he maintains.

    He even advises reading anything as much as possible to increase reading comprehension.

    The courtroom is where Nelson loves to be. In the future, he may consider the bench.

    “Possibly down the road, I may become a judge,” he explains. “It goes back to that feeling of doing the right thing.”

    For now, he loves the challenge of the work and looks back with no regrets. He’s also put his history major to good use. There is a lot of history to be read and found in the law. For some, it’s like reading Greek.

     

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  • Sruthi Shankar - Tech 2014

    Posted by Communications Department on 5/23/2018

    Sruthi Shankar The road to becoming a doctor for 2014 Tech High School graduate, Sruthi Shankar, has not been what she imagined. She’d been looking at colleges across the United States, always knowing she would attend medical school. However, that road changed in January of her senior year in high school.

    “My dad took a job offer in California,” explains Shankar. “It was too good to pass up. It was very sudden and, as a family, we were not expecting the life change.”

    The job was a contracted job, and there was no guarantee of permanence, so it didn’t make sense to uproot the entire family to California. Shankar’s family were immigrants from Singapore and knew the feeling of starting over.

    With St. Cloud feeling like home, her father moved to California while the rest of her family stayed, and Shankar made the difficult decision to support her family and continue her post-high school education closer to home at St. Cloud State University (SCSU).

    “I felt let down,” she admits, “but it was a rational decision for the family. I would save money on my undergraduate [degree] and then go farther away [to continue my education].”

    As a top student at Tech, she earned 65 AP (advanced placement) credits, which landed her in 300-level courses at SCSU, which meant her classmates were juniors and seniors instead of freshmen. In addition, growing up in India and Singapore gave her limited exposure to college and little preparation for campus life. It was a shock to her system.

    Part way through her first year, she had an epiphany.

    “I realized that I should really make the best of time while I’m here,” recalls Shankar. “It’s when I took charge and started to do other things.”

    Pursuing a degree in both biochemistry and biomedical science, she became a tutor and participated in summer programming. As a freshman, she also became a peer mentor for honors students. By 2018, she received SCSU’s Leadership in Excellence Award.

    Much like her time at Tech, where teachers went out of there way to say hello and ensure that she was reaching her full potential, Shankar became close with her professors at SCSU.

    “The professors are amazing,” she says. “They should probably be at Harvard but are here instead. They really care so much about students.”

    Shankar recently graduated from SCSU with bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and biomedicine. She also gave the commencement speech at graduation.

    She now looks to the future.

    “I’ll be heading to the University of Minnesota next,” says Shankar. “It was an instant match. It has the same community support that is at SCSU. I’ve always thought about being a pediatrician or neonatologist, but now I’m thinking surgery, possibly neurosurgery.”

    But Shankar’s goals don’t stop there. Five to 10 years down the road, she’s thinking of obtaining a dual degree from the University of Minnesota. She is considering a law degree as well.

    She hopes to return to St. Cloud in the future.

    “It would be awesome to work at the St. Cloud Hospital or CentraCare!” exclaims Shankar.

    Even though the road she expected to take didn’t turn out to be the exact direction she anticipated, that fork in the road ultimately led her to where she wanted to be. And, the journey ahead could lead her right back to St. Cloud.

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  • Melissa Huberty - Tech, 1989

    Posted by Communications Department on 5/10/2018

    Melissa Huberty.jpg Melissa Huberty, 1989 Tech High School graduate, knew as a teenager that she wanted to work with people with chemical dependency. During high school, Huberty connected with a lot of different students; she didn’t hang out with a particular clique. To her, it was all about relationships.

    “It’s easy to judge people that don’t have enough,” shares Huberty. “Once you get to know them, you have a whole different perspective.”

    After graduation, Huberty attended the University of Minnesota where she completed her Bachelor of Science in Family Social Science. She then went on to complete her master’s degree in social work from the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University. It was two weeks prior to obtaining her master’s that she was offered a job as a therapist at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) where she had been interning.

    For 17 years, Huberty worked with people with mental health and substance abuse problems. She was promoted to supervise the civil commitment department at HCMC, which oversees patients who are forced into treatment, typically by the court. She supervised the department for eight years.

    But Huberty was looking for more diversity. She wanted to help as many people as she could.

    She became the development disability manager for Ramsey County assisting with adult foster care cases. Within three years, she became the division director.

