West Co-Valedictorian Aims For Air Force Academy

West Co-Valedictorian Aims For Air Force Academy

As commencement ceremonies are about to begin, Knox County Schools is celebrating our dedicated valedictorians and salutatorians. This class is an accomplished group of students who have plans to do great things in their futures. Oliver Hemmelgarn is just one example of the high-achieving class of 2023.

Oliver Hemmelgarn spends most weekends exploring the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. As an avid hiker and mountain biker, he has turned his love of the outdoors into a potential career field.

The West High School environmental club co-president plans to pursue a degree in the STEM field at the prestigious Air Force Academy – if a lacrosse injury doesn’t defer him to UT for a year.

The Air Force Academy only accepts approximately 12 percent of applicants with above-average GPAs and test scores.

For the West High co-valedictorian, acceptance to the school was years in the making. 

“I love to learn,” Hemmelgarn said. “I just know it’ll prepare me for the future, and you just have to practice at a lot of things you do to get better at it.”

This love of learning spurred him to participate in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, one of the most intense high school academic programs for students. 

Students in the IB program take a series of advanced courses and have to complete a CAS project, short for creativity, activity, and service. Following his environmentalist spirit, Hemmelgarn chose to improve an area of the greenway near West by clearing out invasive species. 

He believes this passion for the outdoors can carry over to a career in environmental engineering. 

“A lot of it is water resources, so making sure pollutants don’t seep into the main streams. There’s a lot of restoration, a lot of water testing. Some of it’s also just sustainable design and just figuring out how to do the least impact,” he said.

In addition to being outside, Hemmelgarn enjoys being active. He has played lacrosse since elementary school and also hopes to join the AFA mountain biking team to see the beauty of Colorado Springs, where the school is located. 

He has faith that lacrosse has prepared him for the military in terms of physicality and that “you also form a brotherhood together,” the attackman said. 

Hemmelgarn leaves for Basic Military Training in June, where he will endure six grueling weeks of mental and physical training. 

“My cousin told me to think of it, especially basic, like a game where they’re just trying to break you. If you can be able to push yourself to the limits and realize that they don’t hate you, it’s just their job,” he said. “You take your emotions out of it and just struggle through it.”

For a full list of the class of 2023 valedictorians, salutatorians, and military commitments, visit knoxschools.org/seniors.