Last night my husband and I had the privilege of attending the Ivan Sand Community High School Class of 2022 commencement ceremony in Elk River. ISD 728 may be so proud of this class. In a climate when everyone is calling loudly, demanding for more mental health support and individualized learning for students, this school district has created a “diamond in the rough.”

Ivan Sand’s staff nurtures their students. I have been at multiple graduations which were happy occasions, but Ivan Sand’s ceremony moved me deeply. Students poured out their stories of struggle and triumph. Students overcame displacement from hurricanes, immigration and language barriers, dependency, lack of family structure, poor self-esteem, and a hopelessness which nearly ended their existence on this earth. But last night they beamed ear to ear as they accepted major scholarship funds and well-deserved high school diplomas.

The remarkable staff at Ivan Sands, under the leadership of Principal, Dr. Deanna Chiodo, showed such enthusiasm and pride as their students moved forward to accept their diplomas. Each student was hugged and given fist-bumps; they were so joyful! A former, very accomplished graduate, Elizabeth Anh-Trins Stulac, R.N., B.S.N. gave an address. Like her, she challenged them to believe in themselves, focus on their goals, and continue to defy the odds. The ISD 728 school board took the time to attend in force, and they gave scholarship funds from their own personal generosity. The community provided generous scholarships which honored the goals and dreams the students set forth in essays and completion of their course of study. Superintendent Dr. Dan Bittman addressed the graduates and thanked them for trusting their HS education to the care of the ISD 728 school district.

And at the close of the ceremony, parents, guests, staff, and educators were still rejoicing that “their kids” had accomplished this rite of passage. There were more group photos than I have ever seen taken after a commencement. They were photos with parents, friends, favorite teachers, ISD policy makers, and of course “the elk.” But people weren’t celebrating the “parties to follow.” They were celebrating the milestone. The students had survived. They had reached for goals which once seemed insurmountable. They were alive and full of promise.

As a taxpayer I want to say thank you, ISD 728 and the Ivan Sands staff, for caring for ALL kids, from all backgrounds and all persuasions. This community may be proud to support a district that is trying to support the mental, emotional, and physical needs of students in a very tenuous world. — Paula Benfer, Elk River

Load comments