May 23—Dozens of members of the Mitchell High School Class of 2021 made their way across the stage Sunday afternoon at the Corn Palace, completing a journey that began with their earliest school days and marking a stepping-off point as they head into the world of further education or the workforce.
As graduates, friends, family and community members gathered together to wish the departing senior class well, members of the Class of 2021 reflected on the challenges they faced in their years at Mitchell High School.
Of course, in addition to the typical trials and tribulations that come with navigating high school waters, the presence of COVID-19 and the reaction to the global pandemic upended many school norms and traditions. Anna Scheurenbrand, a graduating senior who gave the invocation at the event, noted that simply being together as a group was a sign of the success of the latest school year.
"I'm grateful for all the milestones we have accomplished this year, and I'm especially grateful that we have finished our year in school together," Scheurenbrand told the audience at the Corn Palace. "Finally, we are moving on to our next chapter in life."
The Corn Palace crowd, which was limited to below-capacity numbers due to COVID-19, saw about 175 graduates receive their diplomas Sunday afternoon, and heard from a pair of Class of 2021 members as they reflected on stress, uncertainty and the will to make it through that was displayed by the students despite the difficulties.
Kiersten Bathke spoke of finding true happiness in her time attending Mitchell High School, something that was the result of staying the course and the support of the greater Mitchell community.
"If there's one thing I've learned in my past four years at Mitchell High School, it would be how to find true happiness," Bathke said. "That is what high school is all about: growth. As freshmen, we plant the seeds of who we think we are and want to be, but never really fully understand what it means until we begin to sprout."
Perseverance is part of the growth, she said. And few classes have had as much to deal with in their late high school years as the Class of 2021.
"The students seated before you have gone through a number of storms and frigid winters. But the thing that makes the Class of 2021 so special is the resilience that we hold within. Despite everything that has tried to tear us down or apart, we never let our flowers wilt. From the loss of a classmate at an early age, to living through living history, with protests and a global pandemic, we still have our petals," Bathke said.
She reflected on the early days of her class, as well as her time with the tennis team. She praised coach Pat Moller for his unwavering support, and pointed to him as an example of a district where staff and faculty are there to contribute to the ongoing success of its students. The connection between coaches and their athletes is especially strong, she said.
"Mitchell has something very few other districts can say they have, and that is the teachers and administration have a genuine interest in their students. The teachers at Mitchell High School are always finding ways to build healthy relationships with students in and outside the classroom," Bathke said. "I believe this blessing is most prevalent in Kernel athletics and activities."
That connection extends to the general community itself, she said, and it all comes together to help each graduating class find its way into the next phase of life.
"The past year has been filled with a lot of difficulties and arguments on how to do this or that, but we have strengthened our community to help us come out stronger on the other side," Bathke said.
Beau Schoenfelder, another member of the Class of 2021, also addressed the audience, praising the parents of the latest group of graduates, but like Bathke, gave thanks to the teachers and school leaders that have put them all on the path to the future.
"With the strong leadership and caring you have for your students, Mitchell High School would not have the incredibly proficient and responsible students that it has today," Schoenfelder said. "Because you chose to educate the future, kids like me can pursue any kind of life I want."
Schoenfelder also reflected on memories of his class, including a bat that was discovered in a classroom that caused its fair share of disruption. But he also remembered the hard work put in by the boys basketball team that saw them return to the state tournament for the first time in nearly a decade.
After an extended stretch with no state tournament appearances, it took a great deal of mental fortitude from players and coaches to coalesce into a formidable unit. But they did, again serving as an example of that persevering spirit the class has tended to show.
"Work. Work for what you want. That phrase kept running through the team's head. Work through the pain of failure," Schoenfelder said. "This molded a mentality that the team needed to make it back to the state tournament for the first time in nine years."
Class members gained knowledge in the classes they attended, but also in the everyday activities of being students, Schoenfelder said. Those were some of the most meaningful lessons from his time at Mitchell High School.
"Success is not an independent event. You cannot have success without fail. In failing, you build the mental strength to succeed in life. In sports and extracurricular activities and everyday situations, these prepare you for life," he said. "As I head to college, I've been thinking about these last four years. It wasn't the classes that were teaching you, it was the experiences that I gained along the way I will take with me."
Prior to presenting the Class of 2021 and handing out diplomas, Joe Childs, principal of Mitchell High School, lauded the class for their patience and their ability to stay the course during some of the most uncertain times in recent history.
"The Class of 2021 is an extraordinary group. We've each witnessed this year's class become involved in our community, participate in our school's activities and clubs and, most importantly, we've seen this group persevere," Childs said. "There is no doubt that few of us could have predicted all that we've had to endure over the past year. Together, however, the Class of 2021 has succeeded."
Groups of students like the one gathered at the Corn Palace Sunday afternoon are their own example of the dedicated, focused students that come from Mitchell High School, he said.
"These graduates are a true example of unity and strength and are luminaries to all others. They gather our young men and women and remove barriers, and on every occasion, they made the most of their opportunities. Although the success has not easily been taken, it has been the result of each of these young people."
The livestream of the graduation is available at Mitchell High School YouTube channel.