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‘Make a difference’

More than 180 graduate in ALHS class of 2021

After a roller coaster year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Albert Lea High School class of 2021 had their one wish come true: to all graduate together.

Albert Lea High School Principal Mark Grossklaus, Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk and Albert Lea school board members congratulated each member of the class Friday night in an outdoor commencement ceremony at Jim Gustafson Field with family and friends.

Several of the speakers talked about the challenges the students faced during the last 14 months of the COVID-19 pandemic but

how in the end they rose triumphant from those battles.

Principal Mark Grossklaus said when students left for spring break in 2020, they didn’t come back until the fall. Then, they went into hybrid learning, then a period of distance learning and then back to hybrid learning again, until all the students were brought back to the school to learn again together.

“You missed many extracurricular activities, you missed many  concerts — many things didn’t happen,” he said. “But through the 18 months, I haven’t had one senior who hasn’t been positive. They’ve only had one request, and that request is being granted tonight: You’re graduating as a whole class.”

Lisa Dugger, licensed school nurse for the high school, said many of the students did not know her before the pandemic started and she was excited and honored to talk to them during the graduation instead of through a phone call about something related to COVID-19.

She shared positive words that COVID has come to stand for during the last year. “C” — for change — has been the one constant throughout the year with hybrid and distance learning, adding Fridays and then bringing everyone back together.

“You all have withstood the winds of change and reached the goal of graduation together,” Dugger said.

“O” stood for opportunity, and she encouraged the graduates to take advantage of all the opportunities life has to offer.

“V” stood for values. She said this last year has helped people realize what they valued most. “I” stood for inspiration.

“You have so inspired all of us in the district and in the community by how you navigated through this crazy year and never let your eye wander from the goal of graduating together,” she said.

Lastly, “D,” she said, stood for determination, durability and diligence, which she said they all had displayed throughout their senior year.

“There is nothing in this world you cannot do,” she said.

Student speaker Aaron Farris said during the past two years it would have been easy to have given up.

“But that’s not who we are,” Farris said. “We push ourselves. We have the perseverance and determination to succeed.”

He described the class as “the generation born in the aftermath of 9/11 and to graduate at the conclusion of the pandemic.”

Farris reminded his classmates that everyday choices shape futures. In high school, some of those choices have included what friends to have, what classes to take and what activities to be a part of. Now, students have even more choices about what they will do in the coming years.

“Don’t waste this opportunity you’ve waited your entire life for,” he said.

He encouraged his classmates to set goals for themselves and to “crush” them and to get back up when they might get knocked down.

“If you want something, work for it,” he said. “If someone tells you you can’t do something, prove them wrong.

“Each and every one of us has an incredibly bright future ahead. Now it’s our job to determine what we want to make of that future with the opportunity that we’ve been working our entire lives for. It’s not the end of our story but the beginning of a new chapter.”

Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk said the last 14 months have challenged the school community but students made it through by managing their time, learning to educate themselves in new ways, learned new methods to socially interact and developing support systems.

“At the end of the day, you became more resilient,” he said. “Graduates, you just experienced a collegiate-level challenge in overcoming adversity as you grew academically, socially and emotionally. You are exceptionally well-prepared for any endeavor in the community,” he said. “Take the life lessons you’ve learned and go forth and make a difference.”