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Image of Vanessa Pobuda and Ethan Andler

Fridley High School students Vanessa Pobuda and Ethan Andler were just a couple of seniors enjoying a pep fest in the school gym when Fridley Activities Director Justin Reese grabbed the mic to make an announcement they were waiting to hear but didn’t expect in that moment. He revealed they were this year’s Triple ‘A’ recipients, prompting cheers from their friends and peers.

“It felt surreal,” Ethan said, shaking his head as if he still couldn’t believe it.

Photo of Vanessa Pobuda, Justin Reese and Ethan Andler

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment,” Vanessa added. “When I look back in a few years at my high school experience, I think that will be one of things I remember most.”

According to the Minnesota State High School League’s website, the Academics, Athletics and Arts Award, otherwise known as the Triple ‘A’ Award, “honors high school seniors throughout the state who have a 3.0 or higher grade-point average and who participate in League-sponsored athletic and fine arts activities.”


Vanessa Pobuda

Vanessa Pobuda

For Vanessa, receiving the award was a “full circle” moment for her and her family. She has been a student in Fridley Public Schools since preschool. Her mom, Rachel Pobuda, currently teaches at Fridley Preschool as a classroom assistant and building substitute.

“I think that has a lot to do with how I perceive academics,” Vanessa said of her mom being a teacher. “Even though I’m involved in all of these activities, I’ve always tried to prioritize my academics because that is what is going to get me furthest in school and in life.”

“She has a genuine desire to learn,” Rachel said. One of the ways she could tell early on that Vanessa had a gift for learning was her ear for music. “She was always able to pick up an instrument and figure out how to play it.”

Vanessa’s natural musical ability instilled in her a lifelong love of the arts. In her time at FHS, she has participated in band, jazz band, speech team, and her greatest artistic passion, theater.

“She has been in so many plays since she was little,” Rachel recalled. “She loves to perform. It’s one of the ways she expresses herself.”

Though she insisted she has loved every play she’s acted in, Vanessa admitted her favorite was “13 Past Midnight,” a murder mystery the high school performed when she was in 10th grade.

“I got to be an old lady and they spray-painted my hair gray,” she remembered with a smile. “That was the funnest play I’ve been in, just because it was so different and I didn't even recognize myself when I looked in the mirror.”

It came as no surprise to Rachel that Vanessa’s love for the stage translated to a love for a different kind of performing in the athletic arena. In addition to dancing for 11 years and running in track for three years, Vanessa developed a passion for tennis when she joined the team in 7th grade.

“When she was introduced to tennis,” Rachel explained, “she was taking that competitive drive that she learned in dance competitions and transferred it to the tennis court.”

Vanessa proved herself a quick learner and fierce competitor when she made the varsity girls tennis team just one year later in 8th grade. She has been the captain of the team for the past three years, which taught her valuable lessons about teamwork and how to lead.

The biggest takeaway she learned from her pursuits in athletics and the arts didn’t come from winning or losing tennis matches or giving a great performance on stage. It came from meeting and befriending new people. She encourages younger students to join as many activities as they can to learn from similar experiences.

“High school is the time to do everything you can and find out what you like,” she said. “I think being involved in a lot of different things really shapes you as a person. It helps you put yourself out there, and it makes you communicate and become friends with different groups of people. I think it really makes you a better person.”

Vanessa will continue to push herself to try new things, meet new people and challenge herself academically while pursuing a degree in radiologic science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She hopes to one day help others as an ultrasound technician.

“Vanessa is such a good person,” Rachel boasted. “She is kind, considerate, caring, loving, thoughtful, funny, and isn't afraid to forge her own path. We have been so proud to watch her work hard and achieve her goals, and we are so excited to see the great things she will do in the future.”


Ethan Andler

Ethan Andler

For Ethan, receiving the Triple ‘A’ Award was validation in a way perhaps only his peers can truly appreciate. It validated that all the nights and weekends he put down the video game controller to put his head in his textbooks paid off.

“It shows putting in that hard work means something,” Ethan said.

His mom, Lori Andler, who has worked in the district for nine years as the executive assistant to the superintendent and school board, pointed to Ethan’s 4.2 grade-point average as an indication of his dedication to academics.

“It demonstrates his work ethic, time management skills and intellectual curiosity,” she said.

Ethan credited the International Baccalaureate curriculum for helping him grow as a student and person since first attending an FPS school as a 4th grade student at Hayes Elementary.

“The IB programme has challenged me to think from different perspectives,” he said. “Because of its big worldview, it has always challenged me to think from a different person’s perspective or a different country’s perspective.”

As a three-sport athlete in cross-country running, swimming and tennis, Ethan has proven himself up for challenges beyond the classroom. He appreciates the perspective participating in each sport has given him.

“I would say all of them have shaped me in different aspects of my life,” he explained. “Cross-country taught me how to be a leader because I was a captain for three years. Swimming taught me discipline because nobody’s there with you in the water pushing you to do better; it’s all mental. And tennis – well, tennis is just fun. It’s a good stress reliever.”

Ethan praised his Fridley coaches for supporting him as a multisport athlete. Lori insisted the respect has been mutual, noting his captaincy in all three sports.

“I think his coaches have noticed and appreciated his ability to motivate and inspire his teammates,” she said.

Perhaps no other activity Ethan has participated in throughout his time at FHS has left as much of a lasting impact on him as working theater tech.

“Tech has taught me a whole world of things,” he recounted. “How to use a tool, read a blueprint, use a microphone, hook up microphones, balance sound, all sorts of technical and life skills.”

Ethan acknowledged Dan Wold, the district’s auditorium and events coordinator, as a mentor with whom he has built a rapport beyond the backstage world.

“He's been someone I can rely on and someone I can ask for advice on how to do something throughout the years,” he said.

With his sights set on a degree in mechanical engineering, Ethan knows the lessons he learned from his academic, athletic and artistic endeavors will continue to help him prioritize what is most important. He hopes other students learn the same lessons.

“It’s definitely worth it to be involved in all of the different aspects of the Triple ‘A’ Award,” he attested. “It helps you become a well-rounded student and teaches you how to manage and balance your time.”

Lori praised her son’s accomplishments like only a proud mother could.

“Ethan never ceases to amaze me,” she proclaimed. “I hope this achievement reminds him that he has a wide range of talents and capabilities. I hope he carries this with him wherever his journey takes him.”