The Waunakee Community High School graduation celebrated the more than 300 students’ achievements June 5 following a topsy-turvy pandemic year. As Principal Brian Borowski pointed out in his address, it included three different educational models: “synchronous learning. Hybrid and back to kinda normal.”
Several common themes emerged in the speeches – the students’ growth, expectations for the future, gratitude for family, friends, teachers and staff, and the strong sense of community even while the students learned remotely.
In her address, Class President Robyn Ryan noted that the seniors “constantly found new ways to stay together,” and mentioned highlights such as winning a football state championship freshman year and the pep rally sophomore year.
“It’s crazy to think how fast the time has gone by and how many memories we’ve made throughout the years,” Ryan said, adding they would soon begin new chapters in their lives.
Student Council president Olivia Lemanski remembered traveling to Orlando with her classmates for a school-sponsored competition and used the metaphor of the airplane ride to convey the journey through high school and beyond.
“When you are 5,000 feet up, you can’t help but think about the destination, the future. Endless possibilities and dreams. We are walking into our colleges, our careers, our future families and home,” Lemanski said. Still, she said, “the return ticket never fails to remind us that Waunakee will always be our home.”
She urged the class of 2021 to “lift off.”
“And graduates, we have finally arrived at our future destination and the future is bright,” Lemanski concluded.
Musical selections included “The Parting Glass,” Choir Director Molly Petroff’s arrangement of a traditional Scottish song, and “Seasons of Love,” from the musical “Rent.”
Cum Laude student Shriya Kata expressed gratitude for teachers, staff and parents who offered guidance, noting they helped her become “the best version of myself.”
Kata spoke of FOMO or Fear of Missing Out, noting the worry was time wasted.
“Time is something we shouldn’t take for granted. Living a life filled with regret and worry is no way to live,” Kata said.
She encouraged her fellow graduates to find their passions and discover their goals, and then commit to them, adding, “imagine the things we could accomplish.”
Kata said the class of 2021 had already found that passion and the seniors have “protested or fought back in our own way against the inequalities and injustices that people of color and minority groups face.”
Kata said as adults, they have greater power to make “real positive change in the world.”
“I can’t wait to witness what each of you goes on to accomplish,” she added “Congratulations, class of 2021.”
Fellow Cum Laude student Meta Simon pointed out that all involved in the students’ development should be congratulated, “every teacher, parent, coach, administrator and staff member deserves a pat on the back, a big hug and a thank you.”
As the students transition to the next phase of their lives, Simon pointed out they “will always have the safety net of a fantastic education and valuable life skills learned here at Waunakee over the last 13 years of our lives. This is something we ought to be grateful for.”
Borowski noted the skills students gained during the pandemic, including independence, self-reliance, resilience and self-confidence.
“There are students in this stadium who conquered their fears. Fear of change. Fear of the unknowns,” Borowksi said, adding that through overcoming fear, self-confidence grows.
The seniors also practiced patience and kindness.
“This group also understands that being kind to one another during difficult times is an incredibly valuable skill to carry out through life. When we found ourselves feeling isolated and alone, kindness was never more appreciated as much as it was this past year,” Borowski said.
He encouraged students to reflect on the positives and look for the good in life “even when challenges seem impossible to overcome,” to lean on thier friends, be kind, laugh and “know that you might be the best person to count on during difficult or challenging times.”
Seniors were given a carabiner as they began their journey ahead.
“It is to remind you how incredibly versatile you are. Every time you clip it to something, you can remember the challenges you overcame and strength that you have,” Borowski said. “It can remind you of your friends and how they are there to help you when you need them.”
Students were presented with their diplomas, and as district Administrator Randy Guttenberg turned their tassels, they took a step into their next life chapters.