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Murray Journal

Murray Rotary honors outstanding alumnus, top Murray High students

Aug 31, 2017 01:08PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Murray High School’s 10 top scholars, who were selected based on their grade-point average, recently were honored by the Murray Rotary Club. (Murray Rotary Club)

By Julie Slama  |  [email protected]

This school year a new plaque will be added to the Murray High School Outstanding Alumni wall that is across the hall from the school’s office.

This summer, Jim Christian, class of 1972, was honored as the 2017 recipient of Murray High’s School Outstanding Alumnus Award by the Murray Rotary Club. Christian is a professor emeritus from Weber State University with more than 37 years of professional experience as a director, teacher, actor, writer and producer in the areas of theatre, television and film. 

“Our executive board (of the Murray Rotary Club) made the selection of Jim as the Murray High School Outstanding Alumnus,” Superintendent and Murray Rotary President-Elect Steve Hirase said. “We receive nominations from members and individuals from the community. He was selected because of his lifetime accomplishments in the area of music, theater and the arts in general.”

Also recognized were Murray High School’s 10 top scholars, who were selected based on their grade-point average. Murray High Principal John Goldhardt honored each student, reciting his or her accomplishments in front of their parents. 

The students are Gwen Brockbank, Shalese Eversten, Jacob Johnson, Emma Larson, Megan Reger, Jenna Riches, Kacey Tollefson, Katie Valdez, Julia Walljasper and Becca Wilcox.

The students then chose math teacher Ashley McSwain as the Meritorious Teacher. He was selected for the overall impact he had on their lives. They were honored at a recent Murray Rotary Club luncheon.

Murray Rotarian Cherie Summerhays said she was enthralled with the caliber of the students.

“I was so impressed with the extracurricular activities of each of the 10 students,” she said. “They had been involved in performing groups, school clubs, student government, and had taken advantage of many service opportunities. The majority had been on a school athletic team and a number had been team captain. Our future is bright because of excellent, well-rounded young people like these.”

Several Murray High students through the years have been impacted by Christian, either at Weber State or by being involved in one of the shows he has worked on in Utah as well as in theatres in California, Arizona, Montana, Florida, Wyoming and Illinois. 

“Murray gave me so much and this award gave me the chance to show my appreciation for my hometown, a solid community of family and friends and teachers who impacted me,” Christian said. 

While in high school, he was involved in the performing arts as president of the Madrigals, president of the Thespian Club, president of the chess club and president of the National Honors Society. He was in the musical, “Brigadoon,” as well as the plays “The Miracle Worker” and “Life With Father.” He graduated in the top 10 of his high school class.

He appreciated the dedication of his performing arts teachers, theatre teacher Bertha Ruff, choir director George Welch and band director Brent VanKampen, as well as his AP English teacher Linda Keetch.

“She encouraged us to write every day and that’s when I began my creative writing,” he said, adding that influence has been part of why he has become a playwright.

Christian has written “Pirated,” which was inspired by the Pirates of Penzance, and premiered at Weber State in 1993 and then took the stage at The Kennedy Center in 1994 and at Pioneer Memorial Theatre in 1996. He also has written a musical adaptation of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” with “Just Sleepy Hollow” and “The Plain Princess,” based on the book by Phyllis McGinley.

He wrote “Five Carols for Christmas” and “Jingle Hacks” as a pair of one-act musicals that he now is expanding to full-length musicals.

Christian wrote while teaching at Weber State, where he hoped he acquired the “camaraderie and connection” to students that his high school geometry teacher Kathleen Smart did.

“She had energy, passion and a real connection to her students,” he said.

He, in his own right, has been honored for excellence in teaching. Christian received the award “Crystal Crest Master Teacher of the Year” in 1996 and Utah’s “Best in State” award in 2006 for “Outstanding University Professor.” In 2009, he was named “Presidential Distinguished Professor” and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humanities.

Now retired from teaching, he continues to direct and has shows lined up this coming year from Logan to Arizona.

“When I received a phone call from the Rotary and learned about the recognition, I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “It’s been really nice to go back and realize the impact I’ve made and fun to see other outstanding alumni honorees, many who were my high school friends.”