As parents entered the Rainier High School gymnasium with ceremony tickets in hand, it was hard to shake off their impressions of pride and the kind of preemptive longing that can only come when readying oneself for the absence of a new graduate from the home.
That’s because the embattled class of 2021 graduated from Rainier High School on Friday, June 4.
“Embattled,” or if you ask Principal John Beckman, perhaps “resilient” is a better word that describes the class.
“But there is one defining term that truly comes to mind for the class of 21,” Beckman said in a salutatory address at the graduation ceremony. “And that is resilience. When I look back at the trials this class had to face in the past year and a half alone, I’m so grateful to see that they still have their heads raised high. I also take comfort knowing that there are still some smiles behind those masks.”
Beckman said that not only did the class have to battle the pandemic with its social distancing, lockdowns, distance learning and hybrid-model adjusting, the class faced deeply personal hurdles as well.
“I believe it is safe to say that we have become a family throughout the years,” said Valedictorian Amanda Knutz in her address to the graduates. “We have gotten through everything together, including the rough patches and the exciting ones. From the loss of our dear art teacher … to our friends Isaac and Riffe, we have made it here, today, helping each other through it all.”
Knutz said she thinks of her class as the consummate underdogs.
“I would not change anything about this class for the world,” she said. “Our class has always had a bit of a reputation, because we may not be perfect, but not being perfect just keeps things interesting.”
She’s referring to the many times her class became known as the mischievous ones, or perhaps the time the class set off a smoke alarm.
“We have been the class that broke the rules … even set off a fire alarm in middle school finishing off a science lab project — cough cough — Kenzie,” Knutz said. “We may not have the best reputation at times, but we made it here successfully to graduation and I am so proud of each and every one of us.”
Beckman, too, addressed the class’ colorful reputation.
“While there have been some ups and downs along the way, truth be told, they have matured a ton,” he said.
Knutz said her class didn’t just accept that there was a lot of rule breakers and misbehavers. Instead, they took it upon themselves to flip the script.
“Together, as the smallest class in Rainier in 20 plus years, we surpassed the stereotype our class has gained and over our time in Rainier, changing it for the better,” Knutz said. “As we go on to become future teachers, nurses, linesmen, carpenters and many other different career paths, we will carry the memories and knowledge we have gained here in Rainier into our adult lives.”
After the graduates had all gathered and Knutz gave her speech, the ceremony attendees grabbed their tissues and viewed a slide show depicting the graduates throughout the short years of their lives — from baby to adult, naive to wizened, preschooler to graduate.
“I gotta tell you, every time I watch those videos it always blows me away about how fast time flies, and I know for your parents, it’s just the snap of the fingers,” Beckman told the graduates through choking emotion. “So remember that. Remember that as you leave here. It’s about to speed up for you.”
Knutz, too, marveled at the relentless speed at which memories are made.
“I never believed (it) when people told us that these years would fly by until now,” she said. “Standing in front of you all, giving a valedictorian speech, I never thought that I would be the one giving it. … To my classmates, good luck with your upcoming adult lives. And thank you, everyone.”