OWATONNA — “We know this isn’t the end of an era,” said Carolyn Stauffer as she addressed her entire class on Sunday afternoon. “This is the beginning of one.”
Stauffer is one of the 349 Owatonna students who received their high school diplomas on Sunday during a commencement ceremony at the Four Seasons Centre on the Steele County Fairgrounds. Cheers exploded throughout the audience as the names were read and each student beamed with confidence while strutting across the stage.
“The entire class of 2019 has worked hard for this graduation day and there is no doubt this hard work will endure if they continue to apply themselves just like they have during their tenure here at Owatonna Senior High School,” said Principal Mark Randall as he introduced the graduating class.
Though the arena filled to the brim with the soon-to-be graduates, faculty, family, friends, and numerous other loved ones, Randall made note of the one person missing in the room.
“You’ve persevered through difficult times inside and outside of the school,” Randall said as he acknowledged Lizzy Tolzman, who died during the class’ freshman year. “You pulled together as a class and supported one another during this difficult time.”
Randall stated that Tolzman’s family would be receiving and honorary diploma from the school district in honor of her, adding that she will always be a part of the Class of 2019.
Stauffer alongside classmate Kismet Richardson were selected to give commencement addresses during the ceremony.
“The past several months have been a season lasts: the last football game, the last school dance, the last time we got away with parking in the staff lot,” Stauffer said. “As we are gathered as a class in its entirety for the very last time, as so many things come to a close, it is so easy to let ourselves dwell upon and grieve all these lasts. It is so easy to mourn the loss of what has been for the last 18 years.”
“What if, rather than looking back at all these lasts, we turned and looked forward to an era of firsts,” she continued. “I believe that from within this class we can see so many world-changing firsts.”
Richardson agreed with the impact her classmates could have on the world, and urged each of them to take full advantage of what the world had to offer.
“We will face new challenges, getting some scrapes and bruises along the way, but we must not let that stop us from all that we can achieve,” Richardson said. “I encourage you all to embrace every second of this next phase of our lives. Don’t be afraid to puff out your chest and say, ‘Here I am, world!’ For I promise, the world will accept you.”
“Fellow graduates, take this town’s spirit and school pride with you where you go,” she added. “Use it as a foundation to build off of and push yourself out of your comfort zone. Seek out challenges. Take risks. Take a deep breath and jump in head first. Your future awaits you.”
With their classmates words buzzing in their brains, the Owatonna Class of 2019 burst out of the Four Seasons Centre doors and into the world as graduates — ready to take it on.