    Then last fall, when her predecessor, human services administrator for Stearns County, Mark Sizer, retired, she knew where she had to be – back in St. Cloud.

    “I thought I’d never return. [But] it really excited me because of all the variety,” explains Huberty. “I love every hour of the day. I love being back.”

    Huberty believes St. Cloud is a perfect fit.

    “It’s a perfect mix of a small and large city, urban and rural. It’s very welcoming . . . . I love the culture, and the people have been great!”

    In fact, she loves seeing some of her old teachers around town, although most are retired now.

    “My two biggest impacts [in high school] were band and math,” shares Huberty. “In a way, band saved me. My teacher really got me. And my math teacher was really good at getting me hooked on math and science which has really been a huge asset [in my career].”

    Huberty feels that no matter what field you go into, math, science and music are the backbones to any job.

    “Music really helps create relationships, and no matter what you do, math is huge!” exclaims Huberty.

    She also believes in volunteering and encourages people to get out and volunteer within the community.

    “Find anything that makes your heart sing!” she advises.

    Following her heart in wanting to help others, Huberty has found her niche in the human services field. And she’s found that being right back where she started is exactly where she belongs.

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  • Lymarie Jimenez - Apollo, 2000

    Posted by Communications Department on 3/7/2018

    Lymarie Jimenez has the ability to transport anyone to a dystopian future 200 years from now where the world is highly technologically advanced. This Apollo High School 2000 graduate and published author has the talent for capturing readers and taking them through the twists and turns of conspiracies and secrets.

    Her first published book, “Awaken” takes the reader on a journey of uncovering city secrets and finding that things aren’t always as they seem.

    Jimenez completed a Bachelor’s Degree in English Writing and Literature from St. Cloud State University (SCSU). Her mother was a Spanish professor at SCSU who had a passion for writing and has written several books herself.

    “I dub myself the English version of her,” says Jimenez. “It started off as a bucket list thing. I challenged myself to write a novel. I’ve always had ideas in my head, but I’d never committed to it. A lot of people say, ‘I’m going to write a novel someday.’ I just decided I was going to do it.”

    Fantasy books that are complex are her favorite kind of books to read. In fact, “Jurassic Park” is her favorite book and it inspired her first book “Awaken” under her pen name Georgina Kane.

    Lymarie Jimenez

    “It’s the playing with genetics . . . . My book has a lot to do with science and genetic manipulation,” explains Jimenez.

    She had to do a lot of research on genetics and DNA splicing, and it took her two and a half years to write the book.

    But writing isn’t her only talent.

    Jimenez is a full-time executive culinary pastry chef in Florida, and she loves to make anything chocolate! She completed her culinary degree while also obtaining her bachelor’s degree. She is an artist in whatever she does.

    As much as she loves chocolate and creating pastries, she is working her way toward becoming a full-time author. Her plan is to have the manuscript of the sequel to “Awaken” completed by the end of 2018.

    As she gravitates to becoming a full-time author, she reminds herself that she just needs to get her thoughts on paper. It is the same advice she’d tell any young author.

    “You just have to write it and then go and fix things . . . . So many people think the first draft has to be perfect,” says Jimenz. “My first version of the book [Awaken] is absolutely nothing like what it ended up being.”

    For now, Jimenez is working on her sequel and continues to dazzle diners with her perfection in the kitchen.

    Watch for the release of her new book in 2019!

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  • Lisa Dooley - Tech 2005

    Posted by Communications Department on 11/15/2017

    “Lights, camera, action!” are three words 2005 Tech graduate, Lisa Dooley, never thought she’d be saying. Yet her film, “Ben is Dead,” which she directed and wrote, opened at the Carmel International Film Festival in 2017 and was recently screened locally at the St. Cloud Film Festival.

    It all began when Dooley was studying to be a journalist at New York University (NYU) and was dared by a friend to audition for its nationally renowned acting program.

    Dooley was surprised to be accepted, and thought, “Ok, I guess I’ll try this.”

    Her career path changed at that moment. She graduated from NYU and spent the following year living in New York acting in small plays.

    Dooley then moved to Los Angeles, wanting to expand her work into film and television.

