WORTHINGTON — From the time he began learning to count and recite his ABC’s in preschool, Christian Lietz’s family has consistently reminded him of the value of a good education and praised each little success he achieved.

While those same family members won’t be able to gather in the Worthington High School gym to watch a graduation ceremony later this month, he already knows without a doubt how much they believe in him.

“Pretty much my whole life they’ve been telling me I’m going to be the first one to graduate with honors (in the family), and I’m going to be the first one to graduate college and get a four-year degree,” shared Lietz, who will graduate with highest honors from WHS. “Now I see why they wanted me to do it. I want to do it for them — and for me, too.”

Lietz was raised by his maternal grandparents, Guadalupe and Jose Torres, in Worthington. His dad, Kelly Lietz, resides in Tracy, and he has six half-siblings who live with aunts and uncles in Fulda.

“My family is, as a whole, really close,” he said. “My aunts and uncles get together a lot — they’re honestly like my parents also. We’re one whole big family.”

So, when one whole big family tells the eldest of the next generation to study hard and get good grades — to keep his head in school — that’s what one does.

Lietz said his grandparents never attended high school, and while many of his aunts and uncles graduated —some going on to college briefly — they all found work in the manufacturing sector.

With a growing interest in technology thanks to a computer science class he took this year at the high school, Lietz will attend the University of Sioux Falls in the fall with plans to major in computer programming.

“Some of the jobs can be designing video games,” he shared. “I’m not sure where I could go for that. I’ll just have to wait to see what opportunities I get.”

Lietz said his dream job is to one day design video games. An avid player, he leans toward fighting or open world adventure games — Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, Zombie Apocalypse and survivor games.

While Lietz enjoys playing video games, his passion is running. He will continue to compete in both track and cross country — sports he’s excelled in since he joined as an eighth-grader — as a USF Cougar.

“It’s kind of highlighted my high school career,” Lietz shared of the sports that propelled him to state competitions as a junior, with another state bid in cross country as a senior.

“I was hoping to go to state again this year in track, but this pandemic kept that from happening,” he said.

Lietz and his teammates set a new WHS record last spring in the boys 4x800-meter relay during the section meet, and while they didn’t do as well at state as they had hoped, Lietz said he would have liked the opportunity to set some new school records as a senior this spring.

He credits Trojan head coach Cory Smidt for having “a pretty big influence on my life.”

“In eighth grade he got me to join cross country,” Lietz said. “Ever since then, it’s been kind of a journey with him. He taught me a lot about sports and life in general. It was a very good thing that I met him.”

Other influencers for Lietz include AP World History teacher Patrick Mahoney — “it was probably one of my favorite classes in high school” — and math teacher John Koller.

“His son, Adam, is in my grade and we run together all of the time. Koller is super supportive and nice. He’s always told me if I need anything to just ask.”

Lietz, who attended St. Mary’s Catholic School through the sixth grade, was a clarinet player in the band through middle school and high school, participating in both marching band and concert band at WHS.

He was inducted into the National Honor Society as a junior, and said that grew into an opportunity to do volunteer service — something he hadn’t done much of before.

“I like giving back to the community,” Lietz said.

With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing a halt to school, sports and even volunteer work, Lietz said he’s struggled to remain focused and motivated through the distance learning model put into use since mid-March.

“I miss going to my classes,” he said. “I miss seeing all of the people, being surrounded by people my own age and not just staying at home all of the time.”

When Lietz transitions to college life at USF in the fall, it will be with “not-quite-full scholarships, but a good amount,” he said.

Lietz anticipates he will stay in the Midwest for his career, and said he’s always wanted to travel.

“Travelling to other countries would be really cool, too, but I’ll just have to wait and see,” he added.