Meet the Class of 2021 – Tristan Smetak
Congratulations to Tristan Smetak, of the Dell City High School Class of 2021! Tristan joined the Dell City School, and the Hudspeth County community, in 2018, as a sophomore – but in his years here, he's become a rural West Texan through-and-through.
Tristan was born in Wisconsin, and with a stepfather in the military, moved frequently – he started his high-school career in San Antonio. But in Hudspeth County he found a perfect match for his interests – which include livestock and Ag work. People here, Tristan said, have gone out of their way to encourage and nurture those interests – and to invest in him.
“That's one thing I will say about being out here,” Tristan said. “You get opportunities given to you that you'd have nowhere else – unless you had a certain last name, or money. People are more generous, and they want to see certain things thrive again – like agriculture.”
Tristan is our 2021 valedictorian – and his name has appeared regularly on the honor roll. But hands-on work is his real love. Tristan's goal is to become a lineman. After graduation, he'll be moving to Wisconsin, where his father lives, and he'll start there with training in utility construction. Then he'll continue on with an eight-month lineman course.
He said he's looking forward to “being out there working” – and, in the near term, to honing his skills with the equipment used to lay fiber-optic and propane lines.
“Heavy machinery is my thing, really,” Tristan said. “I'll be sitting in the tractor at the house, plowing out dirt, picking up a hay bale to feed the horses out there – and it's fun to me.”
Tristan is a long-term planner – at age 14, he walked into a bank to open a retirement account, and was disappointed to learn he couldn't start one until he was 18. His father worked as a lineman – and in that career, Tristan sees the right combination of the hands-on labor he enjoys, and financial stability.
“The benefits are phenomenal,” Tristan said, “and there's job security. Some kids look at the oilfield – but that's always boom and bust, boom and bust. Everybody needs power – and they always will.”
Tristan even has his eyes on a future employer – Xcel Energy, which delivers electricity and natural gas to millions of customers from Minnesota to the Texas Panhandle. Ultimately, Tristan would like to make it back to the Lone Star State.
“If I get a great job in Wisconsin I'll stay up there,” he said. “But there's nothing like Texas – once you're in it, you can't get away from it.”
Like many in our community, Tristan was friends with, and looked up to, long-time DPS Trooper Mike Schulze, who died in March. Tristan spoke movingly at a school memorial held in Mike's honor. And at the funeral services, Tristan met a friend of Mike's whose brother heads a power-distribution company in Amarillo – Tristan later visited at length with the man, who shared advice on pursuing a career in the industry.
“My Mom told me, 'That's a message from Mike,'” Tristan said. “'He's telling you to continue on with your dream – he's pointing you in the right direction. He's helping you.'”
As with students everywhere, Tristan's high-school experience was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Tristan is a dancer, and he was saddened that prom, and other dances, weren't held the last two years. Tristan also played six-man football his sophomore year, and he was disappointed that the school wasn't able to field a team these last two seasons. Yet Tristan said that while this last two years have been “really slow,” there has been a significant bright spot: his participation in FFA, and his competition in livestock shows.
Tristan had an interest in cowboying even before he moved to Hudspeth County, but here he found great support.
Local rancher Russell Bramblett started employing Tristan for weekend ranch work last year – and in June 2020, he offered Tristan a calf to raise for FFA, on the condition that Tristan showed the animal at multiple stockshows. Tristan showed his calf – with good success – at the El Paso County Junior Livestock Show in September, at the Hudspeth County show in January, and at the San Antonio Stock Show in February.
“Being a part of FFA, and being able to go out to stockshows – that's been my favorite activity,” Tristan said. “That was something good that came out of this year. And I wouldn't have come upon that experience if it wasn't for this community.”
The exposure to agriculture has left its mark. Tristan said he wants to keep his hand in ranching and farming going forward – that he'll help out on a dairy in Wisconsin. His dream for retirement is to become an Ag teacher.
In the classroom, Tristan said the highlight has been U.S. history and government and economics courses with Joe Czubinski – Coach Ski.
“Just the way Coach Ski interacts with students is different than any other teacher,” Tristan said. “He's got a funny soul – and he can connect with just about anybody.”
Tristan may be serious about his future, but he's also an entertainer. Tristan said that he sometimes may have “a little too much fun” in the classroom. But his sense of humor is also opening doors.
Tristan launched an account on the social-media platform TikTok four months ago – and he now has 60,000 followers. The videos capture a very particular kind of country-life perspective. He's now being sponsored by three companies – including hat- and boot-makers.
“It's exciting,” Tristan said, “and it could be life-changing. It all depends on how you play your cards – I'm trying to play the cards that are given me.”
It's an attitude – of determination, and of taking advantage of opportunities – that shapes Tristan's approach to life. In March, an “angel” donor – Howard Dailey of El Paso – walked into the Dell City School, and announced his intention to donate a scholarship to a Cougar senior. Tristan was selected.
Dailey asked Tristan if he was the kind of young man who follows through on an opportunity.
“I told him, 'I'll stumble once – I'll even stumble twice,'” Tristan said, “'but if I fall down, I get back up. I don't get discouraged, and I don't give up.”
Tristan is eager to go out in to the world, to get to work – his eyes are on the future. But in his final days of high school, he's also having bittersweet moments.
“I've always talked about going out there and getting things done quick,” he said. “But these last few weeks – I just want to slow down a little bit. I'm sure when I step out of this realm, the memories will come back.”
Congratulations, Tristan, on graduation – we know you'll take Dell City and Hudspeth County with you wherever you go, and we'll look forward to your visits back here!