    It was at that point she founded a comedy sketch group with two of her NYU alumni. Though they were not filmmakers at the time, they were making digital short films. The group would bring in guest filmmakers, and it wasn’t long before they realized that Dooley was directing most of their work. That’s when she discovered directing was her passion. Within a few years, she took a step back from performing with the group and began directing all of their shorts instead.

    “I didn’t really miss acting,” shrugs Dooley. “I liked being the director and developing those worlds and putting them together.”

    It was while working on the set of HBO’s popular television series, “Big Love,” and speaking with actor Bill Paxton that it dawned on her that she needed to be a director. Something on set was going wrong and Paxton, also the executive producer of the show, wondered what was happening. Dooley looked at him and her surroundings and decided she needed to fix it.

    “I’m really Type A,” laughs Dooley. “That’s when I really got into directing.”

    Dooley went back to school at the University of Southern California (USC), currently the number one film school in the nation, where she has spent the last three years honing her skills.

    Dooley on Set

    Since then, Dooley has directed several films. Most notably, her recent film, “Ben is Dead.”

    One night she had a dream.

    “I had a dream of jumping. It’s the opening scene here at the Quarries [for ‘Ben is Dead’],” describes Dooley. “I had a dream of it being fall and I was fully clothed and jumping in off the big jump. And, I was like, ‘oh, that is really pretty.’ So, I wrote it down and thought this would be a scene one day.”

    Dooley knew a lot of people dealing with grief. She feels that in film and television, the focus is primarily on grief felt immediately after death. Instead, she was interested in what grief looks like years down the road. Her idea was to explore how a character deals with death 15  years later — the little things that trigger memories.

    Keeping true to her dream at the Quarries, the cast and crew shot half the film “Ben is Dead” in St. Cloud.

    Dooley Directing "Ben is Dead"

    Currently, Dooley is writing a feature film of her short film “Persephone.” The short has had success, and Dooley was named in the top five female-directed shorts of 2017 for ScreamFest.

    Within a year or two, Dooley hopes to be doing her first feature film. Her long-term goal is to direct film, and her niche right now is horror.

    “It’s fun,” says Dooley. “There’s an independent audience for horror that’s really excited about it, and they really engage with you as a filmmaker. Personally, in the long run, I’ll probably be doing family drama. I really like family drama, slightly funny dramas. That’s what life is about.”

    To all the young filmmakers out there, Dooley advises, “Just make films! I’ve made some bad films that I’ve never shown anyone. Write fun sketches with your friends. If you think something is funny, write it down.”

    She notes everyone has access to technology now and filmmaking capability is at their fingertips.

    “The biggest part is not letting in fear,” says Dooley. “Fear stops you from doing something.”

    So pull out those phones and tablets, start filming, and one day, “lights, camera, action,” may kickstart a career.

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  • Jerri Zhang - Apollo 2002

    Posted by Communications Department on 11/8/2017

    Jerri Zhang For 2002 Apollo grad, Jerri Zhang, writing and reporting quickly turned into a passion for the law. Zhang attended the University of Missouri-Columbia for both her undergraduate and law degrees, earning a Bachelor of Journalism degree in 2006 and a Juris Doctor in 2009. It was during her work in journalism that a professor pulled her aside and asked if she had ever considered law.

    “You’re really good at arguing,” he told her.

    With an interest in law and a new career path, she’s had no regrets since.

    Zhang focused her career on public service and was appointed to the Missouri bench in the fall of 2016 as a Probate Commissioner for the 16th Judicial Circuit of Jackson County.  Her cases involve adult and minor guardianships and conservatorships, decedent estates and involuntary civil commitments.

    Zhang is grateful to have had two mentors in high school and believes it’s important to have mentors throughout all phases of life.  Apollo High School teachers Deborah Bendix and Cynthia Kaercher (Ms. Larsen back in the day) left a profound impact on her.

    “These two women worked tirelessly with the students on the Apollo speech team,” says Zhang. “Their support, advice and mentorship gave me the confidence and ability to succeed in the real world. Teachers like them are rare and don’t get enough recognition for their work and dedication to students.”

    Zhang attributes her career success to their mentorship and guidance. In fact, she experienced a lot of her early success in original oratory and argumentative speech.

    “I remember hanging out at Mrs. Bendix’s house editing our speeches on the weekends, the early Saturday morning bus rides to tournaments and speech practice after school most days of the week,” reminisces Zhang. “ I cannot count how many hours during the evenings, weekends and summers Mrs. Bendix and Mrs. Kaercher gave up to coach us.  The speech team was like our family.  I still think fondly of those days.”

