For the 138th time Lake Mills High School celebrated graduation —in person at the new L-Cat Stadium Sunday. Though there were no handshakes, there were speeches and the 89 members of the Class of 2020 received their diplomas.
It’s not the way they thought graduation would happen, but it seemed the graduates were happy to be there, sitting spaced apart but together finally, one last time before heading off to college, starting new jobs or whatever life will throw their way.
“This year 89 students have finished their journey with the district, most of them will walk across the stage in a few minutes to begin the next chapter of their journey,” said Cale Vogel, Lake Mills High School principal. “Many of the students behind me will soon leave their homes for two- or four-year colleges, work or the military.”
Vogel recognized David Klein, who has already left for Army basic training.
“It’s hard to believe this is my last speech for the District, and it’s hard to believe I am saying farewell to all of you and also to the Lake Mills Area School District after all these many, many years,” said Pamela Streich, retired district administrator. “Over 15 years ago, I was asked to apply for a grant to explore 4-year-old kindergarten. Well, the rest is history. The Class of 2020 became our first 4K class.”
She said through their 14 years of school she kept tabs on the students interested in how they were doing.
“Each year, I try to think of just one word that encompasses the spirit of the graduating class. I was at a loss for your class. Then last September, I had a conversation with my then 5-year-old granddaughter,” she said. “She had just started kindergarten and it was a bumpy start. When I asked what was going on she said, ‘There is a boy in my class that uses bad words. He uses the I word.’ My mind whirled as I thought about what I had heard you say when you were little. Then she added, ‘You know Nana, you told me to never say it.’ I was stumped. She could tell I was at a loss, ‘Nana he says, ‘I don’t care.’’ She was a bit embarrassed to even say it out loud. I was relieved but didn’t remember ever telling her not to say it. But somehow, through words or actions, she had gotten the message that ‘I don’t care.’ was unacceptable to me.”
She said ‘care’ is the perfect word to describe the Class of 2020.
“Everything that has happened in your school career, and the last four months in particular, comes from a place of caring,” she said. “This school cares about you. This community cares about you and I care about you, but more importantly you care. You showed you care about your classmates by demanding an in-person graduation.”
Streich reminded graduates to continue caring for those around them and throughout their lives.
“To the Class of 2020, my sincerest and overdue congratulations! Savor this moment. Remember don’t use the I word and it’s always a great day to be an L-Cat!”
Camden Schultz, salutatorian, described the Class of 2020 as a “bunch of carbon atoms.”
“Important, but pretty common. However, when exposed to extreme temperature and pressure, carbon atoms transform into diamonds, rare and valuable. With the world currently being a perfect furnace, I couldn’t see a better opportunity for us as a class to shine,” he said.
He said the world is watching young people right now to see how they react.
“History could either see us as fragile kids who buckled under the pressure, or strong individuals who rose to the occasion and changed the world, and that is entirely up to us to decide. We have a unique circumstance presented to us, unlike anything seen in generations. I think we can all agree the class of 2020 will be one to remember,” he said. “You can either be an average carbon atom like everyone else, or you can become a diamond and shine for the world to see.”
Anastacia Dressel, valedictorian, said the only person who saw 2020 coming was possibly George Orwell.
“Anyone who has taken a class or continued a job or walked into a store (or even maybe tried to plan a grad party) can probably attest to the fact that a lot has changed in terms of standard protocol. Everyone has had to learn to navigate a very germy world,” she said. “I, for one, am excited for what comes next. Sitting in front of me are motivated, talented individuals who have the abilities to accomplish amazing things. We are going off-script but are also creating a new set of lines that will hold for generations to come. “
Magen Polzin, valedictorian, said when they were in elementary school the class was excited to be graduating in the year 2020.
“I think that we can all agree, we had never imagined this day to be a part of the most uncertain and unpredictable part of our lives so far. As I look out at all of you, my fellow 2020 classmates, I see so much talent, brightness and promise for the future. But I also see all the hurt that the last few months of our high school years has caused us,” she said. “We missed out on so many last moments that seniors are meant to experience. Moments that we will never get back. Who would have thought that March 13th would be the very last day we would ever walk down those halls together? Who would have thought that those kids who talked about how cool they were for graduating in the year 2020 would end up graduating in the scariest time of our lives thus far.”
“The world we live in is that of a finite one. Your experiences, emotions, joys and sorrows, victories, defeats, and existence are all finite,” said Henry Popowski, valedictorian.
He encouraged the class to open their eyes to the beauty around them.
“Your time here is over, and you will never get it back. Let not this thought sadden you. Rather, let it allow you to appreciate the moments you have created.”
Grace Schopf, valedictorian, highlighted the importance of mental health in her speech. She said she had been cleaning her desk when she found a list.
“I found a list that to someone else would just look like a bunch of random words, but to me was a list of all the things causing me anxiety: school, grades, volleyball, summer job, lifeguard training, ACT prep. You get the point. Back then, these worries seemed huge. As I looked at this list, I realized that most of these things were either no longer causing stress in my life or things that I had accomplished.”
Schopf said these things causing her worry at the time were not as important as family, friends and classmates.
“I know for a fact I am not the only one graduating today that has struggled with anxiety or depression or felt unworthy at some point. And you know what, I am not afraid to say it anymore. I thought for years I had to hide it and I did, until I couldn’t. By sharing this, I hope to start more conversations and further end the mental health stigma. Mental health is so incredibly important and even though it is called ‘mental’ health, once the depression or anxiety becomes bad enough, it is just as much a physical struggle.”
She said she is lucky to have a great support system for times she has been down and needed help.
“Going off to college is going to be hard and lonely at times, but I take comfort in knowing that we are all going through this part of life together. Whether you are going to college, starting a job, learning a trade, we have this group of people all going through it together. When things get tough, reach out and know that there are people who care about you.”
Schopf said the best thing she can do for herself is give back to others and the world.
Ellyn Werner, valedictorian, said a lesson she has learned over the last five months is, “if you were in a robe at 1 in the afternoon, it meant you gave up. Today might be the only exception,” she said.
“High school holds most of our best and our toughest times thus far. Myself, as well as many of you, will forever remember those big games, musical performances, and time spent with friends. At the same time, we are also not strangers to the unkind people, gossip, and nasty social media posts that come in high school,” she said. “Now, we are going out into the so-called, real world. The whole world is our stage now, and it can be ugly, but we also have the chance to make it into something better.”
Werner encouraged continued use of the Golden Rule and compassion for others.
“We should strive to allow everyone no matter how they look, their socioeconomic status, the state of their health, their family status, religion, or education received to be able to share their stories and be offered opportunities to be seen, heard and validated.”