Graduates of Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, Laporte and many schools around Minnesota probably didn’t think a traditional commencement would happen for the class of 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted and even cancelled events throughout the school year including field trips, extra-curricular activities, concerts and Prom. Students were forced to go to distance learning and many spent days in quarantine.

WHA and Laporte both held graduation services Friday night, opening their schools to the community to celebrate each graduate’s accomplishments.

Forty-eight WHA students received their diploma in a ceremony that lasted about 35 minutes. Dylan Johnson gave the “Looking Back” speech, and Rebecca Lloyd the “Farewell” speech. Rod Northbird performed the Honor and Traveling songs, but there were no band or choir performances.

WHA administration continued to enforce the mandatory mask policy as all graduates, administration and presenters had to cover up. It was the complete opposite at Laporte School as there was no mask mandate in place.

“First, congratulations to everyone for making it this far. I know it might have been hard for some, especially with a pandemic going on that just seems to keep taking away everything that a normal senior should look forward to. Luckily, COVID has not taken this from us,” Johnson said during his greeting. “If you are hearing this speech that means we have succeeded in maintaining the most important part of our senior year.”

Johnson took his classmates and audience on a trip down memory lane, talking about a field trip to the Sudan Mine back in eighth-grade, sports, banquets, the stress of taking the ACT and the last game of the season.

“We have all shared laughs, tears and our lives together for so many years. From the moment we walked into the doors … we have all done that together and I know I would not want it any other way,” Johnson continued. “Some of you may not miss these days and can’t wait to leave home forever and never look back; some of you may stay here and start families of your own. So looking back, I would not want to change a thing. This is the one and only DJ Smooth signing off.”

Lloyd thanked everyone who played a part in helping each graduate get to this point. “If there is one thing I can say about the class of 2021 it is that we are determined. We are stubborn. We are resilient and are passionate and that’s something I’ve always loved about us,” she said. “When a global pandemic tried to tell us ‘no,’ we pushed back. We worked hard to find a way. As much as our community helped us along the way, it was our determined class who fought for our memories and our senior year.”

In wrapping up her speech, Lloyd gave her classmates some advice going forward. “No one gets to tell us how to live our lives. We are the leaders now. There is no rule book on what to do or … to achieve your goals; they’re different for all of us. No matter what your ambitions are, no matter what you decide to do with the rest of your lives, it is up to you. Whatever any of you choose to do in life, do it with that same passion you had when we were told ‘no.’ That passion, that drive, that is what will get you to where you want to be in life, and that is a promise. As long as you stay passionate and determined in whatever you do, you will success. So, peace out class of 2021, and thank you for letting me be a part of our journey.”

24 Laporte graduates

It may have not been the largest graduating class in the school’s history, but there were the most graduates in many years, with 24 Laporte seniors receiving their diplomas.

Commencement lasted about an hour, and besides the presentation of diplomas, valedictorian Lacey Lahr spoke, Superintendent Kim Goodwin and Principal AJ Dombeck handed out several scholarships and at the conclusion the graduates gathered outside to greet guests.

“We’ve been looking forward to this day for a while. Some days [it] felt as if it would never come, especially with all the COVID-19 stuff that went on, but now here we are all together for the last time of our high school career. We’ve become amazing people over the years learning the rights and wrongs together,” she said. We learned to be ourselves and that it’s OK to have opinions. We’ve learned to stand up for ourselves and to stand up for others. We’ve learned to stick together, but after today we’ll be on our own making decisions as we go.”

Lahr concluded her speech talking about all the hard work each graduate put in to get to graduation day. “Take a look around you at your fellow graduates and remember this moment for the rest of your lives. As I said before, I know all of you will do amazing things in your future and I can’t wait to see what your future holds. I’m gonna miss you all and good luck Wildcats!”

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