Gathered under a blazing sun Sunday afternoon, Northfield High School graduates and the large Memorial Stadium crowd surrounding them formed a scene reminiscent of pre-pandemic graduation ceremonies.
As student and adult speakers shared the trials COVID-19 brought on over the last 15 months, they agreed that the crisis showed their resilience in the face of adversity, a trait that will only benefit them in the years to come.
Student speaker Jaida Gehring humorously described some of the everyday aspects of high school, the constant disruptions and periods of isolation the pandemic wrought on the student body. Those occurrences, she said, outline the need for the class of 2021 to cherish and be present during everyday moments. She also called on her classmates to put 100% effort into their passions.
“It’s small, but the present doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to be beautiful,” she said.
Fellow grad, Greenlee Dahle, also shared positive sentiments. Though the pandemic resulted in personal losses for the students, cut months off their in-person learning and eliminated social events, Dahle said those changes allowed them to form different perspectives. She compared those challenges to the hurdles some will inevitably face in life, through relationship breakups, bad test scores or other adverse events.
“We became resilient,” she said. “Surprises are lessons in disguise.”
Senior Jose Vazquez described the journey his great-grandmother took to the United States to ensure her descendants could lead prosperous lives, noting she spent two days under a hot sun carrying only the clothes on her back and her child, but still prevailed. She eventually settled in Northfield. Today, Vazquez is becoming the first in his family to attend college. He told his classmates that his family story showed that neither skin color nor gender were final determinants of their future.
Commencement speaker Kevin Dahle, NHS social studies teacher, former state legislator and longtime driver’s education instructor, compared the life lessons he was trying to instill in the students to driving courses. He called on the graduates to look ahead and avoid dwelling on the past, seek different views, sometimes stray from beaten paths, and take “the high road.”
“Celebrate your successes along the way and most of all enjoy the ride,” he told the graduates.
Principal Joel Leer called on the class of 2021 to remember the people who supported them since they began their schooling at Northfield Public Schools in 2008. He said the students are well-prepared, and spoke of the group’s academic and athletic success through National Honor Society, the softball team’s 2019 state championship and the top state honors the High School Knowledge Bowl squad earned this year.
“You have made it really easy to be proud of you,” he said. “We have placed your future in very good hands: Your own.”
‘You are nothing short of triumphant’
School Board Chair Julie Pritchard thanked the graduates for their participation in civic affairs, including on boards and commissions and through their combined 3,500 volunteer hours.
“Congratulations to the class of 2021,” she said. “We wish you all the best.”
“You are nothing short of triumphant.”
In closing remarks, Superintendent Matt Hillmann noted the students are graduating as the U.S. moves out of the pandemic, a time when innovation is expected to be on the rise. He called on the graduates to reverse what he deems to be a societal trend toward rude and insensitive behavior and enter careers in health care, human services, the military or public education.
“We are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history,” he said.
As part of his call to service, Hillmann invoked the historic 1961 quote from President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Nearly 400 people gathered Saturday at Central Park for Northfield’s inaugural Pride in the Park event.
Two of the people in attendance, Alec LaVoi and Cortney Fischer, expressed the sentiments organizers intended to convey: That Northfield provided a welcoming atmosphere for them as members of the LGBTQ community.
LaVoi, who is transgender, said he first realized his gender identity when he was in high school and was initially nervous over how he would be accepted once he became open with his identity. However, he was met with acceptance. Since then, LaVoi, now 20 and Northfield Union of Youth Key Youth Center Board co-president, said his mental health has improved, and he credits The Key with helping him during that time.
“I expected it to be a whole lot worse than what it was,” LaVoi noted.
Fischer, now 21, expressed an appreciation for being able to live her identity in an accepting community.
The inaugural event took place during National Pride Month and was hosted by Northfield Public Library. The event included a Pride Story time, Zumba/cardio dance fitness classes from the Northfield Family YMCA, and a Northfield Dance Academy performance. The Northfield Union of Youth offered gender pronoun buttons, and Northfield Arts Guild made Pride pompoms. The library’s Bookmobile featured a selection of LGBTQ books, and library staff were on-hand to issue library cards. Other exhibitors expected to be at Central Park included the Minnesota Transgender Alliance, OutFront Minnesota, FiftyNorth, the trans-owned company Homebody MN, and several Northfield churches.
