St. Joseph School classmates Auriana (Audette) Hyllested, left, and Mei Li Brown, right, have maintained and grown a friendship that started in the classroom and moved into their adult lives. The friends are pictured on the occasion of Hyllested’s wedding in 2020. (Submitted photo)

St. Joseph Catholic School in Rice Lake shared an alumni testimony with school families and supporters in October that highlights the sense of belonging the school tries to foster.

Auriana (Audette) Hyllested graduated eighth grade at St. Joseph School in 2010 and is now one of her alma mater’s middle school teachers. Hyllested and fellow 2010 graduate Mei Li Brown have grown the friendship they started as classmates.

After moving on to Rice Lake High School, the friends shared many classes and both participated in show choir for two years. Graduating in 2014, Hyllested pursued an elementary education degree at UW-Superior, and Brown attended UW-Madison and earned a degree in communication arts and digital studies.

Sharing a favorite memory from their days at St. Joseph’s, they spoke about their experience in spring plays.

“We had so much fun acting and singing on stage! We enjoyed participating in other after-school activities like band, handbell choir, choir, serving at Mass, basketball and volleyball. We also loved going on class field trips, especially the fourth-grade Madison trip and eighth-grade Wisconsin Dells trip.”

Asked how their faith has guided them, the women responded, “Our faith gives us strength, knowing the God is always with us. When we are feeling grateful or upset about something, we turn to him for guidance and support. This gives us comfort and lets us know that we are not alone.”

Hyllested offered the following advice to current students: “When things get tough, reach out to those around you. God, your family, your teachers and your friends will be there for you.”

“Be curious and ask questions,” Brown encouraged. “The only way we can grow as individuals is by learning from others and growing from our mistakes.”

The last question posed to the pair was what they considered to be their greatest professional accomplishment thus far.

Brown said one was being asked to write articles on nonprofit associations and their website analytics. “The research I conducted allowed me to learn more about different organizations and their impactful programs and networking opportunities.”

Hyllested started her response by recalling that at their eighth-grade graduation Mass, the students were told, “St. Joseph School is your home, and you will always be welcome here” – something she remembered all throughout college.

Her dream of becoming a teacher was realized in 2019, when she started at St. Joseph as the middle school science teacher.

“During my time teaching here, I have been able to build so many relationships with students and, with the help of my amazing colleagues, have helped them to become motivated to succeed spiritually, morally and academically,” she said. “This, I believe, is my greatest accomplishment so far.”