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By Meg Nieslanik
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | When I graduated from Meeker High School in 2009, I would have lost a lot of money on the bet that I’d ever live in New York City. Yet, in one of life’s many plot twists, I am today nearly five years a New Yorker.
I recently re-read my college admissions essay (something I highly recommend everyone do). It oozed equal parts optimism and uncertainty, apparent in the crux of the narrative: college would be exciting and important, no doubt, but my main motivation for going away, was so I could return. How clear it was, my love for Meeker—clarity that has persisted time and geography.
If you know my parents, Joe and Ellen Nieslanik, you’ll understand when I say being their daughter is my greatest accolade. I count a childhood set in Meeker among the blessings they’ve given me. My trip home in August was the first time I’d been back to Meeker in five years. I spent two glorious weeks re-marveling at the beauty of Rio Blanco County, playing with puppies, and eating red meat at every meal.
The highlight of my trip home, however, was the opportunity I had to guest teach a senior seminar class at the high school (huge thanks to Trina Smith!). I talked about my journey through college, graduate school, New York City—about jobs I’ve had at NYU, New York City Ballet, as an executive personal assistant, and now, my position at The School of the New York Times.
I told the seniors about conversations I often have in NYC that go something like this:
Person I just met, after telling them about where I’m from: “Wow, its really impressive that you’ve been so successful in New York despite where you came from.”
Me: “Actually, I think I’ve found success specifically because of where I’m from, not despite it.”
It is this sentiment that has driven me to my goal for the new year: find a way to rewrite the above narrative by giving back to the community I owe so much. I want Meeker High School graduates to understand what I have learned: Meeker is a gem among gems. But it is not the only place on earth and not a barrier to success. It’s possible to love your home and be far away from it. It’s also always possible to come back.
I’ve decided to create and fund The Young Leaders and Dreamers Scholarship, given to one college-bound Meeker High School senior each year. In addition to the scholarship, I’ll provide advising and career development opportunities to the recipient, as well as access to a mentor network of MHS alumni and otherwise that I’m formalizing over the next few months. The scholarship application and detailed requirements will be available to high school seniors by mid-spring.
To kick off fundraising, I’m throwing a benefit party on Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. at Holliday’s in Meeker. With the help of my forever co-pilot, my mom, I’m concocting an evening of live music, dancing and general holiday cheer. Tickets are $25, which includes one drink and unlimited appetizers. More information and the link to purchase tickets or donate to the fund can be found on the Facebook event page: “Meeker High School Scholarship Benefit.” We’ll also be accepting cash at the door. Proceeds will, of course, go directly to funding the scholarship.
Join me in paying tribute to our town, giving back to our community, and investing in our future. Happy holidays to you and yours. I hope to see you soon!