    Being active in high school carried over to her law career. Before being appointed to the bench as probate commissioner, Zhang was active in several state and local associations such as The Missouri Bar, Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, Asian American Bar Association of Kansas City, Association of Women Lawyers of Greater Kansas City and the American Bar Association.

    Jerri Zhang presenting to colleagues.
    Looking ahead to the future, Zhang plans to remain on the bench.

    “There are a lot of areas of the law that you don’t see or hear about in mainstream media,” she explains.

    She advises upcoming lawyers, “Do your research and talk to practicing attorneys and judges.  Make sure you really want to be a lawyer before you start law school. Law school is not for the faint of heart.”

    But, she maintains, if it’s your passion, you’ll love every minute of it.

    Jerri Zhang

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  • Terin (Euerle) Sytsma - Tech, 2007

    Posted by Communications Department on 10/25/2017

    Terin (Euerle) Sytsma For 2007 Tech graduate, Dr. Terin (Euerle) Sytsma, medical education is what it’s all about. And the Mayo Clinic couldn’t be a better place to teach and learn about it.

    Long before working at Mayo, Sytsma began career planning while in high school. In fact, it was during her college and career preparation at Tech that she discovered she liked the combination of science and interacting with people and health.

    “Kerry Koepp and Robert Boatz were my mentors in school,” says Sytsma. “They had great classes, were supportive and enthusiastic. It was such a good experience in those classes. It’s why I majored in chemistry and math.”

    Sytsma remembers cribbage tournaments in Boatz’s class after AP tests and lots of different experiments and “toys” in Koepp’s class.

    She believes, however, it was engaging in school activities such as volleyball, basketball and softball that taught her the bulk of life lessons about working hard and having a passion for what you do.

    Terin (Euerle) Sytsma Following high school, she attended St. Olaf College where she played basketball and majored in math and chemistry prior to attending medical school at Mayo. There, she specialized in internal medicine.

    Currently, Sytsma is in her residency at Mayo for internal medicine.

    Why is she so passionate about medicine?

    Sytsma explains, “[Because] every time I can work with a patient and diagnose something, it can help their quality of life.”

    It’s not just the patients that Sytsma is passionate about; it’s also new medical students. She loves teaching medicine.

    Sytsma teaching medical students.
    Five to 10 years down the road, she sees herself in internal medicine and hopes to continue teaching new residents and students.

    Sytsma believes shadowing people in health careers is one of the best ways to learn about medicine and patients. She encourages students to take opportunities when they are available.

    She says, “Being happy in life is also doing things you love.”

    For Sytsma, that’s both medicine and education.

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  • Josh Kaler - Apollo, 1997

    Posted by Communications Department on 9/13/2017

    Josh Kaler

    When you think of Nashville, it’s all about country music, honky-tonks, cowboy boots and Johnny Cash. What you may not know is that 1997 Apollo graduate, Josh Kaler, is all about Nashville. Recording artist, producer and songwriter of indie, pop and rock music, Josh is leaving his mark on Music City.

    Taking a year off post high school graduation to work at local Schmitt Music prepared him to attend Berklee College of Music. Kaler describes Berklee as the “Hogwarts” for music. It’s where you go to meet your kind.

    Energetic Boston is where Kaler was able to ignite his creativity in songwriting.  His hunger to find other musicians to further his education fueled the friendship of his “musical comrade,” Michael Flynn.

    The pair formed a band, moved to Charleston, South Carolina and then expanded their band Slow Runner. By 2005, the group signed with J Records. They’ve toured with the likes of The Damnwells, Say Anything, The Avett Brothers and Evan Dando. They’ve also traveled all over the world. Some favorites were the Czech Republic, Madrid, Germany and Ireland. Their music has even been featured on TV series such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “One Tree Hill.”

    The experience Kaler gained through these years changed his course in music. Though his education focus is with the guitar, Kaler learned to play the drums, bass and keyboard as well as to record music.

    “My other school,” says Kaler, “was learning how to craft records.”

    Slow Runner produced several records while in Charleston, where Kaler’s new passion began. He loved the behind-the-scenes production of music.

    Following that passion, four years ago, Kaler moved to Nashville, Tennessee.

