Commencement met the “old,” the “refurbished” and the “novel” as the Grand Island Senior High Class of 2021 held its graduation Sunday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
The “old” was the setting at Memorial Stadium, the site of numerous GISH graduations until the ceremony was moved to the Heartland Events Center in recent years.
The “refurbished” was also Memorial Stadium, which has undergone extensive renovations.
The “novel,” of course, was the “novel coronavirus,” a brand new disease that first made its appearance in late 2019.
It changed the final school year for GISH seniors, who had to take precautions to prevent the simple act of going to classes from becoming a superspreader event.
Caution prevailed through commencement, when each of the more than 500 graduates marched into Memorial Stadium wearing masks, in addition to the traditional purple cap and gown.
Almost everyone in the crowd also was wearing masks while seated in the open air stadium.
All those facts were recognized by Myah Brown, the student commencement speaker for the Class of 2021.
“One long year ago, we came face to face with a global pandemic,” Brown said.
“Since that time, our academic experiences have undergone changes; our social lives have taken a spin; and almost every other aspect of our lives has been altered by this pandemic,” she said.
“However, if you look to your left and to your right this afternoon, you’ll notice we are all here together. Let us not take this moment for granted,” she said.
“Every person in attendance today, whether in person or watching online,” Brown said, “has helped to write the story of the resilient Grand Island Senior High Class of 2021, and now is the time to celebrate what we’ve accomplished.”
GISH Executive Principal Jeff Gilbertson recognized the challenges that COVID-19 has presented to seniors and Senior High, noting that “when we were tested and when we were stressed, we were able to rise, push through and come out the other side, stronger, braver and better.”
Superintendent Tawana Grover also referenced the challenges of COVID-19, saying that “there have been many reasons for this class to grow weary ...”
But Grover later said the graduates’ legacy will be that “the Class of 2021 mastered the moment at the intersection of innovation and inspiration.”
She then pivoted to remarks that would be appropriate for any commencement. She talked about how seniors likely have already had defining moments in their lives.
Grover said the graduates will face future “defining moments” that can change their mindset and transform their behavior. Each can see these new defining moments as either obstacles or opportunities.
Those defining moments will be when graduates decide what is most important in their lives, she said.
In her student speech, Brown also shifted to traditional commencement ideas.
She said a typical adult makes 35,000 decisions per day. It was the accumulation of all those daily decisions that brought each senior to commencement on Sunday.
Brown said decision-making has not ended for the Class of 2021. People should not be overly concerned with making the right decision, but should focus on making decisions in the right way.
That means making decisions with passion and then figuring out what they must do next to make their decisions count, she said.
The most traditional part of commencement was the announcement of each graduate’s name as he or she received a Grand Island Senior High diploma.
It was the most lengthy part of graduation, which was fitting, because it was the most important part of graduation. As each name was announced, it prompted the sound of applause and cheers.
Most grads briefly removed their masks as they got their diplomas.