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Billy Blissenbach, Joby Nolan, Nicole Hollar and Brooke Francis are this year's graduation speakers.

A big night for big speeches: Four HHS seniors chosen as graduation speakers look forward to taking the stage

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A big night for big speeches: Four HHS seniors chosen as graduation speakers look forward to taking the stage
Hastings Minnesota 745 Spiral Boulevard 55033

While their classmates have got an early start on summer, the four Hastings High School graduation speakers have been hard at work this week refining their speeches and practicing both indoors and outdoors.

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Their big night comes Friday when commencement exercises are held at 7 p.m. at Todd Field. In case of inclement weather, graduation will be held in the HHS auditorium. So far, the forecast looks good and it appears as though the event will be held outdoors.

That's welcome news for the speakers, who all said they want to be outdoors. This year's speakers are Joby Nolan, Nicole Hollar, Billy Blissenbach and Brooke Francis.

The auditions were held May 6-8, and judges were fellow seniors and three adults. Once the four were chosen, they began meeting almost every day after school with former HHS teacher Darlene Olson.

Here's more information on each speaker:

Brooke Francis

Brooke Francis took a public speaking class at HHS, and has been hooked on it since.

"I really enjoy speaking in front of my classmates," she said. "Commencement is a really big deal. I felt I should at least audition."

Francis said her speech will focus on how endurance is needed "to finish the race of life."

That said, she's not speaking literally when it comes to the race.

"I hate running," she joked.

Francis will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall and she will major in international business with an emphasis in marketing.

Her parents are Kelly and Matt Francis.

She has an older sister named Brittany and a younger sister named Becca.

While at HHS, Francis was involved in dance, National and Spanish honor societies, student council, Youth in Government and was a Link Crew leader.

Nicole Hollar

Hollar was also a fan of the public speaking class at HHS. What prompted her to look into the course and auditioning for commencement was a speaker she heard two years ago while attending her sister McKensie's graduation.

"They were just really interesting and unique," Hollar said. "It was inspiring."

Hollar will attend the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks this fall and will major in biology. She is the daughter of Vern and Nancy Hollar.

In addition to her older sister McKensie, Hollar has a younger brother named Grant, who is a student at Hastings Middle School.

Hollar competed in soccer, basketball and track at HHS. She was a captain for both the basketball team and the track team.

She was also a member of the National Honor Society, Link Crew and Youth First Planning Council. She also plays piano.

Billy Blissenbach

Billy Blissenbach is one of seven children, and he has four older siblings. That means he has been to plenty of graduation speeches and one in the mid-2000s really stuck out to him. It was delivered by Mike Bremer, and it prompted Blissenbach to take a similar approach, he said.

With a family as big as his, he is really hoping that graduation will be outside so they can all attend, he said.

He is the son of Peter and Renee Blissenbach.

He is a four-year Honors AP student, and a four-year Excel Honor Society member.

He was involved in marching band, knowledge bowl and on the top HHS show choir, Riverside Company.

He will follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, mother, three older brothers and older sister by attending the University of St. Thomas, where he will major in business marketing.

Joby Nolan

Joby Nolan is the oldest of the four children in his family, but not by much.

He is a triplet, with younger sisters Allie and Marissa just behind him. He also has a younger sister named Julie.

He spoke at his fifth-grade graduation and after that experience he knew he wanted to speak at his high school commencement.

"It wasn't a very good speech," he said. "Hopefully, I have improved."

Nolan is the son of Dave and JoAnn Nolan.

In high school, he was the president of student council and in Riverside Company. He was in National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society.

Next year he will be attending St. John's University to major in business management.

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Chad Richardson
Chad Richardson is the publisher and editor at the Hastings Star Gazette. He was the general manager of the Farmington Independent and Rosemount Town Pages from 2000 to 2007. He previously worked at the Star Gazette from 1996 to 2000 as a photographer and reporter. He also worked as a photographer and writer at the Pope County Tribune in Glenwood.
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