It was a surreal experience Sunday, June 7, when members of the McFarland High School class of 2020 graduated in a virtual ceremony viewed online by students, parents, teachers, staff and others. It will certainly be remembered.

Along with video clips of students flipping their tassels to mark the final accomplishment of their high school years, the traditional speeches were given by class leaders and district staff.

Callie Korth, president of the class of 2020, focused on the “dash” between the years that mark a person’s birth and death.

“I remember telling my mom in regards to college, ‘I am so ready to have a fresh start,’” she said. “But the thing is, there is never truly a fresh start. Sure, seasons change and we grow older. We say our high school goodbyes and move on to college or work, but there is never a clean slate.

“These memories make us who we are. The small aspects that cultivated joy, the pain we felt, the excitement that resonated with us, the people we brought into our lives. All of those memories stay with us.”

Korth then took classmates on a stroll down memory lane of their years in the McFarland schools.

“As we’ve matured throughout our scholastic career, I’ve realized just how many memories we can create in 12 years,” Korth said. “We have memories that will never fade, and I cannot thank you enough for that.”

Principal Jeff Finstad said he didn’t want to focus on what was missed because of the COVID-19 pandemic; rather, he wanted to review the impact the class had on the school.

He told the story of senior Alton Slane, who worked in a youth apprenticeship opportunity with Findorff Construction and was part of the crew that remodeled the high school.

“Sometime this year, Alton asked to speak to me, not me asking to speak to Alton,” Finstad said. “He walked into my new office, looked around and said, ‘This turned out good.’ That being said, class of 2020, when you look back on your high school career, it will be easy to reflect back on the last two-plus months and focus on what you missed. I am asking you to focus on what went ‘good.’

“You have probably developed some friendships that will indeed last a lifetime. Maybe some relationships ended but you learned a lot about yourself from that person or people. Maybe you have found your passion and are on the journey to starting a career you enjoy. Maybe you can remember that one performance where you absolutely nailed it and it really turned out good.”

Finstad also touched on some controversy, noting the class was one of the most diverse the school has ever seen.

“During your time here, there were certainly events that highlighted the concerns regarding race in our building,” he said. “You did not sit quietly. You made your voice heard.”

Students organized the Black Student Union. They started other groups that focused on mental health and other equity groups. They were the inspiration for the Spartan Peace Project.

“You have woken our staff and student body and have forced us to look inward to create a school that is truly safe for everyone,” Finstad said. “It is a good start, but I promise you we are not done, because I promise to continue this initiative at MHS, but you need to promise to continue to use your voice when you start your new journey. It is obvious this country needs your voice.”

Salutatorian Sadie McCaulley listed the many sports accomplishments of the class but then urged classmates to be humble.

“In life beyond high school, the fruits of humility will not be as clear as a sport win,” she said. “The internal, unseen work of humility will result in a habit of doing good in our daily lives by putting others first. In a sense, we have just started to grow our personal root systems.

“The next four years and decades that will follow are an opportunity to grow deep and strong roots – roots of humble dedication, ones that may go unnoticed but will undoubtedly guide us and allow us to do good. Focusing on this foundation allows for growth in character.”

Superintendent Andrew Briddell described the past few months of dealing with the pandemic as unique to say the least.

“Think of school as if it’s your favorite sweater. Now turn it inside out and put it on backwards,” he said. “It’s the same sweater, but it definitely won’t fit the same, or feel the same, or look the same. Over the past couple of months we have turned our entire school system inside out and backwards. It’s still school, and it is most definitely not the same.

Valedictorian Emily Landwehr said she believed the graduates fared well during the pandemic and would continue moving forward.

“I truly believe that if we can encounter a challenge as grueling and demanding as these past weeks have been, we will be able to handle whatever the future has in store,” she said. “However, this would not be possible without the love and support of countless teachers, friends and family members. On behalf of the class of 2020, I would like to thank everyone that has unconditionally helped and supported us since the start of our kindergarten journey.”

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