Valedictorian Cassi Niedziela has urge to explore

Mark Wilson
Cassi Niedziela, the valedictorian of the Glen Rose High School Class of 2017.

It’s not as if Cassi Niedziela doesn’t feel at home on the range here in Texas.

In fact, she lives on her family’s 155-acre ranch in Erath County, called Hideaway Ranch.

At the same time, influences in her life have shaped her into a young lady who isn’t afraid to explore the world.

Niedziela, the valedictorian of the Glen Rose High School Class of 2017 with a weighted grade-point average of 105.825, is headed up north where cowboys aren’t so common — the middle of Manhattan in New York.

Niedziela, whose interests touch on the world of politics as well as advocacy for special causes in other countries, will attend New York University. She aims to major in global public health and is also interested in public policy, which could turn out to be her minor, she said.

She had also considered attending the University of Texas.

“I applied to major in chemistry,” said Niedziela, a four-year member of the GRHS Band who played trumpet, served as drum major and in September was voted as the school’s Homecoming queen. “Once I knew I wanted to go (to NYU), it was just a matter of getting accepted. I was quite nervous about that.

“As a freshman, I was super-paranoid about planning everything. I’m a planner. I stress myself out about it, too. I’m kind of a perfectionist. I want to achieve all my goals, and knowing how to get there, I don’t like leaving things up to chance."

“The thing I like about New York University is it creates a global community, and they really focus on exposing students to different cultures and different ways of life,” said Niedziela, who wants to travel to Ghana and try to make a difference. “I think it’s everything I could want in a college. It’s perfect for me. I want to help with education and health care. When I graduate college, I want to go to other countries and advocate.”

Niedziela, who turned 18 on March 5, was aware that her parents, Jason and Traci Niedziela, both traveled the world years ago, and her mom even went backpacking through Europe. So being adventurous didn’t seem out of the ordinary.

“My parents always encouraged me to follow things I was interested in,” she said, noting that they often took her to museums and bookstores when she was younger.

“I’ve always liked school,” said Niedziela, whose mom is now a school teacher. “I always carried around books about animals and the solar system. I always had a book in my hands. I like learning things — not necessarily doing homework and taking tests — because it broadens your horizons when you know more about the world.

“My parents love to travel. They know that even though it’s dangerous or kind of risky, it’s just something that I feel like I need to do. I’m sure they will worry about me, but I’m an independent person.

“They let me do my own thing. They understand the experiences of travel and the experiences of different cultures. I feel like New York is a good place for me because I’m all about activism and equality.”

She’s not even afraid of those cold winter nights in the northeast.

“First of all, I am a fan of cold weather,” said Niedziela, who went with her mother to visit New York after her sophomore year, took a class trip to London her junior year, and has visited Washington, D.C. “Also, New York in particular has so many different cultures and such a global community. I also like cites. I like how everything is so accessible.”

Niedziela was born in Colorado, and attended preschool there before her family moved to Texas. Her dad works the ranch, but previously worked as a police officer and paramedic. Before that, he served in the Marines, reaching the rank of captain.

Niedziela said she wants to live a balanced life, “with different aspects of what you should do every day — fitness, books, music.”

Niedziela will also be leaving behind three younger brothers. They are Jess, a 16-year-old GRHS sophomore, Luke a 12-year-old sixth grader in Glen Rose Junior High, and Zeke, a 10-year-old fourth grader in the Glen Rose Intermediate School.