    “It’s mostly country, but it has indie, pop and rock,” describes Kaler. “There’s room for somebody like me in Nashville.”

    In Nashville, Kaler connected with the group Hula Hi-Fi. They are self-proclaimed “Hawaiian Noir: Volume One,” a tropical feeling turned into music. The trio recorded the album, “The Ilse of the Forgotten Dreams” yet to be released.

    “I’m always interested in having a toolbox [many talents]. It’s always helped me out,” explains Kaler. “It’s good to have that.”

    Kaler’s craving for recording music doesn’t slow down his touring. He continues to tour with his bands, playing guitar and steel guitar.

    Looking back over his career thus far, he recognizes the early mentors in his life. Whether it was Lawrence Severt, a counselor at Apollo, encouraging him to play with the jazz band in high school or Dan Preston from The Electric Fetus, who allowed him to come over and jam at his house, to his long-time friendship with Michael Flynn, mentors have played an important role in his life.

    Kaler always looks for a “better” musician to play, record or theorize with.

    “I want to immerse myself into something challenging,” says Kaler.

    Whether he is playing or recording in Nashville, touring the world or writing cinematic music for TV, Kaler loves sharing his music and plans to be doing it well into the future.

    Hang on, Music City. There’s more to come!

    Josh Kaler

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  • Todd Williams - Apollo, 1990

    Posted by Communications Department on 8/30/2017

    Todd Williams

    The saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And it certainly echoes through the extraordinary work of 1990 Apollo graduate, Todd Williams.

    Williams is a professional photographer who has traveled the world photographing people and places. His clients have included Polaris, Victory Motorcycles, Indian Motorcycles, Vogue, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Nike, Gatorade and many more.

    It all started with National Geographic and borrowing a college friend’s camera.

    As a child, Williams remembers paging through National Geographic. Inspired by the images throughout the world, he thought it would be cool to see those places and photograph them.

    By the time he attended Bemidji State University, he was looking for a hobby and remembered those National Geographic images from his childhood.

    “I borrowed my friend’s camera,” explains Williams. “I’d go out and shoot wildlife. It was just something fun to do. There was not much to do up in Bemidji.”

    Williams graduated with a degree in graphic design and moved to Texas where he worked in the industry for a year. At that point, he knew he wanted to pursue photography.

    With some connections, he moved to New York in 1995 and became a photography assistant.

    “The best place to learn photography is New York,” says Williams with conviction. “I became a photo assistant for many magazines, taking photographs of stills, life and cosmetics. I did the circuit and got the opportunity to travel around the world.”

    Williams later hustled to go out on his own.

    “A lot of people pay to get their master’s,” explains Williams.  “[In this industry], I was really getting paid to earn a master’s degree [with experience].”

    Williams’ agent was out to dinner one evening with a young idealist named James Marshall and suggested Williams and Marshall meet. Marshall’s idea was to travel cross-country on a motorcycle as an “everyday American” while photographing the trip. The two met and hit it off, and the idea morphed into asking people along the way about the American dream. Does it still exist?

    And so began the Netflix documentary series, The American Dream Project. The pair, with a video crew in tow, began their journey. With the help of Williams’ connection to Indian Motorcycles, they began traveling from the east coast to the west.

    Along their journey, they stayed with families in small towns, doing work for their keep and asking the question, “What is the state of the American Dream?”

    “I’ve always enjoyed meeting strangers like in New York,” explains Williams. “You never really know anyone. It’s great to get to know them. Traveling cross-country was really fun. We’d stop in small towns, help people, and talk. The common theme: we’re all human. There are still good things here in America.”

    The American Dream Project became a Netflix hit, nominated for the 44th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards Best Special Class - Short Format Daytime Program.

    In a tone of sheer wonder, Williams remembers, “The Emmy thing was pretty cool. I’m from St. Joe, Minnesota! So, we got tuxes and did the red carpet. People were taking our photo and I realized it was pretty cool.”

    Williams continues to photograph. His resides now in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where he houses his studio, but he spends several months a year in Venice Beach, California continuing his work commercially. His next adventure is photographing the auto industry.

    “You’re trying to sell a vision. Some days it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” Williams reflects.

    However, looking back at his own career thus far, he remembers, “Be smart. Be kind and creative. Keep reinventing yourself, and style . . . have an eye for it and sell your vision.”

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