‘Be Happy, Be An Optimist’
As a graduating senior, Laura Jontz didn’t know what she wanted to do after high school.
She went to the University of Northern Iowa and studied business and journalism. She later got a law degree from Drake University.
Fast-forward to today, 17 years later, and Jontz, the featured speaker at the annual Panorama High School Girls Senior Tea, encourages soon-to-be graduates to be happy, be an optimist, and develop their own bridge of success.
“The whole idea is, whatever job you pick, love it,” said Jontz, who now works as a lawyer for Iowa Legal Aide in Des Moines.
Pick something that come Monday morning you enjoy doing, Jontz said.
“Sure, I’d rather sleep another hour, but I like my job, the people I work with, what I do and I feel like I make a difference,” she said.
The Senior Girls Tea, an annual event for more than 18 years, has been organized by the Women’s Service Organization (WSO) since 1999, although the club is celebrating 45 years of service to the Panora community this year.
“We were organized when women worked together to pass a school bond to build the Panora-Linden high school, middle school,” said Mary Beidelman, president of the Women’s Service Organization. “Your core school is close to 45 years old and this group continues to work on behalf of the community.”
The club is known for three annual fund raising events -- Bridge Marathon, the Christmas Luncheon and the Spring Tour of Homes. This June will be their 43rd Home Tour.
Beidelman said the money raised goes back into the community. WSO sponsors a four-year renewable scholarship of $500 each year to a graduating senior.
“We hope some of you have applied,” Beidelman said as she welcomed the girls and their guests.
After introducing themselves, their mothers and grandmothers, the girls, who also shared their future plans, posed for photos and gathered for a light luncheon.
“This is really neat, I’m glad they asked me to come back for this,” said Jontz, who recalls her tea in 2000.
Jontz was raised in Bagley, the dauther of Jack and Dee, and jokes anytime she comes across a person who knows where the smalltown is, she instantly gives them better legal services.
Her job at Iowa Legal Aide is to help low-income Iowans with civil legal issues, largely defending evictions and family matters, which includes civil protective orders for victims of domestic violence, and custody and divorce cases for victims of domestic violence.
“A lot of my clients come to me in pretty bad situations and I love my job because a lot of time when they leave me, they are not in as bad of situations as they were,” Jontz said.
Hanging in her office Jontz has framed an Optimist Creed, she memorized in her fourth grade class with teacher Dee Lenz. It starts, “Today is going to be a great day.”
She said it helps not only her, but her clients.
“It gives inspiration to a lot of my clients, who are maybe being evicted,” she said. “It helps them know they can handle this -- these people who are doing incredibly difficult things, breaking away from domestic violence.”
Jontz said whatever profession you go into, look at the optimist creed and know, ‘there is always something to be happy about’, and ‘things aren’t as bad as they seem’.
“I have split my pants in the court room, not once, but twice,” Jontz said. “So, I’m stuck in a position of asking my client, ‘Did I just rip my pants?’”
Jontz said she’s also been adjourned from the courtroom by a judge and walked straight into the coat closet.
“And you have to leave because you can’t stay in the coat closet all day,” she grins. “The judge in Polk County still remembers that one.”
Jontz said there have been days she’s wondered if she should be in any profession.
“You should, if you can look back and laugh,” she said.
She told the senior girls, who soon face a future after high school, success is what they want it to be.
“It’s not what other people think it should be,” she said. “If you are happy getting up, doing what you are doing, making the world a better place, that’s success.”
And that’s enough.