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Giving back, moving forward: Aurora Plains student first in school history to graduate early

PLANKINTON--Before he graduates and leaves Aurora Plains Academy a year early, Quenten Hemp decided to use his senior project as a way of giving back to the Plankinton school.

Quenten Hemp will soon be the first student to graduate a year early from Aurora Plains Academy. As part of his senior project, Hemp designed and sold shirts to raise money for weighted blankets. (Ellen Bardash / Republic)
Quenten Hemp will soon be the first student to graduate a year early from Aurora Plains Academy. As part of his senior project, Hemp designed and sold shirts to raise money for weighted blankets. (Ellen Bardash / Republic)

PLANKINTON-Before he graduates and leaves Aurora Plains Academy a year early, Quenten Hemp decided to use his senior project as a way of giving back to the Plankinton school.

Hemp, who is from Sioux Falls, told The Daily Republic on Wednesday that he decided he wanted to graduate early from the school to get a head start on the rest of his life. He is the first student to do so at the school, which has a curriculum developed around allowing students to work at their own pace and residential programs for children with behavioral or mental health concerns.

"I had to work hard every day. I always stuck with my work. Even when it got hard or it felt like it was pointless, I kept going," Hemp told The Daily Republic on Wednesday. "I just worked kind of at my own pace, which is usually pretty quick. I was able to get a lot of work done."

Emily Wiekamp, who teaches Hemp's history class, said she's "insanely proud" of the work he's done during the past school year and that he typically gets his work done up to twice as fast as any high school student she's ever seen.

"I've been his teacher for just shy of a year, and just seeing the evolution that he's made, from kind of being not as motivated to realizing that the only way he's going to reach his goals is through hard work and determination, and watching him just dig in and get his stuff done, it's been a pretty phenomenal transformation," Wiekamp said.

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After his graduation ceremony on May 21, Hemp, who said he's creative while using computers, says he wants to study media design and graphic design at Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls, a career path inspired in part by an uncle who does design work for L.G. Everist. He hopes to eventually design advertisements or brand merchandising.

Prior to graduation, Hemp completed a senior project, which he decided to use as a chance to raise money to buy the school weighted blankets as thanks for the life and career skills he's gained while enrolled there.

"We have weighted vests here, and a lot of my peers, that helps them," he said. "I just wanted to be able to give back to APA, because they've given me a lot to help improve my life."

As part of that project, Hemp used his interest in graphic design to design and print T-shirts to sell to staff. He sold about 40 in total, and $8 of the $15 proceeds from each shirt went toward the blankets.

The front of the shirts features the APA logo above the phrase "the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams," a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. Hemp said he chose that quote because he wanted the shirts to have an inspiring message.

To raise more money, Hemp also organized a bake sale.

"All of the stuff that he sold for the bake sale, he actually spent time in the cafeteria, in the kitchen with one of the cooks, and they baked everything; they decorated everything. It was really awesome," Wiekamp said.

In total, Hemp raised nearly $1,000 with his senior project, and the school was able to purchase more than 20 weighted blankets.

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"I'm just really excited to have been able to have the chance to do all this," Hemp said. "It means a lot, because it's going to help me in my future, with everything that I'm going to be able to do now, because APA's given me a lot of tools in school."

Hemp said he hopes his success in finishing school a year early might inspire other APA students, and Wiekamp said she thinks it already has.

"We have another gentleman who's in the process of nearing completion, and it's definitely lit a fire under him," she said. " ... I think some of the other kids are seeing what his hard work has done, or maybe inspiring them as well."

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