by Jim Boyle


The Ivan Sand Community High School graduation ceremony, usually the most intimate of the four Elk River Area School District commencement exercises each year, was held virtually on June 12.

Principal Deanna Chiodo, a longtime teacher at the high school in her first year as the school’s leader, kicked things off.

“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to recognize the remarkable achievements of the class of 2020,” she said.

She also recognized Superintendent Dan Bittman, Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr, members of the Elk River Area School Board and each of the staff members of Ivan Sand who have walked alongside the graduates.

“You are my first class,” she said. “I am humbled by you. Your resilience, your determination, your courage shown through each and every day left an indelible legacy.

“We stand in awe in all that you have accomplished. We applaud your tenacity to stay the course.”

Teachers Rebecca Hagen and Sandra Dahlberg presented this year’s scholarships that were given based on quality of applications and essays, past school performance, school activities, leadership roles and postsecondary education plans.

Generous contributors include District 728 administrators, Three Rivers Community Foundation, Elk River Lions and Elk River Rotary.

“We really enjoyed reading through the scholarship applications,” Hagen said. “Your personality showed through the writing and brought smiles to our faces.”

Those who won scholarships want to pursue futures in political science, psychology, retail business management, machine technology, business and nursing.

Ivan Sand elected two students speakers, including Hunter Strate, who told the virtual audience he was proud to be addressing fellow graduates.

“Graduating is, or at least should be, a very big accomplishment,” Strate said. “I look at it as you’ve put effort into accomplishing one thing for 13 years of your life. I’m sure we all know people who dropped out either because they just didn’t want to do it or they had other plans.

“But today we celebrate you, the students that didn’t give up. You all worked hard for this and we all know, there were no shortcuts. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

Strate decided to come to Ivan Sand to start his 10th grade year, because he didn’t want the big crowd of people “like I had at my previous school and I knew I needed more of the one-on-one learning and support to succeed.”

“Some of you might have had the same reason,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, (being at Ivan Sand) didn’t stop me from getting angry and getting in trouble from time to time.”

At times, he said he realized he didn’t have as much support from his peers as he did his teachers.

“I had a choice to follow the crowd or break away and do what I knew I wanted to do,” he said. “I couldn’t have graduated without all of the people who believed in and pushed me. I’m sure you all feel the same way. These same people turned into my friends. I had a lot of people who cared enough to push me and made sure I saw this day!”

Strate said graduates have the power to become and do anything they set their minds to.

“We have a unique challenge ahead of us because of the pandemic; however, we know how to take a difficult situation and turn it into something positive,” Strate said.

Student Ryann Frolik also addressed her classmates, the school’s staff and family.

“Although we can’t be gathered today, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to faculty, friends, and family on behalf of my fellow graduates. Today is not only a day of celebration, it is a time of reflection and a time to embrace.

“The word that continues to come to mind as I think of this time we’re experiencing is ‘bittersweet.’

“We should all reflect on the teachers and other supporters who have pushed us to be where we are today,” she said. “I personally have spent a good portion of this year reflecting on those who have shown me constant support.”

Science teacher Therese Seitz was one of Frolik’s biggest supporters.

“She was a teacher you could tell loved her job,” she said. “She came into our doors smiling every day, she was never angry and always willing to have a conversation, whatever the topic may have been.”

Both Frolik and Seitz share a love of animals.

“That is what is so special about Ivan Sand: Every single teacher wants to connect with you,” Frolik said. “You know our staff is very different from other schools after being in their presence for less than a day. They all beam with pride when our students are successful and engaged. On the other hand they also understand our struggles, and are patient and unwilling to give up on us.”

The last thought Frolik shared came from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Darkness does not drive out darkness, only light can do that,” she said. “I heard this quote by King while writing this speech.”

She said when people only focus on how moments are bitter, they can never enjoy them as sweet.

“I ask of my fellow classmates as we continue our journey into life, accept the bitter and embrace the sweet,” she said.

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