May 15—"Pomp and Circumstance" played through the speakers Friday night as 463 Manhattan High School seniors amassed in Bill Snyder Family Stadium for the 2021 commencement ceremony — the school's first ceremony held in-person since the pandemic began last March.
Thirteen graduates from 2020 also chose to walk with the Class of 2021 Friday evening. The coroanavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of graduations across the world last year. Seniors last year were left to celebrate finishing school with their own families and away from their fellow classmates.
2021 senior Nicole Savage was one of the evening's commencement speakers. She said she was a bit nervous to speak in front of her peers, but she said this event is a culmination of expectations.
"It's something you work so hard for and being able to be recognized for those years you've put in to studying," Savage said. "It's also the ability to celebrate the people around you, because it's not just your graduation you're celebrating, it's all of my friends I've spent so many years working alongside and hanging out with, and we get to graduate together, because you never graduate alone."
Savage graduated with a 4.0 grade point average. She plans to attend Brigham Young University in Utah and either study something in the scientific field or theatre technology. During her speech, she talked about her fellow classmates embarking on their own life story.
"I want to wish you all a snazzy life, and a snazzy road trip ahead of you, because we're all going to go off to our various destinations in our lives," Savage said. "Thank you, and good luck."
The air in the stadium was chilled and humid as rain was forecast. No thunderstorms materialized, however skies remained subdued and overcast as students crossed the stage. Manhattan High School principal Mike Dorst said during his welcoming address that the 2021 class contributed 16,000 volunteer hours within the community. He said when he looks at this class, he sees amazing people.
"I see a group of people that have helped our school change for the better," Dorst said. "I see a class that has acknowledged the importance and capacity to help our school grow. ... You have been a positive force during a time that has not been easy."
Each graduating senior received eight tickets for general admission to the ceremony. The school asked families to sit together and maintain physical distance from others; MHS required masks for those in attendance. USD 383 livestreamed the ceremony on the district's YouTube channel for those who could not attend in person.
Senior Reagan Geisbrecht said it was a special event, and she did not fully realize how much she missed graduation ceremonies.
"I'm just really thankful that we're able to have something here," Geisbrecht said.
Geisbrecht graduated with a 4.22 GPA, and she said she plans to attend K-State to study business administration. She said it's important for people to get vaccinated and wear their mask properly, so traditions like commencement ceremonies can continue safely.
"Since we missed so much earlier in the year, I'm glad we were able to have the end of the (school) year be a little bit more normal with prom and graduation," Geisbrecht said. "This is the last time all of our class will probably be together, all in one spot, for a long time. ... It's really important to get everyone together one last time, say goodbye, and celebrate all of the stuff we went through, especially as a COVID class."
Senior Kailitri Jones was the second speaker for the class. He encouraged his peers to congratulate themselves for coming so far in their four years of high school.
"Let's be honest, we started with low expectations, maybe a little bit of fear as freshmen, but now we high confidence, self-esteem, and a little bit of life lessons," Jones said. "We started with a dream now, and now the only thing to do is make it a reality."
Jones told his classmates to look around and make eye contact with those who made them feel welcome or befriended them. He also encouraged his fellow seniors to celebrate themselves and feel good about individual achievements.
"You are your own best friend," Jones said, "and who would ever let their best friend down?"
Jones encouraged his fellow graduates to not let the past four years define them.
"Maybe you didn't get all A's, and maybe you crumbled under the pressure of people telling you, 'You should've done better,'" Jones said. "You are more than what you've done. ... The moment your name is called and you walk across this stage, you are walking into literally a new life; make it your own and make it enjoyable."