A night to finally celebrate: McLouth Class of 2020 now officially graduates
It happened more than two months later than any of the 33 members of the McLouth High School Class of 2020 could have imagined, but those classmates now officially are MHS alumni.
McLouth USD 342 officially held commencement exercises Saturday at Stan Braksick Sports Complex on a night when various speakers uttered a common theme: be kind.
Class president Katie Kuglin gave an emotional welcome early in the ceremony to the crowd, which sat on blankets and lawn chairs on the football field.
“It’s definitely not the ceremony we’re used to, but we’re here, together and it is really great to see you all,” Kuglin said, her voice trembling as she fought back tears. “The last couple months have been quite the ride, and I don’t even want to get into all of that. Just toss it over there and forget about it now.”
Kuglin paused a few times to collect herself before continuing on with the welcome.
“As a society, I’ve noticed, … were’ not as kind to each other as we used to be,” she said, again taking a long pause. “I just want to say thank you everybody for being here today and to everyone who has been a part of my high school career, been a part of my life. You have no idea how much I appreciate you.
“You’ve all been a part of our lives in some way and helped us along this journey and we all are incredibly thankful for what you’ve done for us.”
Kuglin wrapped up her speech by stressing the importance of kindness.
“The little quote I have in here, because I don’t think I’m gonna get through this you guys, ‘your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment,’” she said. “So for me, guys, be generous, be considerate and be kind to one another because there will always be people out there who need it, even if you don’t know it.”
Graduation opened a few minutes earlier with class members, donning purple caps and gowns, making their way across the stadium track and then filed into north end of the stands as the MHS band performed “Pomp and Circumstance.”
MHS principal Janna Davis opened the ceremony reflecting on the unprecedented end to the graduates’ high school careers while offering some words of wisdom.
“We travel less and we worry more,” Davis said. “But the upside, is that it’s given us an opportunity to adapt, to problem-solve, to be more patient and understanding, and to persevere.”
She noted that graduating from high school can bring about newfound anxiety, but newfound excitement as well.
“But pandemic or not, change is inevitable,” Davis said, “Graduates, change is OK. You’re not expected to have all of the answers right now, or ever. Choose a direction and see where it takes you.”
She also challenged the Class of 2020 to provide some welcomed change.
“Know that you can be the change that our community, our country and our world needs,” Davis said. “Not today, not tomorrow, but your high school graduation certainly is a good step.”
After Kuglin’s welcome came speeches from this years co-valedictorians, Levi Thomas, Dakota Schupp and Elisabeth Funk.
Thomas took a humorous approach to his speech. He described how he was dreading the thought of putting a speech together.
“Add on to that, the fact that I know I’ll have family who have traveled across the state to hear this currently unwritten speech, it’s terrifying,” Thomas said.
He said the his brother, Zach, told him to hope that the microphone cuts out as it did during his speech.
“If it were up to me, I’d constantly be with my friends, even if it was just to sit in awkward silence,” Thomas said. “The hardest thing about graduating is having to move away from everyone here, away from the people who have been a part of my life since I was 6. I’m not quite sure that I’ve fully processed that I won’t be coming back to school.”
He went on to talk about some of his most cherished moments from high school and the importance of cherishing the past and embracing the future.
Schupp offered some advice, especially for those in the audience younger than him.
He reflected on what turned out to be the last day of school before spring break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even when things are hard and the going gets tough, focus and embrace the brighter side of things,” Schupp said. “Try to appreciate something every single day even if it’s a smile from somebody else … live each day like it’s your last, and the days will get better.”
Another piece of advice Schupp gave: Avoid putting yourself in bad situations.
He explained that he was in a vehicle accident the early hours of July 9 coming home from work. He didn’t think he was as tired as he really was.
“That morning, I can say I did grow up a lot,” he said, noting that he was fortunate that he wasn’t seriously injured or that there wasn’t another vehicle involved in the wreck.
He said he loved the outpouring of support from the community, later saying that McLouth “was one big family.”
He thanked his extended family, teammates, teachers and coaches for all they’ve done during his school years at McLouth.
“I just want you to know, my achievements are yours,” said Schupp who is entering the Air Force.
He wrapped up his speech instructing those in attendance to let the people who care about you know how much you appreciate them.
“Love spreads love, and with so much tension in the world right now, love is needed more than ever,” he said.
Funk thanked the community for all the ways they have supported the senior class in the last few months despite the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions. She also praised her parents and siblings individually.
“Though it was upsetting at first, quarantine has shown me just how strong our community is,” Funk said. “McLouth is a small town with a big heart where people stick together in tough times, even when we’re told to stay 6 feet apart.”
She said that support wasn’t limited to pandemic times; rather, it was a reminder of the support and encouragement the last 13 years.
Counselor Aaron Polson announced scholarships and awards and Superintendent Steve Lilly presented the class for graduation.
Class colors were blue and silver; the class flower was the white rose.
Class motto was a quote from Albert Einstein: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important things not to stop questioning.”
Polson commended the evening’s speeches and the theme of being good to others, explaining that he reminds his children often “kindness is free.”
There were many common themes on the night that McLouth finally got the opportunity to celebrate its seniors.
““You are determined and resilient,” Davis said during her introduction. “You are the Class of 2020.”