As the Waterloo High School class of 2021 sat on the football field Saturday afternoon and waited to receive their diplomas, Superintendent Brian Henning spoke about how the seniors, and community, were asked to make sacrifices during the past year much like people were required to do during the 1918 Spanish flu and World War II.

It was a historic moment for the teens – receiving a diploma – occurring during a time that will surely be remembered in history books.

“There are events the graduates have missed and will never get back. However, like the generations before them, their ability to deal with adversity, and the potential for a period of prosperity ahead is great. … I cannot think of a better group of young people to lead us into those good times and prosperity,” Henning said. “The class of 2021 has made us proud of where they are today, and I know they will continue to make us proud as they join a world coming out of a pandemic. The world is feeling a great amount of forward momentum right now and the class of 2021 has that same momentum.”

School Board President Nancy Thompson remarked high school graduation was an exciting day, it marked the completion of a chapter in the lives of the seniors marked by laughter, friendship, hard work, disappointments and sometimes even tears.

“This past year has been one to remember, probably not what these graduates had in mind and what they had hoped for at the start of their senior year,” she said. “It’s been said 10% of a person’s life is what happens to them and 90% is how that person responds to what happens. If you accept that philosophy, some of you might say these graduates were given limits. … But I’d respond these graduates took those lemons and they made lemonade.”

Thompson asked the graduates to know they would be facing open doors to opportunities each and every day to reach their dreams. She said it was appropriate that the class motto was “Time to turn those dreams into a reality: 2021.” The board president said it was similar to a quote by Walt Disney – “If you can dream it, you can do it.” But, Thompson noted, even in the Magic Kingdom dreams did not become reality without hard work, preparation, and determination.

Class president Andrew Battenberg said graduation was a moment some of the seniors had been looking forward to, others dreading and even a mixture of both emotions.

“But after this, what’s next? Some of us have the next 10 years planned out and others of us don’t know what we’ll be doing next week,” the class president said. “The only thing we are certain of is that we’re on the cusp of change.”

He talked about how during the last year, the students have needed to adapt to the changes of living during a pandemic and following the rules and restrictions put in place. Battenberg said this taught the teenagers to be flexible and adapt to obstacles as they faced them.

“Then again, facing obstacles isn’t new to this class,” he said. “When we were in elementary school, our world was upended when a student decided it would be a good idea to sprint head first into the fire truck (piece of playground equipment). This resulted in its removal and replacement. Though I’m sure they had our safety in mind, it required a complete reset on our recess agenda.”

Later, the students needed to navigate middle school lunch time and claiming their group’s table. High school also offered obstacles such as more difficult classes and “scary older kids.”

“As we find ourselves leaving something familiar and entering something scary and unknown yet again today, look back at what we did… Think of the excitement and the terror that you felt for the changing time. But then the satisfaction of navigating that challenge.”

Salutatorian Brenen Skalitzky’s message to his fellow seniors was that high school is tough but life is harder.

“I think that with the help of the Waterloo School District we’ve been instilled with the skills, the confidence and courage to take on whatever challenges in life we will face,” he said. “We are a group that believes not just in the moral and educational foundations expected of us, we push further by doing more and becoming greater.”

The salutatorian recalled the first day of meeting all of his classmates, many of who were there at graduation.

“This incredible group of students are some of the people that I know the best,” Skalitzky said. “Who I’ve spent the most time with, that I’ve learned about life and the world with.”

He chose to share a few words of wisdom from Theodore Roosevelt – “Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.” Skalitzky said the Waterloo High School class of 2021 was not only resilient but able to face the challenges with character and courage.

Valedictorian Tyler Voigts also shared a quote from a famous Roosevelt, this one attributed to Franklin Delano: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Voigts said the graduates should not run from the challenges presented in life, but also to embrace them.

“We will all be faced with challenges but our education at Waterloo High School has prepared us to manage it,” he said.

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