At Rogers High School and during a pandemic, 382 seniors graduate in a virtual ceremony

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

“Today isn’t how any of us imagined it would be. Over the past three months, our lives have been turned upside down and our senior year ended prematurely. I never envisioned giving this speech to an empty auditorium, and I’m sure none of you ever imagined watching your graduation ceremony in your living room. But, nonetheless, we did it. We graduated!”

So said Ella Achterkirch, student speaker at Rogers High School’s virtual commencement program, which aired online at 7 p.m. Friday, June 12.

Commencement exercises for RHS’s 382 graduates were moved online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In her commencement speech titled “Dear Class of 2020,” Achterkirch told her classmates that they are living through history.

“We will make it through these times, and we are stronger because of what we are going through,” she said.

Making the best of a difficult situation will only make them all better, and staying positive is essential, she added.

“We are eternally bonded with our fellow 2020 graduates as the class that got robbed, but also the class that pushed through amid the chaos and uncertainty,” Ackterkirch said.

The virtual commencement had many of the elements found in a traditional graduation ceremony.

In addition to Achterkirch’s speech, the program included virtual performances by the Rogers High School band under the direction of Keith Saxton and the Rogers High School choir, directed by Samuel Eckberg. The student musicians popped up on the screen as they began performing from off-site locations. The band played “See You Again” and “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” The choir performed “From Here On In” and Eckberg sang the national anthem.

Two soldiers from the Army National Guard, Dalton Hager and Jon DuBois, presented the colors. Superintendent Daniel Bittman spoke. Principal Jason Paurus moderated the event and presented the class.

Paurus said 2020 was the 16th graduation ceremony for Rogers High School.

He urged graduates to remember an attitude of gratitude.

“Make it a habit every day of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you and to give thanks continuously,” he said.

He also recommended that graduates practice compassionate kindness for self and for others. Find time every day to take care of themselves and to do something good for others, he advised.

“Kindness is the gift that keeps on giving. One kind word can change someone’s entire day. Do good for others. It will come back in unexpected ways,” Paurus said.

Nancy Bynum was the faculty member chosen by the class to speak. She has been at RHS for the last 11 years and has taught physical science, chemistry and physics. In her speech titled “Be the Light,” she shared four life lessons:

•View life as a beautiful series of unexpected surprises. “To choose a positive response to challenges beyond our control is just that, a choice,” she said.

•Work wholeheartedly, as though working for God.

•Keep in mind that you are an essential part of the big picture of life.

•When you do good for others, it enriches you. She quoted David McCullough, who said, “The great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

The ceremony may be viewed online at isd728.org, along with photos and video of other RHS graduation milestones, including a graduation car parade held June 4 outside the school. During that event, loved ones dropped the seniors off and watched from their vehicles as, one by one and practicing social distancing, the graduates were awarded their diplomas and had their photos taken before getting back into their vehicles.

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