Sioux Falls senior speakers read parts of their commencement speeches. The class of 2020 will receive a virtual graduation because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Editor’s note: Each of the following students is a senior speaker for the Class of 2020. The quotes that start each section are from the students’ graduation speeches.
An end without closure
“The growth we’ve achieved has been immense, so why would something like this stop us? The truth is, we will continue to shine.”
When writing his graduation speech, what came to Anders Svenningsen’s mind was the final scene of the musical “Grease.” In one final send-off Danny and Sandy reunite with their fellow seniors to dance and sing (and leave in a flying car).
Svenningsen, a Roosevelt High School senior, says the class of 2020 never got that.
“I think a lot of people were looking forward to having that sort of closure,” he said. “It’s tough to face it like this, but at the same time it gives us an advantage to be able to spend more time with family and use this time to better ourselves.”
Svenningsen has taken this break to develop a drive for the future, he says. In just a few short months, he plans to attend Gonzaga University and study political science. He says the pandemic has prepared him for that.
“Not having closure is going to be tough, but I think moving onto the next phase is something everyone will be able to do with much greater ability,” he said.
Developing a ‘mental edge’
“This collective experience serves as a testament to the idea that, even as the world seems so bleak, there is an underlying link that keeps us going, and that’s each other.”
As Johnathan Smith stood outside of Lincoln High School in his bright red graduation gown, he was greeted by friends from a distance.
The friends Smith would usually bump shoulders with in between classes were suddenly not so close anymore. It has been two months since he’s seen many of them in person.
“I had to shift my mind,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to be with people, and if you are, it’s going to be from a distance or it’s going to be by technology.”
Smith who enjoys socializing says this isolation has given him the edge to face what’s next. He will be attending Washington University in St. Louis majoring in political science this Fall.
“To have that mental edge going into it is something I don’t think I would’ve had, had this not happened,” Smith said.
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Finding empathy in the pandemic
“Our class went back to the basics, and maybe that’s what we needed when heading into the big world of the unknown.”
Janai Krause has learned to look on the bright side. When the Roosevelt High School senior found out she would no longer see the teachers and peers she spent every day with, she cried. She cried a lot. Then, she came to appreciate the changes that were happening before her. She believes the pandemic has taught people more empathy.
“Just being able to call my friends and be like, ‘Hey you look cute today. You’re loved.’ We probably wouldn’t have done that before this happened,” Krause said.
Krause has always considered herself a kind person but says the pandemic has given her the time to appreciate those around her and the time to spend with family before she joins the United States Air Force.
Making it meaningful
“Don’t forget we can change the world, even if it’s just our own slice of it.”
As a freshman, Jordan Dierkson set out to make an impact on his education, but as he walked through the doors of New Technology High School, he would soon realize the influence it would have on him. Now a senior preparing to graduate, one word comes to mind when he thinks about his high school experience: family.
“My teachers were some of the most caring and unique people that I’ve met anywhere,” he said. “That’s one thing I’m going to miss, is having facilitators there that are willing to work 14-hour days to help make your education meaningful.”
Dierkson looked forward to the new and unique challenges he faced every day. And like many other seniors, he looks forward to graduating. Dierkson will continue his education at Southeast Technical Institute and work toward a degree in digital media production.
“It’s not the whole big hoorah we thought it would be, but it’s still meaningful to us,” Dierkson said. “It’s our last year of high school. We’re doing everything in our power to make it special.”
A continued legacy
“Just like my parents, there are people out there every day who succeed because a long time ago they overcame difficulties and achieved their goals. And one day that could be us.”
When Isai Rivera sat down to write his commencement speech, he thought of his parents. He thought of his father and mother who immigrated to the United States from El Salvador and Mexico. His parents set out to achieve their goals of having a better life, he says.
“They never give up on anything they do,” he said. “They have a dream, they have a goal—how they imagine things, in the end that’s how it turns out.”
This same spirit is what Rivera hopes to carry with him after high school.
“As I learn from them there’s other people in this world we can learn from too,” he said. “Take the legacy and keep it going.”
‘Create a new pattern’
“Our world has changed, but we have too. And although we are so anxious to go back to the normal we have always known, I’m not sure that I want to go back.”
At 9:08 a.m. on a Thursday, Hanna Beshai submitted her last semester test. She sat there staring at the words that came across the glow of her computer screen. Her entire four years at Lincoln High School had come to a screeching halt.
“For some reason I couldn’t comprehend it right away,” Beshai said. “I’ve gone through this entire thing saying, ‘It’s fine we just have to go on. We have to learn how to create a new pattern.’ It’s taken me two months to actually grieve.”
During those two months, however, Beshai discovered beauty in the change.
Evenings at the kitchen table working on puzzles, a walk with her father after he came home from work, zoom calls with her fellow AP classmates—all things that brought her a sense of hope. Beshai plans to carry this hope to Augustana University in the Fall as she double majors in Biology and English.
“I’m thankful for this time I’ve had to reflect,” Beshai said. “Now I can go onto the next step in my life with some form of new normal returning.”
The story continues below.
Class of 2020 is unstoppable
“We are Warriors in the truest sense of the name. No thunderstorm, fire alarm, nor vandalism-not even a global pandemic can stop the class of 2020.”
Blake Anderson believes adversity is nothing new for the class of 2020. When recounting the days of his K-12 education, the Washington High School senior thought about the rain that fell on his first day of kindergarten. He thought about the BP Oil Spill and the Great Recession of 2008. He thought about the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s something poetic about graduating during this, because this is a new problem that new people will have to deal with,” Anderson said. “We are those new people.”
Anderson is preparing to move to Tufts University in Massachusetts, having never visited the campus due to the pandemic. Although the start of this next chapter is unknown, he knows that beginnings and endings don’t tell the whole story.
“Regardless of what happened, sometimes the ending isn’t the part of the story you remember,” Anderson said. “And sometimes you think having a different ending means the rest of the story isn’t good, but I still wouldn’t trade my high school experience for anything.”
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