The past year its share of ups, downs and uncertainties for the Dolores High School class of 2021, but the theme of this year’s commencement ceremony was not COVID-related.
Instead, students and staff focused on the future, and on the lessons the class had learned in Dolores that readied them for the future. Speakers celebrated the many paths that the graduates would follow, and the 29 young people were told to find what fits them to “unlock” the world.
“It has been in my experience that success comes in many forms, and that the most important measure of success is the one that you set for yourself,” said DHS valedictorian Nina Hufman in her speech.
Although the ceremony followed a traditional format — harkening back to pre-COVID times, although visitors were required to have their temperature checked at the door — last year’s addition of a mid-afternoon car parade through town remained. A few hours before the official ceremony would begin, graduates perched atop decorated cars and truck beds and processed down Central Avenue and back up Railroad Avenue. Teddy Bear Preschool graduates followed behind them — the class of 2034, of course.
The evening ceremony was much different than last year’s videotaped one, as family and friends were able to fill the Dolores gymnasium, cheering for their graduates bedecked in colorful caps and leis. Attendees were able to see live speeches and a slideshow of the graduates, featuring baby pictures and a “walk down memory lane” through the years.
Lis Richard, superintendent of Dolores School District Re-4A, lauded the class, staff, and parents for making it to this day.
“Such great plans, such great students, couldn’t be more proud of them,” Richard said. “But parents, thank you for the time and the effort, the tears and the triumphs, and all that you have done to bring your students to this place.”
She also highlighted the presence, to long applause, of Joseph Whited, who was injured in a motorcycle accident a few years ago.
Class president Grace Burress urged classmates to celebrate and fondly recollect all they had experienced together as they moved forward in life.
“Make a mark on this world,” she said.
Salutatorian Justin Brunner told his classmates to live like Rob Mellott, a DHS math teacher who died in November. Remember to have fun and not take life too seriously, and that a simple handshake or a smile can have a big impact, Brunner said.
“One thing that I would like for all of us to take away from today is to remember where we came from, and to be grateful for our friends, family and each other,” he said. “Also, know that everything that happens to us happens for a reason and don’t forget to come home every once in a while.”
And keynote speaker Brooke Elder, a Dolores physical education teacher and coach, gave an interactive speech, featuring her last “selfie” with the class along with a chance for them to shout out some of their hopes for the future. She recalled the positive milestones she’d witnessed with the graduates over the years, and gave them the DHS “keys to life”: dedication, hard work, and self.
They were a class, Elder reminded them, who knew that relationships mattered more than things.
“Making people feel that they matter, that’s how you begin to change this world in a positive way,” Elder said.