Ariannah Wolf, a high school freshman who has been openly living as bisexual for three years, noted she was told of the event during a study hall. She said the community has proven to be a good place for members of the LGBTQ community.
“Everyone is super-supportive,” she noted.
Emily Lloyd, youth services librarian and materials selector at Northfield Public Library, said the library is an inclusive place for all community members, noting she wears a rainbow lanyard to symbolize that acceptance.
Lloyd, who came out as a member of the LGBTQ community as an 18-year-old in 1992, was reminded in the years following her announcement how far society had to go to become accepting of the LGBTQ community: She remembers “Saturday Night Live” mocking the 1997 announcement of Ellen DeGeneres that she was a lesbian. Now, SNL features two LGBTQ cast members.
Lloyd said seeing a rainbow flag on a car as an 11-year-old girl was a key moment for her in understanding that LGBTQ people were living openly and proud of who they were. The event, she says, was intended for LGBTQ children traveling by who were scared to be who they are to have a similar moment, and avoid feeling the fear that prevented her from coming out.
As people gathered on a nearly 100-degree day, Lloyd said she was impressed with how many people attended.
“We had no idea it would be this big,” she said of Saturday’s event.
A months-long investigation has two men facing serious drug charges after Cannon River Drug and Violent Offender Task Force agents reportedly seized nearly 160 pounds of marijuana edibles and products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Trenton William Marks, 26, of Tonka Bay, and Charles Dean Medgaarden, 33, of Faribault, were charged May 28 in Rice County District Court with selling 5 kilos (11 pounds) or more of marijuana or THC products.
Court documents state agents were investigating a multi-state drug trafficking organization between September 2019 and February 2020, identifying several people involved and executing search warrants, including for property belonging to Marks, who was allegedly “trafficking large amounts of controlled substances into the state of Minnesota and distributing these drugs within the state.”
In November 2019, agents obtained a warrant allowing agents to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle belonging to Marks. That device reportedly showed the vehicle was traveling to several Twin Cities locations and other places the investigation identified as targets.
Court documents state a search of a Hopkins storage locker belonging to Marks yielded five totes containing a combined 68½ pounds of product, a majority being edible THC items packaged in wrappers described as being attractive to youth. The street value of one tote with slightly over 5 pounds of marijuana wax was estimated at approximately $117,350. Another tote containing nearly 300 grams of THC cartridges had an estimated street value of approximately $11,900.
A February 2020 search of Marks’ home reportedly netted a plastic baggie with 114.58 grams of THC gummies. In the kitchen of the house, 18.35 grams of marijuana and 40.82 grams of THC edibles were found.
Court documents state a forensic search of a phone belonging to Marks found he was tracking a 47-pound package from New York to an address identified on a cardboard box lid in his vehicle through a search warrant. On Feb. 13, 2020, agents executed a search warrant on two packages weighing 89 pounds total with an estimated street value of nearly $31,500 and containing THC products sent to an address across the street from Medgaarden’s residence.
A search of Medgaarden’s residence reportedly netted 49.38 grams of marijuana, approximately 196 grams of THC oil in cartridges and a litany of other items.
Investigators interviewed Marks, who reportedly admitted he possessed approximately a half-ounce of marijuana in his house along with one packet of THC edibles. He allegedly initially told investigators he sold Minnesota-grown CBD for a living but denied selling marijuana or edibles. He reportedly later admitted knowing that agents had searched his storage shed and told an agent he wanted to cooperate with the investigation. He provided information on the Minnesota and California residents he was purchasing large quantities of marijuana and THC concentrates from. He said Medgaarden had been his employee and didn’t want him charged in the case.
Medgaarden is also facing one count of fifth-degree drugs sale.
Marks and Medgaarden are scheduled to make their first appearances July 21. Medgaarden has a half dozen felony convictions on his record, including one in 2018 for second-degree drug sale in Pine County. He was on probation at the time of the investigation.