After fleeing Wyoming cowboy scene, grad warms to country life

Chelsy Mills takes the podium Saturday as salutatorian of the 2013 graduating class of Plateau Valley High School in Collbran. She plans to major in animal science at Colorado State University.

Chelsy Mills chose to excel in high school when it might have been easier to give up.

Despite losing her father, uncle and paternal grandfather in three separate years of high school, Mills, 18, graduated Saturday from Plateau Valley High School in Collbran as salutatorian and recipient of nearly every local scholarship awarded this year.

Mills plans to attend Colorado State University this fall and major in animal science.

Ruth Shepardson, Future Farmers of America adviser, worked closely with Mills and said, “I can best describe Chelsy’s character with the quote, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ Chelsy was given a lot of lemons. (She) truly made lemonade and pushed beyond what was expected of her to better herself and the community around her.”

Mills grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. That was home until her parents divorced when she was young, forcing her to move to Wyoming with her mother because her father traveled for work.

Mills hated Wyoming. She moved to Mesa in eighth grade to live with her grandparents.

“I didn’t like the whole cowboy scene up there and moved here,” Mills said with a laugh realizing how funny that sounds because Collbran is similar, and she has grown to love animals and agriculture.

But Mills didn’t know that was in her future. She planned to move back to Alaska after her freshman year. One week before her father was set to move back to Anchorage, he died. It was March. She remembers.

“I flew up to Alaska and within three days went through the entire house,” Mills said. “That was really traumatic, and I had to come back and finish school. It was kind of a blur for a year.”

Through it all, Mills excelled. She decided since she wasn’t moving back to Alaska, she was going to embrace her new home.

“That freshman year taught me some life lessons for sure and helped me connect more,” Mills said. “My sophomore year, I got more involved in the school.”

Her uncle died her sophomore year, and Mills lost her grandfather her junior year. She pushed through.

“There were times when she could have folded, turned in her cards and walked away,” said Kayla Fox, counselor at Plateau Valley.

Mills never gave in for one simple reason: She’s a daddy’s girl.

“My dad always taught me you need your education,” Mills said. “When I was 5 or 6 we would have discussions like I was an adult. We would sit down and talk about how education was important.”

On Saturday, the 16 Plateau Valley High School graduates were reminded how important and memorable their time in the Collbran area was through student speeches, Paula Grundy’s commencement address and a student-prepared slideshow.

Turns out, going to school in a small town and being a little country worked out, Mills said.

“I heard it was a small school and didn’t realize how small it was until I moved here,” she added. “I really blossomed living here, but ... I’m ready to move and see what the world has to offer me.”


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