by Jim Boyle
Elk River High School’s Class of 2020 place in history has been firmly established, and the sense one gets after watching the school’s first virtual graduation ceremony is its 436 members are poised to write even more pages in history books before they are done on Earth.
“I have witnessed your strength and know that you are all going to do wonderful things,” said Brad Olson, an Elk River High School teacher who watched them grow up along with a daughter who is a member of the Elk River High School Class of 2020.
He volunteered as a Watch Dog when she was in elementary school, attended multiple Jump Rope for Heart events, chaperoned field trips, coached some of the class in middle school, and watched many of their band and choir concerts over the years. And he even watched some of them grow in the Strength and Speed program that he helps run.
“It is so amazing to see the transformation a lot of you have made,” he said. “You used to be small and cute little kids, but now you are all grown up. You are all so special to me; I am truly going to miss all of you.”
Olson was selected by the senior class to address them. His message for the group was to keep moving forward, no matter the obstacles.
“I know we don’t always get the endings we want or that we feel we deserve, so we adapt, we adjust and we ... keep moving forward. ... That is why I am so proud of all of you. You have kept moving forward no matter what, no matter how painful,” he said.
“You don’t have to be defined by what has happened. This is the class that busted their butts to graduate and achieved so much and great friendships along the way.”
Olson said there are so many issues and troubles in society, “but we also see so much good. Focus on the positives and overcome those challenges.”
Community support for this crop of Elk River High School graduates is high. There were $152,250 worth of scholarships awarded to 189 seniors on May 15, which is the biggest dollar amount in school history, Elk River High School Principal Terry Bizal said.
“We appreciate and thank our community partnership for your continued financial support toward scholarship programs,” he said. “We share a common belief any financial support for a postsecondary program is always a good investment.”
Bizal reminded them in conclusion that it’s always good to be an Elk. So did Amanda Ohlgren, one of the school’s three assistant principals, who oversaw the senior class.
“Students, your high school journey has been like no other class before you,” she said. “Your freshman year started with an alternative day schedule due to the water damage from storms brought in weeks before school started. You struggled with the locks on the lockers, locating your next class, all while finding a spot to sit at during lunch.”
She mentioned the Class of 2020 was the first to have a personal Chromebook to use all four years. And they finished their senior campaign in a pandemic that forced all schools into distance learning.
“Projects, online tests and more Google Meets than you ever had in over 3 1/2 years,” she said before encouraging students to remember homecomings, sports, activities, morp and prom.
“As you leave Elk River High School ... you will not remember what second-hour class you had your freshman, sophomore or senior year, ... but what you will remember is the friendships created and the time shared with those friends,” Ohlgren said. “You will remember who made you laugh and who was there when you needed somebody.
“You will remember which teacher had a positive impact on your education, and it won’t be because of an assignment but because they took time to ask how your weekend went.”
Ohlgren said this is a year no one saw coming — “the year COVID-19 disrupted our lives in unimaginable ways,” she said.
“Many rites of passages you looked forward to were taken from you,” Ohlgren said. “School trips, final sports seasons and activity seasons, prom, elementary graduation, tours and a traditional graduation.”
Elk River High School senior class president Cheyanne Dyson addressed her fellow classmates as the infamous Class of 2020.
“Well, here we are. Or, I guess, more accurately — here I am in an empty auditorium with a camera, and you are watching this video wherever it may find you,” she said.
On Friday, March 13, the final bell rang and students filed out of school like it was an ordinary end to an ordinary week.
“We walked to our cars and casually said our goodbyes until Monday,” she said. “However, much to our dismay, Monday never came. I know after 13 years of school, this is not how we imagined the end. And for that I apologize.”
Dyson, who transferred to Elk River High School for the start of her junior year, said her time at the school has taught her one very important lesson, especially the last few months of distance learning during a pandemic.
“We are a family,” she said. “Despite social regulations we still managed to keep in contact with our friends, even if it was to declare how boring Netflix had gotten. I’m sure none of us could have fathomed boredom when it comes to Netflix.”
Dyson encouraged her classmates to remain curious about their place in history, stay connected to the people who make you who you are and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
“We’ve inherited this great big world, now let’s change it,” she concluded.
High Honor student representative Adam Boeckermann talked about the uncertain times they live in and how they impact a person.
“It is during these (uncertain) times we grow the most,” he said.
Although graduates might not know what their next steps will look like as they head off to college, a trade school, the armed services or to find a job, they are certain about many goals and dreams.
“We are all chasing our dreams, and that is perhaps the most important thing of all,” he said. “So embrace the uncertainties in life and grow from them.”